Tucked away just east of I-35 in Austin, almost directly across the interstate from the campus of the University of Texas is a small housing community with its roots in the 1920s. Some of the houses have been converted to small businesses, be it a coffee house, small engine repair or something similar.
During school hours, the streets are lined with the cars of students unwilling or unable to fight the battle for parking on campus. It makes navigating the old neighborhood a bit treacherous, obscuring views around already cramped intersections.
On one particular corner sits a quaint yellow house with white trim. Any student parking in front of this house would consider it like any other along the street, but there is a secret around back. The house’s detached garage has been converted into one part of Cardinal Instruments – the boutique guitar company run by luthier Sam Evans with help from his father Ron, who has a shop in Cypress, Texas, on the outskirts of Houston.
Evans started Cardinal about five years ago after a period of doing repair and assembly work both during and after his own college experience. He did his undergrad work in biology with a focus on botany, which gives him the ability to come at his tone woods with a more molecular understanding. Evans’ father, a retired NASA engineer, was the source of his wood-working skills, long before the idea of building guitars surfaced.
“The way it started was he had given me all of these wood-working skills from when I was a kid,” recalls Evans. “He had been a carpenter and a house framer in high school and through college. His dad was too… and his grandfather was too. So we have all of these skills and they kind of came together to help form this.”