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Artisans of Michigan: Elderly Instruments' Joe Konkoly

Nov 4, 2016

The “Artisans of Michigan” series visits Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

Welcome to Elderly Instruments. If you’ve been a musician for a while, you probably know about Elderly. It became famous because of its catalog and well-stocked store. When the internet came along, the store’s following easily made the transition from flipping the pages to searching the site.

The walls and racks at the brick-and-mortar store are full of acoustic guitars, electric guitars, mandolins, violins, banjos, and more. Somebody is always grabbing a guitar and playing a little.

But, we are going downstairs to meet Joe Konkoly. He heads up the repair shop for Elderly Instruments. 

There are ten craftsmen down here, repairing guitars and other string instruments. Most have some kind of specialty. Joe Konkoly likes to work with vintage Martin guitars; he also restores mandolins and banjos.

Joe Konkoly working on a 1962 Martin 0018 at Elderly Instruments in Lansing, Michigan.
Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

“I get a deep satisfaction out of just being around these instruments and handling the – the vintage stuff is anything from the 1920s all the way through the ‘60s and I really love connecting with the artisans who originally made these instruments and preserving them in that way.”

Konkoly says at first he started repairing guitars out of necessity when he was young, playing in a band, and teaching guitar.

“Many of my students had guitars that they really couldn’t learn on. So, my father was a woodworker with a fairly well equipped shop. He and I started reading some books together. I started trying to take care of these guitars so I could get more students.”

He went to school in the early ‘80s, learned his craft and eventually started working at Elderly, where he’s found a home.

“I like the fact that we actually produce something here in the shop, you know, hands-on stuff. I love that aspect of it. I love working with a team of guys – it happens to be guys right now, but –  the camaraderie and the information exchanging, and the learning process of getting better," Konkoly said.

Credit Lester Graham / Michigan Radio

He and most of his colleagues actually make guitars in their home shops. Konkoly was even involved in designing a new line of acoustic guitars for a Chinese company that Elderly Instruments carries. The craftsmen in the Elderly basement have always wanted to make guitars right there, but they’ve always been so busy just fixing the damaged, abused, or just worn-out guitars coming through the door. And so it’s neck resets, re-frets – like Joe Konkoly is doing right now – making new bridges or gluing old ones, or fixing some of the internal structure to bring some of these instruments back to life.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

Support for arts and culture coverage comes in part from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

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