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Notes of Excellence: The Exceptional Craftsmanship of the Building F Trio

Nestled away in an unassuming corner at Lee Street Studios, Building F of the former Lewisburg Elementary and Junior High School, three guys create a harmonious synergy using their respective talents to bring music to our Valley and beyond: Travis Holley of Appalachian Tonewood, Luke Bair of JL Bair Guitar Company, and Daniel Freeman of Freeman Guitar Works.  

Travis and Luke were partners in Appalachian Tonewood, building the business together. Luke has recently transitioned to his own business, JL Bair Guitar Company. The two continue to work in harmony, with Daniel making the group a trio, as Travis harvests and processes the wood, Luke builds the guitars, and Dan repairs guitars in his corner of the shop, Freeman Guitar Works, LLC. 

Travis Holley in his workshop

For Travis, the journey begins in the woods. Appalachian red spruce is a rare variety of wood that has experienced population decline since the 19th century. It’s also a beautiful wood for making instruments. Travis is not only committed to finding and responsibly harvesting red spruce, he’s also dedicated to sustainability. 

“We get trees from sites that are going to be cleared,” Travis stresses. “We don’t go out and just take, because red spruce is very rare. Red spruce, it’s basically like the Holy Grail for tonewood.” Appalachian Tonewood uses native woods like red spruce, cherry, walnut, hard and soft maple – “It’s Appalachian hardwood: everything from basically 300 to 400 miles around us,” says Holley. A lot of harvested wood is destined to become fence posts, so Travis sees his work in part as preserving the beauty of the tree to make a lovely, functional instrument.

Travis’ pride and skill in his craft is evident as he walked me through his part of the manufacturing process from woods to studio. He has his own sawmill. Once he harvests the trees, and saws the wood into rough billets. He also explained the drying process and how much time producing a quality product takes, which he does all on his own at his farm in Greenbrier County and at the workshop on Lee Street.  He then processes the wood until the pieces become parts for guitar manufacturers.  

His favorite part and why? “I like it all. I just like working with wood. I always have, and I’ve found a way to make a living at it.” 

Appointments are preferred when visiting Appalachian Tonewood. To schedule an appointment or learn more about Appalachian Tonewood, contact Travis at 304-710-5123, or

The day I visited the portion of the studio that is JL Bair Guitar company, owner Luke Bair spoke to me about his upcoming plans for a school of guitar building. Luke, a 1995 graduate of the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Arizona, hopes to share his passion for creating guitars and his decades of experience in his craft with approximately twenty students per year. 

Luke Bair plays one of his creations. One of his works in progress is in the foreground.

“This is a very symbiotic enterprise here,” Luke explained. “With the Tonewood, Dan’s business, and the school going here, it’s going to be a big symbiotic world here for everybody involved.” 

Bair hopes to begin his inaugural class in early summer of this year. He’s currently in the process of creating workstations, procuring machinery, and preparing the area for this exciting venture. “I’ve dreamed about opening a school for 25 years,” he said. “I went to a guitar making school in Arizona, and I want to model after that school as much as I can. It’s been a dream of mine, and now I have the space, the tools, and the resources here. Travis is integral in that idea as well, because he can provide a lot of the tonewood necessary for the students, and Dan will be teaching a course on repair when the students come. We’re going to be bringing in a lot of folks – we’ll have violin builders come in and do a demonstration, things like that.”

Luke also plans to have Travis teach a brief course on sourcing tonewood, how it’s cut for instruments, how it’s graded, etc. “He’ll also get a chance to interact with the students and show them the wood he has available in his workshop.”

The classes will be open to any student age 18 and older. Luke is hoping to add university students and retirees to his roster of students. Classes will consist of four students in ten-week sessions, three or four times per year. The classes will be extremely immersive, a 500-hour program in ten weeks. 

“What people get – not only do they get the knowledge of building guitars, but they get to take home two custom built guitars that they make here,” Luke said. “That’ll be fun to do that. They’ll be building their guitars. It’s going to be a cool thing. And in the meantime, I’m going to keep building guitars.”

Luke’s work speaks for itself. Many of his guitars are higher-end instruments custom built for collectors. Many of his works are commissioned, built to each customer’s specifications. “What makes my guitars unique is the design and the materials that go into them, custom inlays, a lot of different things like that,” Luke explained. “They sound really good, too.” 

Guitar building has been a driving force in Luke’s life for thirty years, and is the inspiration behind starting his school. “To me, it’s one of the most rewarding skill sets when you can create functional art that people can use and appreciate. And, will hopefully last a lot longer than I will, so it’s a legacy thing, as well. You try to maintain a level of not only production, but also quality. Maintaining that quality is really rewarding for me. Stringing up a guitar for the first time, it’s never been a guitar before in its life, hearing it making a sound for the first time, it’s glory for me. It’s like a finish line. It’s probably the most rewarding and fun thing I’ve ever done. When you show somebody who’s used to seeing factory made guitars something really pretty and nice that you’ve made with your own two hands, there’s a lot of pride with that.”  

To set up an appointment, or learn more about Luke, his company, his school, and to see some of the beautiful guitars he has created, visit his Instagram page at jlbairguitars, or call 304-647-8018, email:

Daniel Freeman has over twenty years of experience in stringed instrument repair. He works on acoustic guitars, electric guitars, bass guitars, along with some amplifier and electronic work. Many musically-inclined readers may recognize him from his years at Alpha Music in Fairlea, and as a member of January’s featured Unplugged band, Deep State.

Daniel Freeman in his workshop

His dedication to and skill in his work stand out as he discusses what goes into a typical repair job. “It’s two-thirds me thinking about how I’m going to approach something, then a third of actually getting in there and doing it. Basic string changes, things like that, typically take me about an hour. Things like neck resets, they can take anywhere from a day to two weeks. It depends on what I find when I open it up.” 

When asked his favorite aspect about his work, Daniel replied, “I like getting in there and seeing something that has problems that I can fix, or problems that are a challenge to me, when the end result turns out really well. I like the challenge of getting in there when someone says, ‘I don’t think you can do anything with this.’ I’m like, well, I can. A lot of times, people want things fixed for sentimental reasons. I really like to be able to restore an instrument to playing condition.”

When asked what he’d like the readers to know about the collaboration of the three guys in Building F, Daniel answered, “The quality of work we put out is really good. We all put our hearts into it. We try and do the best that we possibly can for the customer.”

To learn more about Freeman Guitar Works, LLC, or to schedule an appointment, call 304-445-6014, or email Appointments are recommended and preferred for all three businesses.

After I spent time in each workshop, learning so many fascinating aspects of what it takes to create and maintain an acoustic instrument, I asked Luke what he’d like the readers to know about the harmony taking place in Building F, and about the great things in store for the community and beyond. 

He said, “I think what this place represents is almost all of the facets of what goes into instruments: building, repair, and maintaining them. It’s about what goes into a guitar from the materials to the labor to the maintenance and repairs. It’s really kind of a one-stop shop for anybody who’s interested in how acoustic instruments are built and how they are maintained. It also represents seventy years of combined experience in these fields. The knowledge that the three of us bring to this building is extremely valuable not only to us, but to anybody who’s interested in musical instruments, especially acoustic instruments. I think it’s a special little universe that we’ve created here.” 

Cover Photo Credit: Evan Blumenstein, jlbairguitars, Instagram

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Lisa Coburn
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