Center Stage Vintage Guitars’ Kevin Heffernan repairs, sells and builds unique stringed instruments
Like every musician, Kevin Heffernan can still recall that moment when a song changed his life. For him it was Ten Years After’s “I’m Going Home” from Woodstock.
“That’s when I learned to play the guitar. Alvin Lee is unbelievable,” he said, adding he started playing the guitar at age 14. “I loved it and never stopped.”
Heffernan’s love of music started at an earlier age. When he was five years old, he enjoyed visiting his aunt and uncle’s home and playing their piano.
“My eyes were level with the keys,” he said. “I learned to play by ear and thought ‘there’s something to this.’”
Heffernan has played in bands that perform blues, rockabilly, bluegrass and even Texas Swing. He can play the guitar, mandolin, banjo, upright bass and lap steel.
“I get bored with one particular instrument. I’m not killing it on any of them but I can play them all,” he said.
Heffernan’s love of music led to a successful career of restoring and building custom guitars. Like Noblesville native Steve Wariner, Heffernan has roots that lead to Nashville – his just started with a chance meeting following a vacation in Florida. After touring Gruhns Guitar Store in Nashville, Heffernan asked where the best guitar players perform and then headed to Robert’s where he met Don Kelley, front man of one of the longest running bands in Music City.
“I walked in and was blown away,” he said.
Two months later Heffernan returned to Nashville with three custom built guitars.
“I went down and knocked on doors and made some really, really good friends,” he said. “If they like you down there they’ll do anything for you. If they don’t like you, they’ll slam the door in your face. They’re very humble – great, great people.”
Once he got connected to the music scene, his business started to climb. Heffernan has built instruments for guitar players with Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Dierks Bentley, Zac Brown Band, Earl Scruggs, Steve Wariner, John Michael Montgomery, Carrie Underwood, Brenda Lee, Garth Brooks, Patty Loveless, Lyle Lovette, Dixie Chicks, Sarah Bareillis, Saturday Night Live band and A Prairie Home Companion.
“I don’t listen to country music at all,” Heffernan said, “which is good because you’re not star struck. If you don’t know who they are, it doesn’t matter who they are.”
When he’s not assisting Heffernan in the store, Seth Catron, 30, of Indianapolis plays with his custom built guitar in The Twin Cats with his twin brother and drummer, Adam.
“It’s always neat to hear the stories that go with the instruments,” Catron, who is engaged to Heffernan’s daughter, Shannon, said. “We’re taking people’s babies. They put a lot of trust into you.”
Catron said he enjoys seeing what comes into the store, what they work on and especially how it was made.
“Building techniques have changed a lot the last 100 years. It’s cool to see how they made an acoustic back then as opposed to how they make it now,” he said. “Every day is a learning experience. That’s what’s cool about guitars, they are all unique.”
Heffernan opened Center Stage Vintage Guitars, 998 S. 10th St., on June 8. He said business has been increasing since then, as he recently got connected with Klipsch Music Center to assist touring musicians when they come to town.
“I wanted to stay in this community. I love Noblesville,” Heffernan, who has lived in Noblesville since 1987, said. “It could use something eclectic and artistic and different. It’s a guy store and there are hardly any guy’s stores anymore. I transferred my man cave here.”
Heffernan once received $1,000 and a 1964 Fender Telecaster for one of his builds.
“People trade me their babies for a custom built guitar,” he said.
Center Stage is a full service repair shop, where Heffernan also builds “new guitars that look old” and sells vintage instruments and amps. Along the store’s walls are guitars ranging in age (1927 Martin to 2008 Martin D28) and price ($100 to $7,000).
“Most are from the ’50s,”he said. “I’ll fix any string instrument except for pianos.”
Meet Kevin Heffernan
Family: Wife, Kelly; and daughters, Chelsea and Shannon.
Hobbies: Fishing and woodcarving. “I’ve been woodcarving for 30 years. It keeps me out of trouble.”
First guitar: Kalamazoo six-string electric
First song learned: three-chord blues progression and “I drove my parents crazy.”
Favorite genre: Folk rock
Favorite musicians: The Grateful Dead, The Band and John Prine
Personal quote: “You’re only as good as the last job you did.”