BY RACHEL CUCCURULLO
Many people find themselves lounging on the couch after a long workday, but then there’s boatbuilder Jeff Warner, who spends his free time building guitars and ukuleles. A “mad scientist” of sorts, Warner was always taking toys apart and tinkering with things from a very young age. His father fostered his interest in mechanics and restoration.
“I remember one Christmas, at about 9 years old, there was a present with a bunch of oil on the bottom of it and I was all excited. I didn’t know what it was, but I thought it was a motor,” Warner recalls. “My dad got me a mini-bike to fix up and get running. I was so excited because I loved learning how machines and other things worked.”
One of Warner’s first memories was his desire to become a rock star and play guitar. His parents supported that dream, and Warner said he tried, but it didn’t work out. He preferred taking apart computers or building train sets.
Growing up in Toledo, Ohio, as a young boy and then Cedar Springs, Michigan, as a teen, Warner and his family often spent time boating and fishing at his grandfather’s lakefront cottage. It is no wonder that on a holiday visit to Fort Pierce in 1992, he fell in love with the ocean and Florida.
“My Uncle Pete had lived in Fort Pierce since the 1970s,” he says. “Going out to the Cove, fishing and boating with him were some great memories.”
Warner says he always felt connected to Fort Pierce, so right after high school, in 2004, he packed up his belongings and moved here.
Some of his first jobs were with local boat companies Maverick and Twin Vee. They hired him on at entry level positions, which helped him to learn the ins and outs of boat restoration and fabrication. “Twin Vee allowed me to work my way up the ladder to be a tooling engineer. So, I started building molds and plugs for boats. I’ve always been fabricating and building stuff,” he says. “I like making all the tiny parts; that’s part of the fun for me.”
Unlikely as it may seem, working on boats steered Warner toward guitar-building. He fine-tuned his skills and turned that into an interesting hobby. He has only been playing guitar for about a year, but his love of creating new things drove him to further pursue the craft.
“I’m better at building the guitar than playing it. I’ve always tried to pick up on it, and my family is very musical, but I never caught on when I was younger,” he says. “But, my love for building keeps me designing and making new ones.”
Warner began building guitars after reaching out to Michael Breedlove of MGB Guitars in Tampa. Breedlove is a distributor for guitar parts and helped Warner as a mentor of sorts.
Breedlove liked the guitars Warner was building and helped him get two of the guitars into the National Blues Museum in St. Louis, Missouri, a nonprofit that explores and preserves the historic significance of the genre.
The first guitar of Warner’s to make it into the museum was his “D-Day Guitar,” which he created in honor of the 75th anniversary of D-Day and dedicated to the U.S. Navy SEAL Underwater Demolition Teams, which were garrisoned in Fort Pierce and Maui. The body of the guitar is made of a silver machine gun ammo box from the World War II era.
“I like building the tuner knobs of the guitars out of .45 casings or the backing plates out of old coins. But some of the pick-ups and other electrical components I take off of old guitars or buy from MGB,” Warner says.
Warner normally has about five to six donor guitars lying around in his shop that he uses for parts. Many of the guitars were given to him by friends, so he can modify them as he pleases.
“You go by scales when you’re building these. There’s 25 and ¼, 24 and ¾ scale. There’s bass guitars, short-scale guitars, fretless,” he says. “So, I’m always trying to build different ones.”
The second guitar that he got into the National Blues Museum was a guitar made from a Humo Cigar Box his late Uncle Joe collected. Warner built it in honor of his life.
He also enjoys building ukuleles and has made some for his fiancée, Michelle Anzola.
“I like to describe the sound as if Metallica moved to Hawaii,” Warner says with a laugh.
Warner has a way of looking at something ordinary and making it into something unique and useful that sounds great.
“Right now, I’m working on about 10 guitars and four ukuleles. I’m also building an upright bass made out of a boat horn and it stands at about 4 feet tall,” he says. “It’s pretty funky and it will be the first bass that I’ve made.”
As if Warner did not already have enough of his free-time accounted for, he also volunteers his craft to help Eagle Scouts with their final projects at the National Navy UDT-SEAL Museum in Fort Pierce. He heads restoration and maintenance efforts on the old boats and submarines kept at the museum.
“It’s not work if you love what you do. If I’m working on boats every day, then it can afford me to play with guitars and volunteer, too,” Warner says with a smile.
This article also appears in a recent edition of Indian River Magazine.
Lives in: Lakewood Park
Family: Fiancée, Michelle Anzola
Occupation: Boat restoration and repair
Education: Associate of science degree in aquaculture, Indian River State College
Hobbies: Fishing, boating and guitar building
Who inspires you: Friends and family
Something people don’t know about me: “As a child I had a speech impediment and I sounded like Elmer Fudd. Eventually, I overcame it. No one knows I used to be hunting ‘wabbit’!”