Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars

Oliver Gee
Oliver Gee - [email protected]
Plucked out of Canada for love and guitars
Sharleen in action. Photo: Sebastian Bularca

For this week's My Swedish Career we meet a Canadian who came to Sweden for love and now works in Lidköping, custom-making guitars.


Lutherie - the art of making stringed instruments like guitars - has got Sharleen Simmons by the heart strings.
Ever since experimenting with making cigar-box guitars and cookie-tin banjos, she found an affinity with the art and turned to studying it full time. 
While learning from a "master" of the craft, Simmons met with her Swedish partner Gustav at a convention in Montreal. Now, she's the only guitar maker in central Sweden's Lidköping... besides Gustav of course. 
"I'm a typical love immigrant," she tells The Local with a chuckle.

One of Simmons' guitars. Photo: Sebastian Bularca

The Canadian native made the move to Sweden over a year ago and is still finding her feet with the culture, but business has already struck a few chords.

"It's challenging to start any new business when you're working a lot of hours," she says, adding that a typical guitar takes around 100 hours to build. 
"And it's a bit of a hurdle to learn a new language, not to mention the book keeping and taxes in foreign language. I'm lucky to have a Swedish partner," she says.  
She added that adapting from the Canadian way of life to the Swedish has been a challenge. 
"Some people say Swedes are a little cold - I would never say that - but I have noticed that it takes a little while to break into their social groups. Most of my friends are other people who've immigrated here and I meet them through learning Swedish."
Together, the couple make around one instrument a month, mostly for customers in the US, Canada, or Asia. The starting price is 33,000 kronor ($4,620).

Sharleen and Gustav. Photo: Private
"An instrument should immediately feel like an old friend," she explains on her website. 
Indeed, Simmons is in her element when talking about guitars, evidenced when asked about the which piece makes her the most proud.
"I'm really excited about what's on my workbench now, the wood I'm using to build has a cool pattern, this flamed maple that really pops," she begins.
"Around the sound hole there's a decorative inlay - and this is where guitar makes really like to show off the design element. I'm happy how it came out with colours and textures, and I think it will look and sound really good. While you always strive for good sound, most customers look for asthetic and craftmanship," she said.
"I want it to look well-made, sturdy, and recognizable as my own."

Another of Simmons' guitars. Photo: Sebastian Bularca 
While she admits that she wishes the market for steel-stringed instruments was bigger in Sweden ("Everyone learns on classic guitars here"), she hopes her business will continue to grow. And she's not averse to aiming high. 
"My dream customer? Tough question. But I love the oldies," she says.
"If someone like Paul Simon or Joni Mitchell had one of my guitars then I'd be pretty darn happy indeed."


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

See Also