John Stass wanted a hobby to take his mind off his business.
Stass, a native of Lisbon Falls, was working as a customer service and team-building consultant for a variety of companies. He was very busy and felt he needed a hobby to help him relax. He tried taking up mandolin, but found his fingers a little too pudgy, so he took up guitar.
He loved his new hobby and worked hard at it, and in a few months, he had three different guitars.
“So I went to a music store to buy a rack or something to hang them on the wall,” said Stass, 56. “But I soon found there was really no such thing as a good-looking wall mount for guitars. They were all metal or plastic. I was a relatively advanced handyman — having remodeled three houses — so I decided to build my own.”
Fifteen years later, Stass has built a new career by building guitar racks. And sheet music stands. And instrument display cabinets.
His company, Katahdin Studio Furniture, sells music-related furniture to music lovers around the country. His clients have included celebrities such as Andy Griffith and Melissa Etheridge.
He has since expanded to building home office furniture and church furniture, but he built the business on music-related pieces.
When he was first deciding whether to start the business, he did some research to find out if any other companies were building high-quality, wooden, music room furniture. He found one, in Vermont. When he called them, he found they had just gone out of business.
“Some people would take that to mean there’s no market for this product,” said Stass. “But I’m an optimist, so I thought that left an opening for me.”
Stass works from a space on the sixth floor of the Hill Mill, an old textile mill near downtown Lewiston. He’s got one full-time craftsman working with him right now, James Roy, and until recently had another as well. He hopes to have a staff of four soon.
Stass’ music room furniture ranges from a solo wall mount guitar rack that costs about $110 to the stately “Southwest Harbor” 30-drawer sheet music cabinet that costs more than $7,000. Some guitar display cabinets he makes sell for more than $8,000.
His wooden sheet music stands range from a couple hundred dollars to more than $2,000 for the “Precipice” music stand, which he calls “an edgy piece of furniture art.” He also makes music tables, performance benches and instrument floor stands.
His customers are usually professional people who are passionate about their musical hobby. So they are a lot like Stass himself.
“Our typical customer is a professional person, and music is a major part of their private lives,” said Stass. “They love the time they spend with their instrument, and they want to create a special place for it.”
Etheridge apparently found Stass online and had someone from her office order 12 pieces. That’s a very large order for a small shop like Stass’, where pieces are made by hand on a workbench. So when he saw the size of the order, he thought it was a fraud and called the person who had placed it.
“She told me it was not a fraud, and that if I wanted, I could just make two of the pieces and send them out,” said Stass. “When she got the first two pieces, she called me and said, ‘I thought you might want to know the person you’re making these for is Melissa Etheridge.’ “
On Stass’ website — www.katahdinstudio.com — you can see video of an interview with Etheridge that has her Stass guitar racks behind her.
With Griffith, the order came from the Martin guitar company, which was making a signature model guitar for the TV icon and musician and wanted a good-looking wooden stand to go with it. Soon after, Griffith himself called Stass to talk things over.
“He was just like you’d think Andy Griffith would be on the phone,” said Stass. “After we were done talking about the pieces, he kept me on the phone another 20 minutes talking about all kinds of things.”
In his shop, Stass made and sold about 120 pieces last year. He made the same amount five or six years ago. The difference is that now he’s making more of the larger pieces, including sheet music cabinets and guitar display cabinets that can range from $2,000 to $8,000.
The difference between Stass’ music furniture and most other pieces is apparent just by looking. While many guitar and instrument stands are metal, Stass makes his music pieces out of 11 or 12 kinds of wood.
Cherry, black walnut and bird’s-eye maple are the ones he uses most.
The pieces are held together with glue and wood screws for sturdiness, though the screws are covered and don’t show. The pieces are hand-rubbed, often with tung oil.
“People are usually impressed with how sturdy our stands are, since they’re used to metal stands,” said Stass. “We put most of a day’s work into one guitar stand.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: