MNBC Culture Series: Reuben Forsland (Issue #2)

Posted by on

An MNBC Culture Series: Honouring our past and creating our future

Heritage, culture, and language constitute the backbone of Métis, and other Aboriginal, communities across Canada. A strong and vibrant culture is directly related to healthy people and a strong sense of pride. It is crucial to promote culture, heritage and language as these are said to define who we are and shape the way we think. The traditional cultures of our Ancestors, shaped by nature, still exert a strong influence on generations today, from spirituality to political attitudes. Culture, heritage, and language, are all part of daily life (i.e. family and community, food, art, songs, dance, spirituality, values, history, and land use activities) and they all interact with one another to make up our unique way-of-life.

To honour the richness and uniqueness of Métis culture, heritage, and language, we are beginning a feature showcasing various Métis artists, story-tellers, writers, harvesters, and knowledge holders. We hope that you can relate to their intriguing, fascinating, and inspiring stories. Perhaps they will even bring up some good childhood (or current) memories for you.

Luthier Reuben Forsland

Reuben is a custom hand-craft luthier with a focus on building story guitars. He believes that his connection to his Métis heritage has helped influence his art and business, JOI guitars. He started building guitars simply out of the desire to craft beautiful objects with his hands and mind. From a young age, Reuben was ignited with the passion to create objects of an intricate nature. A stonemason father and a seam-stressing mother introduced him to the rendering of raw materials into the finely designed and the aesthetically ornate.  Reuben started working in the carpentry field at the age of 17, with no real wood working skills prior to that, just a passion to create and build with his hands. He focused hard on learning skills from those around who were willing to share.

Reuben’s passion for guitar making began when he created an electric cello in 2007. In the spring of 2008 he found himself contemplating purchasing a guitar from a local guitar shop. However, rather than purchase one, it was then he decided to learn to build his own guitar, guided by the confidence that comes with 15 years of carpentry, cabinet making, furniture design and building. Less than a week later, he found himself in a luthiers shop being mentored through his first two builds, followed by years of studying from books and mentorship from other luthiers in the Vancouver Island Guitar Guild.

Reuben is inspired by many things. People, places, stories, adversity, basically anything around him can be an influence for how each guitar is created. He strives to have his work represent the world around him, attempting to express beauty within the canvas of a guitar. Through the process of designing and building, Reuben feels connected to the earth, people, and the world around him. Simply putting his hands to the wood, stone and other objects is his way of attempting to connect people, inspire people and to start conversation, whether it is about the sound, look or the story behind each piece. He is always looking to get the most out of each piece he installs into the guitar.

The Bateman gallery guitar he created, which is named "One Tree/ Raven", was the first real expression of his cultural history through his work. The raven is an important figure in his personal totem. This guitar goes beyond simply involving his work, it is a collaboration piece with first nations artist, Karver Everson. Through working with carver he also had the opportunity to learn more about First Nation culture and beliefs.  Reuben believes that inspiration finds him, as he goes through day to day life. It can come in a story someone tells him or through a piece of wood or object he finds on the beach.

One (of many) special project(s) that Reuben recently worked on was building a custom guitar for a talented guitar player from the well-known band Guns and Roses. He was commissioned to create a guitar for Slash to be hand delivered to him in Los Angeles in late fall, 2015. Slash and Reuben sat down and discussed the build while Slash was on tour with his new band and passing through Vancouver. Having complete faith in Reuben’s work, Slash left both the creative and design aspects of the build-up to Reuben. His one request was that the back and sides of the guitar be created from the most sought after tone-wood in the world, a mahogany from Honduras, and that the front was to be made from a buried sitka spruce from Alaska carbon dated back to 2850 years old.  As Slash is primarily an electric guitar player, Reuben’s focus for the rosette was to represent this, which he did through the use of pure silver pieces in both the sound hole rosette and around the guitar binding. Slash is very pleased with the guitar and it now has become one of the guitars he plays to write songs on.

Reuben Forsland of JOI Guitars worked together with the world re-knowned, Grammy winning, rock and roll hall-of-famer, SLASH, of Guns N’ Roses and Velvet Revolver fame to create a monumental instrument!

Reuben first met up with Slash after his August 2014 concert with his new band “Slash ft. Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators” in Coquitlam. They discussed some of the finer details of the guitar specifications. First and foremost, Slash’s biggest stipulation was that the guitar should “Sound Amazing”, so the choice of “The Tree” wood was perfect! When asked about the rosette design, Slash decided to leave it completely up to the artist… Reuben, that is.

The inspiration for the rosette came to me much like all my best thinking… while on an ocean-side walk. I found this rusty old electrical part sitting amongst the rocks and the way the sun was shining on it, it reminded me of the interior workings of an electric guitar volume dial. That was it!

I brought it home and shined up some of the rusty aluminum wires which I then inlayed into the Ebony around the rosette. I positioned the pieces in a circular manner with simple ‘humps’, or ‘rises and falls’ of the wire to create the feeling of energy, like in a heartbeat monitor. I then outlined the Ebony rosette with Fine (Pure) Silver.

The “Slash” Model  acoustic guitar is a small Jumbo with 25.4″ scale. It features “The Tree ” back and sides, as mentioned, paired with an amazing, and rare, Ancient (3000 years old) Glacier Sitka Spruce top. 

The guitar has sitka/carbon fibre bracing, dual laminated sides for strength, carbon fibre reinforced quilted Honduras mahogany neck with dual action truss rod, 1¾″ nut width, 2¼″ string spacing, a custom JOI Guitars pinless Ebony bridge, Ebony binding with pure and sterling silver borders, Ebony fretboard, sterling silver encased marble for fret markers, and 1:21 gear ratio’d Gotoh tuners with petrified whale vertebrae buttons. The guitar was further customized with a beveled arm rest, a shallow heel for Slash to comfortably get to the 19th+ frets without having a cutaway (he did not want a cutaway), and a custom shaped neck featuring Slash specific width and thickness, as well as an offset for Slash to do his string stretching as he plays.  A custom ordered K & K pure mini and under-saddle pickup, and custom Hoffee guitar case were added to complete the package.

Rueben, a MNBC Métis Citizen has followed his passions and been successful at creating a business that he loves. Many years ago, he worked for his uncle Gary, framing houses of all shapes and sizes. While working with him, he watched in awe as his uncle built each house with more passion than the last, as well as with the perfection of a cabinet maker. His uncle always considered his work as the bones for the house and it was of upmost importance that all trades who came after benefited from his quality of work. Working with his uncle opened Rueben’s eyes to the importance of having passion and pleasure for your work, while considering with utmost importance those who use the item you built, whether it is a house or a guitar.

To see more of Rueben’s beautiful creations and learn more about JOI guitars and the incredible projects he has worked on please visit his website: