Meet Jamie Boss

An article published in the April 2015 Hampton Gazette

by Sue Martin

Banjo Restorations

Living in a beautifully converted old barn on East Old Rt. 6, with the picturesque Little River Valley as his view from the backyard, Jamie and his wife Pat are two of Woodstock's newest residents!

Jamie's background is in the video business.  He owned a successful video business; "Technical Concepts", which he operated for 20 years.  When he started, he said, "The cost of video equipment was amazing".  "Cameras, lighting, editing decks, computer equipment and a large studio were all very expensive".  Over the course of his career, Jamie has produced over 600 commercials for television; clothing, jewelry, car commercials, all kinds, along with over 200 corporate videos.  All was good for a very long time but then the technology changed. Everything became digital. As Jamie put it, "Now anyone coming out of film school could get set up quickly and much more economically. All they would need to get started was a laptop computer, a special program, a big hard drive and a digital camera.  They would be able to produce commercials at their kitchen table for a fraction of the cost I was charging.” Slowly his video business was becoming obsolete.  “Within a period spanning approximately 3 years,” he said, "every midsized video production company in the state of CT went out of business.” When Jamie saw that coming, he needed to come up with something that was not going to change. Something that wouldn't be affected by advancing future technology.  What he came up with was guitars!

Jamie always had a love of music. He taught himself how to play guitar when he was just a child and has been playing ever since.  He especially loves the actual instruments. Guitars are still made the same way they were 200 years ago.  In his video production role he had made a couple of “How to” videos for guitar builders.  Hours were spent videotaping every aspect and detail of the process. All of that footage required a month long editing process to complete an 11 hour video series.  By the time he finished he had become quite knowledgeable about guitar building. He then decided this was what he wanted to do with this next chapter in his life.

While still running his video business, Jamie bought used instruments, fixed them up and sold them on EBay.  In 2006 he opened his guitar store in Milford," Hot Strings Guitar Shop".  For 2 years everything was going great, then in April of 2008 the economy tanked.  He began to look for different ways to produce a different income streams.  Using his video skills, he began producing and selling instructional DVDs on various aspects of guitar building, set-up and playing. He now has over 18 copyrighted DVD volumes that he sells all over the world online. Later DVDs include the banjo, tenor guitar and mandolin.

He also began teaching people how to play the guitar, mandolin, mandola, tenor banjo, banjola, tenor guitar, and 5-string banjo. The best student he ever had was 96 years old!   The man walked in carrying a beat up old guitar and said, "young man, can you teach me how to play guitar"?  He said that he had wanted to learn to play the guitar for over 60 years.  During conversations with this older man Jamie learned that he was a WWII veteran.  He had wanted to learn to play the guitar ever since he was a prisoner of war at a German prison camp where he would listen to a German prison guard play his guitar during his spare time. His problem was his arthritic hands, which could not span the frets on the guitar.  Jamie introduced him to the four-string tenor guitar which was easier to play. After all those years Jamie taught the 96 year old man how to play the songs that he dreamed of playing on his front porch for his grand kids.

Jamie also began a guitar building school.  First time students would be provided a kit from "Martin Guitars", and meeting one evening a week, they built their acoustic guitars.  The kit classes ran for 16 weeks.  Jamie plans to continue these classes here in Hampton.  He also teaches a master class for guitar building where students build guitars from an actual pile of wood. The master class is 120 hours.  In the last 10 years Jamie has become a master luthier and is a member of the "Guild of American Luthiers". (A luthier is a person who builds repairs or restores stringed instruments.) He showed me some of the projects he is currently working on.  One instrument is a 100 year old mandolin he is restoring that had a long crack on the soundboard. The repair was done with glue, steam and cleats, which are small strips of wood that are applied inside the body crosswise to insure the crack doesn't reopen. This process requires that he remove the back of the mandolin to repair the crack. He heats the seams to about 300 degrees, uses a fine spatula type tool, and just works at it carefully until it separates. Once the back is removed, he uses steam to close the crack and reinforces the repair with cleats.   "The older instruments are easier to disassemble" Jamie says, "They used horse hide glue in those early days; it dries out over time which makes it relatively easy to disassemble".  Wider cracks are repaired with very thin strips of V shaped, hand carved wood.  The crack is also carved with a special tool to a V shape. Glue is applied in the crack, and then the thin strip of wood is placed inside the crack and rolled in, which pushes the wood apart and takes the stress off the guitar.  Once everything has dried, Jamie takes a small sharp tool and starts to pare the wood down.  When the crack is repaired the next task is to dress the crack so that it matches the finish on the rest of the guitar.

Apart from his repair and restoration work on guitars, banjos and mandolins, Jamie builds his own brand under the name "Boss Guitars". He showed me a few at the finishing stage.  It's a lot of wet sanding, spraying, wet sanding, spraying, over and over again.  He will wet sand the entire guitar wipe it down, do 2 more coats of lacquer, then wet sand it again, little by little all the little pores in the wood get filled in.  This is the process that makes the mirror finish that you expect to see when you look at an instrument.  Classical guitars are French polished, when he builds a classical guitar he uses shellac which is put on slightly warm and rubbed in, it's a very delicate thin finish.  This, Jamie says, tends to bring the sound out more than lacquer.  Lacquer is very hard; French polish is softer and allows the top of the instrument to vibrate more allowing a greater sound to be produced.  Jamie spent considerable time showing me how purfling, the very thin narrow decorative edge on guitars, is made up of thousands of tiny pieces of wood, how it is bent to the required shape and then inlaid onto the top after a channel is routed out along the edge. Decorative rosettes are applied around the hole on the top of the instrument and are also made up of thousands of tiny wood pieces in a myriad of different patterns.  The neck is hand carved. He cuts the raw wood to shape with a band saw and then runs it through a planer to get to the desired thickness.  At this point the neck is still square so he uses a spoke shaver to round out the back to make it feel right in the musicians' hand. It is truly fascinating to watch him bring an instrument to life.

A few of Jamie's favorite instruments to play are his tenor guitar and tenor banjo.  As Jamie tells it, "the story was that back in the 1920's when there was an abundance of Dixieland bands, the sound of the tenor banjo was the driving force of the music. “(Think…5'2, eyes of blue, has anybody seen my gal). “The 30's came along and Jazz and the big band era became popular. Nobody wanted to listen to the Dixieland banjo sound anymore and you had all these out of work musicians out there.  "Gibson" and "Martin", (guitar makers) got smart.  They made the tenor guitar with same scale, tuning and chord patterns... just a much different sound. By doing this, they put all those out of work musicians' back to work again"!

Eight years ago Jamie started the Milford Folk Music Society, which has grown now to around 140 members and meet once a month.  A few years later he started another group; The Milford Blue Grass Jam with about 90 members.  Once settled here, he hopes to start similar groups in this area.  Jamie is a soft spoken, easy going gentleman, with a keen intellect and a quick smile.  He has led a very interesting life and can't wait to get to know his new neighbors and start a new chapter here in Hampton!