Tejas Leier-Heyden doles out bluesy-rock riffs from his hand-built electric guitars with an old-school swagger.
The 17-year-old shredder from Ashland has been building his own axes and wailing on them since middle school, because "he who dies with the most guitars wins," he says.
"Being a sixth-grader in love with Jimi Hendrix, I obviously wanted to build an electric guitar. Honestly, I like making them ... they are just cool."
He has four of his own and one, a Gibson Les Paul Custom, on loan.
In sixth grade, Leier-Heyden started hammering out his first electric six-stringer from a solid block of cherry wood. He finished it over a two-year span, hand-chiseling and sanding the natural, red body into a sleek, smooth-edged design.
Bellwood Violin and Recorder owner Stephen Bacon mentored Leier-Heyden during that first project. Leier-Heyden calls him "an inspiration." The soon-to-be junior at Ashland High School finished his second custom electric about a week ago. He turned over the Fender Stratocaster replica to a pair of his classmates, who detailed the length of it with symbols and artistically interwoven scenes dreamt up mostly by Leier-Heyden, he says.
For the pick guard of the "tattoo guitar," Leier-Heyden hammered out of a piece of copper roofing.
"Building your own guitar is a lot cheaper, better looking and you get it right," he says.
"Eventually, I'd like to start doing custom guitars for people.
Deciding if I want to go all in on building guitars or see about going to music school — at this point I don't know. I would definitely like to continue playing music in college," he says.
Leier-Heyden has played more than 100 gigs around the Rogue Valley, he says, starting at the age of 12 in his first band, Random Sound. The group played a mixture of alternative, rock, reggae and other styles, and was formed by Leier-Heyden and drummer Cole Coster, 16, of Ashland. Random Sound won "Southern Oregon's Got Talent" in 2010.
The two went on to form the rock-ska quartet Chapter II, which recorded its first EP, "Danger Games," in 2012.
Playing covers and original tunes, the band's influences include Sublime, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Coldplay, but go as far back as Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, Coster and Leier-Heyden say.
Chapter II is Leier-Heyden on lead guitar, bass and vocals; Coster on percussion; Nick Chouard, 16, of Ashland, on lead vocals, bass, and keyboard; and Joseph Yaconelli, 16, of Ashland, on bass and mandolin.
Aside from Coster, the group rotates instruments frequently during live sets, Leier-Heyden says.
Leier-Heyden says his next custom guitar will be a four-string electric bass. With only one bass, the band needs it, he says.
A first-stage sketch of its design is hanging in Leier-Heyden's bedroom. Soon it will be replaced with the real thing, he says.
Chapter II will perform at the Lithia Park bandshell on the Fourth of July at 2:30 p.m. Listen to the band online at Reverbnation.com. (Correction: Details about upcoming performances have been updated.)
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Talent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.