September 22, 2014

Medina
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50°F

Medina man uses computer-assisted design to make custom guitars

Medina resident Jim Lewis displays one of his custom-made Strictly 7 Guitars. Lewis makes his guitars using computer-assisted design and manufacturing equipment in a shop in Orrville and ships them all over the world. (NANCY JOHNSON / GAZETTE)

Medina resident Jim Lewis displays one of his custom-made Strictly 7 Guitars. Lewis makes his guitars using computer-assisted design and manufacturing equipment in a shop in Orrville and ships them all over the world. (NANCY JOHNSON / GAZETTE)

Musician Jim Lewis was frustrated. Frustrated with expensive guitars that wouldn’t stay in tune. Frustrated with high-priced, low-quality music equipment.

Instead of just complaining, the Medina resident decided to do something about it.

Lewis founded Strictly 7 Guitars, a production and custom guitar shop based in Orrville.

“I was the bass player in a Christian metal band,” said Lewis, “and our lead guitarist’s foreign-made guitar wouldn’t stay in tune. He had paid over $2,000 for it. I thought we ought to be able to make a guitar better than that, right here in this country, and for the same money.”

Lewis had never built a guitar before when he purchased computer assisted design and manufacturing software and a computerized numeric cutting router. He hired expert Dave Eldredge from Alaska to show him how to use it.

“It took about four days to learn,” Lewis said. “Dave and I have worked together ever since. He does the CAD/CAM work and provides me with 3-D models of the guitars. ”

Lewis also employs two part-time workers, Eric Nussenfeld and Chris Vidler, for final assembly.

“When I started the company, I planned to build only seven-string guitars,” Lewis said, “The seventh string is a low B, used by jazz and heavy metal guitarists. At the time only about 3 percent of the 4 million guitars sold worldwide were seven string.”

Since then, at the request of his customers, Lewis now builds eight-string and nine-string guitars as well.

“The eighth string is a low F sharp,” Lewis said. “The ninth string is a low C sharp.” Lewis has also started making bass guitars and is working on a line of S7G strings.

Born in San Diego, Lewis started his career as a high school biology and physical science teacher in Washington, D.C., before segueing to a career in physical therapy, a job he still holds.

His knowledge of human physiology informs his guitar work.

“As a physical therapist, I see a lot of musicians who suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and other ailments. I’ve designed the neck of my guitars to decrease stress through the carpal tunnel band as well as the elbow, which allows artists to play longer, faster and more comfortably,” Lewis said.

Lewis works in his shop weeknights and weekends to manufacture more than 200 guitars each year.

“It takes about 40 man hours to make one guitar,” he said.

The guitars are made from a variety of hardwoods including swamp ash, northern ash and mahogany. “Different woods bring out different tones,” Lewis said.

“When I’m making a custom guitar, the first two things I ask a customer are what note they tune to and what kind of sound they want,” Lewis said. “I build the guitar to help them get some of the tones they’re after.”

He has crafted custom guitars for metal guitarists Ola Englund of Six Feet Under, Steve Blaze of Lillian Axe and Mike Salerno of Gemini Syndrome, which will open for Sevendust at Cleveland’s House of Blues on July 23.

“Among all the options I carry for my custom guitars, there are about 2.1 billion combinations,” Lewis said, “And that doesn’t even include the paint job.”

Lewis ships his guitars all over the world, including Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, Belgium, Russia, Ireland, Australia and Canada. Locally, S7G guitars are available in Cleveland at West Park Music Center. He recently put together a deal to sell on Amazon’s site as well.

The starter price for a Strictly 7 production guitar with a bolt-on neck and oil finish is about $1,300. A top of the line custom neck-through eight-string with exotic hardwood and custom inlay could run upwards of $3,100.

“I love building guitars,” Lewis said, “Each one is different. I can be in the shop for 18 hours and not even notice. I hope someday to quit my physical therapy job and just make guitars.”

For more information, visit www.strictly7.com. Lewis has a backlog at his custom shop but one can be placed on a waitlist by emailing Jim@strictly7.com.

Contact reporter Nancy Johnson at (330) 721-4065 or areanews@medina-gazette.com.