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Jim Olson ( born in 1950 ) grew up in Hudson Wisconsin, a small border town on the beautiful St. Croix River.
Always inquisitive about how things worked, that curiosity would lead him to take apart everything from his dad’s fishing reel to the rear brake hub of his Schwinn bicycle. If he wasn’t melting lead wheel weights to make buck tail fishing jigs he was “stealing” the shelves out of his parents fruit cellar in an effort to come up with wood to make a push car.
At age 12 he began to play guitar and formed a band with friends from the neighborhood. Fascinated with how guitars work, soon he was taking them apart, refinishing them, changing pick ups etc., but never really considered making one.
In Junior High School shop class, he won the “Future American Craftsman” award, a small trophy given to the student displaying the most promise that year.
While working in a gas station at age 16, he bought his first car, a 1957 Chevy from a fellow heading off to Vietnam. Already partially “souped up” with a Muncie 4 speed and Corvette engine, he proceeded immediately to take it apart and rebuild everything, from the engine to brand new “sill” plates holding down the carpets. He won a number of trophies running “D modified” class at the local drag strips.
In 1971 he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and again became fascinated with making guitars. After reading books by Irving Sloane, Arthur Overholtzer, and David Russel Young, he set up shop in the basement of his rental house and set out making guitars. His focus and determination was “cemented” when in 1973 he met Charlie Hoffman and Rod Bellville, who had recently opened a guitar making / repair shop in Minneapolis.The goal now was to quit his day job and make guitar making his full time occupation. After working as a furniture re-finisher, an electro-plater of circuit boards, and a “saw man” at a walk-in refrigeration company, he was finally able to punch the time clock for the last time and go into guitar making full time.
In 1977 Olson Guitars was officially born in the basement of his house. Soon after he moved into a store front in West St. Paul that he shared with a harpsichord / dulcimer maker.
For the next 2 1/2 years he made 78 guitars for a local music distributor, Metro Music, who placed them in Schmitt Music stores in the five-state area. Without any name recognition they didn’t sell well and eventually were “closed” out at cost or below. Although the experience refined his skills and defined his product, it left him dejected and pretty much broke but not ready to give up.
In 1982, Jim moved his shop to an old commercial building recently purchased by a his church. In exchange for rent, he helped rehabilitate the building and eventually did the janitorial duties while he continued to make guitars and do repairs for local music stores.
In 1983 Phil Keaggy purchased a spruce top Olson Guitar and soon after he commissioned the first Cedar top guitar ever made by Olson Guitars. Phil’s instrumental CD “Beyond Nature” was recorded exclusively on his Cedar top Olson and was the first real exposure to a national audience for Olson Guitars.
In 1989 Jim was fortunate to sell three guitars to guitar icon James Taylor. After James’ tour in 1991 where he used his Olson’s exclusively, demand began to grow and deposits came in.
In 1992 he was able to move from the church to his current location in Circle Pines Minnesota, a ten-acre property with a 3200 sq ft. shop near his house, where he continues to work to this day.
Thankful for all the support from his wife Sue, guidance from peers, generosity and prayers from his church, and all the loyal customers who bought Olson Guitars, Jim is nearing 40 years in the business and has made over 1500 instruments.