BREAKING NEWS : Allen County Councilman Joel Benz plans to accept TRAA executive director position Full Story

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 h...

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: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
Fort Wayne
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 46°
Angola
Mostly Cloudy
52° wxIcon
Hi: 55° Lo: 46°
Feels Like: 52°
Huntington
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 46°
Decatur
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 57° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 46°
Van Wert
Cloudy
53° wxIcon
Hi: 59° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 53°
Sunshine and warmer air return to round out the work week, but the warm-up is brief.
WFFT Radar
WFFT Temperatures
WFFT National

Community Events