MUSKEGON, Mich. — For the past few years, there's been a lot of news, discussion and attention given to what's believed to be an actual gold treasure laying somewhere on the bottom of Lake Michigan.
A Detroit man recently found some 'hidden treasure' in Muskegon Lake. It wasn't made of gold, but what's being crafted from it is becoming worth its weight in gold, evidenced by the long line of big and recognizable names from the Rock & Roll industry who are clamoring to get it.
It was the early 1980s. Gabriel Currie was living in Los Angeles, California, and growing into his teenage years. Like most children of the 80s, Currie had his favorite bands he listened to on cassette in his Walkman.
"AC/DC, Aerosmith, Rolling Stones, Oingo Boingo and Duran Duran, to name a few," Currie, 52, said. "There was nothing that was truly off the table."
Currie's love for music actually started well before the 1980s.
"I remember as a kid thinking that the song 'Riders of the Storm' by the Doors was 'Riders of the Stove', and I used to think they were the pilot lights on the stove,'" he said. "My mom caught me at the stove late one night as I was trying to see the little pilot lights jumping from burner to burner."
That early-life moment set the tone for Currie's music career. He recalls getting his first guitar when he was five years old, and by the time he was 11, he'd begun sawing them apart and creating his own.
"My imagination kind of got sparked," Currie said. "I realized that this thing with six strings on it can elevate you from any kind of misery.
"It's like a time transport kind of tool, you know what I mean?"
Currie continued taking apart and rebuilding guitars into his early 20s. At the age of 18, his work caught the eye of Leo Fender, who is still considered to this day the Godfather of electric guitars, amplifiers and the way we listen to music. Fender hired Currie in 1987 at G&L Guitars, his guitar company, to work in the woodshop. Within two months, Currie was put in charge of manufacturing all the guitar bodies.
"It was kind of like if you had a chance to work for Henry Ford or [Albert] Einstein," Currie said, referring to his tutelage under Fender. "It was that level of mastery and genius."
Leo Fender passed away in 1991, but his legacy remained alive within Currie, who would go on to start his own guitar-making business called Echopark Guitars.
Currie's niche was that he hand-crafted every one.
"I'm pretty visceral when it comes to my guitar-making," Currie said. "I don't do anything digitally. I'm very hands-on, making sure the guitar feels right."
As years went by, the music industry in L.A. continued to get more competitive. Guitar-makers were popping up all over, causing Currie to take a serious look into moving his family and Echopark somewhere out east.
"If I actually wanted to get a piece of the American Pie, it wasn't going to happen here," Currie said, referring to L.A. "Every city I went to there was an aspiring me."
in 2016, Currie settled on moving to Detroit.
"I checked out the raw materials in Michigan and decided the resources there could support a business like mine," added Currie.
Soon after getting his wife and daughter settled in Detroit, he re-launched Echopark, hoping and praying that his move would pay off.
While researching where he could get the kind of wood he likes to create his guitars from, Currie came across the name Brian Mooney, who was born into a family of architects and builders, and focuses mostly on restoring old buildings in Detroit.
"I don't often cross paths with guitar makers," said Mooney, who is the president of Integrity Building Group, and is a native of Detroit. "I brought Gabriel to my warehouse to let him check out the different kinds of old wood we use for our restoration projects."
Mooney says that while giving Currie the tour, they stopped at what was a very non-descript pile of wood.
"I started sharing the story of Sinker Pine with Gabriel and why it's special," said Mooney.
Mooney's story about the rare pine begins in the mid-to-late 1800s.
"The entire lower peninsula of Michigan was deforested between 1840 and 1890 and used to help rebuild cities like Chicago after the Great Fire," Mooney told Currie. "These pine trees no longer exist and are from that era."
Currie's interest was piqued and he wanted to learn more.
Mooney went on to tell him, "What makes the texture of this wood special is because it sat at the bottom of the lake for more than a century."
The lake Mooney is referring to is Muskegon Lake.
"Back in the day, there was a lumber baron named Charles Hackley who owned the largest and most prosperous lumber mill on the Great Lakes, and it was based in Muskegon," Mooney continued to say. "Lumberjacks would take their poles and steer the fresh-cut logs through the waterways to Hackley's mill.
"Not every log made it."
Many of the logs sank and were too heavy for the lumberjacks to rescue from the lake bottom.
"The logs would sink and get buried in the muck on the lake bottom," Mooney said. "Once they were covered in the muck, they were preserved because they were devoid of oxygen and not allowed to rot."
Hence the name, Sinker Pine.
Mooney said while the logs sat at the bottom for over 130 years, "The water, the muck the bugs — all that changes the chemical process in that wood. The tannins change and the different components of the actual wood change, including the color of the grain and the hardness.
"From a standpoint of a musical instrument, all of those things impact how it sounds. It changes the tonal quality of the wood, creating a completely unique sound."
Mooney added that the trees were likely anywhere from 200 to 600 years old when they were cut down, add the fact that they sat at the bottom of the lake for a century, making the quality of the wood extremely rare.
"It's a treasure," added Mooney.
Mooney says in the summer of 2018, he and his family were vacationing in Grand Haven. While his wife and kids spent the day at the beach, he went to downtown Muskegon and visited one of the museums.
"There was a massive display of artifacts from Muskegon's lumber mill days," Mooney said. "I also saw an advertisement hanging in the lobby that said, 'Old Growth Logs — Muskegon.'"
Mooney says he wrote down the phone number on the flyer and reached out to the individual, who explained what he had and how it came to be.
"I learned that there was a DNR project in Muskegon Lake that was done to reclaim the lake and harbors feeding the lake," Mooney said. "The residential redevelopment happening around the lake was inhibited because the logs at the bottom were so thick so a lot of logs were dredged out."
Mooney asked the gentleman what he was doing with he logs. The man said he was burning them.
Mooney told him, "Wait! Don't burn anymore. I'll buy all of them from you."
Mooney purchased all the Sinker Pine, hauled it back to his warehouse in Detroit, and began researching about it.
"Many of the logs had marks all over them," he said. "I looked up the marks online, and found out they were marks identifying them as belonging to Charles Hackley's mill.
"The bay [in Muskegon Lake] where these logs came out of was actually part of Hackley's infrastructure of his mill."
Mooney says he'd never considered using his stash of Sinker Pine to make guitars, but given Currie's passion and needs, he decided to give some of the ancient wood to see if the tone is truly one-of-a-kind.
Currie took the wood back to his workshop and immediately started making a guitar out of it.
"Once I sliced into it, it was kind of like butter," Currie said. "When I knocked on it, it had a ring to it that I hadn't heard before."
Currie constructed a prototype guitar from the Sinker Pine, but to know if he'd truly invented a new sound, he knew he had to get it in the hands of a professional musician.
"I reached out to Jeff Bass, who is a music producer from Detroit. He's best known for being one half of the Bass Brothers and for his work with world renowned artist Eminem.
"I knew that I could trust his ears," Currie said. "I never got the guitar back; I left with a check."
Currie said Bass couldn't put the guitar down and couldn't believe the tone that was coming from it.
"That's when Brian Mooney and I started collaborating because I had to make more guitars out of that old wood," Currie said.
Word quickly spread through the music industry about Currie's Sinker Guitars. Members from well-known bands like Blackberry Smoke and the Stoneage reached out wanting one of the guitars.
Currie knew things were getting serious when Joe Perry and Stephen Tyler from the legendary rock band Aerosmith called, wanting to try out the new sound.
"Yes, Aerosmith uses guitars I made," Currie added.
Currie says his best moment to date was when somebody from the Rolling Stones contacted him saying that Stones' legendary guitarist Keith Richards wants to try one.
"I boxed up a Sinker Guitar and shipped it to Richards in New York," Currie said. "His representative called me a week or so later saying [Richards] loved playing it."
Currie knew that was the truth when he got a letter in the mail in October 2020.
"As I was pulling the piece of paper out of the envelope, I noticed the little Tongue and Lips insignia on it," Currie said. "It was a hand-written letter to me from Keith Richards, saying, 'Thank you so much for the beautiful guitar. Echopark is an icon.'"
Currie then added, "That letter will go to the grave with me. Rock royalty doesn't go much higher than Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones."
Since the new year began, Currie and Echopark have been extremely busy making Sinker Guitars. He says that more big-name music artists have reached out wanting to get one.
He's also made the Sinker Guitars available to the general public, but there's a lengthy waitlist.
Mooney said there's no concern about running out of sinker pine.
"I've been around Old Growth Lumber all my life and never thought of it being made into guitars, let alone creating a musical tone the best in the business had never heard," Mooney said. "To this day, there is a tremendous amount of these logs sitting at the bottom of Michigan lakes and rivers, and there's certainly more for us to get in Muskegon Lake."
So, the next time we see the Rolling Stones performing, there's a high probability Keith Richards will be shredding a guitar that was crafted from one of Charles Hackley's lost logs that sat for more than a century at the bottom of Muskegon Lake.
"Sometimes it just takes some weirdo from another place to shine a light," Currie said, referring to himself.
If you're interested in learning more about Echopark and the Sinker Guitars, click HERE.
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