If you had asked Forsyth County School Chief Financial Officer Rick Gunn to build you a guitar in 2008, he wouldn’t have been able to help you.
Today he will make you a guitar, more art than instrument, with a smile on his face – granted you know what you want and can afford his work.
"Never in my life would I have dreamed that I would ever build a guitar, let alone sell one," Gunn said from the heart of his small basement shop in north Forsyth. "I'm a stickler for perfection. If it's not perfect it doesn't leave … That's why my wife says I'll never make a living doing it, because it has to be perfect."
This week, after 25 years working for the Forsyth County school system, Gunn has set out to do just that, officially retiring to practice his craft.
But before he became an accomplished luthier, or maker of stringed instruments, Gunn claims he was a “born accountant” with numbers and spread sheets in his blood.
"I'm from a family of accountants. I was actually born on April 15, so I didn't have much of a choice," he said with a chuckle.
Born in Savannah, after Gunn and his wife Pam (another
accountant) graduated from Georgia Southern, they moved to the Atlanta area,
where he took up working for the Georgia Department of Audits as a state
He said that Forsyth County first showed up on his radar when he audited the county school system in 1991. During the process he met the staff, decided he liked them and when he was offered a position by the prior CFO Dan Jones not long after in 1993, he happily said yes.
Gunn took over a school system that hardly resembles the one he’s leaving. He estimates there were 8,600 students, and the system’s budget was $37 million.
Now, Forsyth County Schools is projected to have 49,500 students next year. He’s seen 31 new schools opened. He now oversees a budget projected at $450 million for the coming year.
"It’s been fun to see the growth, but of course with the growth comes all the new building, new businesses, new traffic, new everything,” he said. “People come here for the school system, and they are going to keep coming because Forsyth is the best of the best.”
But even with all of the growth Gunn has seen during his time in the county, he said that the school system has preserved the small-town feel that made it special to him.
“We used to cook breakfast at Christmas time for the entire central office ... it was probably 40 people back then. I'm not sure how many people we have in the central office now." Gunn said "And that's not going to slow down. The growth is still coming, everybody still wants to be here.”
In a statement to FCN, Forsyth County School Superintendent Jeff Bearden congratulated Gunn on his years of service to the county, and highlighted the things he accomplished as CFO.
“Rick has been a loyal employee and we are grateful for his service,” Bearden said. “Under his leadership we have been the only district in the state to have a three-year 5-star financial efficiency rating and are one out of 77 in the nation to have the highest credit rating from Moody’s. We wish him well in his retirement.”
With a rueful grin, Gunn said that retirement for him will be as simple as doing the things he loves full time.
“I'll be building guitars and playing golf," he said.
He said that wasn’t always the plan though. Six years ago, his life turned an unexpected corner when he picked up the guitar seriously for the first time, and discovered a new love for making instruments.
"My oldest son Chris was 16 or so and he played guitar. I had never played a guitar, so I had him teach me some chords,” he said, “Then I bought a cheap guitar, then another guitar, and finally I got to the point where I really wanted a $3,000 Martin guitar, but of course the wife being the accountant said ‘No, that's probably not a good idea.’ So I did a lot of research, and I have always liked to build things, so I bought a kit and made my own."
Gunn spent crafting his first guitar, and now has built more than 40, each selling for thousands of dollars to people that came to Gunn specifically for the custom instruments he makes.
"I always loved building and creating things, but I think this is the ultimate in building something because you are building something that is trying to make itself implode .... It's just a box of air, and it's constantly trying to kill itself," he said.
Even after six years of making guitars, Gunn laughs at the idea that he might be a master, even though the sleek curves and intricate inlays tell a different story.
“I learn something new with every guitar I make, and I tell everyone that buys one from me that the next one will be better,” he said.