August 23, 2023

The rocking dual life of SCA building manager, Steve Olson

By Desa Philadelphia

You’ve seen him dashing around the School of Cinematic Arts buildings, disappearing into utility closets. As the School’s Building Systems Manager, Steve Olson helps mitigate any systems problems that pop up throughout the buildings, everything from keeping the HVAC running to dealing with all the novel ways students damage facilities. The way he tells it: “It’d be easier to tell you what we don’t do.”

Steven Olson, Building Systems Manager at the USC School of Cinematic Arts

Olson has been playing guitar for “about 30 years on and off.” After working at Fender right out of High School, followed by a stint working under master builder Wayne Charvel, Olson started making his own electric guitars. In the eighties he used to hang out on the Sunset Strip and offer members of the up-and-coming hair bands free guitars, if they would play them in his shows. Members of bands like Great White, Mötley Crüe and Dokken all slayed on one of Steve’s Guitars. However, his marketing plan had one major flaw. “I was giving them these guitars in the hopes they would get famous and then when they got famous, they signed deals with Fender and other companies, and then they couldn’t play my guitars.”
Olson started working at USC in 1993 in Facilities Management Services (FMS) as an electrician. He then became a manager, and ten years ago brought his logistics expertise to SCA. About seven years ago, he built a guitar for a neighbor and the bug bit again. Since then he’s started building custom electrics for customers, including mini-sized instruments for kids who dream of rocking out when they are older. He has built two bass guitars for Jenny San Angel, who also works at SCA, in computing. 

Jenny San Angel, Computing Systems Administrator for the School of Cinematic Arts

“There’s a lot of people here at the cinema school that play,” says Olson. “I tell them if they want one, they can take it for a week or so to see if they like it or I can make them a custom. I pretty much can make any guitar people might want to have as far as electric guitars.”
Building on those heavy metal days, Olson still likes to experiment with interesting designs for the bodies of his guitars. “My favorite kind of guitar to build are some of the body styles that I designed, and when I’m using exotic, all natural woods. I do any kind of paint jobs people want, even sparkly paint jobs. But I like it more when you see the natural wood colors,” says Olson.

Some of Olson's work over the years. 

After working at USC for more than thirty years, Olson is considering retiring. He says he’ll probably spend his time building more guitars. He’s currently apprenticing with a friend who builds acoustic guitars, learning the finer points of making unplugged instruments. But that doesn’t mean he won’t help you rock out!
For more about Steve’s work, check out Steve’s Guitars on Facebook.