The sound of a mitre saw is music to Brock Stoyko’s ears. So is that of the belt sander, drill press and any other tools in the basement workshop of his St. Albert bungalow. On one evening after work, it’s remarkably tidy; there’s the scent of sawdust but no sign of it, shelves are lined with woodworking glues and tape, a variety of clamps hang as if displayed for sale.
With a dehumidifier humming nearby, the room is also as dry as the season for which it was originally built to escape. “I tried to like winter,” says Stoyko, an amiable, heavily bearded 46-year-old, “but it didn’t work.”
In time, the workshop would take on a new role, obvious now from the handmade guitars — representatives of instruments recently delivered to one of Canada’s top players. In 2016, Stoyko began a midlife career transition, preceding the pandemic-inspired Great Resignation, by throwing off the golden handcuffs of part-ownership in a small but stressful oil-and-gas venture. That was when the hobby guitarist and woodworker began his year at the Summit School of Guitar Building, on Vancouver Island.
“It seemed like a natural mesh,” says the founder of Stoyko Guitars. He didn’t have the chops for full-time musicianship, but he had the skills to be a versatile luthier, building anything from a solid-body bass to a semi-hollow, arch-top guitar. Now, rather than fighting to keep his morale intact at the office, “I get to be creative, be my own boss and be involved in making music.”
Custom instruments are a niche market — especially when crafted Stoyko’s way, which involves the musician from design onward. He handles one project at a time, and delivery takes a month or two. They’re not cheap. What a quality off-the-shelf guitar costs is what Stoyko might spend on wood and parts alone. Clients are often aficionados, well-heeled or passionate, or all three. They come to Stoyko by word of mouth. Or, sometimes, by social media.
When live music fell victim to pandemic closures, Stoyko had to rethink a marketing plan that involved getting into clubs and chatting up musicians after sound checks. To pivot, “I was using Instagram. I was like, ‘OK, who can I message?’”
One such message resonated with Kevin Comeau, the guitar- and keys-playing half of Crown Lands, a progressive rock duo from Ontario and 2021 Juno winners for Break-through Group of the Year. They struck a deal: Stoyko would custom build an electric 12-string for Comeau to show off onstage and promote on social media — if he liked it. Otherwise, Stoyko would take it back, no hard feelings.
“Sure enough, it’s one of the best guitars I’ve ever played,” says Comeau. “It’s just so beautiful.”
The project went so well that Comeau asked for another (this time for purchase), a double- necked guitar-bass to help him execute an intricate 20-minute opus. If the combo wasn’t already complicated enough, he wanted it to be light, sturdy and “iconic.”
“He built such an amazing instrument the first time around, so there’s no one else I really want to go to for this new instrument,” says Comeau, expecting delivery soon after our interview.
“Brock’s a genius.”
Stoyko hopes Comeau’s peers — potential clients — will echo that sentiment. In the mean-time, getting guitars into the Crown Lands mix is “huge for my business, my confidence and my credibility,” he says. It’s fueling a dream of a work-shop outside the house and a couple of assistants. In the meantime, he’s happy to spend his days carving recesses out of guitar bodies instead of resources out of the ground.
“If I leave the shop and have both my eyes and all my fingers, that was a good day,” says Stoyko. “That has to be the expectation — because it was a better day than anything I’m going to do in an office.”
This article appears in the Jan/Feb 2023 issue of Edify