The Guitar Doctor Is In! Welcome to Tommy Graves’ Vermont Guitarworks Hospital

JEFFERSONVILLE, VERMONT – Welcome to the Vermont Guitarworks Hospital, with the "guitar doctor" Tommy Graves at your service! Opened in 2011, and with over 30 years of experience (and even more as a guitar player) in guitar repair, restoration and customization, Graves’ “guitar hospital” is a full-service customization and repair shop specializing in vintage guitar restoration.


Article by Joe Milliken * Photos courtesy of Tommy Graves

Owned and operated by the master craftsman and luthier, Graves, he offers a wide range of services, including setups to full restorations, and everything in between. From fretwork, custom nuts and saddles in bone, custom bridges, neck resets and brace-work, to structural repairs, electronic work, pick-up and fretboard replacement and custom electronic wiring and mods. You name it, and the Vermont Guitar Hospital can do it!

So, how exactly did Graves come about learning his craft of repairing and restoring guitars?

“I officially launched the Vermont Guitarworks Hospital about six years ago, after several years of thinking about switching my career as an electromechanical field service engineer, and doing luthier work full time,” Tommy Graves recently told Standing Room Only.

“I've been playing guitar since I was kid, and when I first started playing about 40 years ago, I was really into ‘guitar rock’ bands such as Led Zeppelin, Kiss and Black Sabbath. The bands that put those heavy, loud guitar tracks front-and-center really got my attention. I still enjoy a lot of that stuff today, but my influences have expanded a lot over the years as well. One thing does remain however, if it's ‘rock with lots of guitars, I'm most likely going to be into it.”

Experienced was gained by doing guitar repair for himself and his friends for some 30 years. However, where did actual guitar-repairing start for Graves? “Some 30 years ago, I had a guitar (his Mom’s old Alvarez acoustic) that just got to the point where I didn't even want to play it anymore, because it sounded so bad,” Graves recalled. “I played that guitar to the point of needing a full re-fret. I brought it to a local luthier who sadly botched it up making it even worse.

“So, that bad experience motivated me to take on my own repairs, as I was always into fixing my own stuff anyway, so why not my guitar as well, right? I found a guitar parts catalog listing in a guitar magazine I used to get in town, and the next thing I know, I'm ordering fret wire and a repair book.

“My first re-fret job (30 years ago) was definitely a learning experience, and yes, having the internet would have been pretty handy back then, for ordering hardware and learning new techniques!” (laughs) 

The hospital is conveniently located in Tommy’s home, which of course, has several great advantages. “Vermont Guitarworks Hospital is indeed, based in my home and I love it,” Graves said. “It just made sense to keep it home-based, for I had a ton of tooling and equipment already set up that I had been collecting and using over the years. I've got a great in-house machine shop that's been working great for specialized guitar work and fabricating any special tools I need. I've also got a custom, cross draft paint booth that works really great, an industrial air compressor, sanders… the list goes on. I guess you could say I have both a guitar and a tool addiction.” (smiling)

As described above, the guitar hospital’s services are wide ranging. “We do all types of repairs and restoration projects,” Graves added. “We do vintage guitar restorations, refinish work, finish touchup repairs, custom electronics, electrical repairs, re-frets, neck and bridge resets and bridge plate replacements. The list goes on and on, but if I had to choose a specialty, I would have to say that re-fret/fret and setup work. It's really the number one wear item (frets) for all guitars. Kind of like tires on a car, they're going to wear out eventually and when they do, it's usually not good.” 

The list of musicians and bands that the Vermont Guitarworks Hospital has helped are many. In fact, creating such a list would be quite a challenge. “I've been so blessed to help many really talented local guitarists and I know if I tried, (to make a list) I would be afraid of leaving someone out! Truly, they're all like a really great huge awesome family of guitarists and I love them all… and I really mean that.”

Andre’ Maquera is a renowned Vermont guitarist (8084) and owns West Street Digital recording studio in Northern Vermont. “I’ve known Tommy for over 25 years, first as a great friend and fellow guitarist,” Maquera recently told Standing Room Only. “Then, I remember him becoming this bad-ass bike builder. I also like to joke that if it weren’t for me, there never would have been a Vermont Guitarworks Hospital. Before its inception, and given my unlikely success with West Street Digital, Tommy has come to me about the feasibility of operating a business that relied on the local music community to survive. I assured him that the local music community respected quality, good service, and was loyal.

“Tommy’s current success is predicated on those two pillars. I can’t help but think that his years as a machinist, and the associated exacting tolerance carried over to a level of precision not often found in the luthier field. Of course, all that skill wouldn’t matter if Tommy didn’t have great people skills... and the fact that he is an exceptional guitarist doesn’t hurt! Tommy is the only guy I trust, when it comes to surgery on my babies!”

Vermont guitarist and recording engineer, Scott Campbell, is a 2005 inductee into the Fiddler's Hall of Fame and owner of Windy Hill Studio in Barre. "'Doctor' Tommy Graves is a blessing to the guitarists' world," Campbell told SRO. "He took my untuneable, unplayable, prized Les Paul Supreme and hand-carved a new nut out of elk antler, and did a bridge and tailpiece modification that made her into the beautifully playing guitar that she was meant to be!"

“There is such a bond between guitarists, and all types and musical genres,” Tommy added. “I've had the pleasure to work with some great rock, jazz, gypsy jazz, classical, metal, punk rock, country and flamenco guitar slingers. It is such a privilege, honor, and so much fun to get to do what I do.” 

Although the guitar doctor is certainly quite busy these days, the Vermont Guitarworks Hospital always welcomes “new patients” to the family. “Whatever guitar needs or repairs someone might have, they can easily get in touch with us to see what we can do to help. The best way to reach us is by email through our website, or a private message through our Facebook page.

“Also, for all of the guitar fanatics out there... if you love guitars and love seeing photos of guitars being operated on, we post daily photos of what is going on in the shop at the Vermont Guitarworks Hospital Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram pages.”

To learn more about the “guitar doctor” Tommy Graves, and all the cool happenings at the Vermont Guitarworks Hospital, please visit their website at www.vermontguitarworks.com, their Facebook page, or email Tommy directly at vermontguitarworks@hotmail.com.