Omaha guitar shop turning history into music

Pieces of wood from the U.S.S. Texas are getting new life thanks to an Omaha craftsman.
An Omaha craftsman is making music by taking a page out of history.
Published: Feb. 21, 2023 at 10:28 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Soul Dawg guitarist Terry Olsen made Phil Whitmarsh a proud father.

Phil is the craftsman who coaxed pieces of wood, salvaged from a demolished Woolworth store, into something special.

“When I found that there was some wood available in Omaha from an old warehouse that had been a print shop and that building had rattled for 140 years, I just knew there was going to be something special about this wood,” said Whitmarsh of Old Market Guitar Works.

What began as an outlet during the boredom of the COVID pandemic turned into a labor of love that guitarists like Terry and Jared Weers bring to life.

“These guitars in particular, they have that uniqueness and that story to them that even other well-constructed guitars of this style don’t have,” Jared said. “When you put your fingertips on the string and you’re pressing them down against the fretboard...I mean, it releases a feeling for you to express yourself.”

“Every project like this, you’re going to pay in sweat and a little blood,” Whitmarsh said. “You have to make your sacrifice to the wood.”

Phil’s search for special wood has led him to his most prolific project to date, with wood salvaged during the restoration of the last World War I “dreadnought,” the U.S.S. Texas. The battleship saw action in both World Wars, including the storming of Normandy.

“She’s down in Galveston out of the water, they’re doing repairs to the hull,” Whitmarsh said. “They’re pulling the deck wood, whole pieces. This is half-inch thick torpedo blisters and they’re pulling these off and replacing them as they’ve been in place for so long that that have, in some cases, buckled.”

Phil dreams of a big name putting these to the test on the deck of the Mighty T, BB-35 when a $34 million project is completed and the U.S. Navy’s first museum ship reopens at its new Southeast Texas home.

“There’s going to be a big celebration, and I just imagine someone like a Billy Gibbons or a George Strait standing on the bow of the Texas with one of my guitars playing the national anthem, spotlights on the music,” Whitmarsh said. “It’s going to be fantastic.”

To Phil, this guitar carries with it the energy of those who served and later visited the Texas, bringing their stories and memories to life through music.

Craftsmen like Whitmarsh who build guitars are known as luthiers. A portion of proceeds from sales of the guitars goes to the Battleship Texas Foundation.