Phillip Mojonnier originally played the drums. They were his instrument of choice. His sister played piano, and his brother played the bass guitar: a family full of musicians.
—Standard C-shaped neck
—Gibson 24 3/4-inch scale
—Two humbucker pickups with alnico five magnets, built to the specifications of the old Gibson P.A.F.s. (a type of guitar pickup)
—Full-sized Grover Rotomatics
—Schaller roller-bridge, fully adjustable and lockable
—Medium fretwire (popular on Gibsons and Fenders)
After realizing he could play the guitar by ear, Phillip picked that instrument up as well. When other high school boys were trying to learn guitar to impress girls, he was busy learning everything he could about how the instrument was built by taking them apart—dissecting them like frogs.
If you know the Mojonnier family, you know about the Mojonnier Bros. composite sample bottles. Patented in 1921, they were used by creameries for collecting milk and cream samples, measuring the amount of fat and bacteria in products from dairy farms. You might also know about the Mojonnier Swiss Wafer machine, which was patented in 1951. It was used to make thin, lace cookies. So, it’s no surprise that Phillip and his brother-in-law, Paul Gardner, are continuing the family tradition of tinkering, inventing and reimagining. This time, it’s with guitars. And they’re turning it into a business, like the Mojonniers of the past.
I met with Gardner for a beer to talk about their fledgling company, Mojonnier Guitars, at the place where Paul and Phillip first began planning their company: The Honest Pint.
“The first guitar Phillip made was a bass for his brother,” he told me. “This was a couple of years ago. I saw it and was just amazed by the design, by the F-hole cutouts, how bold they were. I thought it was so fresh and it would resonate with people. I told him, ‘You’ve got to make another one, a six-string guitar this time.'”
And the Mojonnier Signature Guitar was born.
It took Phillip a year to craft it from a single block of mahogany. If you’re a guitar aficionado, it’s a cross between a Les Paul and a Gibson ES-335 (and if you’re not, it’s the kind that Chuck Berry is known to play—or, it’s similar to the one that Michael J. Fox plays in “Back to the Future”).
Gardner brought one of the guitars with him so that I could check it out.
It was beautiful. It was more than a guitar. It was an artistic statement. It was a tribute to the history, to the evolution of the guitar over the past 100 years. It is, if you will, a symbol of where rock 'n' roll has been and where it’s going.
The large F-holes are the most striking feature. Though these are usually meant to project more of a traditional hollow-body sound to electric guitars, these F-holes are different. Because they cut completely into the solid-body design of the instrument, they allow for a lighter-weight body, affecting the vibration of the strings. It’s not a hollow sound that’s produced but something else, a signature sound belonging only to the Mojonnier Signature Guitar. And what better way to know what that sound is but to play one.
Phillip and Paul’s business model is simple.
“We’re starting small and growing from there,” Gardner said.
Paul reached out to Joe Ledbetter of the Chattanooga Whiskey Company to find out how to get their name out there: “I figured whiskey and guitars go hand in hand.” Ledbetter has become a mentor to the small startup.
And through the magic of social media and old-fashioned word-of-mouth (and your friendly neighborhood ChattaPop columnist), Mojonnier Guitars is getting its name out there. And a few interested parties have contacted them.
Paul’s goal is to get as many Mojonnier Guitars into the hands of local and national musicians as possible and to become a major player in the electric guitar industry.
Charlie Moss writes about local history and popular culture, including music, movies and comics. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.