Making sawdust

Alan Holbrook

PHOTO BY Shannon Rooney

Chico is rich with artists, and Alan Holbrook is certainly one of them. The 36-year-old started working with wood as a young boy and through the years he’s honed his craft into a true art form. He makes high-end, custom kitchen cabinets, coffee tables and the other usual items you might expect from a woodworker, but he also makes electric guitars and basses, which he tailors to each individual, down to their style of playing. His north Chico shop is situated next to the home he shares with his wife and two kids. That’s where Holbrook turns wood into pieces of art. He sells his work through his business, Holbrook Instruments & Millwork (aka H.I.M.). Visit his shop at

How did you get your start?

Growing up, I lived off and on with my grandfather. He always had a woodshop. When I was really little, I’d make sawdust pies out of sawdust and glue. Then I started digging around in the shop … chipping wood and figuring out how to glue things. It was always fun. When I was 10 or 11, my grandfather showed me how to use the band saw. It’s my favorite tool, to this day.

How did your grandfather influence you?

inset photo courtesy of h.i.m.

He was always building kitchen cabinets or furniture, and I’d stand back and watch really carefully what he was doing. When I decided to make something for myself, he’d supervise and do the more dangerous stuff. One of my first things was a little bass guitar. I was probably 13 or 14 when I did that. A lot of it was just me going in and doing stuff on my own.

What stands out in your memories of him?

He’d say, “I’m going down to the shop to make sawdust” when, really, he was making something really beautiful. And that’s what I do. I make sawdust, and every once in a while, something really beautiful comes out of it, like a kitchen cabinet or a guitar.

Can you remember your first sale?

The one that stands out is a bass guitar I made when my wife and I lived in Eureka. I took it down to the local music shop to plug it in and hear it, and a kid literally bought it off my lap for a thousand bucks. So then, it was like, “I can do this”—it was real.

What goes into making an instrument?

When I build an instrument for someone, I go and watch how they play before I build it. I’ve never made two of the same instrument—each is unique.

What do you love about this work?

I love that I’m content with it. This is the only kind of work I would do every day for free. Having the variety of things that I have to build really helps keep it fresh. I’m always doing something different.