Once I walked into his small shack at the back of his property in Baton Rouge, it became incredibly apparent that Jeff Richard was an expert at his craft.
After answering a quick question about some seemingly random plastic strips hanging on the door – which I would learn were called binding, the plastic strips on the edges of the bodies of guitars – Richard pulled out a guitar owned by a father of psychedelic rock.
“This guitar went through a fire,” Richard said, showing me the instrument owned by Roky Erickson before he died.
After going through a series of friends, Erickson’s guitar was given to Richard to “see what he could do to bring it back to life.”
And that is the primary job of Jeff Richard, sole owner and operator of The Fret Shack. He’s been fiddling with and tweaking guitars since he was a teen and is now 51-years-old.
“I get a lot of word-of-mouth referrals…there’s not a lot of people that do what I do.”
For a flat $50 an hour, Richard provides personalized work for musicians across not only Louisiana, but the entire Gulf Coast region. He works seven days a week.
“I live and love what I do,” he said. “People come to me with instruments that they care about…it’s all about making it the best it can be.”
Prior to fulfilling his dream, Richard worked as a journalist in Shreveport and then in media relations with the Louisiana Office of Tourism in Baton Rouge.
“Back in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, journalism was still a respectable field. There was no such thing as ‘fake news.’”
In 2015, however, Richard, along with the push of his wife, opened The Fret Shack. As a child of ‘70s and ‘80s rock, Eddie Van Halen was a huge inspiration for Richard. He would try to adjust his own guitars to emulate the sounds of those of his heroes, like Van Halen and Kiss’s Ace Frehley, and that is how he started tinkering with guitars. He even built his own guitars out of parts and worked on friends’ guitars. That hobby would follow him until the present day.
“I always wanted to open my own little repair shop,” he said. And he isn’t limited to strictly guitar repairs either. Richard works on anything with frets and strings, including banjos, ukuleles and mandolins.
Before quitting his journalism job, he intended to start his repair business slowly and test the market. But within a year, he was working 80 hours a week between his day job and the job he always wanted.
Between showing me Roky Erickson’s burnt guitar, a cigar-box guitar he built himself, a picture of Johnny Cash’s guitar he restored, a demonstration of power tools, and a lesson in guitar parts and how he manipulates them, Richard’s face beamed with passion as he told me everything about the job he loves.
“It’s like paying a kid to manage a Baskin-Robbins.”