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He turns wood from Detroit's vacant buildings into beautiful guitars

Entrepreneur Mark Wallace found his inspiration inside an abandoned building in Detroit.That's when he realize...

Posted: Aug 1, 2018 3:26 PM
Updated: Aug 1, 2018 3:26 PM

Entrepreneur Mark Wallace found his inspiration inside an abandoned building in Detroit.

That's when he realized the city's vacant homes, firehouses and auto manufacturing plants are not eyesores, but instead provide a valuable commodity -- reclaimed wood -- that would eventually become the cornerstone for his startup, Wallace Detroit Guitars.

From the benches of a recreation center to the wooden floor planks of a former firehouse, Wallace has been salvaging scraps of pine, maple, redwood, mahogany and walnut and turning them into beautiful handcrafted guitars that are uniquely tied to Detroit's history of manufacturing and, in particular, music.

"One of my favorite sources for the wood is the Brewster-Wheeler Recreation Center," said Wallace, 41. The rec center was located right next to the housing projects where Diana Ross once lived. She and The Supremes were known to hang out there, he said.

Wallace harvested maple from the center's benches to create his Brewster Wheeler series of guitars. Another line, called the Cadillac Stamping collection, is made from wood reclaimed from a former auto parts plant.

A Michigan native, Wallace founded his business as the city struggled to stay afloat. The company launched in 2014, just one year after Detroit filed for bankruptcy protection. But that hasn't slowed Wallace down.

His company now produces about 50 guitars a year, logging annual revenue of just over $100,000 -- and it's turning a profit.

Related: How innovation helped save Detroit

The idea for the guitars came to Wallace after a friend told him about Architectural Salvage Warehouse, a local nonprofit that deconstructs historic buildings with the goal of reusing salvaged wood and other materials to make new products. The concept piqued his interest. So he took a tour of the warehouse where the salvaged materials were stored.

"There was a lot of wood piled up and I happened to spot a cutting board made from reclaimed wood. It was stunningly beautiful," Wallace said.

Related: Ford to remake Detroit's most famous ruin

The shape of the board reminded him of a guitar that he bought when he was in high school. "I remember thinking, 'Wouldn't it be cool to have an actual guitar made from this old wood?," he said.

With his own personal investment of $20,000, Wallace took a year to assemble a team of freelancers and spent about $650 to make a prototype from wood harvested from a house on Pearl Street that dated back to the late 1800s.

Along the way, he hired a local guitar player to test the guitar's sound quality. He also set up a website and hired a marketing firm.

That first year, Wallace sold 50 guitars through the company's website.

"People started loving the story and wanted to own a guitar that was tied to Detroit, looked beautiful and sounded great," he said.

Related: After plastic straws, this entrepreneur wants plastic toothbrushes to disappear

About half of sales come from within Michigan. The rest come mostly from other states, but there have been some international buyers from Europe, Asia and Australia, Wallace said.

Each guitar takes about three months to make and sells for between $2,200 and $3,800, depending on the rarity of the wood and custom components on the guitar.

The guitars are all stamped with a serial number that begins with Detroit's area code, 313, followed by a number indicating where the specific wood came from and how many guitars were made from that wood.

Wallace said he will soon add a bass guitar to the company's portfolio and hopes to eventually add other musical instruments.

"It's not like we're going to run out of wood in Detroit anytime soon," he said.

At the same time, he wants the city's vacant properties to come back to life again.

"I want to see Detroit full of people again and neighborhoods to be revitalized. That's ultimately my goal for this city," said Wallace.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 918230

Reported Deaths: 15011
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1252491952
Lake623371084
Allen52301746
Hamilton43009443
St. Joseph41155584
Elkhart32831485
Vanderburgh29698436
Tippecanoe26442247
Johnson23106414
Hendricks21708338
Porter21255340
Clark16988222
Madison16899378
Vigo15562272
Monroe14186190
LaPorte13961235
Delaware13613215
Howard13531258
Kosciusko11150134
Hancock10534159
Warrick10431174
Bartholomew10233166
Floyd10099202
Wayne9557216
Grant8858194
Morgan8654158
Boone8231109
Dubois7521123
Henry7391126
Dearborn734186
Noble7208100
Marshall7168127
Cass7060117
Lawrence6803150
Jackson638980
Shelby6386106
Gibson5999105
Harrison587984
Huntington586490
Montgomery5663101
DeKalb555691
Knox532999
Miami523183
Clinton522464
Putnam519067
Whitley509851
Steuben480267
Wabash470192
Jasper465760
Jefferson456091
Ripley439074
Adams435565
Daviess4008106
Scott389563
White383457
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Clay376455
Greene375589
Wells375183
Fayette363074
Posey351841
Jennings341756
Washington324046
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Spencer310734
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Randolph302087
Sullivan294947
Owen275961
Orange269659
Starke268961
Fulton264451
Jay248134
Perry244950
Carroll239926
Franklin229337
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Parke212020
Tipton205354
Pike200938
Blackford163834
Pulaski155250
Crawford140818
Benton138316
Newton138141
Brown130646
Martin124416
Switzerland122310
Warren112616
Union92211
Ohio75811
Unassigned0461

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1319265

Reported Deaths: 21265
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1480641537
Cuyahoga1311202313
Hamilton948871307
Montgomery647451122
Summit548531041
Lucas49502853
Butler45993649
Stark39954963
Lorain30438525
Warren29170326
Mahoning25988629
Clermont24726278
Lake24088411
Delaware21722140
Licking19822239
Fairfield19780218
Greene19671266
Medina19208285
Trumbull19195506
Clark17188321
Portage15585224
Richland15540228
Wood15187208
Allen13654254
Miami13283244
Muskingum11821148
Wayne11448234
Columbiana11100239
Tuscarawas10388264
Marion10273144
Pickaway10162128
Scioto9766124
Erie9479170
Ross8979172
Lawrence8225116
Hancock8105140
Ashtabula8083184
Geauga7976155
Belmont7791183
Jefferson7093168
Huron7087125
Union703549
Washington6823116
Athens666163
Sandusky6608132
Darke6394135
Knox6308120
Seneca6113135
Auglaize569888
Ashland5631110
Shelby555799
Mercer545188
Brown533067
Defiance5278100
Madison527368
Crawford5148113
Highland514876
Fulton508781
Clinton505379
Logan494582
Preble4788110
Putnam4733106
Guernsey439057
Williams437281
Champaign426463
Ottawa425783
Perry414051
Jackson402259
Pike367140
Morrow359149
Fayette353951
Coshocton345064
Hardin341868
Adams338864
Gallia329254
Holmes3148107
Henry312668
Van Wert299269
Hocking280467
Wyandot271858
Carroll250451
Paulding231742
Meigs197842
Monroe178649
Noble160340
Morgan153528
Harrison145740
Vinton130217
Unassigned05
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