April 1, 2019 - The Silverado Express
By Michael Pickett
Talking about wood-working instrument-makers seems comparatively exotic in this information age. In a world where people trade data via ones and zeros, finding artisans who create one-of-a-kind guitars in small, rural shops seems like something from another era. Keeley Guitars bridges the gap between old-world excellence in craftsmanship and modern tech applied to world-class instruments. “I’ve always had a passion for the guitar and making things with my hands,” says owner and luthier, David Keeley. “I initially began reading every library book I could get my hands on pertaining to guitar building and instrument repair. Then in 1990, I met luthier Buck Willhite whom I worked with for several years learning how to build harps and guitars.”
Dividing his time between creating custom instruments and repair-work in his beautiful workshop, Keeley often has stacks of exotic wood and rows of his world-class instruments next to cases filled with instruments clients bring him for restoration of various sorts. “When I’m not building custom guitars, mandolins and Irish bouzoukis for my clients, I’m doing instrument repair work. If it has strings, I can probably fix it. This also includes violins, mandolins, banjos, harps, harpsicords, ukuleles and more.” While Keeley’s services range from doing instrument setups, rewiring, refretting, repairing broken necks or violin bows; he enjoys the variety every new request brings.
“Sometimes there’s the occasional guitar that was smashed by an angry spouse,” he muses. “I never know what may end up on the workbench. It could be a budget student violin that needs a proper setup so it plays better, or a major repair of a 1950’s Gibson Les Paul going on a European tour.” Keeley is often so busy, he has to make time to complete his own custom instruments. Previously employed by the city of Kettle Falls providing valuable grant-writing expertise and hands-on improvement of the community, he worked hard to transition from his ‘day job’ to full-time work as a world class instrument-maker and expert repairman. “Honestly, the high-points for me are the relationships I’ve built with my customers. I get to meet a lot of interesting people and they trust me to take care of their instruments. They range from those who are just learning to play guitar, to successful working and touring musicians. I do repair work primarily for the tri-county area, the local music stores and a few special clients outside the area, some sending their instruments from as far away as Arizona.”
Keeley’s professional story is an inspiring one, turning his passion into a successful business that serves other artists near and far. Having worked with other luthiers--some responsible for the iconic instruments of players like Eddie Van Halen, Eric Clapton and Chet Atkins--Keeley has honed his abilities as a craftsman and business-owner over a period of years. “I enjoy taking a broken instrument and repairing it so it can play music again, especially if it’s going into the hands of a young person wanting to learn. If you have a broken instrument you no longer care about, send it my way. I will fix it and donate it to the Kettle Falls Public School music program. There is still life left in these broken instruments and they deserve a second chance to make music.” Check out one of Keeley’s custom instruments at: keeleyguitars.com or contact him for repairs and further information at: 738-6491 to make an appointment.