I first met Jim Sullivan when he was working for Nashville based luthier, guitar builder, Paul McGill. I had been introduced to Paul by a mutual friend, who considered him to be one of the most knowledgeable woodcraft persons on the planet. Paul, in turn introduced me to his assistant of approximately five years, Jim Sullivan. Although it's been some time since I have seen either Paul or our mutual friend, over the last four or five years I have come to know Jim Sullivan quite well as a musician, electronics repair person, a luthier, and a friend. Jim Sullivan isn't the kind of guy who, as another friend of mine would say, goes along to get along. He is an extremely hard working, highly opinionated, talented, perfectionist. I can't quite picture Jim buying some major name brand guitar merely to play whatever may be the fashionable instrument within a given genre at a given time. On the other hand, he is a person who would choose an instrument, solely based on how it feels and sounds. It is this same sense of individualism together with his near obsessive quest for sonic perfection, which has made Jim a trendsetter, as opposed to a follower in his chosen artistic endeavor.
As a musician, Jim's education began at an early age. He was born in 1955 in Hartford, Connecticut, and grew up in the town of Colchester as a member of a family in which just about everybody played an instrument and sang. Jim tells me that he was about 11 years old when his father, Ray, who played guitar in local bands on the weekends, showed Jim how to change strings, set his action and intonation, and in general fill the role of personal roadie and guitar tech. Jim says that it was also his responsibility to see that his ex-marine dad's cowboy boots were well shined. Ironically, this would have been around 1966, the same time period when I also often performed in that area. Had I only known Jim back then, perhaps my boots would have been in better condition! Jim's first experience with guitar re-finishing came only a short time later when he transformed a jet-black Guild Starfire-4 into one with a brand new blond finish. That same year Jim began his own musical career performing at school dances and some local clubs as well. His main instrument at that time was the bass, because he figured that all bands could use a bass player and he would have a steady stream of gigs available to him. Another thing, which he took away with him from these early musical endeavors, was an understanding of both basic electronics and equipment maintenance. It's amazing what a combination of empty pockets and necessity can teach you!
In the late 1970's Jim moved to Nashville where he landed a job at Shot Jackson's legendary "Sho-Bud". Here he honed his skills building wooden bodies for pedal steel guitars, learning the art of wooden inlay work as well as elevating his finishing skills.
It was in the early 1990's, while working as a repairperson at Rose Guitars in Hendersonville, Tennessee, that he was introduced to acoustic guitar construction. This was his first real opportunity to learn what it was that made one instrument sound different, in particular better or worse, than another. That was a question, which had plagued him all the way back to his first involvement with guitars while working for his father.
Jim's friend Sonny Thomas owned a repair shop in Antioch, Tennessee. There under Sonny's guidance, Jim further broadened his repair skills, especially in such areas as re-frets, neck sets, and bridge replacements.
It was also Sonny who introduced Jim to the Chet Atkins Appreciation Society, better known as the CAAS. Jim began attending the annual CAAS event in 1997. After his third year in attendance, Jim was asked by CAAS president, Mark Pritcher if he would be interested in running the sound for one of the event's two main stages. Seeing this as an opportunity to expand his awareness of just what it is that great finger style guitarists favor in the way of instruments, pickups, and sound reinforcement, he jumped at the chance and has been doing a great job for the CAAS events ever since.
It was at one of these CAAS events that Jim met his future employer and mentor, master luthier, Paul McGill. Under Paul's tutelage, Jim not only refined his acoustic guitar building skills on a craftsmanship level, but also benefited greatly from Paul's extensive knowledge of acoustical physics. A great deal of Paul's "step out of the box" innovative approach to guitar design is something which Jim both carries with him and constantly strives to take to new heights.
In 2002 Jim, fortified by all his years of "hands on" education, took a bold, but not necessarily unexpected, step and started building his own line of guitars at his shop in Portland, Tennessee. Unlike Paul, who primarily deals in resonator and or classical (gut string) guitars, Jim chooses to design and build steel stringed instruments. This is only natural since his early influences James Taylor, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Bob Dylan, Dan Fogelburg, Chet Atkins, the Beatles, and me, well, maybe not me, all instilled in him a profound love for the warmth and soothing properties of well executed acoustic music.
So passionate is Jim's approach to guitar building that, with the possible exception of tuners, electronics, and cases, all parts for his "Sullivan" guitars are caringly hand made right there in his own workshop.
The results of all this fanatical care can be seen, felt, and heard in his guitars, which are as unique and individual as they are near perfect.
I can state unequivocally having had the pleasure of playing a number of Jim's guitars that (although Jim may not agree) even in my hands these are great feeling and magnificent sounding instruments.
In conclusion, not only will owning a Sullivan guitar reward you with the satisfaction of playing and listening to one of the world's finest instruments, but be assured, that there are both important environmental and broad reaching sociological benefits to be gained by your purchase. First off, be mindful that each Sullivan guitar which you acquire is one less that I can get my hands on, and secondly, this, in turn will allow Jim to remove his fingers from his ears and get back to work!!!