Luthier Gary Zimnicki Makes Guitars and Ukuleles Out of Detroit's Abandoned Homes


Posted on June 25, 2014 | by David Knowles

One man's abandoned home is another's top-of-the-line musical instrument. 

For the past few years, luthier Gary Zimnicki has been crafting guitars and ukuleles out of some rather unlikely wood. Purchasing the neglected lumber from Reclaim Detroit, a non-profit that dismantles the Motor City's abandoned housing stock for re-use, Zimnicki hoped to find a silver lining to a region's devastating economic cloud. 

"Detroit really takes a beating in the press lately," Zimnicki told Acoustic Guitar's sister publication Ukulele. "Like a lot of people  around here, I kind of resent the exposure we get in the national media. Of course, there are some bad things going on. But this is my way of letting people know there are really some great things happening here also."

Zimnicki, who was also the subject of a PBS News Hour segment on Tuesday night, says that getting the wood in the proper shape takes a bit of work. 

"There was a hundred years of filth on this wood," Zimnicki told Ukulele. "I couldn't really tell the quality until I got it back to the shop and sanded it down and got past the surface disgustingness." 

The results, however, have proved worth the effort.

"Sounds like an old koa or mahogany sort of ukulele," studio musician Rob Bourassa told PBS after testing out one of Zimnicki's maple models.

For more information on Zimnicki, check out his website and keep reading AG for updates on this and other reclaimed-wood efforts.

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