By Mark Foynes
Between himself and his late father, New Durham’s Jon Mouradian has made and worked on guitars for some of rock ‘n roll’s biggest names. Clients of Mouradian Guitars have included Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, the rock band Yes, and the former musician, J. Geils.
Although Mouradian and his family live in the Lakes Region, he still maintains his Boston-area workshop, which he commutes to every day. He said that he is willing to endure the 80-mile one-way commute, which takes him about an hour and a half.
“I don’t mind driving at all since I get to live in this beautiful area,” he said, noting that maintaining his workshop in Wilmington, Massachusetts allows him to stay close to his customer base.
“I don’t think Joe Perry would be willing to make the trip for some minor guitar repairs,” he joked.
Mouradian and his family relocated to the Lakes Region about a year and a half ago. Their sprawling circa 1840 home features wall murals in the main entry, which leads upstairs to a ballroom. Locally-known as the Pike House, it’s just down the road from the original New Durham Meetinghouse.
Having previously vacationed in Tuftonboro, Mouradian was already familiar with the area. He said he and his family love the rural character and quality of life in the town.
Mouradian very much sees his guitar-making work as part of a legacy started by his Dad, Jim, who died last year just prior to his 67th birthday.
The elder Mouradian’s career path was somewhat serendipitous. Prior to making guitars, he worked in his family’s rug shop. Being a huge fan of the progressive rock band Yes, he used his free time to custom make them a rug bearing their logo. Mouradian’s Dad somehow got access to the band, and presented the rug to the musicians when they played the Boston Garden in the 1970s. The rockers were so impressed by the intricacy of Mouradian’s work - as well his thoughtfulness - that they struck up a friendship. (They actually displayed the rug at their London headquarters).
The bond between Mouradian’s Dad and Yes’ Chris Squire was particularly strong, since they were both bass players. Some years after they met, in spite of never having made an instrument before, the elder Mouradian made and presented a bass to Squire, which is shown in the video for their 1983 hit “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” The custom instrument’s tonality and unique body design garnered a lot of attention, and Squire was beginning to refer other musicians to Mouradian. And so a business was born.
Jon recalled that his father included him almost from the start. “We never spent a weekend apart.
“For a while we were in a 13-square-foot shop - so we couldn't turn without bumping into each other,” he smilingly recounted.
At first, the younger Mouradian’s tasks included setting tuning pegs and other simple installs or repairs. At this point Jon was still in elementary school.
“Even then I liked to work with my hands,” he recalled.
He added that he also has a penchant for precision, so eventually getting to do work that requires some details to be one-thousandth of an inch was a source of pride and pleasure.
In addition to honing his technical expertise, working in his Dad’s shop also gave Mouradian a chance to meet some of the leading musicians of the day.
One story from Mouradian family lore involves an unkempt guitarist from Seattle who was in town to play a gig. Having busted the neck of his Fender electric during a Boston concert, the disheveled grunge rocker needed help. As a struggling young musician, he explained he didn't have the money to replace the six string. Mouradian's father agreed to make the fix and encouraged the then-anonymous guitarist to take better care of his instruments going forward.
The guitarist was Kurt Cobain, whose visit occurred just months before his band Nirvana hit it big with the 1991 album "Nevermind," which has sold some 9.5 million copies to date.
By this point, Mouradian Guitar Co. moved to a third-floor unit of the Cambridge Music Center on Massachusetts Ave. The business had grown to the point where they could employ a small staff. One of the musicians that Mouradian saw with some frequency was Pat Badger, the bass player from the band Extreme. Through that connection, he came to know each member of the quartet; they wanted to hire him to help stage manage their live shows during an upcoming tour.
Sounded like a dream-come-true, but there was just one problem: Mouradian was 17 and a senior in high school. In this case, however, he was able to have his cake and eat it, too.
Mouradian and his principal were able to work out a plan where he could receive academic credit for hands-on experience he’d be getting on the road. For example, lugging heavy speakers around would cover his gym requirement. Since he’d be doing a lot of the electrical wiring before performances, that would count toward both shop and applied mathematics.
“It was awesome as a kid to be able to be back stage at these concert venues,” he said, citing the Channel as an example. (Mouradian has kept in touch with Extreme and still occasionally runs their sound system at local shows, such as a recent gig at the Casino Ballroom).
Once back from the tour, Mouradian returned to his Dad’s shop and continued plying the trade and honing his skills. Eventually, his skills were nearly on a par with his Dad’s.
“It’s really rewarding to work on things that allow people to be creative,” Mouradian said.
The first half of 2017 was a period of personal loss for Mouradian. In addition to losing his father that February, a couple months later saw the passing of rock legend, J. Geils, whom he’d gotten to know through the shop.
“Losing him was a tough one,” he recalled. He said that when the two would go out to lunch, they rarely talked about guitars, but rather their mutual passion for cars.
“I like the muscle cars and he liked the Italian performance cars, but we still spoke the same language,” he said. (As Mouradian and I chatted in his driveway next to a classic Mustang and a Chevelle, a man pulled up alongside us and asked him if either was for sale. “No, never will be,” was his response.)
Within his massive barn is a 1960 Oldsmobile, which he’s modded with a racing engine. Mouradian said it was his Dad’s before it became his first car. In addition to its having sentimental value, he also races it down at the New England Dragway in Epping.
Being a small custom instrument maker with a remarkable number of high-profile clients, Mouradian says he does little to promote the shop. Most of his business comes from existing customers and referral by word-of-mouth.
He adds that he enjoys the actual fabrication of guitars and basses but that a vast majority of what the shop does involves repairs and helping with instrument maintenance. Mouradian does have a website and he uses Facebook to keep up with clients. Phone: (781) 756-4877
Although he’s been at this for 35 years, Mouradian said that he will never retire anytime soon - or even at all. “I love what I do and I’m going to do this up until the end.”