Smyrna-based guitar instructor Lance Allen has built a career on his six-string skills that continues to grow, much like the well-oiled beard he sports on his chin.
Both have landed him a spot on the list of 10 finalists – he’s the only one from Tennessee — for a national contest highlighting the talents of the unshaven.
Allen, 41, admits he has not always been privy to the power one’s facial hair can hold. In fact, he didn’t begin growing his beard out until 2013 when he was inspired by the rugged grooming choices depicted on a five-season History Channel drama series.
“It was pretty much inspired by Ragnar, the character off of ‘Vikings’. He’s got this really long, epic beard,” said Allen, who had previously entered a beard competition at the National Beard and Mustache Championships at the Ryman Auditorium.
“I knew I wouldn’t really win anything, but it was really just all about going and hanging out with a group of bearded guys. That was kind of a cool ordeal.”
The western Kentucky native has lived in Rutherford County since his Middle Tennessee State University days studying in the Department of Recording Industry in the late 1990s. After graduating in 2002, he and his wife Twila, a photographer and fellow Blue Raider alum, made the move from Murfreesboro to Smyrna in 2004.
Now, he’s competing to win a $20,000 cash prize in the “Most Talented Beard in America Contest” put on by Wahl Grooming, a men’s trimmer and grooming supplies company.
After learning of the competition via social media, he threw caution to the wind and entered with a three minute, 17 second video of himself toe tapping and strumming along on a Takamine guitar to an original Celtic piece inside of a moody, Edison bulb-lit room.
He had the video filmed by Michael Gomez with the Westlight Studios in Franklin. It’s lived on Allen’s “guitarlancer” YouTube channel ever since. His guitar collection includes Taylor guitars as well as a handcrafted Marchione.
“I just put the video in, and I didn’t know if anything would happen because I usually don’t win these contests or anything, but about a month and a half later, I found out I was in the top 10,” said Allen, who has collected a $500 gift card and the toiletry tools he can use to keep his whiskers neat and tidy.
Allen has been playing for 30 years and was introduced to the guitar by his dad, Dan Allen.
“I remember when I was a teenager, learning Nirvana and Metallica kind of music that has nothing to do with the stuff I create today,” said Allen. “I had one more teacher when I moved to Ohio in my teens named Jimmy Felts, and he taught me how to play with my fingers.”
Allen specializes in “fingerstyle,” which was popularized by some of the genre’s bigger names like Chet Atkins, Phil Keaggy and Tommy Emmanuel. The growth of his career has allowed him the opportunity to work with the latter two stars, his “childhood guitar heroes.”
He recorded with Keaggy and opened two of Emmanuel’s shows in Alabama last year.
When Allen the student first became Allen the teacher, he was working for Jonathan Fletcher Music in Smyrna before starting his own teaching studio in 2010. He teaches students of all ages out of an office space on Fitzhugh Boulevard near the Smyrna Airport as well as online.
He said he has taught a student from every state and over 20 countries. Given his familiarity with posting online and teaching virtually, he said the pandemic didn’t have much of an impact on his business.
Allen made his YouTube debut with an instrumental cover of “California Girls” by the Beach Boys in 2006. That video now has over 5,800 plays and his channel has grown to amass a following of over 11,700 subscribers. He’s also recently been named one of the top streamed guitarists on both Pandora and Spotify.
“Ever since I got the beard, things have happened for me and my music career as well,” said Allen jokingly. “I guess those things were going to happen whether I had a beard or not, but I don’t know, I like to give the beard credit sometimes.”
Voting to select the newest Wahl Man of the Year ends Friday, Oct. 15. Allen said if he were to win, he’d take his wife and two boys Landon, 12, and Lucas, 7, on a vacation out west. He’d also consider rewarding some of his top students with new guitars.
To watch Allen’s audition video, go to https://bit.ly/3mwspy2.