Day Job/Night Job: Monte Marrott Hits Sweet Chords With His Custom Guitars

Marrott's guitars
Each one of Marrott's guitars is a piece of art, just like a beautifully painted car.

As a sales and service tech for the past 12 years at Martin Auto Color---a statewide PPG Platinum jobber with 21 locations---Monte Marrott knows that using the right tools is vital to doing a good job when it comes to painting a car or repairing a vehicle.

If you're using a sub-par piece of equipment, it does not matter how skilled you are. In the end, the finished product isn't going to cut the mustard. Marrott knows this all too well, and that's why he stresses quality and craftsmanship when he designs and builds his own line of custom-made electric guitars. Each one is a piece of art, just like a beautifully painted car, which is why Marrott enjoys living and working in both worlds.

Marrott, 50, likes to say that he grew up in his family's backyard shop in Mapleton, UT, and learned collision repair by jumping in there and doing almost everything himself.

"I was just 15 and had been working with my dad for a while when a family friend with a small body shop took me under his wing," Marrott said. "I became a combo guy and began doing it all---the body work and the paint---which was popular back then before the distinct roles and production lines became more prevalent. I would fix a car from start to finish, and that's why body shops hired me."

After working in Colorado, Southern California and throughout the Bay Area for body shops of all sizes, Marrott embraced a second career for several years to complement his collision work.

"At that time, I was making decent money in construction working primarily on Army bases, but the work was sporadic," he said. "So, when the job was done and I was waiting for the next one, I would fill in at local shops and it worked out well. Collision repair became my fallback job, and it was easy to get hired because I could do every aspect of the repair and enjoyed doing it."

After working in construction in the Presidio in San Francisco after the 1989 earthquake, Marrott decided to navigate away from being a combo tech and began focusing solely on painting cars. He became a head painter in 1995, and the experience re-ignited his passion for the industry. It eventually led to a job as a sales rep for a jobber in the Bay Area, but for the first few years, he was still painting cars.

"I basically became a substitute painter who would step in to help a customer when one of his painters called in sick or was on vacation," Marrott said. "I told them, ‘I'm your guy,’ and it worked out well because it often led to more sales down the road."

Looking back at his 30-plus years of experience in different capacities within the automotive paint world, Marrott cites two major changes that have positively impacted the industry.

"When waterborne paint came around and everyone started using it in 2007, that was good for everyone---the shops, the employees and the consumer---it was great all around. The technology has also made the process of painting cars easier with camera color-matching systems, sophisticated paint booths and better training overall," he said.

At Martin Auto Color, training painters is now Marrott's primary role, he explained.

"In some cases, I will take a prepper and help him become a painter or work with a veteran painter to learn about the products or refresh his skills. We stress new techniques that maybe they didn't know about before and teach them some of our tricks of the trade," he said.

Marrott said that his musical career started even earlier than his years in the backyard body shop.

"At 5 [years old], I was playing the piano, but six years later, I dropped it for the guitar,” he said. “When I was 13, I got in my first band called Spur, doing country cover songs. I also played with several other bands in the ‘90s, including Baxlash (an original rock band) and another cover band named Mr. Meanor that performed songs by Aerosmith, AC/DC, ZZ Top and Metallica, to name a few."

In the beginning, Marrott would purchase old used electric guitars, but it was just a hobby at that point, he said.

"I would put a cool paint job on them and then gift them away,” he said. “Then, I met Doug Roomian in 2002 through his nephew, Jake Tropea, and things just took off from there. He had been building these incredible guitars since the ‘70s, and I learned a lot about the craft from Doug.”

Marrott designed and manufactured more than 20 guitars under the Roomian name until 2005, when he began making them all on his own. Today, Marrott's custom-made guitars sell for $1,500 to $5,000 and are coveted by top guitarists throughout the world. Johnny Gun, who has played with Eddie Money, Cold Blood and Tommy Castro; Peter Hayes with the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club; and several other local musicians own guitars made by Marrott Custom Guitars.

Now receiving his share of accolades for his guitar designs, Marrott is excited about the business's future, but isn't thinking about doing it full-time quite yet.

"I love making guitars and working at Martin Auto Color," he said. "I work on them two nights a week. It can take six months to a year to complete one guitar, but it's great therapy. I have a quiet spot where I can build them, and it's my sanctuary, so I will be doing this [for] as long as I can."

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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