Making Their Musical Mark

By: Jim Hannaford

Just the sight of an electric guitar can make someone dream of being a rock star, but it sent Chris Fayland down a different path. 

Like a lot of folks, Chris was looking for a way to fill some downtime when the pandemic came along in 2020, and a birthday gift from his wife, Amy, seemed like it might be the answer. He learned to play a few chords and scales on the gorgeous Gibson Les Paul but became more intrigued by the instrument’s construction than the sounds it made.

“It was hanging on the wall, and I just kept staring at it,” Chris recalls, “and I finally decided, ‘I can build that.’ I have an engineering background, so I decided to build a guitar from scratch, and it went from there.”

Just three years later, he has carefully constructed nearly 70 guitars from his workshop in their family garage in a newer subdivision just east of Fairhope. To some, it might seem like a pipe dream, but Chris had plenty of confidence and curiosity to go along with his woodworking experience and an educational background in both electrical and computer engineering. 

Almost all of his company’s orders are custom, meaning that customers choose the woods they want, the color, the types of frets and pickups, and so on. Chris prides himself on his attention to detail—he says there are around 300 separate steps in building an electric guitar, and he doesn’t rush through any of them.  

“Not to talk trash about the bigger brands,” he says, “but at the end of the day, a company that’s bigger these days is cutting some kind of corner. It’s a quality-control thing, and right now they’re after quantity, not quality.”

Ask someone who’s played a Fayland guitar, and he or she will probably agree that they sound unusually lively, even when they’re unplugged. One reason for their remarkable resonance is how Chris applies what’s called the finish. That’s the outer coating on the body, somewhat shiny, which helps to protect the instrument’s wood and paint from nicks and scratches and also smooths out the grooves in the natural wood grain. Rather than the plastic-laden paints that are more typical these days, he prefers a very thin layer of nitrocellulose lacquer, which is what they used in the earliest days of electric guitar construction, in the 1950s and ‘60s. 

“It doesn’t trap the sound in, so you can actually feel the notes in your hand,” he says.

An early turning point for Fayland Guitars was when Chris got a message on Instagram, out of the blue, from lead guitarist Zach Rishel of the fast-rising Red Clay Strays, based in Mobile. He wanted to know if Chris would build him a guitar. Chris and Amy took the first one he’d made, modeled after a Fender Telecaster, to a show at OWA in Foley so Rishel could try it out. The group’s other guitarist, Drew Nix, also gave it a spin, and both of them were sold.

“They were just a local band, and this was before anyone really knew who they were,” says Chris. He built a guitar for each of them— to their specifications, of course—and presented them at a Live at Five show in Fairhope in 2022. “And they played them on their album and have traveled the country with them.”

In a couple of weeks, his best-known clients will open for the Rolling Stones at a concert in Boston and will soon embark on their first European tour. The extra exposure for the Fayland brand has meant more orders for Chris, from the Strays themselves and many other players around the country, both amateurs and pros, including a handful of Nashville pickers. 

“It’s a blessing, for sure,” Chris says of his association with the Strays. “It’s awesome to see them having so much success, and I’m not surprised by it by any means. I’m very thankful that they love our guitars as much as they do.”

Something else that’s brought attention to Fayland Guitars came about as a result of Hurricane Sally, which made landfall four years ago this September. The storm felled some old oak trees in Bienville Square in downtown Mobile, and the Mobile Arts Council made sure some of the wood got into the hands of artists and craftsmen. 

Chris wasn’t building guitars back then, but he acquired a large piece of oak with a vague idea of creating a coffee table from it. His wife had a better idea, and the result is a one-of-a-kind six-string, both rustic and ornate and much heavier than a notoriously hefty Les Paul, the guitar that first gave Chris his inspiration.

“It was quite a challenge because this is the hardest wood I’ve ever worked with. It’s so old, heavy, and dense that it was almost like drilling through metal. There were nails embedded in the wood from where they’d posted signs on the tree over the years.”

Not content to stick with just one aspect of guitar making, Chris has branched out to build pickups and amplifiers and recently purchased some high-end equipment that will allow him to create templates so he can start building acoustic guitars, too. Another busy aspect of his business is instrument repairs, from minor tweaks to major overhauls, including the recent refurbishing of a 200-year-old violin.

While he stays busy with the precision, often solitary tasks in the workshop, Amy handles the business and promotional ends of Fayland Guitars and does most of the communication with customers. In addition, he says, she challenges him and keeps him motivated to build the brand further. Giving credit where it’s due, he says, “I’ve built all the guitars, but she’s sold them all.”

He is a native of the Algiers section of New Orleans, and relocated to the Eastern Shore from Fort Collins, Colorado, in part stirred by his childhood memories of visiting his grandparents, Ray and Shirley Edens, at their bay house on County Road 1. He and Amy, have welcomed their first child, 10-month-old Lucille, since finding their home here and setting up shop.

“I just love the area and love the people,” he says. “We were getting tired of Colorado’s prices,  so we moved right at the perfect second to this house, and then all of the prices skyrocketed here. It’s a wonderful place to live and to do business.”

For more information or to place an order for your own custom guitar, visit

May 15, 2024
Dive Bars & Music

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