Morris Beegle is a jack-of-all-trades in the hemp industry, producing podcasts, hemp paper, hemp clothing and the NoCo Hemp Expo, one of Colorado's largest annual cannabis conferences, which was moved from a March date to August over coronavirus concerns. Maybe that will give Beegle, a former music promoter, more time to work on his guitars and ukuleles. You can guess what they're made of.
Yes, Beegle's Silver Mountain Hemp makes custom guitars, cabinets, straps and knobs with hemp as the main production component. We caught up with Beegle to learn more about the music made by Mary Jane's cousin.
Westword: Of all the things to make out of hemp, why guitars?
Morris Beegle: I come from years of experience in the music industry. I was the president of Hapi Skratch Entertainment from 1995 to 2010, and I worked with a lot of local bands during that time.
In 2012, when we passed Amendment 64, we started Colorado Hemp Company, which began as a merchandise company. We were doing hemp T-shirts and hats, and we worked with some smaller companies that were doing bags, shoes, backpacks, wallets and stuff like that. And then we started a hemp paper company that did band posters as well as marketing collateral, business cards and brochures. Then we started to do events that were more than just the whole community. We focused on activism and hemp events where we brought in exhibitors, entertainment and programs.
I also started the guitar company a couple of years ago, and there were other people that were out there doing some stuff, and I've kind of collected some of the people doing other stuff and developed this Silver Mountain Hemp brand, so we can do not only guitars, but guitar cabinets, combo amps and guitar straps.
We're going to be doing pick guards, and we're finally getting it all put together — getting the right group of people from those creating the raw materials to those that can manufacture them into finished goods. And Silver Mountain is really the brand to market them to the public. I've kind of come up with the brand idea and have been figuring out the supply-chain side of things — which has been challenging for the hemp industry, because we hadn't been producing these materials here in the U.S. for eighty years. And the stuff that's been produced around the world, whether that's in China, Europe or Canada, it was produced where there were not readily available materials, particularly for doing the guitar type of stuff. There's still a long ways to go with the processing and the technology for hemp to fulfill its promise of helping to save the planet from an environmental standpoint.
How do you make these guitars from hemp? What's the process behind that?
We've got two different groups doing the manufacturing for me now, and they both use different processes. One takes a [hemp] fiber mat — a real fine-bast fiber mat. They compress that into a composite board with a biopolymer. So you make this fiberboard, and then it's molded around the core, sanded down and then finished. That's one specific way of doing it. And then I've got another group that's just created the first hemp wood in a Cannaboard guitar. It's a strap model that has hemp wood that these guys in Kentucky from hempwood.com created, so we're using their material on the outside.
There's also a thing called CannaGrove, which is a hemp particleboard being made by a group out in California that owns Hemp Traders. We're using those two materials in a combination way that had not been done yet. We're in the process of kind of figuring out the direction of what those body styles are going to be, the materials and how much we're going to use of each one. We've made a lot of progress in the last year, particularly. During this little downtime, as we're reflecting on the world, we've got a little time to put some stuff together where I think we're going to figure out how to do some production of these instruments.
How are you assessing instrument production during the COVID-19 pandemic? Has that changed production?
Actually, it's good for us, in a way. We've been really focused on the [Noco Hemp] Expo side of things, so I haven't had as much attention time for this. But because of everybody slowing down right now, the guys that I'm working with on this, the fiber side and the manufacturing side, are ready to go, and we've got plenty of raw materials. We've been having good conversations during the last week as to firing up production and taking the next couple of months to really ramp things up and dial in the entire process. For us, we're using this downtime to be extremely productive.
How long does it usually take to produce everything that a guitar needs? Not only the guitar itself, but the picks, knobs and everything else?
So far, they've been one-offs and prototypes. The one company that was making the fiber-shell type of guitars — the composite shells — they had some production issues, and they've resolved those. They'd been working on these shells for the last five or six years. I think they finally figured out the process, and we've figured out how they can produce them to a certain point, then give them to us at another point and we'll take care of the finishing process. The goal for 2020 is to produce about sixty to seventy guitars and about 100 to 120 ukuleles.
It's been the process of being able to have the right raw materials that are consistent, and [having] the process [be] refined enough with the available materials to be able to create a good instrument. The materials are at a point where they're good materials and we can make good instruments from them. We've got enough supply of those materials, and I've got the people that have figured out the process. It's taken time to figure out having a consistent supply of good-quality raw materials, [but] that's done. Now that's happening.
We've got enough to make a couple hundred instruments in the next year to a year and a half. So we've got enough material to actually make enough instruments, and we figured out the processes. The guy who's doing the main manufacturing stuff in Atlanta has a huge shop. It's not just two guys in their little shop in the back of somebody's house. It's a real facility that can make hundreds and hundreds of instruments.
What kind of materials do you look for?
The materials need to be like the hemp wood; it's a matter of it being cured in a way that it can be workable material that replaces wood. The way that they make this hemp wood, and also the hemp particleboard, is they take 100 percent hemp and press it. They use various binders to do it.
And then being able to make this hemp board: We've got hundreds of them, and they're all exactly the same. We've got a consistent piece of hemp particleboard; that part of it is done. Now with this hemp wood, it's more of the finishing stuff. They finally got it to a point where it cures correctly. You can slice it in quarter-inch or eight little fine sheets to be able to then apply, glue, sand and mold around. The materials have been produced for the next step, where someone can take them and work with the materials, and it's not that much different than working with stuff that they've been working with their whole lives. That's been the issue with hemp as a whole: being able to create materials that other industries — whether that's paper or plastic or the building-materials industry — can take and utilize in the processes that they already know how to do.
How far away are we from really rocking out with hemp guitars around the country?
It's nice to see that we're actually producing guitars and guitar cabinets at this point. We've still yet to produce guitars. We did run around 45 guitar cabinets so far; we've got that process down, and we're at the point where we're going to start producing guitars. So getting to this point and making it this far, that's what I'm most proud of, and knowing that we're going to make it further than we are right now — I'm looking forward to that.
I would say that where we're at now, having the models of guitars that we've done, and where I think that will be a year from now, with the development of the guitar, will be different. We're still going to be making little tweaks to make them better instruments, as well as adding some additional instruments. We're going to be adding combo amps and probably a bass guitar and a bass guitar cabinet. We're going to expand our line, and I feel confident about our product development. We're going to continue to improve upon everything we've done thus far and end up making some really, really cool badass hemp instruments in the future.