Music blasts from Bob Dickel's backyard shop, sitting feet behind his North Franklin Boulevard home. The retired Pleasantville cabinetry maker sits inside, but with saws still lining the shop's back wall and wood samples scattered in piles, it's hard to imagine the spot is being unused.
The assumption is true, for the tunes are serving as a backdrop for a budding business, with Tyler Robbins, 22, Dickel's grandson, as the frontman.
From the wood purchases to the electronic work, the Richard Stockton College graduate started making guitars for fun - and now hopefully for a living.
Feeling uninspired to pursue a career with his criminal justice degree, Robbins now channels his energy into creating the custom instrument. Before and after his shifts at Skelly's Hi-Point Pub in Absecon - a job he's held for six years - he is in his grandfather's shop.
"I made my first one when I was 15, but I wouldn't really count that. My grandpa helped me a lot," Robbins said.
Robbins says his grandfather, now in his 70s, suffers slightly from dementia and can't work like he once did.
"It's not that bad yet. He'll come out and see what I am doing and stand there and look over my shoulder."
After taking a break for two years, Robbins got back into the craft after seeing someone online make a guitar out of a cigar box.
"I said, 'That's pretty cool. I want to do that,' and I built it and somebody wanted one, and I ended up making seven of them for different people," he said of the design that resembles what he does with full-sized electric guitars.
Now, due to pure excitement, Robbins is in the midst of building three guitars at once, with the help of online tutorials, books and videos on the craft.
He posts step-by-step photos to guitar forums like projectgui
tar.com and ultimate-gui
tar.com, where he receives helpful tips and comments throughout the process. He received 13,000 views on his recent anchor-inspired guitar on the latter site, he said.
Images of this recently finished guitar will serve as his future website's theme, said friend Eddie Contento, 20, of Estell Manor.
Contento, a graphic and web designer for Chop Dawg Studios in Egg Harbor Township, has begun the mockups and coding for robbinscustomguitars.com, in exchange for the custom-made piece.
"At the time, it was going to be just a simple electric guitar. I came up with the design for the anchor, and it sort of just evolved into the crazy thing it is now," Contento said. "Tyler really pays attention to the details. He is very, very talented. I was surprised when it started taking shape. It was way better than I expected."
On a recent visit, the mild-tempered guitar maker sat at his workstation, putting finishing touches on a semi-hollow electric. Designed originally for an ex-girlfriend, the instrument was painted with a purple stain, adorned with hand-drawn carved butterfly detailing, with touches of abalone shell on its back.
"The butterflies alone took 13 hours," he said.
On the truss rod lay his signature raven logo made of abalone.
His artistic abilities aid him with the details, he said.
The guitars' starting price will be about $1,500, but the final price will depend on the extent of the customization, Robbins said.
Once he completes his purple butterfly piece, he will feel confident enough to take custom orders from the public. CMC Guitars, a shop in Vineland, also agreed to feature his work, Robbins said.
Walking through the workshop, he talks about eventually moving on to acoustic guitars, but he knows it takes a different skill set - one that he could potentially learn next fall.
Robbins is saving for tuition, with plans to attend The Galloup School of Lutherie in Michigan next year. He will spend eight weeks at the school to fine-tune his craft.
"I thought if I could learn this much on my own, that I could do really amazing things once trained by professionals," Robbins said. "It would be nice to just be able to do this for a living - to not have to work at the Hi-Point anymore, to not be a police officer - just do what I like doing, making beautiful guitars for people."
To learn more about Tyler Robbin's work, visit the Robbins Guitars Facebook page.
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