Darrell Jennings, Doylestown resident and co-owner of instrument cabinetry company American Music Furniture, just got a lucky break: In the pages of last month's Rolling Stone, you can see a rock star cozying up to one of Jennings' more elaborate guitar cabinets.
"The cabinet has a cool dragon head figuring in the walnut above the neck rest with inlaid red stones for the eyes," Jennings said about the case bought for Jason Isbell, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter who recently contributed songs like "Maybe It's Time" to the remake of A Star Is Born.
The road to national recognition began in 2013 when Jennings, freshly retired from the technology consultant world, started American Music Furniture with his brother-in-law Roger Horneff, with John Farrell joining a year later. Their goal was to fill an unmet need of both professional and amateur players: build a home for instruments that was both practical and beautiful.
But why would a guitar need its own cabinet?
"When you turn on the heat in your house, the humidity changes drastically," said Clay Cook, guitarist for the Zac Brown Band and cowriter of many of John Mayer's hits on his Grammy-winning debut album, Room for Squares. "Once, I left a Telecaster in my studio control room for a few months unplayed. The neck wood shrunk and the frets stayed the same size. It was a very uncomfortable guitar to play until that was fixed."
Most players store their guitars in instrument cases with a small humidifier (usually a wet sponge in a hard plastic shell) inside the case to protect them. The problem then is accessibility.
"There is something to the old saying, 'out of sight, out of mind,' " said Derek Trucks of the Tedeschi Trucks Band. "But when you walk past a cabinet that is lit up and a few guitars are staring back at you, it's hard not to stop and say hi for a bit."
A guitarist himself, Jennings grappled with the problem as well.
"We attended a workshop with some of the top guitar builders in the world and asked, 'What percentage of damage to guitars comes from humidity?' " said Jennings. "Their response was '100 percent — except for domestic disputes.' "
Jennings hatched a plan.
"There were a few other companies that built cabinets when we started, but they looked like office furniture or didn't have a high-quality humidification system," Jennings said. "We took the first cabinet to the Philadelphia Guitar Show and people liked it."
Trucks and his wife, Susan Tedeschi, were early converts to the cabinets, which are made with hand-selected locally harvested hardwoods like American black walnut, cherry, oak, and maple.
"We keep a handful of our favorite instruments in Darrell's cabinet — a collection of vintage acoustic and electric guitars. The ones that sound the best and are also the most susceptible to the elements," said Trucks. "And they happen to be the guitars that are the most fun to look at."
American Music Furniture has a line of cabinets sized based on how many and what kind of instruments the customer wants to store. Prices range from $1,850 to $20,000, depending on factors like the type of wood it's made of and its size. Most cabinets range from $6,000 to $8,000.
The company doesn't have a showroom in its shop, but this weekend patrons can check out its work at the Great American Guitar Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks. The cabinets are also on view locally at dealers like Bridgeport's Lattanze Guitars and nationally at high-end guitar boutiques like Nashville's Carter Vintage Guitars, where Jennings' work caught the eye of Isbell, whose wife, Amanda Shires, bought the cabinet featured in Rolling Stone as a Christmas gift.
"When we got our first cabinet in from Darrell, Jason saw it and wanted one. In fact, he wanted that particular one," said Walter Carter, owner of Carter Vintage Guitars and a noted author. "So we rented a box truck for a day and delivered it to his home. That left us without a display case for a few weeks, which actually helped generate more interest, as our customers asked us what happened to our case."
Cook of the Zac Brown Band also noticed one of Jennings' cabinets at Carter's store. He noted that visitors are often struck by the cabinets. "They think it's pretty cool," Cook said. "And it looks better than a pile of cases."
As the company's name recognition has grown, Jennings has found a new identity in the process, as well.
"Carter's has a lot of celebrities stopping by," said Jennings. "We're now well-known enough that when I meet a famous musician, they occasionally say, 'You're the cabinet guy.' "