Gallagher Guitar Company

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Gallagher Guitar Company
IndustryArts & Entertainment
Founded1965; 59 years ago (1965) in Wartrace,TN, USA
FounderJohn William Gallagher
Headquarters118 N. Walnut Street,,
Murfreesboro, TN 37130
United States
Key people
  • DAREN GALLMAN Chief Luthier

Gallagher Guitar Company (Often referred to as Gallagher Guitars and originally known as J.W. Gallagher & Son) is an American guitar manufacturer established in 1965 by John William Gallagher. It utilizes luthiers who handcrafted guitars over the course of several weeks,[1] leading the company to be chiefly known as a small volume, high quality guitar manufacturer. The company was founded in Wartrace, TN. The company relocated to Murfreesboro, TN, in 2019.

The Gallagher Family

J.W. Gallagher

The Gallagher Guitar Company, originally J.W. Gallagher & Son,[2] is named after its founder, John William (“J.W.”) Gallagher. While working on the family’s farm and assisting with furniture production, JW became a highly proficient woodworker and carpenter. At the age of 24, after becoming a master carpenter, Gallagher opened his furniture business.

Known for producing “perfect” furniture, J.W. Gallagher was approached in 1963 by Solar Music, out of Shelbyville, TN, and commissioned to design and develop a production line for an inexpensive guitar. J.W. used measurements of Martin, Gibson, and other guitars of that time to create original designs that would ultimately become Shelby model guitars. While inexpensive and sturdy, these models did not live up to J.W. Gallagher’s self-established qualifications.

In 1965, J.W. Gallagher decided to build his own handmade acoustic guitars despite competition with highly established brands such as Martin and Gibson. With the help of his son, Don, Gallagher Guitars developed their first models: the G-50 (G for Gallagher, and 50 for J.W.’s age) and the D-17 (D for Don, and 17 for his age).

Gallagher’s health began deteriorating between 1974 and 1975, leading to his retirement from Gallagher Guitars, leaving his son, Don, to run the company. J.W. Gallagher was diagnosed with atherosclerosis and would suffer a fatal heart attack on June 21, 1979. He was 64 years old.

Don Gallagher

Don, J.W. Gallagher’s son, learned lutherie alongside J.W. at Solar Music. In 1967 (2 years after designing the D-17 Gallagher model), Don was drafted into the US Army. After returning from service, Don Gallagher married Jean Adcock in 1969 and graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in 1971 with a degree in business. Gallagher would go on to earn a Master’s degree in psychology from the University of Akron in 1975. Don would choose to leave his Ph.D. in psychology in 1975 and returned to Wartrace to take over Gallagher Guitar Company due to his father's illness.

Upon Don Gallagher’s return, Gallagher Guitars would increase production from 74 guitars in 1974 to 136 guitars in 1975. Don would run the company until 2015, when his son, Stephen, would take over.

“Ole Hoss” and the Watsons

While building a G-50 in 1968, Don Gallagher sanded the sides of the guitar too thinly, and the instrument cracked after finish. J.W. and Don Gallagher brought this guitar as a sample to a music festival in Union Grove, NC, where the duo met Doc and Merle Watson. After sampling the G-50, Doc Watson made it known that he wanted that guitar. J.W. was unwilling to sell the guitar because it had an imperfection. Doc, who was blind, did not care about a blemish he could not see but wanted a guitar that sounded that good. J.W. agreed to loan Doc the guitar as long as he would return it when he was finished with it. This guitar became the infamous "Ole Hoss," which was used by Doc chiefy as his performing and recording guitar until 1974.[3] It was "Ole Hoss" that Doc Watson used on the Will the Circle be Unbroken album with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and an assortment of leading artists and performers. During the recording of this album, Merle Travis said of Doc Martin's guitar, "It rings like a bell."[4] This statement has been associated with Gallagher guitars ever since.

“Ole Hoss” was eventually loaned to the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, TN, in 1975 where it remained until 2008, when it was returned to Wartrace at Watson's urging.[4]

"Ole Hoss was later purchased at auction by actor, Ed Helms. Helms, a bluegrass aficionado, would place a winning bid of $40,000, roughly five times the high estimate.[5]

Gallagher guitars have chiefly been associated with Bluegrass music.[2] Most notably, Gallagher guitars were awarded to winners of the National Flatpicking Contests[6] for the past 40 years at the annual Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, KS.

Sherwin Williams Debacle

Gallagher Guitar Company’s sales would suffer a significant decrease in 1987 when it was revealed that Sherwin Williams, the paints and finishes company, altered the formula for its lacquer. This new formula resulted in cracked finishes on a number of guitars built by Gallagher and other guitar manufacturers. After the discovery, Gallagher laid off all employees and refused to take any orders until all guitars were refinished correctly to honor the warranty on guitars sold since the lacquer formula change.[3]

End of an Era

Don Gallagher handed the company off to his son, Stephen, in 2015. Gallagher Guitars ceased taking new orders for guitars in 2018, with Stephen confirming that all orders on hand would be completed and shipped, but no new Gallagher guitars would be created moving forward. Gallagher Guitars officially ceased operations in May 2019.[7] Ownership changed hands again in 2019, when David Mathis bought the company and moved Gallagher Guitars to Murfreesboro, TN. Gallagher Guitar Company re-opened its operations in 2020.[8] The new shop includes luthiers who previously worked at Gallagher in Wartrace to ensure continuation of the Gallagher building methods. They are bringing back most of the previous models as well as introducing new models.[9]

Distinctive Features of a Gallagher Guitar

  • Wide, flat pickguard shape
  • French curve of each headstock
  • Old English G borrowed from the Shelbyville Times-Gazette


  1. CNN, By Drew Kann. "Why country music's biggest names wait a year for these guitars". CNN. Retrieved 2020-02-05. {{cite web}}: |last= has generic name (help)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Carter, Walter,. Acoustic guitars : the illustrated encylopedia. Hunter, Dave, 1962-, Bacon, Tony, 1954-, Osborne, Nigel (Art director),. New York, NY. ISBN 978-0-7858-3571-4. OCLC 993419715.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Tipton, David (2018). J.W. Gallagher & Son: A Legacy of Craftsmanship. Wartrace, TN: Don Gallagher.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Owens, Chip (2010-03-23). "Ol' Hoss - Home To Stay". Salt Creek Gazette. Retrieved 2020-04-05.
  5. dfanelli. "Better Off Ed: Ed Helms of 'The Hangover' and 'The Office' Talks Guitars, Banjos and Bluegrass". Retrieved 2020-04-05.
  6. "Exclusive: Inside Winfield's National Flatpicking Guitar Championships". Fretboard Journal. 2018-10-09. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
  7. "End of an era: Gallagher Guitar Company to discontinue production". Shelbyville Times-Gazette. 2019-05-16. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
  8. "Gallagher Guitar Co., Piccole Bolle, Seasons of Murfreesboro, Elite CBD, The Nutrition Spot". The Murfreesboro Pulse. 2020-01-01. Retrieved 2020-02-05.
  9. DeGennaro, Nancy. "World-famous Gallagher Guitar moves to Murfreesboro, hosts grand opening show Feb. 1". DNJ. Retrieved 2020-04-05.

External Links

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