Mountain Brook natives are building their own guitars out of reclaimed trees

Alabama Sawyer
That guitar in the corner isn’t the only thing custom made in this room. (Cary Norton for Alabama Sawyer)

What started as a friendship between two Mountain Brook natives eventually blossomed into a partnership building beautiful, one-of-a-kind guitars for music and art lovers everywhere to appreciate. Les Nuby and Cliff Spencer have something big up their sleeves, and you’re going to want to get a front row seat for it.

Friends from the start

Alabama Sawyer guitars
Les Nuby strums custom-made guitar. (Alabama Sawyer)

Knowing each other from their days at Mountain Brook High School, Nuby, Spencer and their wives sat down for dinner one night and like any other typical conversation, ended with a tentative plan to cut guitar bodies out of reclaimed trees.

Spencer, founder of Alabama Sawyer, designs modern, environmentally sustainable products from fallen trees in the Birmingham area. It was when Nuby, former drummer for Verbena and musician with Cornelius Chapel Records, mentioned that the 1950s Telecaster guitars were made from ash trees that their conversation changed from cutting guitar bodies to making and designing their own custom guitars.

Funnily enough, Spencer had a milled ash tree from Forest Park in the Alabama Sawyer wood bar, just waiting to be turned into something beautiful.

The process

Alabama Sawyer custom guitar
It’s all in the details. (Cary Norton for Alabama Sawyer)

After their dinner conversation, Nuby and Spencer quickly jumped on the opportunity to make their own models. Nuby mentioned that they loosely based the first model after the one Jimmy Page played in the early days of Led Zeppelin.

A lot goes into the process of making any guitar. But for Nuby and Spencer, it just comes naturally.

“While I supply the wood and make sure everything aligns correctly, Les is the music and electronic geek that chooses the right necks and pickups. This is really an outgrowth of Les’ skills and our materials.”

Cliff Spencer, founder, Alabama Sawyer

The two echoed each other’s thoughts saying how special it is to make something that caters to both partners’ specialties and skills.

“You know when you go into an antique store and find some knick-knack that speaks to you? I can’t explain it, but when I picked up the guitar right after it had been assembled I realized we were now making those trinkets that people see at the antique store and finds really special.”

Les Nuby, musician

Why guitars?

Alabama Sawyer custom guitar
Ready for close-up. (Cary Norton for Alabama Sawyer)

The simple answer to why the two decided to start making model guitars is the accessible resources. Spencer had the reclaimed ash tree in his shop, and Nuby was excited by the idea of making his own version of the Telecaster. However—both would agree that there’s just something about the final product of an instrument that makes this project so special.

I love making furniture for people. A table is great, it’s where people sit and have conversations. But a guitar is a whole different world, it makes music and makes people dance.”

Cliff Spencer, founder, Alabama Sawyer

Even through their own excitement of making these custom guitars, Nuby and Spencer were still asking themselves “who wants this?” It was the realization of making guitars out of local, Alabama trees that both recognized how unique this partnership and experience is. Not just for them, but for everyone who seeks something special to call their own.

“Anyone can go to a Guitar Center and look for a guitar. But at some point, you want something that’s exclusively yours. When something special happens you can feel it.”

Les Nuby, musician

The two currently have a Model A and Model B guitar—one for each of them—but another batch is already in the works. Each creation will be distinct in its own way. Something that makes you go, “That’s my guitar!”

How soon can I get mine?

The name and prices are still in the workshopping stage, but you can get a first look at this project on Alabama Sawyer’s website.

Nuby and Les are channeling their lifelong loves for music and woodworking into this project and we are here for it. After all, we’ve always known Birmingham is home to some of the best artistic talents.

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Callie Morrison
Callie Morrison
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