While on a lunch break from Music Zone one day, Timothy Corts took a tour of the property at 2104 Broadway. It was promising with its welcoming exterior and clean lines, but as Timothy looked across the street from behind the FOR RENT sign in its storefront window, he forgot all about the potential of the space in which he stood. He turned to the person showing him 2104 Broadway and said, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to talk to whoever owns that building.”
That building was nothing but an old, empty gas station the day it caught Timothy’s eye, but he and fellow dreamer Dan Rushing quickly breathed new life into the corner of 21st and Broadway. New life and. . .music.
The former gas station is now home to Stringworks, its large windows full of twinkle lights, tube amplifiers, and beautifully restored vintage stringed instruments. Its front door, previously perpetually locked, now welcomes customers with If the light’s on, come on in! and swings open easily Tuesdays through Saturdays. Strings, capos, and slides cover its walls, and above the checkout counter hang canvases painted with things like “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams,” and “Music can change the world.”
The heart and soul of Stringworks can’t be seen through its storefront windows or along its wood-paneled walls, but if you listen, you can usually hear it. Mixed in with the voices of Donovan, The Who and the like playing in the background you can often hear the grinding whir of a band saw or the hum of what sounds like an air vent. Behind the doorways at either end of its cozy showroom are the pride and joy of Stringworks: the repair and restoration room to the right, and the refinishing room to the left. When giving the grand tour of Stringworks, Timothy’s first stop is always the latter.
“There is no other like it in western Kentucky,” he said. “It allows us to completely refinish stringed instruments, and to do it right.” The addition of a state-of-the-art ventilation system earned them EPA approval and certification from Fender, Washburn, Takamine and Ibanez as a warranty repair center. They’re working on getting certification from Martin, Taylor, and Gibson next.
“This addition changed us from a repair shop to what we can honestly call a full-service repair and restoration center,” Timothy added. “There is nothing we cannot do.”
Stringworks partners Timothy and Dan come from two very different professional backgrounds, but each of them will tell you earnestly that they couldn’t have done it without the other.
Timothy is a master luthier, and he learned from the best. In the early 70s he took a masters course with Charles Fox, one of the world’s most influential living luthiers. He then studied with five East German master craftsmen who made their way to Ohio’s Scherl & Roth’s violin company after jumping the Berlin Wall. They taught him not only how to repair violins, but how to re-hair their bows, a dying art that very few alive have mastered. Timothy is one. And he plays a mean guitar. He’s a hippy at heart, he says, and remembers with fondness his long-haired days running around a stage, guitar in hand.
Dan is a business man with 33 years of experience in insurance and financial services, and 12 years of experience in education. He wouldn’t call himself a hippy, but boy does he love some Motown.
Their paths crossed by chance when Dan brought his musically-inclined grandchildren to Music Zone where Timothy was working. The two of them were fast friends, and it wasn’t long before Timothy told Dan of his big plans.
“We sat down and we talked about it, we prayed bout it, and we decided it was the thing to do,” Dan said from behind the Stringworks sales counter. “The rest of it is history. I think it was meant to be.”
At Stringworks you can find a Gibson ES-335, a rare 1952 National, or a violin built for the 1882 Boston Exhibition among the carefully curated collection, but you won’t find any bargain instruments. They only carry antique tube amplifiers for their signature 60s/70s sound that Timothy, Dan and so many others love. “One thing that absolutely thrills me to death is when somebody who has brought us an instrument in disarray comes back in after we’ve finished working on it,” Timothy said. “You can tell they’re suffering from both anxiety and excitement, but when they are able to open up the case you see this gleam come into their eyes. That is the most exciting thing to me, I tell you. It’s awesome.”
Timothy and Dan hope to further transform the corner of 21st and Broadway by turning the gravely space behind Stringworks into a neighborhood music park complete with a performing stage, picnic tables, grills and built-in music stands. A picker’s paradise. Timothy tells people to imagine Central Park’s Strawberry Fields, but on a much smaller scale and in Midtown Paducahville, USA.
“If we can make this happen, I think this could be just the spark that Midtown needs,” Timothy mused. “And wouldn’t that be nice?” You can see his dreaming and scheming gears turning as he speaks.