Kyle Packard, Contributing Writer
You may know Mark Eshenbaugh as the Contemporary Worship Arts and Leadership instructor at North Greenville University, but did you know that he used to own a guitar manufacturing company?
Eshenbaugh has been building guitars since high school and with his passion started a company in 1998, Eshenbaugh Guitars, that operated until he went back to school full-time in 2009. Eshenbaugh Guitars specialized in bass guitars, as Eshenbaugh’s main instrument is bass.
It all began in high school with guitar repairs, before progressing to building a bass guitar around a neck he bought, since he couldn’t build a neck from scratch. Eshenbaugh built his first guitar, from start to finish in 1995 while he was working with a guitar repair man in Kingston, N.J., according to TalkBass, an online bass guitar community. Eshenbaugh said, “I used tools at a cabinet shop owned by a friend from church.” The instrument was built to emulate a Carl Thompson bass he found in a magazine.
In 1996, Carl Thompson —of Carl Thompson Instruments and the maker of the previously-mentioned guitar— formed a relationship with Eshenbaugh and hired him to work for him in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Eshenbaugh said, “Sanding is pretty much all I did for him while I was there, but I got to watch everything he and Mike Browne (Carl's assistant and owner of Browne Basses) did, and we would talk a lot about building. Today, we still have a good relationship.”
Eshenbaugh moved to the Greenville area in 1998 and started Eshenbaugh Guitars. According to Eshenbaugh, the company grew and kept growing.
“Most people will tell you that success is equal to growth,” said Eshenbaugh, “Growing can only happen if you keep your doors open. But for most of the time we were running, the company grew.” At the company’s peak, it had a few employees and was producing 15 guitars a month.
Fred Biggers, an Eshenbaugh Guitar owner, said, “I’ve had the guitar for almost 10 years. The guitar is handcrafted and excellent quality. I’ve known Mark for a long time and I wanted to support his business. I am also an independent business owner and I understand humble beginnings.”
In a 2004 interview, while the company was still operational, Eshenbaugh credits the biggest challenge he faced as a guitar builder to time management. “I do many more things than just build basses. I have a wife and three awesome children and I demand a great deal of their time. I also work for and play drums, bass, and guitar for my church. I’m in a band. Answering phones and emails... it’s hard to juggle it all sometimes,” said Eshenbaugh.
But when Eshenbaugh went back to school full-time, he had to diminish the company to a one-man operation. In addition, business was worsening. “Sales were down in 2008-2009, like they were for all luxury industries. An expensive, hand-made guitar certainly counts as a luxury. The dust was starting to get to me. And some of the exotic hardwoods are toxic,” said Eshenbaugh. Too much exposure to dust inhalation of exotic hardwoods can aggravate symptoms through allergic reactions, or be outright toxic in and of themselves.
But the passion Eshenbaugh has for making these exquisite instruments has not been quelled entirely.
Today, Eshenbaugh still has some guitars he works on from time to time, as well as repairs. He is interested in teaching a class on guitar building at North Greenville University in the future, if the opportunity presents itself. Eshenbaugh said, “I’ve discussed it with some folks, and it seems there’s some interest, maybe in some future summer term.”