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Bozeman's Guitar Hero

Master luthier Ren Ferguson talks about making Gibson guitars.

master guitar craftsman, Ren Ferguson
Photo caption
Ren Ferguson is Montana’s genius of the six-string.


An urge to live by trapping in the wilds brought Ren Ferguson to Montana, where he parlayed a knack for guitar repair into a job as master luthier for Gibson Guitar in Bozeman. The factory, which turns out up to 1,200 guitars a month in a dozen acoustic models, is open for tours on Wednesdays. For reservations, call (406) 587-4117 ext. 0. For information, visit

Q Guitarists who've played Gibsons?
A Elvis Presley, John Lennon, and Jimmy Page come to mind.

Q What's best on the factory tour?
A The craftspeople you meet, seeing how they work. Nearly everything is done by hand—pearl inlays, fretwork, carving—though for the most dangerous jobs we've installed machines.

Q Where do you find top quality guitar wood?
A We source mahogany, rosewood, maple, walnut, and spruce from Africa, India, and South and North America, but only if it's been responsibly harvested. We don't let timber pirates with chain saws defeat us.

Q A fine guitar you made?
A When Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl came out, I made a guitar for Johnny Depp. I put 22-karat gold inlays on the fretboard, attached Aztec coins, and put a skull with crossed sabers on the headstock. When it was handed to him, he sat for two hours looking at it.

Q Any tips for guitar shoppers?
A Buy a guitar that's better than your ability to play—so when you practice you'll fall in love with it all over again.

Q Have a favorite Montana outing?
A From Bozeman, I drive to Gallatin Canyon and then to West Yellowstone. I check out Old Faithful, exit the north end of the park, then go to Chico Hot Springs for dinner.

Photography courtesy Gibson Acoustic


This article was first published in March 2008. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.