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Nov 28, 2017 5:57 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

John Hanford Has Over 30 Years Of Guitar Strings Under His Belt

John Hanford working on an acoustic guitar in his workshop. KYRIL BROMLEY
Nov 28, 2017 1:03 PM

Walking down Pleasant Lane in East Hampton Village, beyond the sounds of nearby railroad work and cars cruising by, a person just might be able to hear John Hanford on guitar.

He could be playing a classic blues rhythm or maybe something a bit funkier, or testing out new strings he just wound onto a Fender Telecaster. The 61-year-old has almost always had a guitar in his hand in the more than 30 years he’s lived in East Hampton.

Mr. Hanford has been spreading his talent to other music fans as the owner and operator of East Hampton Music since 1996. He keeps things simple, offering guitar lessons and repairing string instruments out of his home studio on Pleasant Lane. Generally, he fixes guitar necks and restrings the occasional violin or cello—although in one case a customer bought in a turtle shell to be fashioned into a ukulele.

Mr. Hanford was in the midst of repairs as he spoke recently on the phone, having just finished building two Telecasters, one for right-handed players and another for left-handed players, on top of doing renovations to his studio. Regardless of the project, Mr. Hanford said, he enjoys the challenge in the work.

“First thing I do is ask what the customer wants, then I just look at the instrument,” he said. “Sometimes I’ll stare at the equipment I work on for hours and think, ‘If I do this, can I undo it, too?’”

He clearly couldn’t undo his love for the guitar, one of which first appeared in his lap, when he was 6, in the form of a left-handed Stella acoustic guitar—a gift from his father. On top of being influenced by such icons as Johnny Cash, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Mr. Hanford happened to grow up in a home in Manhattan that had a nice complementary feature.

“There was this band that used to play down in the basement and one of the guys showed me how to restring a guitar,” he said. “Then I started learning how to play from the other musicians.”

As he got older, Mr. Hanford trekked around the country tasting various music scenes. His first destination was the Musician’s Exchange in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, where he would go to hang out and jam on guitar after a long day of construction work. Throughout his teenage years and early 20s, he played in New York and Northern California before marrying his wife, Francine, and moving to East Hampton in March 1985.

“My wife took me out here a few times and we just fell in love with it,” Mr. Hanford said. “I liked it back in the day when it was more rural. Our house used to have a potato field and a swimming pool in the back, but we still have our moments here.”

Before long he was meeting local musicians, including Peter “Bosco” Michne, a longtime East Hampton resident and guitar player. Mr. Michne got Mr. Hanford gigs playing in one of his bands, The King Charles Band, and soon Mr. Hanford could be heard jamming at the former Burke’s Roadhouse in Southampton. He recalled the small but hard-working environment of blues rock bands playing small festivals and shows on the East End.

“At the time there were probably 15 musicians in 20 bands playing blues, jazz and funk,” he said.

“It’s still like that,” Mr. Michne said over the phone this week. “It’s a grind and a really hard way to make money. But I always had fun playing with John. We had a blast.”

At the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, Mr. Hanford and Mr. Michne, with another band, The Napeague Choir Boys, played blues covers by Eric Clapton as well as funkier material and Top 40 songs, in 1988 and 1989.

“The first time we played at the Talkhouse was in August and we had no rehearsals,” Mr. Hanford said. “We just put together the set as we went along. We just gelled, we knew what the other guy was going to play. We’d get into it more than the audience would!”

While the band only played together off and on through the 1990s, as members split to do separate projects, Mr. Hanford still found opportunities to jam with such musicians as Buddy Miles, Eric Burden and Roy Buchanan—and he even opened for the Woodstock alumnus Richie Havens at the Riverhead Jazz Festival in 1991.

“There were two to three thousand people in the crowd, it was the biggest stage I’ve ever played on,” he said. “The band played two songs, we got a standing ovation, and that got us out to play a third song. I remember seeing little kids dancing at the front of the stage to our reggae song.”

He continued to play sporadic shows at the Talkhouse and other locations on the South Fork—as well as traveling to the Stephen Talkhouse’s sister establishment in Miami Beach in 1992 after Hurricane Andrew to open for Warren Zevon.

“We couldn’t get on a plane to go down, so we rented this camper that broke down in nearly every state over 12 days,” Mr. Hanford recalled.

These days he makes, as he says, “cameo” appearances at the Talkhouse to play guitar while focusing the rest of his time on East Hampton Music.

“There’s no money in it anymore,” he said about life as a full-time professional musician. “You used to be able to make up to $3,000 per gig. Now everyone’s doing open mic nights and doing gigs for free. I don’t miss it, it’s all kind of changed out here for me.”

Today he mostly sticks to working at home.

“I like the solitude and working with wood,” he explained. “Fixing broken instruments is like trying to bring back the dead.”

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