The way Tyler MacDonald sees it, he had no choice but to become an artist. A photography protégé at a young age, a classically trained saxophonist, and a mainstay on Florida’s art festival circuit as a teen, the Marco Island native has enjoyed an accomplished professional career beyond his 26 years. Piqued by an interest to learn guitar, MacDonald started making them three years ago. Today, Tyler Mac custom-made, fine-art electric guitars sell for upward of $12,000. Learn about MacDonald’s muses and creative process below.
NI: How did you know art was your calling?
MacDonald: I’ve always liked to explore different creative mediums. I taught myself photography when I was 8 and started selling my photographs at art festivals when I was 13. I’ve never had a real job. I’m lucky in that way and grateful I’ve been able to sustain myself since. I wouldn’t fit into a normal job. I didn’t partake in high school things because I was working art festivals all over the state of Florida. I was focused on building my life as an artist.
Traditionally, guitar luthiers served apprenticeships to master their skills. How did you learn?
YouTube. I’ve had no professional training. It took six months of trial and error before I had a guitar I could play. Now I build seven days a week, two or three guitars a month.
Describe your creative process.
Different types of wood have a different feel and visual design. Some are exotic and wild looking. My favorite is cocobolo because it’s an extremely dense wood with nice tonal properties and reds and purples. I import exotic wood from around the world and use as many as 10 different species that complement each other on some of my guitars. I also source wood locally, using trees downed by hurricanes. People don’t realize there’s a lot of mahogany in Florida. I just got back from a little town in Colorado where I sourced a 200-year-old elm tree.
What kind of feedback do you receive?
People are impressed. I get great response because guitars are an unusual thing to see at an art show. Buyers are players and collectors who hang the guitars on the wall. I’ve won quite a few awards for photography and won my first in October for guitars: best in show at the St. James Court Art Show in Louisville, Kentucky.
As an artist, is it difficult to part with your art?
I do get attached to some guitars and have my own private collection. It’s a personal thing. Because they’re handmade, there are slight variations between them.
I recently started a band, the Groovy Gypsies. It just fell in my lap like a lot of things I do. I have a spiritual outlook on life. I’m also working on two guitars—a double-neck guitar and an acoustic guitar, which is new for me. The wood really shines in acoustic. ()