Two years ago, Victor Baker arrived from the East Coast and set his one-man arch-top jazz guitar shop — initially, in Lemon Grove. Since then, he’s moved everything into his large home in Poway.
What brought him here? “I was in New York City for 12 years,” Baker related over the phone. “I had a workshop in Queens, but it got to be too small. I needed to expand, but I couldn’t find anything even remotely affordable. New York City has gotten ridiculous in terms of retail space — not as bad as San Francisco, but still pretty bad. I’ve never really cared for L.A. because of the traffic, but San Diego is a great alternative. I’m not saying it’s affordable but there’s a huge improvement in terms of the quality of life.
“We really fell in love with the area. We found a big house in the North County, and I have my shop on site. This is the perfect climate for making guitars, and since I also play the guitar professionally, I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of the music community you have here.”
The self-taught Baker has been building instruments for 20 years, and his skills have grown to a point where the guitar-making icon D’Angelico commissioned him to replicate some of their famous models. I wanted to know how long it takes to make a Victor Baker guitar, and what they cost.
“I try to build three guitars a month,” he answered. “I average about 30 guitars a year. The price range on a hand-carved arch-top is between 4 and 8 thousand dollars, depending on the degree of details like inlay. They aren’t cheap, but they are reasonably priced for a professional player. I’m more reasonable than my competitors.”
Since he plays guitar while working with tools, does he ever worry about damage to his hands and fingers?
“I do. A few years ago, I developed tendonosis which is an inflammation of the casing of the tendons. It’s exacerbated by gripping tools and doing things like sanding or planing. Rest is the only thing that helps — so if I have a full day of playing or a long day in the shop, I’ll take the next day off. When I was younger, I would do back-to-back solo guitar gigs, and now it’s catching up. It’s just something I have to manage.”