LISBON, N.D.-Dan Wagner, manager/CFO at Lisbon Farmers CU, has an intriguing hobby: he builds custom guitars. His most recent is a "Red Tail" guitar, released in conjunction with the movie of the same name. Below, Wagner talks more about it.
CUJ: How long have you been involved in guitar building?
Wagner: I started building guitars in 2006. I have always liked one-of-a-kind works of art. I spoke with Artist Terry Redlin in Watertown, S.D. and visited a little bit about how he got started in art. My concern was with some of the skills I lacked. I came to the conclusion that I would seek help, buy parts or modify parts if I could not make the parts myself to complete a project. That was the difference between dreaming about it and actually beginning the process of designing and building guitars. I originally came up with what I called my "Longhorn" design, then a "Buffalo Horn" design, and then my "double cutaway Buffalo design." Each one is an original, one-of-a-kind functional work of art. I take my time and try to enjoy every aspect of creating something new. I want it to be interesting to look at, to tell a story and to play like a world class instrument. My themes have always related to American Heritage.
CUJ: What becomes of the guitars you build?
Wagner: I have built a guitar for a Bronze Star recipient home from Afghanistan on leave, the chaplain of the North Dakota Veterans Home, Mark Sissel of Western Underground, and a number of other people who play guitar and work to make the communities they work in a better place. To date I have not sold any guitars I have made. I have applied the "pay it forward" attitude. That being said, I give them away. Two have been sold to raise money for the Young Eagles youth programs (www.youngeagles.org) and to date that is the only way you could ever purchase one.
CUJ: Tell us about the sale to benefit the Young Eagles program?
Wagner: The guitar sold for $5,000. It takes about $10 to sponsor a "first flight" experience for each child. The Red Tail Guitar helped 500 kids. The Young Eagles Program helps support technology, science and aviation and encompasses what a lot of young people dream about when they look up into the sky. You can preview the information and what happens with the money raised at www.airventure.org/gathering/GOE09_LiveAuctionPreviewBook.pdf.
CUJ: Why build the Red Tail guitar?
Wagner: At the time the guitar was made there was no movie. I met John Leahr and Herb Helburn at Airventure Airshow in Oshkosh, Wis. in 2008 and purchased their book "Black and White Airmen," a story about John's and Herb's lives as black and white pilots flying combat missions in WWII. I grew up near a reservation in western North Dakota and know first-hand how tough it can be to be dismissed as "second rate" or "not good enough," because of the way you look or where you grew up. John Leahr is a "Tuskegee Airman." I chose the Tuskegee Airmen theme because it is a true story about overcoming great adversity. I chose the Young Eagles Program because it puts in place a way for kids to experience a dream with no limitations to being rich or poor, boy or girl or ethnicity. The Red Tail Guitar was built to pass on some hope, inspire and tell an important story.
CUJ: Are you also a performer?
Wagner: Yes, I am a performer. I had a country record released nationwide in 1997 titled "Dan Wagner Country." I never had any hits, the best I could do was getting some radio airplay in the Midwest. I still play in a country band called "The Moonlake Orchestra" and also do Elvis tribute-type shows. The highlight of that was singing at the Dick Clark American Bandstand Theatre in Branson, Mo. I actually got to meet and visit with DJ Fontane recently, who was the drummer for Elvis for 14 years. I should maybe also mention I also performed with country music star Aaron Tippin when The Red Tail Guitar was auctioned of by Spanky Assiter of Barrett Jackson Auctioneers. The cool part of that whole night was I got to sit with Col. Charles McGee, who is a Tusgegee Airman and flew more than 400 combat missions in WWII, Korea and Vietnam. To me the music thing is a hobby, but at this stage of my life it has been very rewarding and allowed me to meet some very interesting people and experience some things I never would have been able to.