There are many luthiers who perform casually in local bands, and there are a handful of professional musicians who have built their own instruments. But, there are very few who have built successful careers as both a performer and an instrument maker. With close to a decade of relentless touring and over 40 guitars built from scratch, Ben Sidelinger has accomplished more at age 32 than most people would hope to in a lifetime. He's often considered a natural, but it hasn't come easy, hard work and dedication is the recipe to Ben's success. It all started in Wayne Maine, a small rural town of under 1000 residents. At age 15, Ben found a guitar pick lying on the ground. He picked it up and brought it home. Fascinated by the guitar, he strummed his tennis racket until that pick was nothing more than a little nub. His parents soon got the hint and, thrifty as they were, found a loaner guitar for him to try out. After months of nonstop playing, it seemed that this wasn't just a phase. So that Christmas he got his first guitar.
Three years and endless hours of practice later, Sidelinger decided to commit to a career in music. John Pino, his local mentor and primary source of inspiration, saw Ben's potential and encouraged him to pursue what was now his major passion. Already a self-motivated and dedicated scholar, he opted for a non-traditional education at Hampshire College in Western Massachusetts. The open format of Hampshire, gave him the space and time to continue on his self directed course of study. Primarily focusing on private lessons in classical and jazz guitar, Sidelinger's college education was mostly based on independent studies in performance and composition. Then, once again, John Pino's influence would steer the course of Ben's life.
Upon visiting his home in Maine one summer, Sidelinger saw that John was making himself an electric guitar. A true genius, Pino had no instruction, but was able to make a great guitar. Inspired, Ben began making an electric guitar himself. The guitar never got finished, but it was enough to convince him that he wanted to study with an established luthier. Combining that with a desire to learn Spanish and a burning intrigue for South America, Sidelinger soon found himself in Buenos Aires, studying with master luthier Rodolfo Cuculelli. He built two beautiful guitars with Rodolfo. When he got home, an old friend was impressed by the guitars he brought back and asked Ben if he would build him a guitar. Using a modest down payment to buy some hand tools, Ben set up a simple shop in his college dorm room. It ended up being some great (though unintentional) advertising. As people stopped by and they would see his room covered in sawdust and this guitar emerging. By the end of the semester, Sidelinger had three more orders, which was sufficient to constitute a summer job before his final year at Hampshire.
After college, the orders kept trickling in. Sidelinger set up shop with fellow luthier, Louis Frielicher. Around this time an old friend, Phill Saylor Wisor, stopped through town on a break in a tour. Ben and Phill started playing a lot together. Soon thereafter, "The Shiftless Rounders" was formed. Sidelinger was playing dobro primarily at this point, and Phill was on guitar and banjo. The Shiftless Rounders toured relentlessly from 2003 to '08. In 2006, Ben moved to Olympia, Washington. While living there in '07, his friends in Po' Girl asked him to fill in a few dates for a member who was retiring from the road. It ended up going so well that the band decided to add Sidelinger as a full time member. He toured with Po' Girl for the next four years. Sidelinger is now taking some time off the road and playing regionally with his new solo act as well as building and repairing guitars.