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The Art of Music
Innovative guitars looks as extraordinary as they sound
by Michelle Schwartzbard


Our towns are well known for their many musicians and artists. Glen Gertz is a little bit of each, and part businessman as well. In 2003 he managed to fuse those interests together and to create GZ Guitars, Inc. The Maplewood-based company creates customized art guitars for clients around the world.

Playing the guitar since he was a 10-year-old boy in Texas, Gertz played in rock bands in high school and college, performing at various venues on a semi-professional level. "We had a lot of musical talent and loved to play. But we were still kids," Gertz admits. "We lacked the dedication to put in the hard work that was required to make it big."

After graduation Gertz returned to Texas with an undiminished passion for music. With a partner he opened a music club on Austin's Sixth Street. "It was a rare thing when we did it," says Gertz, proud to have opened one of the first of the live music venues for which Sixth Street became famous. "The music scene in Austin became phenomenal. We were in on the beginning and loving it."

In his spare time, Gertz enjoyed playing and experimenting with different guitars. Collecting them developed into a hobby; Gertz would buy one, play it for a while, and then sell it. At any given moment he had between 10 and 20 guitars in his home. He traveled to guitar shows and established a network of like-minded people to buy from, sell to, and talk shop with.

When Gertz married and started a family, practicality won out over passion. He sold his share in the music club and found a job with steadier income. His corporate career brought him to the Asian-Pacific islands, where he fell in love with the tropical lifestyle. He settled in Guam, where he stayed for the next 20 years, starting an air freight business and raising his sons there after his divorce. "It was paradise, like a Jimmy Buffett song," he recalls.

An air freight business in Guam is a long way from a guitar customizing business in Maplewood, and the process happened more by chance than by design. During a business trip to New York, Gertz met Claire, a single mother living in Maplewood with her two children. The meeting led to a relationship, and eventually marriage.

Treatment and recovery from a serious illness forced Gertz to cut back on work. For the first time in many years, he picked up the guitar again and began building them, ordering parts from major guitar producers and experimenting with necks of different lengths and woods, as well as with different hardware. Soon his guitar buddies started asking, "Can you make one of those for me?" Almost before Gertz realized it, GZ Guitars was born.

Working with other guitar artists, GZ Guitars got into the creation of art guitars and ultimately created a new niche as a solution to a creative rut Gertz was feeling: Each guitar created by the company is a one-of-a-kind high-quality work of art. Gertz is inspired by everything. "When I see work that interests me, I reach out to the artist, no matter what the media is. I've contacted a woman who designs the most incredible decorative plates, and even a tattoo artist. I'm always looking for new artists who can bring something exceptional to the business."

Gertz sells his creations at guitar shows and from his website, www.gzguitars.com, and has been encouraged by the response so far. "Some buyers don't even play the guitar," he remarks. "They love music and art and are looking for a very special piece to display in their home."

The musician in Gertz insists that all GZ Guitars are of the highest quality materials and workmanship. As a result, GZ Guitars are outstanding musical instruments in addition to being extraordinary artworks. "You could take any one of our guitars and play it in concert anywhere in the world," declared Gertz with confidence and pride.

Last summer, GZ Guitars was invited to show a selection of their art guitars at the Mona Lisa Gallery in Maplewood. Gallery owner Krista Fahey felt they would fit in with her Summer Salon theme, Taking it to the Streets. "Krista is the most creative framer I have ever met," Gertz raves. "She created an amazing display with artistic lighting and background painting. It gave me a whole new idea for my business!"

As GZ Guitars moves towards creating guitars as unique collector pieces, Gertz would love to have a gallery full of art guitars. "My wife, on the other hand, would like me to sell more and buy less," says Gertz with a laugh. He predicts that his business will continue to evolve. "My kids are encouraging me to design and paint skateboards," he says. "We are seriously considering it." One aspect is sure to remain constant, though: "Maplewood will always be the global headquarters of GZ Guitars. Claire and I are very happy here."

The big irony of his art guitar business is that it keeps Gertz so busy that he has no time to play the guitars he loves. His enthusiasm for GZ Guitars gives one the sense that he doesn't mind too much.

Writer Michelle Schwartzbard lives in South Orange with her husband and three children, one of whom plays the guitar.

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