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Luthier celebrates eight years of success in building handmade guitars  

Community ProfileLuthier celebrates eight years of success in building handmade guitars  

Shaun Mulrain has become a master of his craft, building complex and unique guitars for discerning clients. Mulrain, explains his process, “What I try to do is to be in a flow state… [like some] musicians they will close their eyes, and just play by feel, and go where the notes take them. It just flows through [them]. For me, I’ve been trying to study that for the last eight years, whether it be through meditation or through practice…until I don’t have to think about it anymore.”

Mulrain continues, “One of the things that I tell my students is, don’t practice it until you get it right, practice it till you can’t get it wrong. That’s where flow is… where you don’t have to think anymore and your body finds the way to produce the best possible thing.”

Mulrain, who has lived most of his life in Brantford, has also lived in Toronto home–playing clubs and bars, following his dream of playing guitar. “I actually started as a piano player, and…As a kid, I loved to sing. My mother was a piano teacher…[but] piano was just a wrong instrument [for me.] It just didn’t feel natural. And when I was 11 years old, I found a guitar in the basement…[and] picked that up and I wrote a song that very first day.”

Shaun Mulrain plays and displays his guitars live at Long and McQuade Brantford for Customer Appreciation Day. Mulrain has played over 3400 live shows during his career. Photo courtesy Shaun Mulrain.

Mulrain continued to obsessively practice on the guitar without any formal training, “I didn’t know how to read music for several years…I carried a guitar around high school…I played on my breaks. I played at lunch and I played at home…I just loved it and everything about it. And then I started fixing my own [guitar] because I couldn’t afford to have someone fix them. And you just build skills that way.” Mulrain notes, “My grandfather was the one that taught me chords. He was a guitar player in a big band, and he was one of the only repair guitar repair techs in Brantford [in the 60s, 70s, and 80s.]”

Although Mulrain had initially set his sights on a career in music, reality kicked in. Mulrain explains, “I went to school for music at Humber College. Unfortunately, I realized that music at that point in my life wasn’t going to pay the bills. So, I got into a trade and I did 17 years as an HVAC mechanic [and] I learned that I could do what I loved afterward. And so, I taught music lessons and repaired guitars and built guitars [and] played live in Toronto for 14 years and then came back to Brantford.”

Shaun Mulrain with his grandfather and mentor, Jim Camilleri. Mulrain’s Grandfather got him started playing and building guitars. Photo courtesy Shaun Mulrain.

It was then, 8 years ago, with the support of his wife and family, Mulrain decided to go into business for himself full time. “I quit my job [and] searched out veteran guitar builders, and I asked them if I could study with them. And I did five apprenticeships with people that knew what they were doing that have been doing it for 30, 40, or 50 years.”

Mulrain started to build his business through the strength of his strong customer service skills and workmanship. These were some key factors in how he got through the pandemic which took a toll on other similar businesses, “I had to learn new skills on how to adapt and adjust [and] I learned how to live stream music lessons, and…live stream shows. And I just continued to get up every morning and work six to eight hours a day. Repairing guitars that were broken or not broken…I’d actually break them! I know that sounds crazy, but I needed something to do [and] I needed to build skills that I didn’t have. I went and practiced over and over and over again.”

Shaun Mulrain working on a custom guitar order in his workshop in Brantford. Photo courtesy Shaun Mulrain.

One of the major projects that Mulrain has been working on through the years has been his ‘Leaf’ guitars which have helped him design and create better custom guitars for his clients. “I took everything I could from all of the guitars that I loved [and] I figured out how to put them onto one guitar. This new guitar (my original guitar was called Sweet Leaf) is called New Leaf because it’s actually the first guitar that I designed. And I put everything into this guitar that I’ve learned over the last 30 years. I went about doing pros and cons lists for all of the popular guitars [and did] everything, exactly the way that the customer wanted it. We sat down for 12 hours [across 3 meetings] to design the guitar.”

Shaun Mulrain standing in his workshop. Photo courtesy Caitlin MacKenzie.

Mulrain, along with balancing guitar lessons, his custom guitar builds and repairs continues doing live shows and being part of many local events. In fact, Mulrain has done over 3,400 live shows in his career—having an opportunity to showcase his custom pieces as well as his talent for playing guitar. However, what’s made Mulrain so successful at his craft is not only his dedication to learning but his passion for understanding the needs of his clients. “[It’s about] finding out what this person genuinely wants. What do they want? And what do they need? And I have to figure out a balance.

Mulrain, who is celebrating his eighth year anniversary of Mulrain Guitars, continues, “There is a price for everything [and] I have no problem telling someone I can do it. And I will learn those skills and [they] will pay me for that…because no one else will do it [and] no one else has the patience.” 

Shaun Mulrain holds an acoustic guitar that he custom-built for a client. Note the attention to detail throughout the guitar including personalized inscription on the body. Photo Courtesy James Bosma.

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