Guitar Factory

Why a famed guitar maker from Los Angeles set up shop in Detroit.
Gabriel Currie
Detroit is the place to start over for this Los Angelino. // Photographs by Nick Hagen

Gabriel Currie has written, produced, recorded, and performed music since he was a teenager. His talents also extend to designing and handcrafting guitars for some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.

But in 2016, Currie, a native of East Los Angeles, got fed up with life on the West Coast, especially the traffic. Looking to break free of the routine, Currie searched for an “ecological ecosystem” that was more spiritual in nature. After considering Seattle, Portland, Texas, Arizona, Nevada, and New Mexico, he arrived in Detroit and never looked back.

“Los Angeles was so crowded. You can’t get in your car and drive straight and get anywhere within an hour,” says Currie, owner of Echopark Guitars on Detroit’s far west side. “As I was looking around for a place to start the next journey, I didn’t think in terms of dollars and cents, but projects. I wanted a place to set up a guitar factory that was more bohemian in style.”

Following high school, Currie worked for Leo Fender, one of the world’s most renowned designers of guitars, base guitars, and amplifiers. “Once I started working on guitars, I was hooked,” Currie says. “My dad is an artist (who works) in fine art, pottery, oil paintings, and water colors, so I got a lot of my creativity from him.”

Gabriel Currie making a guitar
Gabriel Currie says Michigan’s pure air and relative low humidity are key factors in crafting guitars from mahogany and other exotic woods.

Echopark, which has four employees, produces around 100 guitars a year. Prices range from $2,500 to $14,000 for the custom instruments. The final price is based on a variety of factors including selected woods, the shape, and exterior treatments.

“Some of the wood we use is more than 300 years old,” Currie says. “Our clients are looking for a great American guitar that is traditionally built, but in unique styles.  (Woods we use include) mahogany, alder, sassafras, ash, maple, rosewood, and Zericote.”

Set within a nondescript building, the interior of Echopark resembles a lumberyard. Stacks of ash and mahogany surround seemingly every saw and drill known to man, along with steamers used to shape wood into curved forms. The guitars are sold alongside foot pedals and new and used amplifiers.

“In addition to what Detroit offers, which is a great network of musicians and entertainers, the air here is really pure,” Currie says. “There’s not a lot of humidity, so the wood responds a lot better to what we do.”

Echopark’s clients include Aerosmith, Jackson Browne, Queens of the Stoned Age, Blackberry Smoke, and The Raconteurs, among others.

“My challenge is that no one tells me what to do,” Currie says. “So how do I keep it fresh? One thing is my clients change every 10 years, and the musical styles are changing constantly. It used to be rock ’n’ roll-dominated, but now there are so many more genres. I love that.”

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