Made in Colorado: Mugs, Guitars and Fishing Rods
Products made in Colorado span a wide range of industries, purposes and crafts
“I used to be in finance, making good money, but I didn’t love what I did,” founder J. Miller says. So he followed his twin loves for music and woodworking and started crafting high-end guitars in 2010 as he worked toward an MBA at CU Boulder “to learn how to run a business.” Born Guitars are primarily custom, but Miller also has a few stock designs. “What helps me stand out is every guitar is built to order,” he says. “I get a really good idea of what music they love and how they want their guitar to feel and sound.” The common thread is “the focus on all the details, using the quality parts and the best wood I can source.” Adds Miller on “rave reviews” from buyers: “The guitar business isn’t a business you get in to get rich, but if you love it, the payoff is getting that feedback from a customer.” And if customers aren’t satisfied, he’ll take the guitar back and return the money, no questions asked. “I’ve never had a client take me up on that,” Miller says.
$2,000 to $5,000 retail
Glenn “Pop” Helzer worked in heavy construction before his son, Jason, helped reawaken his longtime love of Tiki culture in 2004. “I was into the Tiki mystique in the ‘60s,” Helzer says. “It was like an old friend showing up again.” While “learning everything the hard way,” he tried his hand at a volcano-shaped mug, and Tiki aficionados went nuts for it, so he started selling his kiln-fired and glazed barware online. Helzer has since created more than 100 different mug designs, as well as one-off pieces and numerous mugs for special events and Tiki bars, including Adrift in Denver. The volcanos remain popular, as are his upside-down skulls with finger-bone handles and half-coconut bases. “That one went crazy,” Helzer says.
Most mugs $40 to $50 retail
After a career in technology sales for companies like GE and IBM, “Rocky Bob” Knowles “retired early, then decided I didn’t want to retire,” he says. So he followed a lifelong passion for angling and started handcrafting fly rods in 2015. Knowles uses graphite for its sensitivity and ease of casting. “You can feel what the fish is doing,” Knowles says. He’s currently making about 30 rods a year, and also expanded into custom knives earlier in 2017. “I use stainless steel that’s been cryogenically tempered,” he says. “It totally changes the molecular structure so it’s stronger and stays sharper longer.”
Rods: $600 to $900 retail
Knives: $250 to $550
Founded in the late 1970s with a cache of surplus solar panels from NASA, Solar Made first made a splash with corporate gifts for oil executives, such as solar-powered desktop derricks. J.R. Ewing on the “Dallas” TV series “had one of the derricks on his credenza,” says Brad Thompson, the company’s president. Solar Made has since expanded into educational products and supplies other manufacturers with cut solar wafers. Featuring a motorized paddle, the company’s solar-powered tea jar has withstood the test of time since its launch in the mid-1980s. “We get a dozen or so orders a day in the summer,” Thompson says. “Instead of sitting static in the sun, it moves the water around and extracts the tea brew. It makes it faster and you can use fewer