Monday, July 10, 2006

Coffee, Tea, or Me?


Easy word, hefty concept. In the realm of goods, (As opposed to services), we're talking about figuring out how to get the buying public interested in what you've got to sell. And in my case, that's guitars. Now, if you're familiar with hand-made guitars, there's two things you know right off the bat:

1. They ain't cheap, and

2. There are more Luthiers, (Guitar Builders), than there are flies on a garbage truck.

So now, when we think marketing in light of those considerations, where are we? If you browse thoroughly through maybe 100 Luthier websites as I have over the last few months, you'd find a few surprises and a lot of things the same. Standard woods? Mahogany or Rosewood. Standard designs? OM, Orchestra, 000, Dread, maybe a parlour. Model names? All over the map. Prices? From a bunch to breathtaking, and everything in between. Common features? A Handmade guitar from the heart and mind of (Your name here).

Of course, some of these sites belong to names any serious guitarist will recognize - They're legendary builders, and for a good reason - They build amazing guitars. As such, you'll pay dearly to own, say, a nicely inlaid Grit Laskin, or a cutting edge Charles Fox, but you'll have an amazing guitar built by a true artist - This is the equivalent of buying a Cezanne during the artist's lifetime, in my opinion. Oh, and you'll also wait probably 3 to 5 years to get it...

So, other than the already famous, what's different? There are nice touches here and there that differentiate builders - A unique Philosophy, proprietary techniques and designs, that sort of thing - It's those kinds of things that would grab my eye were I shopping for somebody to build me a guitar, frankly.

And so it's the necessity for something truly unique, I think, that sets one apart in this world. My colleague Michael McBroom has found such a niche. He specializes in 10 string classical guitars: This is a performance genre to which some very serious composers and players dedicate their work. Michael had an interest in this guitar, studied it and the players, carefully waded in, and in something like a year, has gone from just starting out to introducing a Janet Marlow model at this year's International 10 String Guitar Festival. Janet is generally considered the most accomplished living 10 string player in the world, and Michael's efforts are nothing less than a wonderful coup. Not only did he introduce the model at this year's festival, but he presented the first one to Janet, who loved it so much that she played it at her featured concert. All I can say is, congratulations, my friend, and Wow!

And for the rest of us, there are choices: One can be discouraged by the sheer volume and perceived saturation of the plethora of builders out there already, or one can choose to be inspired and enlightened by Michael's example. Me? I'll take the latter.

Granted, guitars look wonderful, especially truly unique, hand-made ones. A lot of players get caught up in appearance as the first and foremost consideration in buying a new guitar. But of course, that's not their primary function - They're built to make music, to sound wonderful. Any guitar that's gonna actually appeal to a serious player needs to have a voice that reaches them. My primary advantage wading into the pantheon is the fact that I make great sounding guitars: I had one in the hands of a very capable professional the other day, and was, (Stupidly), telling him all the things on it I'd do better next time. He finally turned to me with that "You dumbshit" expression and said, "Man, when a guitar sounds like this, I don't care what it looks like..." He's on my building schedule now, by the way...

Anyway, the other thing I'm looking to make a name for myself with is wood - Yeah, appearance; it does make a difference, of course - Maple doesn't sound like Claro Walnut, which doesn't sound like Mahogany, and so on. Unfortunately, the woods which made most of the legendary 20th century guitars, Brazilian Rosewood and Honduran Mahogany, are both endangered now because of sustained, barbaric logging practices. You pretty much can't get new Brazilian Rosewood any more: What's available was bought and stored for many years, and if not, quite possibly could be illegal, (It's CITES regulated).

Therefore, we builders can either bemoan materials gone by or look elsewhere. Again, I'll take the latter: There's a lot of wood, American wood, harvested responsibly by small wood farm owner/operators, that sounds great, even if it's not commonly associated with guitar building.

And so far, that's what I've got - It's not much, but it's a start. I'm not asking for the moon, after all; I'll always be a one-man shop, so there's not going to be much more than a 12 guitar a year output. That's not asking for too much, really, is it?

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