Tryon’s Jay Lichty crafts custom guitars and ukuleles for award-winning musicians
There’s a storm brewing near the hills of Tryon, North Carolina, and Jay Lichty’s dog Ziggy is hiding behind a door in his workshop. “She’s our weather predictor,” says Lichty. “I think she can hear thunder all the way from Atlanta.” Ziggy begins to pace. Lichty ignores the distant thunder and carries on with his newfound passion and business—creating one-of-a-kind guitars and ukuleles for discerning players the world over.
Jay Lichty and his wife Corrie have weathered storms before. As a residential homebuilder and carpenter, Lichty stayed busy during the thriving economy of the nineties and early this decade. “I think in my whole career I only had about a month-and-a-half period where I didn’t have work,” he says. Then, in 2009, his phone, like the phones of most homebuilders, stopped ringing. But when life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, or in the case of Jay Lichty, when life hands you an economic downturn, you make ukuleles.
“I had a dream one night where I was playing a small-bodied guitar,” says Lichty. “When I woke up, I was real excited and got on the Internet and started looking at small guitars and ended up stumbling upon ukuleles.” A lifelong musician with a talent for stringed instruments, Lichty’s dream led to an obsession, and within two weeks he had purchased three ukuleles and was eyeing a fourth. “There’s something out there called ukulele acquisition syndrome,” says Lichty, “and I didn’t know about it until I had caught it.” Lichty knew he couldn’t continue this purchasing spree. “It’s really how it all began,” he says. “I started building them to keep myself from buying them.”
After building several ukuleles with satisfying results, Lichty had the confidence to attend a guitar-building class with legendary luthier Wayne Henderson. After that, there was no looking back. Jay and Corrie decided to put all of their energy into the workshop.
Now, only three years later, Lichty guitars can be found in the hands of some of the most talented players in the world, including Doug Lancio, lead guitarist for John Hiatt, members of the country band Gloriana, and Shohei Toyoda, winner of Japan’s 2012 National Finger-Picking Competition. “It was really cool,” says Corrie, who handles the company’s marketing and outreach efforts, “because he was playing a Lichty during the competition.”
As the thunder grows closer, Ziggy backs farther into a corner. But Lichty knows this storm will pass—they always do. Come rain or shine, you can find him in this workshop, surrounded by the tools of a craftsman, meticulously following a dream.