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Love of music, art driving force behind Foxfire and Ditchwater

Mar. 29—RUSH — Guitar maker. Guitar fixer. Guitar taker?

All of the above monikers fit Ricky Reeves, but the third label requires a bit of elaboration.

Jessica George, Reeves's girlfriend of five years, is an art teacher at Raceland-Worthington High School. One of her students brought in his father's guitar one day, and he left it in the classroom.

Reeves, a 39-year-old who began playing "Ripple" by Grateful Dead and "Freebird" by Lynyrd Skynyrd at age 10, couldn't help himself. He had to give it a Ricky Reeves trial run.

"I went in and played it, and was like, this is terrible, so I stole the guitar," Reeves said with a chuckle. "I brought it home. I made it a really nice-playing guitar in about an hour.

"I sent it back to school with her the next day, and it was all good. ... That will make that kid love that guitar so much more when it's not fighting against him while he plays it. That's all I'm after. I want people to love to play."

The student's reaction was priceless.

"He was like, either I got really good or you all did something," George said through laughter. "He knew Ricky did guitar stuff, so he's like, 'what did you do?'"

Reeves explored different occupational avenues — the medical field, food service and information technology — but he readily admits that few tasks truly capture his full concentration.

Since 2020 — when COVID-19 caused sort of a "great re-awakening" as folks found various life pursuits — Reeves has been focused on Foxfire and Ditchwater. It's a family business — Reeves, George and his daughter, Hanna, put their minds and hands to the task as they create jewelry, salves and oils, pyrography pieces (wood burning), linoleum prints, guitars and more.

The inspiration behind Foxfire and Ditchwater hangs along a living-room wall inside a quaint home atop a gravel hill amid the woods off of Ellington Run Road in southern Boyd County.

'That red guitar'

Ask Ricky Reeves about the genesis of Foxfire and Ditchwater — not the name, specifically, (although there's a unique story behind that, too), but the idea of a hobby-turned-business — and he points to "that red guitar."

It's a Squire Stratocaster from Japan Reeves attained in 2017.

"I got a hold of it from an uncle," Reeves said. "It had no pick guard, no electronics, nothing. It was covered in stickers. It's a weird measurement. ... But it was a guitar, and I could play it, and it made me happy."

Reeves determined his desired sound for the instrument that he'd likely play some Alice In Chains or Eric Clapton on once he suited it to his liking.

"I wanted it to be loud, so it's like, all right, how do I do this?" Reeves said. "I tried different pickups. I taught myself as much as I could. Man, I really like that, that was cool. I started watching YouTube videos and different things; it seemed like it was something I could do that could hold my interest, which is hard to do."

Reeves fixed "that red guitar," and struck a chord with a newfound hobby. A couple years later, it became what he does.

"It makes me happy, and it makes other people happy," he said. "The biggest thing is I want to push that love of music that has helped me in my life, to everybody. If they want to be a part of it, they deserve to be."

Reeves went from "fixer" to "maker" by 2020. He's crafted five electric guitars.

"I started winding my own pickups, threw a guitar together and decided, this is going to be it," he said. "

It typically takes three to six months to assemble a final product, he said. He's successfully completed one "speed job" (four to six weeks) for a Christmas gift, he said.

By spring of 2021, Foxfire and Ditchwater was contacted to showcase some of its art at the Makers Market on the Square in Ashland.

More than guitars

"When the Makers Market called after seeing our (Facebook) page, I realized we couldn't just show up with a guitar or two," Reeves said.

Ricky Reeves repurposed guitar strings to make bracelets out of them. Jessica George started doing more linoleum printmaking and painting. Hanna Reeves and her friend made polymer clay jewelry and friendship bracelets, both of which were popular for children.

"The jewelry was a much bigger hit than they anticipated because they were not ready to make jewelry all summer and becoming, like, professional jewelry makers," George said with a laugh.

Experimenting with jewelry became quite the adventure at home, which is on the property of an old farm in George's family.

They tried some small pieces — some too small that just melted.

"We clipped off jewelry in a toaster oven and, yeah, some of it caught fire," Ricky Reeves said with a grin.

Reeves also discovered his inner mad scientist as he cooked up some recipes for custom salves and oils with various purposes, such as alleviating muscle aches and anxiety.

George said Reeves is a "walking outdoor dictionary" in the woods and finds all sorts of uses for different leaves and plants.

George offers a different type of versatility.

The Morehead State graduate has a fine arts background, but she's dabbled in a lot, including the traditional animation route where she had a short-lived internship with the Cartoon Network.

George is adept at ceramics and printmaking, but her training is widespread.

"Somebody will suggest an idea, and I'll go for it," she said, pointing to a crocheted "Mothman" on display in their living room as an example. "If it's an art form and a challenge, I'm up for it."

Her most popular pieces of work are cow paintings and cow prints.

"I'm open to collaborations with other artists around here," she said.

Reeves was building a stand for a deck of cards in February.

If I 'wood' ...

The Ricky-and-Hanna father-daughter duo has ventured into pyrography.

"I'm the main wood burner, but she's the good one," Ricky Reeves said.

"I like watching the wood burning come together, but I don't like doing it," said Hanna with a quick laugh.

"... because it makes her hands hurt," Dad explained.

Hanna does have a talent for it, though, as evidenced by her "Trash Panda" piece receiving first prize at Old Fashioned Days in Greenup last fall.

George said they made all of the wood-burned "trophies" for the Cosmic Holler Festival awards last October in Ashland.

Ricky Reeves said much of the wood burning has had "darker themes," but they're aiming for more eastern Kentucky/Appalachian themes this year.

Back to guitars

"Do you consider yourself a luthier?" The Daily Independent asked Reeves.

He paused for a few seconds. "Well, I make stringed instruments. That counts, right?"

When he began playing 30 years ago, "you had your guitar, and that was your guitar, and that was the sound that it made. If you wanted a different sound, you had to buy another guitar."

Reeves changed his mindset. He said not all guitar players should be "stuck with what their dad had."

When he makes a guitar, he offers full customization.

"You start with the wood. If you want local wood, we can do that. If you want something really exotic, we can do that, too," Reeves said. He said he recently had some "pretty rosewood" sent over from Indonesia.

"We take the (wood) block and shape the body, then we decide what kind of pickups you want," he said. "I have a machine that I turn and it has a crank counter."

The most dangerous part is fractal burning, aka the Lichtenberg process, which is when the high-voltage electricity comes into the equation in the making of an electric guitar.

Hanna and Ricky usually handle that part together.

"It was terrifying at first," Ricky said. "... We have a machine that puts out 20,000 volts. We take all the safety precautions. It's real dangerous, but it looks real cool."

George is a spectator.

"It's still scary, every time," she said.

Reeves's guitars feature a hand-rubbed oil finish. He throws on a long movie such as "Godzilla" for background entertainment as he utilizes India ink on the guitar body.

Reeves is a perfectionist when it comes to guitar assembly. Sometimes, plans go awry, but it can ultimately be for the better.

"This one had a tobacco burst finish on it; it's a standard Strat," he said, showing one to The Daily Independent. "I dropped my sander on it ... so I went ahead and took off all the finish, and it turned out way better than I expected."

The name

Why the name Foxfire and Ditchwater?

Ricky Reeves' dad enjoyed telling "foxfire" tales around the campfire, which is a southern Appalachian tradition. It carries a magical connotation. The word also refers to a certain type of fungi that emerges on deadwood in forests.

George's grandfather often told "foxfire" stories, too.

Reeves said "ditchwater" is another Appalachian term, often associated with moonshine.

"We put the two together and I liked the sound of it," he said.

Foxfire and Ditchwater has a website — foxfireandditchwater.com — and a Facebook page by the same name. Its description on social media: "Handmade and custom guitars, accessories, gifts, and art inspired by the granny witches of Appalachia."

The future

For now, the three do their art work at various locations, including at home, in the carport and at Reeves's mother's old house in Summit, he said.

A white building on their property is their shop, but they need to revamp it before it's suitable for use again. The hope is to have it ready by this summer.

George said there is space to set up a wood kiln in the shop.

"My dad used to repair tractors and cars in there," she said. "We've cleaned it all out to do this in there soon."

Reeves said the endeavor took off in an unexpected way.

"It's opened up strange opportunities that are really fun for us," he said.

Reeves said Foxfire and Ditchwater will conduct classes for people to learn how to build guitars. The four-day course will feature group and one-on-one tutelage. Cost will be around $750.

Reeves said pricing varies, but the ballpark cost for basic repair is $60, and custom wiring is about the same. Cost for a full custom guitar starts at about $550.

Visit the website and/or Facebook page for more details.

(606) 326-2664 — asnyder@dailyindependent.com