Renowned guitar maker dies

Lance McCollum suffers fatal aortic aneurysm
By: Gloria Beverage
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Lance McCollum, the Colfax resident known for his custom-made guitars, died Sunday morning. According to longtime friend and fellow luthier Hank Mauel, McCollum, 50, suffered an aeoric aneurysm. “He was rushed into emergency surgery at (Sutter) Auburn Faith Hospital, but the damage was too massive to overcome,” Mauel reported on the Acoustic Guitar Community Web site. Per his wishes, there will be no memorial service. “He will be cremated and his ashes scattered at sea over the Southern California area he surfed as a youth,” Mauel continued. Alta resident and musician Rob Bonner is in the midst of planning a concert on March 1 at the Colfax Theater. “That’s Lance’s birthday,” Bonner said. “We’re going to throw a birthday party for him. “I could always count on him calling and harassing me during the day or at night,” Bonner said of his best friend. “And I could count on him whenever I needed him.” Teja Gerken, senior editor of Acoustic Guitar, remembers McCollum as a vital member of the northern California guitar community. “His career and recognition grew steadily through his participation in events like the Healdsburg Guitar Festival (Lance was an exhibitor from the very beginning) and his association with players such as Alex de Grassi, Todd Hallawell and Richard Leo Johnson,” Gerken wrote in her blog on Monday. “Lance wasn’t afraid to tackle unusual instruments, offering Baritones before they were commonplace and even offering a harp guitar design.” A builder of custom homes for more than 20 years, McCollum left the construction industry in 1994 to launch his own business creating handmade guitars. He “simply hadn’t found the sound he was looking for in something he could buy off the rack,” his Web site states. A musician since age 12, McCollum started experimenting with his own designs after studying for a year with master guitar maker Luke Wilson. Fourteen years and more than 300 guitars later, McCollum’s creations are played by backporch pickers all the way up to award-winning performers, noted Mauel. They have also been used in the soundtracks of several motion pictures, most recently "August Rush." The list of pros who play McCollum guitars include Martin Barre, guitarist for Jethro Tull, Supertramp’s Roger Hodgson, 1997 National Fingerpicking Champion Todd Hallwell, Scottish singer-songwriter Dougie MacLean and Mark Mancina, a Grammy-award winning film composer and record producer. His “building style produces a guitar that has the tonal complexities of a grand piano with all the notes speaking independently, but still blending evenly with great sustain all the way up the fingerboard,” according to his Web site. He used unusual woods – black walnut, Tasmanian blackwood, zebrano, figured ebony, Italian spruce and Vietnamese rosewood – to build the custom guitars in a workshop behind his Colfax home. Each one had inlays of Celtic knots as well as his trademark circle-octagon and interwoven rosettes. Readers of Acoustic Magazine named him the Players’ Choice in the Small Scale Custom Makers category in 2004. Bonner, co-owner of Rainbow Music Co. in Colfax, explained how he became the owner of two of McCollum’s creations. “When I brought the first one home, my wife, Christine, who is a harpist, latched on it. All of a sudden it became her guitar,” Bonner said with a laugh. "I went back to him and told him I needed another guitar. He made me one.” Born and raised in Southern California, McCollum began honing his skills as an artist as a pre-teen. He redesigned his own and his friends’ BMX bicycles by welding them into a new form and then embellishing them along with the rider’s helmets with fancy paint jobs. McCollum moved on to designing and shaping his own surfboards and water skis, reconfiguring the fin placement and adding his own airbrush designs. Most recently, he had started working with Voyage-Air Guitars where he assisted in developing the company’s radical folding-neck guitars, Gerken noted, adding he represented the company at last month’s 2009 NAMM show. McCollum moved to Colfax in 1980 and met his future wife, Dawn, the following year. “He was a really big part of this community and an even bigger part of the guitar community,” Dawn McCollum recalled. “He was always doing something outside of the box.” Perhaps one of his greatest gifts, she said, was his ability to facilitate connections between people throughout the world. “If you told him about something you were interested in or had a passion for,” she said, “six months later he would be talking to someone and would remember what you mentioned and put those two in touch. It’s interesting the number of people he was able to connect with other people.” She also describes her husband as an excellent cook. “He used to harvest grapes from the Bear River and make grape jelly every summer,” she said. “And he had a wicked enchilada sauce.” An avid water-skier and fisherman, Dawn McCollum said her husband also loved playing softball. He delighted in coaching their daughter, Meghann, who is a pitcher for her softball team. “He was always out there playing catch with her,” she said. In addition to his wife, McCollum is survived by Meghann, 14, an eighth grader at Chicago Park School; Kevin, 18, a senior at Colfax High School; and Kayleigh, 21, a student at California State University, Sacramento. In an effort to help McCollum’s family, friends have established the McCollum Family Fund at Bank of the West, 13422 Lincoln Way, Auburn, CA 95603. -- Gus Thomson contributed to this story.