Gallagher Guitar Company lives on with new ownership

Since 1965, the Gallagher Guitar Co. has been building high quality, handmade acoustic guitars in Tennessee. Treasured by flatpickers and finger style guitarists alike, these fine instruments attained global recognition when the great Doc Watson acquired one of their G-50 models, nicknamed Ol’ Hoss, in 1969.

The legend of Ol’ Hoss has grown over the years since Doc started playing it. The dreadnaught style guitar had been used by founder J.W. Gallagher as a sample, as the side had been cracked during production, so it was not intended to be sold. But when J.W. showed it to Doc at the Union Grove festival in 1969, he wouldn’t give it back. The guitar was widely known for its volume and clarity of tone, and Doc didn’t care about a cracked side. It became one of his favorite guitars.

On the strength of Watson’s endorsement, and the enduring excellence of the Gallagher guitars, the company thrived in their Wartrace, TN shop. J.W. retired in 1976, turning ownership and management of the company over to his son Don. But when Don was ready to retire himself in 2019, it appeared that the Gallagher legacy would come to an end. They announced that all guitars currently under construction or commission would be completed, but no new orders would be accepted.

But then David Mathis, a Gallagher fan in nearby Murfreesboro, stepped in. Mathis couldn’t bear the notion of them shutting down. “I learned my first guitar chords on a Gallagher from a man who had a 1967 Gallagher G-50,” he said. “When I heard the company had closed its doors, I started thinking about what could be done to keep it going.”

Soon discussions were underway between David and Don Gallagher, resulting in Mathis acquiring the Gallagher Guitar Co. late in 2019. He and his wife, Reina, are managing the company, with Daren Gallman coming on board as chief luthier, with 15 years of woodworking experience in luthiery and furniture building.

David and Reina have moved the Gallagher shop to Murfreesboro, and upgraded the facilities available to the team of builders, using many of the same plans, molds, simple machines, and guidelines established by J.W. and Don Gallagher from the 1960s forward. Also on the team are luthiers Austin Derryberry, Hunter Petty, and Zeb Turrentine. The Gallagher family is fully behind the new company, and endorses their efforts 100%.

Alongside the new Gallagher shop, the company has opened a live music venue called Gallagher Unplugged, which is being managed by Haley Mathis, David and Reina’s daughter. There they will offer a stage for bluegrass and acoustic artists to perform, just 30 minutes from the Nashville market.

You can still find the popular Gallagher models designed by J.W. over the years, as well as the Doc Watson and Jim Hurst signature models. The custom shop is still in operation, with seven different body styles you can choose from in having a one-of-a-kind guitar made to your specifications.

Shop tours are available now on Saturdays, and guitar lovers are welcome to visit and try out the various Gallagher models, but they do request that you set an appointment before driving over, at least while COVID restrictions remain in place. The shop and the venue are located at the corner of College and Walnut Streets in Murfreesboro.

Gallagher guitars are available from a select network of dealers around the US, and directly from the company.

You can see all the models and styles offered online.

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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.