Edit ModuleShow Tags

Brandon Madrid's Sonic Secret Weapon

A Normal Heights luthier makes the Ferrari of guitars


Published:

They say you should never meet your heroes, but don’t tell that to Brandon Madrid. This Normal Heights guitar-maker recently became the toast of the music world thanks to a chance encounter with one of his idols, “Swami” John Reis. 

Shortly after relocating to San Diego from the Pacific Northwest a few years ago, Madrid was working in a North County guitar shop when the lead singer and guitarist for bands like Rocket From the Crypt and Drive Like Jehu came in. “In San Diego, John’s a family guy that lives in South Park, but in Portland he’s a rock star,” says Madrid. “I told my boss, ‘Gimme a minute, I need to talk to him.’” 

That minute turned into three hours, and within a week Reis and Madrid were plotting to build a guitar that would improve upon Reis’ Silvertone hollow body. They realized they shared a love of Japanese guitars from the 1960s and envisioned an instrument that had the look of a Japanese axe and the quality that can only come from handcrafting. 

“A lot of luthiers just input all the measurements in a computer program and hit ‘go’ on the machine,” says Madrid, who makes his guitars using almost no electric tools. “My craft is kind of dying.”

In addition to being good-looking, the guitar had to be able to take a beating on the road, as anyone who’s seen Reis’ spastic live show can attest. And, naturally, it had to sound just right. After months of tinkering, the Kon Tiki was born.

“It doesn’t sound like any other guitar you can buy new right now,” says Reis. “Sonically, it feels like you’re using a secret weapon.”

It didn’t take long for the guitar world to notice. Photos of Reis playing the Kon Tiki on tour turned up in Rolling Stone, Spin, and Pitchfork.

The $3,500 Kon Tiki now has a year-long waitlist, and Madrid is enjoying the ride. “To have someone I admire play one of my instruments and then to see it in a publication that musicians always read? You can’t get much better than that.”

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

Cheryl Strayed’s ‘Tiny Beautiful Things’ Is a Natural Fit for the Stage

The Old Globe brings the Wild author’s beautifully written advice column to life

Bob Mould on Seeking A Brighter Outlook with ‘Sunshine Rock’

The punk legend discusses his latest album and reflects on the industry

Things to Do in San Diego: February 18-24

Fifteen events you don't want to miss this week
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. San Diego Magazine's Travel Awards 2019
    Cast your vote now for your favorite hotels, travel companies, and attractions
  2. Best Restaurants in San Diego: 2018
    San Diego's top restaurant owners, chefs, and bartenders name their favorite San Diego restaurants of 2018.
  3. The Best Soup Dumplings in San Diego
    My hunt for the best xiao long bao in the city unearthed two surprising winners
  4. Puesto's Next Top Taco
    Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize
  5. Behind the Brands 2019
  6. First Look: Realm of 52 Remedies
    Wildly imaginative speakeasy cements the arrival of design to San Diego’s Asian food haven
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Promotions

Puesto's Next Top Taco

Submit your best taco recipe for the chance to win a grand prize

Not Your Grandma's Orthotics

New year, new – shoe? Staying on your feet for long hours at a time just got a whole lot more comfortable with Wiivv’s BASE custom insoles
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Sponsored

Sony Consumer Electronics Innovator Builds a Future Where Robotics and Connected Devices Prevail

Robust music and pictures ecosystem bring bespoke experience to TV and audio

Live the Dream with the Dream House Raffle

A multimillion-dollar dream home, fabulous trips, luxury cars, and more could be yours
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags