When the Frank brothers aren't crafting guitars they're playing in their band. But this gig really is "already the dream job."
Out of a workshop in Toronto’s east end Tim and Nick Frank craft electric guitars for a living. Their older brother Jon manages the business, which opened shop two years ago. We spoke to all three brothers about what it’s like to manufacture guitars and how doing so is keeping up a family tradition.
Torontoist: What made you decide to build this business?
Jon: We were inspired by our father and grandfather because they really followed their creative instincts in pursuing their careers. Our father, Jim Frank, was an award-winning recording engineer and our grandfather was a world-renowned concert violinist. So we ultimately wanted to follow that musical legacy. Our path is slightly different, it happens to be manufacturing high-end instruments. Originally, the business started when I saw how passionate my brothers were when it came to this craft. At the time they were just building guitars in a shared workspace after-hours and on the weekends. From that we decided to formulate a proper business.
Torontoist: What were the challenges to making the business official?
Jon: It was a bit of a leap for Nick and Tim quitting their day jobs.
Torontoist: What were you guys doing before this?
Nick: We both had desk jobs. Tim worked for Mirvish and I worked for a small startup called Green Standards.
Torontoist: Now that you’re doing this, what is the best part of your job?
Nick: The best part is getting to string the guitar up, in my opinion. Plugging it in and seeing all the work that’s accumulated to that moment. It’s great also to see people really enjoy them as well.
Torontoist: What are some challenges that you deal with in this line of work?
Tim: We build in batches of four to six guitars, and we build about three batches at a time. I guess the difficult part is balancing those three batches of guitars at the same time and finding time to do each part of the process. It’s the little things that are physically difficult to do, the technical, small detail items that make a guitar really high end, or make the guitar perfect in terms of the end product being perfect.
Nick: You’re building a guitar, but really it’s fine woodworking. That’s a challenging thing to do in general. There are a lot of things that go into making a guitar, you need a lot of different skill sets.
Torontoist: How did you figure out how to do the fine detail parts of the job?
Tim: We’re mostly self-taught, so most of it just comes from researching and working and Nick did a course with Sergel de Jonge in Quebec.
Nick: He’s a guitar maker who used to be based out of Toronto but he’s in Quebec now. I studied with him for five weeks and built an acoustic guitar.
Tim: I think we also learned a lot in our repair work. We did a lot of repair work before we started building guitars.
Torontoist: So what makes your guitars unique?
Nick: A lot of care and precision goes into the design and functionality of our guitars. The goal is to create a guitar that looks and sounds unique and that’s characteristic of the Frank Brothers company and brand. While the instrument is unique, it captures the quality and playability of the electric guitar era’s most venerable instruments.
Torontoist: Do the two of you have any stylistic differences when it comes to manufacturing these?
Tim: We work well together in that sense, and we’ve been playing music together since we were ten years old so we’re used to sharing a creative goal. We have a really natural creative process.
Torontoist: How would you describe the process of building your guitars?
Nick: We start with raw lumber. We get our materials, we cut them up and season them and we allow them to acclimate, and we start from those materials. Our process is a mixture of old world techniques—using hand planes and chisels, and also using modern technology and modern finishing techniques. Over the two years we’ve been doing this we’ve refined our process, so it’s not super challenging for us anymore.
Torontoist: So, what was it like growing up together?
Jon: Definitely a lot of music in the house. I think by the time we were in high school we had about ten guitars in the house—electrics and acoustics and bass guitars. Playing music together was always a big part of growing up, we grew up listening to a lot of music. In high school Nick and Tim started getting into actual woodworking.
There is also a fourth person missing in this conversation and that’s our business partner, Warren Spitz. Really Warren is at the crux of this company coming into being. When Nick and Tim were working out of that shared studio on King West, on evenings and weekends, I kept encouraging them to put together a business plan. The plan was to pitch the business to our friend and mentor Warren Spitz who owns UCS Forest Group—one of the largest importers and exporters of specialty lumber in North America. For the last couple of years he had been giving Nick and Tim wood for guitars. With him we have a great business partner and access to the best tone woods in the world.
Torontoist: If you were doing anything other than this what would it be?
Nick: We play music in a band, it would be great to be a professional musician. But…this is sort of already the dream job.
CORRECTION, 2:55 p.m.: A photo caption in the previous version of this article incorrectly named the Frank Brothers Guitar Company. Torontoist regrets the error.