HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Van Flowers crafts works of art, but his creations don’t hang on walls. His instruments hang from shoulders.
It is a part-time job, with a full-time passion.
“I love it. I eat sleep and breathe it. I really do," says Flowers. "We’re goofing off, but we’re making stuff that no one else can do.”
A teacher and student toil away as they drill and cut inside a Glen Allen barn.
“It is like a child being born. It really is," says Flowers.
For apprentice Steve Shred. This truly is a hands-on lesson.
“You can’t put a price on a guy like Van," says Shred. “I wouldn’t be here wasting my time learning if I didn’t think he was very good at it.”
Van Flowers owns Phat Guitars.
“I just started this as one little guy," says Flowers.
The computer programmer founded the company after a friend challenged him to make a better instrument six years ago. Flowers stumbled in the beginning.
“It was painful, man. It was painful," says Flowers. “Are they perfect every time? No! I screw stuff up. You know that is why I have a trash can.”
Now the 53-year-old takes custom to another decibel. No rush orders under Flowers’ watch.
From blocks of wood to finished product. Van’s guitars takes about five to seven weeks to finish.
“I believe that if you want a quality instrument we will build that for you," says Flowers. "But I can’t guarantee when it is going to be done.”
Each of the 250 instruments he has made Van compares to snowflakes. Like the guitars fashioned from decades old ammo boxes.
“There is not another guitar like this on the planet. It doesn’t exist," says Flowers. “Now I can’t say no one has done this. I’ve never seen anyone do this. I’ve never seen any out there.”
While the look makes a statement, the Florida native says ultimately capturing the right sound is most-essential.
“I already have what I want to do in my head based on listening to their music," says Flowers.
Just a few months after realizing his dream and opening Phat Guitars life would hit a sour note for Flowers.
“I had the fortune and misfortune of going through cancer about six years ago almost died. Had lymphoma,” says Flowers.
After endless close calls and rounds of chemo, Flowers cut the chord with cancer.
“When you get sick and almost die like that it changes your perspective on everything. Like what is important," says Flowers.
He sells his guitars between two and five thousand dollars. Friends say he charges too little for his masterpieces.
“People don’t do it. There is not a lot of handmade stuff," says Flowers. “You have to be very detail oriented.”
But what Flowers creates isn’t about the bottom line.
“It’s not vintage now. But it is going to be. It’s going to be.”
Van Flowers finds happiness and harmony in hand-made guitars.
“I certainly hope they are around a while. I hope people sit around and play it and talk about it and say that man made a hell of a guitar.”