Building something special

Local craftsman making sweet sounds in the Northwoods

GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — Lloyd LaPlant is the first to admit, remembering names is not his strong suit. But ask any of his customers and they’ll tell you – he’s the real deal.

For Lloyd, your word is your bond, and a handshake completes an agreement. He’s a throwback to another time. And, as Lloyd will tell you with a smile, he is from another time. 

In the small world of Minnesota’s bluegrass and old-time music, this lifelong electric co-op member has made his mark – with his wit as well as his hands.

In his “retirement,” the 89-year-old has built roughly 400 hand-crafted musical instruments at his home near Grand Rapids. His instruments are known for their superior tone, fine craftsmanship, and unique features – special to each custom instrument.

Mandolins and guitars with his signature “LaPlant” logo, are sought after by musicians of every stripe.

“We play music in our family,” says LaPlant, as he ponders the number of instruments he’s built. “Two-hundred and some (guitars), something like that, just working on (mandolin number) 180 now, so around 400 instruments total since 1959 … mass producing one at a time, you know,” he laughs.

Quality by the numbers

It is here at home, with his wife Beverly — where together they raised five kids —where Lloyd has honed his skills.

When it comes to the finished product, his refusal to place production deadlines directly contributes to the quality of his work.

“I don’t keep track of time … I just stick with it until it it’s done,” he explains. “Maybe three or four months for the whole process, not working on it every day, but for the process. You can’t really put a number on the hours, I don’t think.”

How it all began

While reminiscing on his instrument-building beginnings in 1959, Lloyd recalled the story of a trip to Duluth with a friend to buy an instrument.

“He bought a guitar and I didn’t have enough money to buy a harmonica at the time,” he said. The friend “said ‘well you’re a carpenter, so why don’t you just make one’ … and kinda planted a little seed, got me thinking about it, and that’s the way it started.”

While LaPlant’s high quality instruments would fare well in any setting, he prefers bluegrass and old-time music, where his talents are well-known. His primary focus is on “variations of the mandolin, mandolas, mandocellos, and six or seven configurations of the guitar.”

“I grew up next door and have known Lloyd and Bev my whole life,” said family friend Elizabeth Ophoven-Ashworth. “It’s because of Lloyd that I play the mandolin. I’ve spent many hours in their home, visiting and playing music.

”The atmosphere in their home is one of open doors and open hearts. They embody the spirit of the north country.”

Seize the moment

“Every day is special to me,” said LaPlant, a long-time Lake Country Power member. “Every day that I can get up is special.”

Just like Lloyd. And just like his instruments.

The humble, old-school carpenter with the gifted hands won’t tell you that. But those who play his handcrafted instruments will. Each one that bears his name is special. Just like the builder

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