Tragically Hip, Supertramp guitar tech celebrates 50 years of work
Rufus Stewart has been fixing guitars and more since 1965 and has had some famous clients
Vancouver Island resident Rufus Stewart is celebrating 50 years of doing his dream job: fixing and building stringed instruments like guitars, banjos, mandolins, double basses and more.
In those 50 years, Stewart has repaired a lot of instruments — 500 last year alone — and his clients have ranged from amateur players to major acts like Valdy, the Tragically Hip, Supertramp, Jesse Winchester, Tegan and Sara, and countless others.
Stewart always knew he would be a behind-the-scenes type of guy when it came to music, and after his first experience fixing a guitar that was smashed in a fight in 1965, he knew he had found his calling.
"[I started] mostly because I wanted to learn how to play a guitar," Stewart told North By Northwest's Grant Lawrence at the 2015 Filberg Festival in Comox.
"I had friends who did play, and it just seemed like such a wonderful thing to do ... but I knew I was going to always be learning. I was never going to be the performer type."
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Fixing guitars for the Tragically Hip
Stewart, originally from the Maritimes, started working on guitars full-time in Montreal in 1968, and worked in various cities as he made several moves west.
When he was in Kingston, one of his clients was guitarist Rob Baker, lead guitarist for the Tragically Hip, who came into the shop with a badly-damaged guitar in pieces that he wanted Stewart to put back together.
"It turned out well, and as far as I know, they still have it," Stewart says.
"That sort of began a working relationship where we would do up the instruments they'd use for the tour … They chose the instruments based on the material they were going to do, and I'd make sure they were put right for the tour."
And while he continues to have clientele among some of rock 'n' roll's biggest names, he also does repairs for local players on Vancouver Island at his home business in Parksville.
Going on tour
Despite being 50 years into his career, Stewart still does what he calls "repair tours," where he goes across Canada fixing instruments for his long-time client base that he's built up over the decades.
Many of the friends he had in the Maritimes have moved on to other parts of the country, so he travels to various cities to get their gear in tip-top shape.
However, his Maritime connections are still strong.
"I still have, now, my third generation of clients in the Maritimes that I'm servicing for," he says.
"I do it in the winter, and that's because the people, especially on Prince Edward Island, are seasonally employed, and that's when they have an opportunity to play their music and get [their instruments] fixed."
And while he makes his living repairing old and beaten-up instruments, Stewart's advice for aspiring players — and even more so, parents who want their kids to start playing — is to always buy the newest, best gear you can afford.
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