Thirty years ago, Steve McMinn (’83, Technology Education) ordered a guitar kit that changed his life.
An experienced woodworker preparing to teach woodworking to kids, McMinn planned to build this guitar then learn how to play it. But his motivation changed when he opened the box and found guitar parts made of low-quality wood.
Unsatisfied with both the materials and his own handiwork, McMinn ended up burning his unfinished guitar in his Bellingham driveway, but not before it sparked an idea.
“I thought, somebody who was smarter, who would work harder – and who had a rich uncle – could probably make a business out of this,” he says.
At first, he hoped to just keep himself employed. Today, McMinn owns Pacific Rim Tonewoods, a mill in the Cascade foothills town of Concrete. McMinn and his business partner and general manager, Eric Warner – along with 25 employees – are a key supplier of finely crafted parts for high-end guitar companies such as Taylor, Martin, Gibson and others.
And after more than two decades of smarts and hard work, McMinn has become his own “rich uncle.” High quality acoustic guitars are a thriving niche market. If guitars were cars, then the Taylor and Martin companies – competitors who both count on Pacific Rim Tonewoods for their materials – would make Audis and Lexuses, McMinn says.
“It seems like a lot to spend $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 on a guitar, but then think about what cars cost,” he says. “This is a cultural artifact that’s beautiful. You can pass it on and you can make something beautiful with it.”