(Part 1 of a 4 part series exploring some of the people making the music work behind the scenes in and around YXE)
“I want to take the spotlight away from the stage and shine it on the back of the room. Back where the sound guy is, maybe a couple of guitar techs are hanging out. These people in the trade (and music is a trade, to be sure) that are doing a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes don't often get the credit they deserve. This series is hoping to adjust that, at least a tiny little bit.”
by Christopher James Vasseur
Todd Peters first contacted me back in 2019, shortly after I moved to Saskatoon. I had been building and fixing guitars out of my basement suite for a few months when he offered me the chance to display some instruments at a new place he was moving his work bench into, along with some of his coolest gear. Plus, a four sided couch…and something called a “Pedorgan”. This is the spot that a few months later would become Royal Harp Instruments, now almost a household name amongst this area's finest musicians. In the name of a good feature however, let's start back a ways.
Peters started playing guitar early in life after a rather nefarious start.
“I’ve always been a musician first”, Peters starts into the first question. I don't have to ask a second scripted one for the entire interview.
His dad was a bit of a guitar player and encouraged his older brother to pick up the instrument. It didn't really catch 13-14 year old Todd’s attention until his brother brought home a Stratocaster that he had bought to “pick up chicks”. Which, to be fair, is why a lot of people start. Todd's brother wasn't a very great player as it turns out and young Peters would sneak into his brother's room whilst he was away to play the glorious electric twanger. One day he got caught and his brother graciously let him take it, noticing his little brother's enthusiasm. Couple that with his fathers aptitude for carpentry and you have the genesis of a great future luthier.
As a side note, Todd hates being referred to as a luthier as he doesn't think he deserves it. This is of course, BS and he's more of a luthier than I am to be sure….and I have a paper for it:)
He sat in with his brother's lessons and quickly he progressed into playing in local bands. Being very friendly and outgoing, he made connections in the industry early.
He calls his playing skills “competent, not flashy” and he’s “a chill dude who’s good on the road” is his reasoning as to why he got a ton of cool chances early in his playing career. His modesty shines through.
His luthiery skills (or, guitar tech abilities) stemmed from a farm boy like instinct to repair things himself and once he knew how, do it for others. It started with tweaks and things like changing strings. Life on the road progressed to bigger and more complicated repairs. Plus he’s “ballsy enough to drill into a $10,000 guitar”. And to know that it's completely normal to do so in order to fix it properly (in some cases... put your drills down please).
When his daughter came along, he realised life on the road wasn't maybe the best and he started to take on repairs from home. He immediately recognised the need for a good repair guy in Saskatoon. There was of course the legendary Sachwyn Guitars in Regina and Timeless Instruments in Tugaske, but YXE was in need of a good one.
At one show, he was approached by Dan Canfield who gave him the wonderful compliment, “you sound like Daniel Lanois”.
They became friends and talked for years about starting a shop together. Canfield took a luthiery course and together they started Village Guitars which was a combined shop/store/performance space. It thrived for a few years before touring opportunities came knocking again for Peters.
His daughter was at an age she wasn't going to remember much so he figured it was a great time to chase the dream a bit more. A bit reluctantly, he sold his half of the shop and hit the road opening for huge acts like Reba McEntire and Brad Paisley.
Along the way, he still did the odd skilful repair for friends or musicians he met along the road, honing his craft even more. Life was pretty great for old Todd Peters with even a few coveted Juno Fest gigs coming up….then it all came to a grinding halt along with the rest of the world.
Peters touring income came to a grinding halt. His daughters' school, same thing. His wife, being in Health Care, was busy beyond measure. Todd was home taking care of his daughter so he started to take on the odd repair again. He showed his girl how to change strings, clean the instrument, etc. and together they started taking on some minor guitar setups and repairs.
Originally, he liked the name Monarch as he always wanted to name a brewery this. He even offered the name up to a couple of buddies who were opening a brewery. They turned him down though and went with “Better Brother Brewing Company”......you may have seen/heard of them. They are located in the Monarch Building.
So, instead, while scrolling through ideas online the father/daughter came across an old Irish coin with a picture of a harp with a crown on it (this has since become his trademark on his custom builds, an inlay-ed coin with the harp image). Though his daughter will deny it, Peters says she just looked up and said; “There you go dad, Royal Harp.”
He registered the name and they continued to work out of the house for about a year and a half. Covid became an issue again when people started showing up more than one at a time to his home. It was then that he decided to look for an out of the house place to work and meet with customers. He and his family have lived in the City Park area of Saskatoon for 15 years or so and they cherish the area as most do. When a little space came available that once housed a small tattoo studio, he jumped on it.
This is when I met Peters. At first the space was to accommodate the growing amount of guitar cases he was accumulating. Plus some of his gear, some friend gear, all of his tools, some of his wife's beautiful pottery, etc. Since he was having people coming around the space, he wanted to decorate it a bit with the work of local builders such as myself to showcase some local talent.
It worked out as that space for a bit and slowly started to morph into what it is now.
His main gig is still repairs and he's so busy he's brought in another talented chap to handle a bit of it as his apprentice, local guitarist and sound wiz Colin Klassen. He still has stacks of cases and often has to take a week off to catch up but he keeps it up and has become the go to place to take a stringed instrument in these parts. It's actually hard to get a good visit as a friend or in this case, an interviewer. After not too long another local music nerd is bound to walk through the shop door and start another gabfest with Peters. And love to chat he does, with his glowing personality and big laugh…he's a very welcoming person and such a pleasure to talk to. He’ll give away too much information often but even then people just keep coming back just to have him work on it. His reputation for guitar setups is growing and some rather big league builders have started to showcase work in his small shop. Some big time players will often be seen there too, trusting their babies to the softest touch around.
If you stop by on the right afternoon you may even catch an impromptu jam from people like members of the Local Group or even Ellen Froese who are both loyal customers. But as Levar Burton used to quip in Reading Rainbow, “You don't have to take my word for it”.
If you are a fan of music, strange boutique music shops and quirky, talented owners….you owe it to yourself to stop into Royal Harp Instruments and say hello to Todd Peters. Chances are you'll leave having either heard a good story or learned something interesting or both. But you will definitely leave with a smile on your face. That much I can guarantee.
Oh, and about that “pedorgan” I mentioned at the beginning (pictured bottom, right). It's a brain child of Peters that he brought to life from an old organ. What it is, is a series of interchangeable pedals that you can operate in sequence or alone similar to a pedal board. This allows the player to experiment with different possible combinations of the hundreds of effect pedals usually strewn about the shop. The sound all comes out the middle speaker, it lights up and it was all wired up by another local talent, Matthew Facca.
Facca is another interesting story, a good friend of Peters and will be featured in part two of the series which is coming next month...do stay tuned:)