Reasons To Stay: Luthier Plans To Make Millheim The "Place To Be"

Apr 5, 2016

Gary Long shapes the body of an electric guitar with a rasp.
Credit Emily Reddy / WPSU

Visit the multi-media side of the Reasons to Stay project.

WPSU is taking a look at how central Pennsylvanians decide whether to make their home here, or move on, in our new series “Reasons to Stay.”

Gary Long was born and raised in Millheim. Long says he has reasons to stay – his family all still lives nearby. But what’s harder for him to find is a way to support himself in his slowly-reviving post-industrial town.

When Gary Long graduated from high school there wasn’t much going on in Millheim. Then in 2008 came Elk Creek Café with its local beer and food and a hopping music scene. Next came a gallery, a coffee shop, and a few other stores. Long saw potential in the town’s growth and especially in those musicians coming through town. He thought the town might be able to support a luthier, someone who builds and repairs stringed instruments. So he went to school for it.

“I’ve just started down this luthiery path,” Long said. “It’s been just over a year since I’ve got out of school so I’ve been doing some repairs and I’m just starting now to build.”

Just outside of Millheim, Long is working in a friend’s woodshop. He picks up a piece of wood roughly the shape of the body of an electric guitar and puts it in a vice grip.

“This is sort of my version of a Stratocaster style guitar,” said Long. “There are probably machines that can accomplish this in a little bit quicker time. I don’t have those machines, but I do have a rasp and I actually really like this.”

Long is hoping to be able to offer acoustics for less than $3,000 and electrics, which are less work, for less than that.

Across the studio, Long has three completed guitars stored lovingly in cases. He made them during a five-month course at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona.

Long hopes to open a luthiery shop in Millheim. He’s even got a storefront picked out on North Street.

“I guess I’m just about to find out what the challenge of having a business in a small town are,” Long said. “I mean I can imagine some of them and it’s not clear that I’ll actually have enough business for this to support itself, that’s something I’ll have to find out.”

So why not do this somewhere with more potential buyers? Where the local population is more than Millheim’s approximately 900 residents. Long says it’s not that he’s never been anywhere else. He’s visited other cities and other countries, but he’s never wanted to live anywhere else.

“My family is from here, you know I’ve never considered living anywhere else,” said Long. “And I would love to be able to build and repair instruments for the foreseeable future, specifically in Millheim. I would love to be able to do this here.”

Do you have Reasons to Stay? Share a picture of the reasons you’re staying on Instagram with the hashtag #wpsureasonstostay. And visit the multi-media side of this project to see pictures of Gary Long working on his guitars and to see stories of others exploring their decision to stay or not in central Pennsylvania.