Provo man building life one guitar at a time

Feb 23 2011 - 7:23pm

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(MARK JOHNSTON/The Associated Press)
Ken Stika works on a commissioned guitar in his workshop at The Great Salt Lake Guitar Company in Provo earlier this month. Stika had never played an instrument, and still does not to this day, but he found great reward in creating something for others to use in their own music. That first dulcimer he built soon sold to a tourist at the hotel and Stika began working on his next.
(MARK JOHNSTON/The Associated Press)
Ken Stika works on a commissioned guitar in his workshop at The Great Salt Lake Guitar Company in Provo earlier this month. Stika had never played an instrument, and still does not to this day, but he found great reward in creating something for others to use in their own music. That first dulcimer he built soon sold to a tourist at the hotel and Stika began working on his next.

PROVO -- Breaking one's ribs may never have changed a person's life as much as it did for Ken Stika.

"Provo was just a place to come and heal a little bit," Stika said. "When I landed here it wasn't with the thought of staying permanently, it just turned out that way."

After an accident onboard a crab fishing boat in the Bering Sea in 1979, Stika and his wife Pat picked up and moved to Provo, close to his birthplace and relatives.

The couple moved into a small room at the Roberts Hotel in Provo, where Stika read a do-it-yourself book on building instruments. Using the book as a guide Stika constructed a mountain dulcimer.

Stika had never played an instrument and still does not to this day, but he found great reward in creating something for others to use in their own music. That first dulcimer he built soon sold to a tourist at the hotel and Stika began working on his next.

Eventually housekeeping at the hotel announced their disapproval of Stika using his room as a temporary workshop, so he and his wife found a small apartment in Provo where he could work freely.

Pat Stika recalled those early years of her husband's new hobby, the books he read, classes he took and even hitch hiking together to Salt Lake City to collect wood from a lumber yard.

"It all just evolved and it seemed an organic progression," she said of her husband's work.

It was a much different life from how they'd lived in Alaska, but a still enjoyable and certainly safer.

Now, 32 years later, Stika continues his well-honed craft at his business, The Great Salt Lake Guitar Co., in Provo.

There Stika and his son Reo repair guitars and sell a variety of modestly priced instruments alongside their own more expensive, hand-made creations. Stika is currently working on his 192nd guitar at the store.

Each instrument built by Stika is of the upmost quality, but the process is time consuming. The wood is carefully selected, hand cut and glued. Customers wait months, even years on back order, for Stika to create each instrument. The process can take months of cutting, shaping and sanding.

"He's extremely disciplined and he just works his tail end off," Pat Stika said.

In an age of the automated building, Stika considers himself "an old slowpoke" who would rather stick to his ways, "caressing (guitars) into existence."

"If you punch in a bunch of numbers to a milling machine they can do ellipsis that are perfect, it's so precise. But somebody punched in numbers and a machine did it," Stika said.

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