Legend of Jimi Hendrix lives on in custom guitars crafted on Vancouver Island
Comox, B.C., luthier tracks down pieces of the demolished Hendrix family home in Seattle
Standing at a workbench in the studio behind his home, Reuben Forsland picks up a tattered piece of wood with chipping paint.
The initials J.H. are scrawled on one end.
It may look like construction debris, but they are pieces of Jimi Hendrix's childhood home.
They will soon be transformed into unique custom guitars.
"I had basically started imagining creating something more than just an instrument for sound, but an instrument that will connect with somebody in a more emotional way," said Forsland of JOI Guitars in Comox, B.C.
The Hendrix home
Rock and roll legend Jimi Hendrix grew up in Seattle in the 1940s and 1950s.
The family purchased a modest bungalow at 2603 26 Avenue in Seattle's Central District in 1953. It has since been torn down.
"The home hadn't been in the family for many years and it had basically been quite run down and that's why they thought they would demolish it," Forsland said.
But he had heard pieces of the home had been saved.
The idea of tracking them down intrigued him, but he didn't pursue it until he had a big break of his own.
Forsland bought his first guitar at nine years old. After 15 years working as carpenter, furniture maker and woodworker, he thought he'd try building one.
Now, he's a professional luthier. His JOI Guitars are as much pieces of art as they are music makers.
A few years ago, Forsland was commissioned to make a guitar for Slash of Guns N' Roses and Velvet Revolver fame.
He wanted to make sure it was special, so he got more serious about tracking down pieces of the old Hendrix home with a plan to incorporate some of the wood into Slash's guitar.
"He's one of Slash's childhood heroes or guitar gods. It just seemed right to me. They are both just really fantastic guitar players."
Tracing the history of the 1920s home wasn't easy. There were times when he hit dead ends.
But by working contacts in the Seattle music scene, Forlsand confirmed pieces of the home did exist.
He tracked them to a storage locker in a community near Seattle and went to see for himself.
"It looked like lots of lumber from an old war house built in the early 1900s stacked up."
The paperwork for the home also checked out.
"The homeowner has the legal documentation for the home as well as many articles written and many photographs of him in front of the home."
Forlsand incorporated some of the wood from the old house into the neck of the guitar for Slash, adding the historic rock inspiration he had hoped for.
But he also realized he had some pretty unique material to work with and wanted to do more.
Harmonic Hendrix Home Guitars
Forsland came up with the idea of the Harmonic Hendrix Home Guitars — a series of 10 custom guitars made with salvaged and reclaimed pieces of the house.
But undertaking work in the namesake of Jimi Hendrix required permission from the family.
"That came with two years of discussions with the estate," he said. "Lawyers to lawyers conversation and a licence agreement with Authentic Hendrix."
Authentic Hendrix manages the legacy for and everything related to the short but influential life of Jimi Hendrix.
"I thought that was a real positive way of using the materials," said Janie Hendrix, the CEO and Jimi's younger sister.
"True guitarists of any level that love music and love guitars, they've all been introduced to Jimi at one point or another."
'Voice of the instrument'
With the legal work out of the way, Forsland set to work with the scraps of wood and metal.
"I had pretty well already figured out what I had wanted out of this pile of wood," he said.
"I knew I wanted the front of the guitar, the soundboard, the voice of the instrument, to be made out of the house."
Even the old paint chipping off the boards has been salvaged.
"I re-epoxyed it into the rosette of the instrument for my first two instruments," he said.
Nails from the old boards serve as fret markers.
Pop culture history
So far, Forsland has finished two of the 10 guitars in the series. One has been sold.
Part of the proceeds from the project go to a new park in Seattle in memory of Jimi Hendrix.
When all of the Harmonic Hendrix Home Guitars are finished, a select group of musicians and collectors will own a piece of pop culture history.