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Life & Work with Jason Kostal

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jason Kostal.

Hi Jason, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
I have played guitar since I was four years old. Growing up in Wisconsin, I had aspirations to become a professional musician however somewhere along that journey my aspirations changed and I decided to serve in the military. I attended the United States Military Academy at West Point and began a journey in the US Army that lasted almost 13 years.

Along the way, music, and playing the guitar allowed me to remain grounded and gave me something to enjoy in some of the more difficult times in my life. I attended graduate school towards the end of my time in the Army and was fortunate enough to have a well-known luthier (guitar maker) that lived in my area named Kent Everett. It was through Kent that I was first introduced to the art and science of guitar making, and woodworking in general.

My previous experience in woodworking consisted of a pinewood derby car that I made while participating in scouting, and if my memory serves me right, I believe my father actually made that car for me, and I just painted it! My first day of “creating” something in Kent’s shop had me hooked and I was craving more. It was here that my adventures in guitar making began.

I am one of those people who, when I start an endeavor, want to learn everything there is about it and find ways to not only be good at it but one of the best. I began reading about guitars and how they were made, studying the science behind their construction and operation, and sought out additional knowledge to continue to grow as a person as well as a luthier.

I finished grad school and went into the corporate world as an executive with a Fortune 100 company. While the company itself was a good one, I realized early on that our values and ideals did not align well, and I made the decision to take a risk and create a future for myself that I not only could enjoy but could be proud of as well.

I moved here to the Phoenix area in 2006 to attend the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery where I learned more about the process of guitar making, but on a different, more production-oriented scale. After graduation, I stayed on for a few years as an instructor and continued to learn and grow in my chosen path. In 2008 I was offered the opportunity to move to the San Francisco Bay area to apprentice under one of the top guitar makers in the world, Ervin Somogyi.

After three years of studying under Ervin, I moved back here to the Phoenix area and settled in Queen Creek. I have been here ever since, working in my small shop building between 25-30 guitars per year for discerning clients, collectors, and professional musicians all over the world.

I currently have a seven-year waitlist for one of my guitars, so things seem to be going well, and I continue to enjoy what I am doing and wake up every day excited to continue this adventure.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
It has not always been a smooth road. One of the hardest challenges for me has been to try and tap into my creative side and allow others to judge that creativity. I consider myself both right and left-brained but am most comfortable with the left side of logic and analytical thought and procedures.

Being creative is actually hard for me, and part of the reason I enjoy doing this so much is that I get to enjoy the science of building the guitar while pushing myself out of my comfort zone with the creative side. Creating something from the heart and putting it out there for others to critique is one of the most difficult things that I have had to learn to deal with.

When someone likes what you do it feels amazing, and when someone doesn’t like what you have created, even if it is only their opinion, it feels as if you have failed the world. It is an emotional roller coaster ride that took me years to come to terms with and understand.

These days I build to my heart’s content and appreciate the feedback I get but I don’t let the emotional ride affect me as much as it used to.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I build handmade, handcrafted acoustic guitars. While there are many great factories and small and medium shops doing what I do, there are not many doing it to the level and detail that I am able to. As a player for over 40 years, I have an understanding of what the guitar is capable of, and the experience and knowledge to get it to do the things that people request.

When you shop in a music store, you are playing their inventory, assessing the different guitars, and purchasing the one that feels or sounds right to you. When people come to me, they come with a lifetime of playing different guitars… usually some of the best in the world, and they are asking me to create something that doesn’t exist, which focuses on the things they want and eliminates the things that they don’t want.

This requires a relationship based on communication and understanding that allows the person commissioning the guitar to explain their needs while allowing me to determine if I am the right fit for them or not. It’s an amazing process, and part of my long waitlist, and the almost $40,000 price tag per guitar is based on my ability to do this over and over again with great success.

It has taken a long time to get to where I am, but I am grateful to be able to create instruments that allow others to create music and find joy and satisfaction in their lives.

What do you think about luck?
I don’t personally believe in luck so much as creating your own path and setting yourself up for success.

I love the fact that if I succeed it rests solely on my shoulders, as much as I love the fact that if I fall short there is no one but myself to turn to for improvement. I study and practice business as much as my craft and feel like they are intermingled. If I build a great guitar but cannot sell it then I fail as a business owner.

Relying on luck for the path and direction of my business, and my well-being doesn’t work for me so I work hard to set the path and direction that I want to move in and adjust along the way to make sure I stay headed in the right direction.

Pricing:

  • Base Price: $20,000
  • Average Price: $34,250

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Ryan Nelson of RYN Photography

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