The bustle of Hank’s Music Exchange, the instrument dealer that takes up the front half of the business on 33rd and Hawthorne, is fairly typical. While Stereolab plays over the in-house sound system, one customer shows off his facility for Beatles guitar lines while others eye vintage synthesizers and PA equipment.
Somehow, none of the noise fazes Ryan Lynn, the owner and operator of Eastside Guitar Repair, the all-inclusive shop located in the back of the building. On this particular rainy Thursday, the bearded and affable luthier was too busy giving his full attention to gently removing the frets and sanding down the neck of a beautiful Epiphone acoustic guitar from the ‘70s to notice anything else.
“It can be a cacophony in there,” Lynn admits, speaking to WW a few days later. “One of my clients brought in a high-value Les Paul to make a new bone nut for it,” referring to the piece at the top of a guitar neck that helps hold the strings in place. “He was shocked at how distracting and loud the shop was. So he was skeptical of my work when he brought it in. I ran into him the other night and he was like, ‘I’ve never seen anybody make a nut like that. I tried to make one like yours and I failed.’”
Endorsements like that are part of what has kept Eastside Guitar Repair in business for the past 15 years and made Lynn and his team the go-to technicians for an ever-growing number of clients, including some well-known axe-slingers. On the day I visited the shop, a batch of guitars, all used by Stephen Malkmus during the recent Pavement reunion shows, awaited service. And during our interview, I learned that when Johnny Marr lived in town, Eastside was the only place the former Smiths guitarist would trust with his instruments.
Lynn tries to be as matter-of-fact as he can about all of this, but it all comes out with a sense of disbelief. He’s well aware of how lucky he is, but also has enough confidence to know that he got to this point through that perfect mixture of time and talent.
A native of Michigan, Lynn became enamored with guitars when, as a young man, he learned that a friend of his had built his own instrument. That eventually led to him moving to Arizona to attend the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery for an intensive course in which each student is tasked with making both an acoustic and electric guitar. “Not to brag or anything,” Lynn brags, “but I was told that my [acoustic] guitar was the best out of the class.”
He eventually made his way to Portland in the fall of 2000, landing first at a long-gone music shop on Northeast Glisan and then moving to Trade Up Music after walking into that shop on a whim. “Scott Demay, one of the owners, sent me home with 10 guitars,” Lynn remembers. “He didn’t know me from anyone else. He just trusted me from that first meeting.”
After several years managing Trade Up’s luthiery department, Lynn got restless and decided to hang his own shingle in 2008, “just in time,” he says, “for the recession to really go full swing so no one had any money for guitar repairs.”
Fast forward 15 years and Lynn and his equally skilled employees Jessie Antonick and Jacob Price aren’t hurting for work. Dozens of guitars lie in wait for either simple adjustments or more complicated fixes. And during the 90 minutes I visited the shop, customers continued to pop in and grab their repaired instruments. Even with interruptions, the din of the gear shop, and my stopping his progress with questions, Lynn kept a steady hand and a near-constant grin on his face.
“I try to make everything look as neat and nice as possible,” he says, measuring the angle of the Epiphone’s fretboard before sanding it down a little further. “A friend who worked at Old Town Music had one of my wiring jobs come through his bench. He called me up and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything this awesome before.’ Now he copies my wiring. So I guess imitation is the highest form of flattery.”
GO: Eastside Guitar Repair, 3341 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-232-0838, eastsideguitarrepair.com. 11 am-6 pm Tuesday-Saturday.