Driving down the Glendale corridor in Echo Park where the 2 freeway ends, you might not realize you’re driving through history. Sure, the storage facilities that flank you on either side do look pretty old and gross, but umm – historic? What you might not know is that this industrial strip of Echo Park is where legends were born and today, thanks to Gabriel Currie, it’s where they’re still made. Currie is a luthier, or the fancy word that I now know is the technical term for a guitar craftsman.
And these public storage facilities that line Glendale Blvd were once home to Hollywood’s first film studios, Mack Sennett and Keystone – where Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp came to life along with countless other early entertainment icons. This is a fact is not lost on native Angeleno Currie as he promptly and proudly takes me through the history lesson when I chatted with him. See amid the shadows of what’s left of Mack Sennett and Keystone Studios, Echo Park Guitars , Currie’s company, is masterfully hand-crafting another kind of legend – the kind that Joe Perry and Jakob Dylan strap around their neck to make music history.
Most recently Currie was commissioned by Queens of the Stone Age rocker Troy Van Leeuwen. The just-released “De Leon” guitar from Echo Park Guitars was specifically tailored for the set on the band’s current tour, “Ultimately these are tools,” Currie said of his work. “We nailed down a couple of specifics in terms of the switching on the upper horn, the volume control, the pickup configuration.” The body of Van Leeuwen’s custom guitar was based on an old Clarence model prototype Currie had found years before in Leo Fender’s attic. As I speak with Currie, I notice a theme emerges in his work and in his thoughts. He’s often mixing what’s classic with what’s new and custom. It is a trademark of Van Leeuwen’s custom model and Currie’s other work as well.
Currie started tinkering with guitars as a kid, taking apart his own instruments for fun. As of today, he has been making guitars for the last 26 years, and over that time, learning the lay of the land from the best modern guitar makers. In 2010 Currie made a leap of faith and officially launched his own brand – first in his backyard, and eventually moving to his Echo Park studio. Over that time he has quickly become the go-to for rock’s biggest names.
But commissions from superstars doesn’t mean that Currie has abandoned his humble beginnings. As a native Angeleno, Currie feels his craft is, at its most basic, an extension of the city that crafted him. That is why he specifically chose the moniker “Echo Park Guitars” over, say, using his own name. “I wanted the brand to embody the heart of Los Angeles,” Currie explains. He named the Van Leeuwen (Dutch for “Lion”) model the De Leon, the Spanish equivalent. His nod at symbiosis, bringing together the heart of Los Angeles’ culture with its industry backbone.
And like Currie’s city which is rooted in tradition in some respects, and always on the cusp of the newest industries and trends in others, the soul of Echo Park Guitars is the blending of old and new. Currie exemplifies the latest in craftsmanship while utilizing older mahoganies that provide a vital texture for the best tonality. And it is that trademark which keeps musicians like Van Leeuwen coming back; because though his guitar is brand new, it’s most definitely got an old rock soul.