Jimmie Lee (Jim) Beach, 63, died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on July 27, 2012, after a 19-month struggle with cancer. Born on May 31, 1949 in Royal Oak, Mich., to the late Roy and Lorell Beach, he attended Troy High School and Northern Michigan and Western Michigan universities. As a child he was an avid member of the Boy Scouts, eventually making the rank of Explorer Scout and attending many jamborees. A lifelong musician, he started as first chair on the French horn in high school. In his teens he spent time pursuing his many interests including working on his prized ’57 Thunderbird, writing songs, and teaching himself to play the guitar.
In 1971, Mr. Beach moved to Chicago and began an apprenticeship with famed luthier Bozo Podunavac in his shop on Lincoln Avenue in the North Center neighborhood. After purchasing Bozo’s shop, and renaming it Wooden Music, he began specializing in the repair, restoration, and sale of American-made, fretted instruments. It wasn’t long before he was attracting a large customer base of musicians eager to benefit from his talent as a meticulous craftsman. He did extensive repairs and built custom guitars for many local studio musicians and performers, as well as international touring bands such as Men at Work, Styx, Foreigner, REO Speedwagon and Cheap Trick. The shop was also widely recognized for selling hard-to-find vintage guitars.
Wooden Music held one of the first vintage guitar shows in the U.S. in the mid-1970s. The show attracted dealers from all over the country, each bringing his best vintage instruments to display during the weekend-long event. Hundreds of people would come for a chance to see, and possibly play, these rare and beautiful instruments. The Vintage Guitar Show ended in 1984 when he closed the shop.
Mr. Beach was generous with his talent, teaching many young enthusiasts to build and repair stringed instruments. Many are still making instruments today and remember him fondly. For several years he offered repair classes in the shop after hours to guitar players who just wanted to learn to do minor repairs.
He also became a champion sailor in the Chicago Yacht Club J-24 one design fleet. Friends remember the blissed-out look on his face, his hand on the tiller — the windier, the better. His boat Non Pareil won various races on Lake Michigan.
In 1985, he and his brother-in-law, Dale Paes, became partners in a West Side metal stamping plant, Craig Metalcraft. The business specialized in making parts for the automotive industry and high-end bicycle parts, after he took up the sport of mountain biking. He spent many hours riding mountain bikes, road bikes and tandems with friends and family. He and his son, Tyler, completed several long-distance bike trips on the tandem with his father-in-law, Herb Beyersdorf, providing “sag wagon” support.
In 2002, Mr. Beach began working for a company that took him frequently to China, which he described as “the wild frontier” for American entrepreneurs. He began a subsidiary of a Detroit company owned by family members and moved to China in 2006. There he met and fell in love with Yani Zhang, whom he married in January 2012.
His failing health forced him to leave his home in China and return to Oak Park where he was cared for by his family until his death.
Jim Beach is survived by his wife, Yani; his children, Tyler and Jessica (Chris) Daly; his siblings, Pat (Dale) Paes, Anna (Randy) Draftz, and Chuck (Bernie); his grandchild, Cole; his former spouse and dear friend, Susan; and many nieces and nephews.
Services were arranged by Dreschler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home. Memorials may be made to Interfaith House, 3456 W. Franklin Blvd., Chicago, IL 60624 or Heifer International, www.heifer.org.