The Rock ‘n’ Roll Iceberg Inside the shop at Chicago Fretworks

I feel like, most of the time, you can just tell when you’ve experienced something special and unique.  The reasons why may not always be completely obvious, but you know when you walk away that what you’ve just witnessed…was great.  With that said, when I was greeted by the staff at Chicago Fretworks

…I was made to feel right at home

Looking around the shop, I could see a pretty clear division between the areas for instrument repair and amplifier repair.  It was also becoming clear that this shop and its services reached much further than I had originally been aware of.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s Chicago Fretworks…of course they are rollin’ super deep but I guess I just didn’t expect to see ALL of this.  What a fool am I…

…this was the tip of the rock ‘n’ roll iceberg, by the way.  The shop was drenched in mandolins, banjos, ukuleles, vintage speaker cabinets, old amplifiers, fretted and fretless guitars, right-handed stuff (duh), left-handed stuff (ahh), and quite honestly a few things I had never even seen before.

How does one keep up with all of this?

Great question.  The answer: One does not keep up with all of this, six do.

Chicago Fretworks is staffed by six incredible technicians who are all considered to be the go-to guys in the city.  When I was speaking with co-owner, Steve Baker, he told me…

“…you can imagine it being pretty tough to find technicians you can trust and identify with.  We feel incredibly lucky to have found all of these guys.  They are great at what they do and everyone is always on the same page.”

You see, in addition to the fact that Chicago Fretworks is a one-stop shop for ANY service one might need (fractured headstocks, cracks in your finish, mystery amp diagnosis and treatment, general instrument setups….the list goes on) they also take in a very high volume of work from players of all kinds.  In fact, while I was in the shop Steve actually pointed out to me a couple of fiddles that were being worked on for Wilco.  One of these was an acoustic for Mr. Jeff Tweedy who is, coincidentally, one of my favorite song-writers…I’m not going to nerd out right now but I mean, come on…that kinda rules.

In addition to the shop being open to the general public, taking on work from high-profile players, and just being rad in a general sort of way…there is also another huge contributing factor to the shop’s success.  In my conversation with Steve he told me…

“a big part of why we are able to do what we do is because of the Old Town School of Folk Music.”

So, what is the Old Town School of Folk Music?  Well…I’LL TELL YOU!  In a nutshell, Old Town is a school that offers a variety of classes and opportunities to people of all ages and all skill levels.  They offer kid’s classes, adult classes, beginner’s classes, ensembles of all kinds, dance classes, song-writing classes, etc.  BUT, this is not a traditional school wherein you are tested/graded/passing/failing or any of that stuff we all love to deal with when trying to improve ourselves.  This is a huge community of people who just want to experience new things, jam with new people, learn new skills and have a good time.  It is a completely unique concept and according to Steve it has really shaped the entire neighborhood into what it is today.  If you get a moment, go read about the history of the school, it’s really interesting.

Okay, we have a lot to cover here so…

…let’s talk about amplifier repair for a moment.  Patrick McKeever is the resident amp tech at Chicago Fretworks.  He is just one of those guys who has been doing this for so long and has seen so many different circuits over the years that he can do absolutely anything.  I love running into guys like this.  He was super emphatic about showing me around the shop, he was incredibly thorough (as we all hope for our amp techs to be…) and took plenty of time out of his day to show me about his work.  While I was in the shop, Patrick had an old Ampeg fliptop out on the table for repair.  I didn’t realize this until Patrick showed me, but evidently a lot of the old Ampeg rigs came with a printed schematic on the inside of one of the panels…


…but then, as I glanced around Patrick’s work area, I began to see some familiar things.  In addition to the guitar and bass parts that Chicago Fretworks buys from Mojotone, they also use Mojotone as a source for a number of different electronic components used in their amp repair department.  While I was there I saw a ton of Mojotone speaker cabinets, transformers, British Vintage Series speakers, and small parts.


In case you’re wondering what the amps are that say “Sweet” on the nameplate, these are custom amps made by Patrick McKeever himself.  Patrick actually has an amp company called Sweet Amplification that I am going to cover in another article…very soon to come.

To conclude…

…the six gentlemen at Chicago Fretworks are absolute bosses.  They made me feel welcome in their shop, took time to show me around and exchanged cool shirts and stuff with me…not like the shirts we were all wearing at the time but, you know, company merchandise…great times.  Chicago Fretworks has cited Mojotone as a reliable source for quality products and we simply could not be happier to have the opportunity to work with these guys.  So let’s all raise a glass and knock one back for the dudes at Chicago Fretworks, six serious tone heroes.


Steve Snyder


Submit a comment

Your email address will not be published.