Andy Beech of Bellingham never met or talked to Prince, and he never saw the music superstar perform live. But Beech has much more than a mere fan’s reason to feel saddened by Prince’s unexpected death Thursday, April 21.
During the 1990s, Beech made a total of 31 mahogany-and-maple guitars for Prince — 27 of them called Clouds, which have their own unusual shape and an elongated top horn, and four Symbols, including one that Prince used when he played “Purple Rain” during his famous halftime performance at the 2007 Super Bowl.
Beech described Prince, perhaps his largest individual customer at D’Haitre’ Guitars, as incredibly talented and hard-driving, and extremely demanding.
Prince could afford any guitar he wanted, and wasn’t bound to any particular brand because he avoided endorsement contracts that limited control of his music.
“In these days, that’s hard to find,” Beech said.
That Prince, through his managers, chose Beech to make a slew of guitars for him speaks volumes about the quality of Beech’s craftsmanship and his word-of-mouth reputation in the music industry.
“It was good for my little company,” he said.
Beech, 50, started repairing and making guitars while he was a heavy-metal-minded, music-loving lad growing up in Maple Falls. He made and swapped guitars with friends, and took multiple woodshop classes at Mount Baker High School, where he graduated in 1983.
He moved to Hollywood seeking proverbial fame and fortune, and happened to meet Zakk Wylde, who had just become a guitar player for Ozzy Osbourne’s band. Beech became a guitar technician for Wylde when the band was on tour.
In 1988, Beech started making guitars for Wylde, including an eye-catching one called The Glory and another called the Steel Dragon, which Wylde played in the movie “Rock Star.”
His work caught the attention of Prince’s managers.
“It’s who you know, and timing,” Beech said.
What I have to offer is your idea in a playable instrument.
Andy Beech, guitar maker
Prince’s manager would send Beech designs for the star’s guitars, and Beech would send back the finished instrument, minus the paint because Prince had his own guitar painters.
Beech said Prince’s distinctive guitars were designed for their stage look as well as their performance.
“He would use the shapes for performance purposes,” Beech said. “They were made to not only look like a prop, but to be entirely functional.”
Beech returned to Whatcom County in the early 1990s, and now makes about 10 to 12 guitars a year. He also does high-end finish carpentry, but is shifting increasingly to guitar production. It takes hims about 100 hours to make an elaborate guitar.
He can’t compete with the resources and finances of guitar giants like Gibson and Fender, so he sticks to custom-made models that reflect the buyer’s musical style and artistic vision.
“What I have to offer is your idea in a playable instrument,” he said. “I like off-the-cuff crazy stuff.”
He’s now working with Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest to launch a new line of custom guitars, called Janus Guitars.
Beech regrets that he never saw Prince perform live or met his business benefactor. Happenstance and busy schedules seemed to get in the way. There would, he thought, be another time to see Prince.
“I decided to catch it next year,” Beech said.
Dean Kahn: 360-715-2291