A Reluctant Mentor Inspires A Love Of Guitars And Eccentricity

Apr 1, 2017

Adults are constantly influencing the kids around them, whether it's as parents, teachers or mentors. For better and for worse, key adults can shape the trajectory of children and inspire their path as those children grow up.

Tacoma native Tim Olsen found a mentor in local guitar maker and musician Harvey Thomas. Fifty years later, Olsen still reflects on his old role model with a wry smile.

"He was a true eccentric, through and through," says Olsen.

Thomas is mostly famous for making wacky guitars in shapes like crosses and axes. A few of his original creations are even on display at Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture. However, he was also a larger than life figure. A stout guy with a glowering brow and giant mutton chops, Thomas did strange things like hang guitars in the trees and pull bizarre pranks.

“He had some gripe against the county government. Something about tax rates. And he lit a car on fire in his driveway and called the fire department; just to prank them," remembers Olsen. "He would do that kind of thing. It was his place and his stuff and he would just do it his way.”

Thomas passed away in 1987 after decades of making guitars and performing his own country western music. He was never a very traditional mentor for Olsen, who went on to make his own guitars. (These days Olsen publishes and distributes the American Lutherie magazine, a quarterly journal for guitar makers). Still, Thomas inspired a love for eccentric behavior and boldness that Olsen holds on to today.

Sound Effect producer Allie Ferguson went down to Tacoma to talk with Olsen about how he first met Thomas back in 1964 as a young fifth grader and what it means to be truly eccentric.