Prior to seeing a social media post of Max Kerman, guitarist and vocalist with Arkells, playing a Winter Built guitar during the 108th Grey Cup halftime show in Hamilton I had not heard of Winter Built Guitars. I was immediately attracted to the vintage style guitar because of its distinctive pickguard and its colouring. I later discovered the orange colour was due to the show’s lighting.
It’s not surprising I had yet to hear of Winter Built Guitars. They’ve only recently entered the marketplace. Chadd Kam, the luthier behind the handmade guitars, has being honing his lutherie skills for six years handcrafting basses at an internationally renowned manufacturer in Hamilton, helping create some of the most refined and respected instruments in the industry. He’s recently ventured on his own by setting up his one-man shop at Hamilton’s The Cotton Factory. I wanted to learn more about the Winter Built story and how a Hamilton luthier’s guitar ended up on a national stage. I paid Chadd a visit at his workshop.
Chadd went to Mohawk College for woodworking. He became interested in building vintage style guitars when he played an eighty-year-old acoustic guitar. He was struck by the depth and richness of its sound in comparison to most of today’s guitars. He’s been playing guitar since he was thirteen years old. He’s heard a lot of guitars over the years. He decided to use his skills to make his own guitars. His employer allowed each employee the use of the shop to make one guitar a year for themselves. He would start in the early winter and continue into the following winter. Most of the work happening during the winter months when moisture levels are low, which is ideal for guitar making. These were winter built guitars. When he launched his company, it seemed a natural to call it Winter Built.
He built three guitars during the COVID shutdown. After the shutdown Mike DeAngelis, also a vocalist and guitarist with Arkells, saw a social media post of Winter Built Guitars. He went to a fall fair at The Cotton Factory to check out their guitars. He was impressed. He asked if he could borrow one. He later asked if he could hang on to it during the Grey Cup weekend to use backstage during their time at the stadium. Max also liked the guitar, which led to them taking a second guitar for the weekend. Chadd didn’t think any of his guitars would end up on stage. He thought they were merely going to use them backstage to try them out. It appears Max liked them a lot—he used one onstage for the national television broadcast of the halftime show. Chadd was blown away when he was watching the halftime show at his parents’ house when they all saw his guitar on TV.
The Grey Cup appearance created good exposure for Winter Built Guitars. Hopefully it helps open some doors. In addition to the exposure from Arkells, the guitars have also received great feedback from local musicians where the guitars have been provided at recording studios and performance venues. The musical artists appreciate the quality builds as well as the depth and richness of their sound.
Chadd doesn’t know if he’ll always be a one-man operation. For now, he’s content with that being the case because he knows the quality of the work he puts into each of his creations. One senses his reluctance to allow anyone else to tamper with that quality. In speaking with Chadd during my visit it was easy to pick up on the pride he has of his guitars, of the detail and workmanship he puts into his craft.
He’s currently working on a guitar that will end up in Europe. It’s a beautiful piece of art, it’s not just an instrument that plays beautiful music, it is beautiful. Chadd walked me through the process he went through to select the wood, to make the intricate three-piece inlays on the fret board, the orange sound hole trim, and body trim pieces. Hopefully this guitar will create more exposure for Winter Built Guitars.
It’s exciting to learn of a craftsman like Chadd Kam in my hometown. I’m proud of all that is happening in Hamilton. It’s not without reason that Hamilton has such a strong music and art community.
On behalf of my fellow citizens of The Hammer, let me say, we’re proud of you Winter Built.
View more pictures of my visit to Winter Built Guitars here