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Making Music Beautiful


Making Music Beautiful

By Mahatma Kane Jeeves

Free-Range Guitars on Main Street in Sebastopol has been a long-time coming and eagerly awaited.   Internationally recognized luthier Harry Fleishman has not had a shop that was open to the public for nearly forty years.  “I wanted to have more contact with people, especially musicians.  Lutherie is a fairly solitary job; I’ve lived in Sebastopol for 15 years and only now am I meeting some of the wonderful musicians with whom I share this town.” 

Harry has always been interested in music and art, if you consider surf music…music, and model cars…art.  He began emulating his musical idol Dick Dale when he was 12, and was a national winner of the Revell-Pactra model car contest when he was 14.  At age 11 he had an unlikely part-time job painting monsters and hot rods on sweatshirts in the window of a Beverly Hills clothing store on weekends.  

After a near-fatal car accident while on tour with the musical group U Thant, Me Jane, Harry decided to open his first guitar repair and building shop.  His first two custom instruments were an electric double-neck guitar/mandolin; and an electric upright bass.  Clearly, he was not planning a normal career copying Martins and Fenders.  “I hitchhiked down to the Fender factory when I was 14.  It was a smallish shop and I was impressed by the variety of instruments and amplifiers being made.  I met Leo Fender, and scavenged an old guitar body from his dumpster, beginning a lifelong love of dumpster diving.”

In the early 1980’s International Music Corp., a Texas-based guitar company, took an interest in one of Harry’s innovative electric bass designs.  Thanks to an IMC employee, Donnie Wade, the company was convinced to license the design instead of just copying it.  This began a life-long friendship with Donnie, who later became head of guitar design for Fender.  It also led to two separate contracts designing for Fender, and later to the opportunity to design a line of acoustic and electric guitars, basses, and amplifiers for the English company Avian Guitars.  Most recently, Harry was head of R&D for Breedlove Guitars.  “I commuted two weeks a month up to Bend, Oregon.  It was fun and interesting but after a year it was clear to Harry that he needed to return to designing and building his own unusual guitars, basses and amplifiers.

Harry has limited his business hours to allow him time to design and build.  Open from 1-5 Thursday through Sunday, and by appointment, he is available for expert repairs and instrument restorations.  Starting in September on each first Sunday Harry will be open 4-6 to offer free assistance to people who want to work on their own instruments with guidance.  “This is part of a lifelong commitment, especially to kids.”  Harry also offers vintage guitars and amps, and some instruments from his luthier friends from around the world.  “I want FRG to be a comfortable space for young people and old to visit and play music, while experiencing truly hand-made, innovative instruments.”

Free Range Guitars

200 South Main Street, Sebsastopol