Growing up, Jim learned much about working with his hands from both his Dad, Jim Sr. and his Mom, Bettie. While playing the bass guitar in a garage band at 17 with his brother Chuck, Jim realized that most players were afraid to work on their own instruments. Because of his parents example, Jim was quick to offer his help....adjusting truss rods, re-soldering wires, installing new tuners.....all of which became commonplace.
Jim started his professional career of stringed instrument repair in 1980 while working alongside Bill Colgan, Jr. of Isle of Wight Instrument Co. in Smithfield, Va. It was here that Jim learned the intricacies involved in the construction of guitars. Through his sixteen year association with Bill, Jim was fortunate to be exposed to a large number of the finest and most sought after guitars in the world. With many of the great old guitars being in such disrepair, their internal parts were fully available for measuring, blueprinting, and in some cases, creating direct templates. Jim kept an ever increasing file of this information throughout his time there.
Prior to working in the stringed instrument repair shop, Jim had worked with spraying lacquer since 1974 in a custom cabinet shop. He brought this experience with him to Isle of Wight Instrument Co. and became well known among the vintage guitar crowd, not only for authentic vintage restorations, but for being able to restore correct factory, original looking nitro-cellulose lacquer finishes. Through countless hours at the workbench coupled with an eye for detail, Jim reached a point where his confidence and life circumstances made it possible for him to head out on his own.
Building two guitars based on the universally acclaimed Dreadnought guitars of the mid 1930's and a classical guitar based on the 1937 Hauser guitar as used by Segovia, Jim proved himself to a backer. Given the choice as to what type of guitars to build and thinking back to his years as a repairman, Jim decided to replicate the Dreadnaught guitars. He concluded that the Bluegrass crowd was the most difficult to please regarding their guitar sound and the Dreadnaught guitar was in the forefront of Bluegrass music. After much detailed research and with the full support of family and friends, Merrill Guitar Co. was formed.