Cirrus Guitars launches in Michigan

Veteran acoustic guitar builder Mike Franks, of M.J. Franks Guitars, and his former apprentice, Tobin McGlassion of McGlassion Guitars, have joined forces to launch Cirrus Guitars, dedicated to building professional grade steel string guitars at a more affordable price point.

They are likewise determined to build in the US, in their shop in Rochester Hills, MI, using the best materials they can get, but without the intricate inlays and highly figured woods seen on pricier guitars.

Both are still building their Franks and McGlassion guitars, but Mike told us this afternoon that his goal with Cirrus is to put guitars for the pickers.

“I’ve had this dream for a while. My Franks guitars are averaging in the $6,000-8,000 range, and most go to collectors or older people who can finally afford something that nice. But the players out there in coffeehouses and clubs, worship leaders and promising students, want something in a more affordable price range.”

Cirrus offers three basic models at this time, all selling for just over $2,000. There is a dreadnaught, an OM body, and a OOO 14 fret guitar, available in either mahogany or rosewood. Additional appointments, like a sunburst top, fancier rosette or binding, can be added for a small upcharge.

Franks’ passion is the prewar Martins that established the legacy for bluegrass players, which makes sense as he is a grasser from way back. His tops use hand scalloped, forward shifted bracing, and buyers can choose to upgrade from Sitka to Adirondack spruce for only $125.

So how do they offer such a well-made guitar at this price? Mike says there are a number of factors.

“We started with not the greatest margins, but as we continue to build we are improving on that.

We may buy woods with small blemishes, and buy in large quantities. Tobin and I choose all the woods ourselves, and check every set of top wood before they’re cut.

I have developed a lot of connections over the past 20 years, and am in the position to buy in bulk.”

And it seems to be working. Mike maintains a large shop for M.J. Franks, with room for several luthiers to wok simultaneously. At this point, it’s he and Tobin, with a couple of part time guys, and they are looking for a trainee who wants to learn the ropes.

He also rents space to a CNC operator who makes most of their parts at a good rate in exchange for concessions on rent, which also helps keep costs down.

“Our philosophy is to keep it American made, all made in Michigan. We do use German tuners and cases from outside the US, but otherwise it’s all made here.

And we won’t give up anything on tone.”

Mike tells us that they are building in batches of ten guitars, and it takes them about three weeks to complete a batch. Their goal for next year is to reach 20 per month. Currently Cirrus Guitars are offered both direct online, and through a small network of carefully selected dealers around the world.

“We are very particular about dealers, looking for boutique retailers and guitar shops, with a strong web presence that can help advertise us and what we do.”

Franks has been a part of the Michigan bluegrass scene most of his life, and his inspiration to build came from that passion.

“I’ve had my heart in bluegrass since i was a kid. When I was getting started I made a guitar for Bobby Osborne’s guitar man, Joe Miller, and got to deliver it to him at the Opry. That was a real highlight for me.

I also got to be friends with Pete Goble, who helped me sell a lot of guitars.”

He has built instruments for Chris Davis of The Radio Ramblers, and is currently building one for their guitar man, Adam McIntosh.

All guitars are sold with a limited, five year warranty. You can see full details about Cirrus Guitars on their web site.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.