SUNY Canton
David Nichols

Guitar Hero

David Nichols '63

One of the finest guitar workshops is located in a small unassuming green house in the hamlet of Whippleville, just outside of Malone. In the lower level, behind a cluttered and yet impeccably organized workbench, sits David R. Nichols '63 meticulously cutting out a flat piece of mother-of-pearl to adorn his custom instruments.

Nichols, who grew up woodworking alongside his father in Waddington, has hand built guitars for the blues legend BB King and country superstar Johnny Cash. He has even built a series of guitars for ZZ Top and provided custom inlay work for Aerosmith.

The world-renowned luthier started his academic career by being dragged to the old campus by his father and forcibly enrolled in the Heating and Air Conditioning program. “My father was friends with the dean, Albert French,” Nichols said. “I didn’t really have much of a choice in the matter.”

He studied with some of the most memorable figures in SUNY Canton’s history, including Distinguished Professors Harry E. King and Elwood “Jack” Nicholson, who he recalled with the affectionate monikers of Harry Heat and Jack Frost. “They were the ones who taught me the value of education,” he recalled. “They were the ones who taught me it was worth it.”

“They [Distinguished Professors Harry E. King and Elwood “Jack” Nicholson] were the ones who taught me the value of education,” he recalled. “They were the ones who taught me it was worth it.”

After SUNY Canton, Nichols went on to receive his bachelor’s degree from SUNY Oswego and his doctorate from Syracuse University. In the early 60s, he helped Pennsylvania-based C.F. Martin & Co, rerelease a guitar with pearl inlay. For the next several years, Nichols managed to do almost all of the custom inlay for the legendary American guitar company.

Nichols has been recognized by Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY) for his custom-made musical instruments and his creative contributions to musicians from around the world.


Most of his musical instruments are built during the winter months while he teaches others to learn his craft in one-week guitar making and inlay classes. He even offers college credit-bearing internships for students who have an interest in learning his methods. He tours and plays with the bluegrass band David Nichols & Spare Change during the summer. “I’m slowing down,” he said in jest. “I only work 12 hours a day.”