Justin Vernon auctions custom guitar
Justin Vernon and his Grammy award-winning band Bon Iver have teamed up with local luthier Gordy Bischoff and Bushmills whiskey to support Eau Claire’s Confluence Project, a plan to bring a performing arts center to downtown.
Vernon, Bischoff and Bushmills worked together to create a custom-made guitar called “The 1608,” crafted from the wood of Bushmills whiskey barrels. The guitar is being auctioned off on eBay, and the proceeds will go towards the Eau Claire Confluence Project.
Bischoff, who has been making and repairing guitars and ukuleles in the Eau Claire area for years, said this project was
“It was probably the most challenging, frustrating things I’ve ever done in my career,” he said.
The project began when Bushmills decided to collaborate with people like Vernon and actor Elijah Wood to pursue artistic endeavors that would benefit both Bushmills and other organizations. Once the idea of a whiskey barrel guitar was decided on, the raw materials were sent straight to Bischoff.
“They actually shipped the barrels to me from Ireland,” Bischoff said.
When Vernon came to Bischoff with the idea, Bischoff put it at the top of his list of priorities (though he still repaired instruments for local musicians). He finished the projects he was working on and then dove head first into the whiskey barrel guitar.
“Something like this is almost like playing a whole chess game in your mind before you make the first move,” Bischoff said. “In my mind, it was a nine-month project.”
Kimera Way, president of the UW-Eau Claire Foundation, worked with Vernon and Bischoff to make the project happen.
“Justin Vernon and Bon Iver have been very supportive of the Confluence since it’s inception,” she said.
Way and Bischoff both said the support of a successful artist like Vernon gives the project credibility.
“People take note of his opinion and then weigh that in on their own,” Bischoff said.
Assistant Chancellor for Facilities Mike Rindo also worked with Vernon on the project.
“We actually engaged Justin Vernon and (manager) Kyle Frenette from Bon Iver to get their ideas about what venues they’ve been at around the world and how those venues work well and how they may not work well,” Rindo said.
He added that a new performing arts center would allow for more modern theatre and concert techniques.
“We have a very rich artistic community here both in the visual arts and the performing arts,” Bischoff said.
He said the community has been outspoken in making a performing arts center a priority.
“It was considered, after some very well-attended public discussions last spring, to be the highest priority for the community,” Rindo said.
As of press time, the highest bid for the guitar on eBay was $9,200 with 10 hours remaining. It has a semi-hollow body with a dual source pickup system. This means that it has both electric and acoustic pickups that send out two different signals to two separate amplifiers, which is a technique Bischoff has been employing since the mid-90’s.
“It was just an incredible opportunity and an artistic challenge.” Bischoff said. “I can’t thank Justin enough for coming up with the idea.”