Jimmy Eppard’s life of local music and manufacture

Jim Eppard holds a guitar finished on January 12, slated for shipment to Korea. (photo by Christina Coulter)

Perpetually dust-covered Jimmy Eppard is the last person to handle each U.S.-made Spector Bass before it’s sent off for spray finishing in Windham. In his words, he takes the “beautiful furniture” assembled at Stuart Spector Design in Saugerties and “make[s] them into the instrument[s] people want to play.”

Born in Chelsea, Mass., Eppard, 64, has lived in the Hudson Valley for the last 54 years, where he and his family have taken root and become a musical force in the area.

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To his recollection, the first musician Eppard saw live was in 1964 when Tim Hardin played at the Woodstock Playhouse. Since then, in addition to finishing thousands of guitars, he has played in dozens of bands, including the Paul Luke Band, and served as a renowned guitar tech for numerous players and on countless albums. He’s built a recording studio from the ground up and managed a band comprised of his sons. He has worked with the likes of legendary producer Steve Lillywhite and Barry Thomas, and has worked as a sound technician on albums for Butthole Surfers, Screaming Cheetah Wheelies, The Band and Three Days Grace. (“Not my kind of music but hey — it was in tune.”)

“Producers would hire me because they trust that I would keep the guitars in tune — they became reliant on my ear,” said Eppard.

When Eppard asked for drum set as a child, his parents compromised with a ukulele — subsequently, he learned to play the baritone uke and the guitar instead. After graduating from Kingston High in ’71, Eppard was unable to find steady work before joining his first group, a band called The Country Skyline. Until he took up his current position at Stuart Spector in 2002, Eppard worked intermittently as a traveling musician from that point on. He learned carpentry because, he said, he “could read a tape measure and work was available.” These two trades formed a nexus that outfitted Eppard to construct instruments and places to play them. His architectural motto is to “overbuild everything, and then you don’t really have to worry about it falling down.”

“I was supposed to rehearse with The Band and I got to the house, but I didn’t hear anything,” said Eppard of the first time acoustics caught his interest. “I walked in the kitchen and I’m standing there and I don’t hear anything. [The other members’] cars are in the driveway and coats are hung up… There’s a freezer door with one of those things you push — I open that door and the sound almost knocks me over. The place was an old icehouse, insulated with cork. I thought, ‘If I had this in my house, I could play any time, day and night.’”

Eppard’s son, drummer Josh Eppard of Coheed and Cambria, now records with his band in the music studio that his father designed and built from the ground up. According to Eppard, the site of Applehead Recording on Route 212 in Saugerties bordering Woodstock was chosen because Saugerties’ building codes were more lenient in terms of building height.

“I used to make posters for my dad’s band, The Crows, and hang them around the street. It was exciting to me — my dad was in a band,” said Josh. “I’m so happy to be an Eppard and I’m so happy that my dad is my dad. I’m happy to be the least talented Eppard — that still puts you in a class of your own.”

Before Josh went on to play with Coheed and Cambria, his father managed his childhood band, 3. When they were just adolescents, Josh and his brother Joey scored their first record deal with Universal Records.

Shortly after the studio was built, Stuart Spector enlisted Eppard. His band, The Crows, had played at Spector’s wedding.

“Stuart approached me first in 1999,” said Eppard. “He had just taken his distribution of import models back from a jobber in Florida who had been doing it. He needed to go to a big European trade show in Germany and then make the rounds to the factories he was using in Korea and the Czech Republic. He was going to be gone for a month and something like 1,000 instruments were going to show up at his shop that week. I took the job of quality-controlling those guitars and getting them shipped out ASAP.”

Currently, Eppard plays with Hobo Jungle, which just put out its first album this year, Spider Barbour and the Curmudgeons, Salted Bros, Crawdaddy and the Gabriel Butterfield Band. He recently produced Lara Hope & The Arktones’ new album, Love You to Life, which was recorded at Nada Recording.

“It was flattering that someone with Jimmy’s experience and expertise believed in us enough to work with us,” Lara Hope and her husband, Arktones’ bassist Matt Goldpaugh, said. “Not only does Jimmy know a million guitar chords, he has a million stories. Sometimes, it’s like he speaks in parables. It was great to borrow his ears and get his feedback. We even got him to lay down a killer electric sitar solo on one track! We hope to work with Jimmy again in the future.”

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