Calling all Builders: Getting started

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by Brian Porter, Jul 3, 2008.

  1. Brian Porter

    Brian Porter Member

    Jan 27, 2007
    Boise, ID
    This is for those who have been in business for a few years, and are making some income at guitar making. I'm just getting things going and working on some prototypes, but i've run into the all important "How to I pay for this?" question. I have a few pre-orders, but they are just enough to buy a few more tools to get closer to what I need, but not enough to get everything. All the income right now is going to bills.

    Here's my situation: in 2001, I trained under John Bolin for about a year. About a year ago, I got the building bug and started on some projects. I have two shops I am borrowing that have most of the tools and space I need. I can use either for free anytime I want. I do not have access to a spray booth however. What I am lacking is money for supplies for the actual builds. We have a baby due this month, so income is important and a loan is fairly risky at this point.

    1. Go get a loan (Family, Friends)
    2. Work a regular job and fund it myself
    3. Wait to get my own place, and then a loan (Sort of where i'm leaning)
    4. Pre-Orders

    Any thoughts from those who have already got off the ground? Thanks in advance for your input.

    Here's some things in the works: Sorry for the large pictures!

  2. Bruce Bennett

    Bruce Bennett Senior Member

    Apr 15, 2005
    Rossville Ga
    Forgive me if I seem to be a naysayer.. I'm all for anyone that wants to try this.. just go into it with your eyes wide open and your wallet closed tight.

    But with a baby on the way, your choice's are pretty clear to me.
    Either work that extra job to fund it or pre-sell your instruments.

    loans from family members almost inevitably end badly. so I would never recommend them unless you have pre-confirmed orders. and even then you would do better to take a non-refundable deposit that will cover the materials cost rather than to risk alienateing someone you have to see every holiday.

    That said, I will never tell anyone that this is a business to go into without a lot of thought and preparation,.. and that means having your funding in place before you commit to a course of action...

    Now if your just wanting to build and have fun with it.. do it as a hobby.
    build as the money floats in.

    but, and I can't stress this strongly enough;

    never commit your important resources ( house rent, Car payments, Insurance payments ) to building guitars, thats the fastest way to lose your wife/ baby/ house/ car/ mind....

    it IS possilble to build a luthiery business on a shoestring budget..
    But I HIGHLY advise against it...

    treat this as a hobby business and it MIGHT feed you, more likely it will feed only itself for a rather long time and with a bit luck it can grow into something down the line, but the averages are against you.

    treat it like a real business and it can do well.. but it will usually require a rather serious investment of cash as well as time up front...
    and Plan your exit strategy right along with your plan of attack.

    Billy Gibbons once told me " if you fail to plan, you'd better plan to fail"

    The current business I'm working on took 4 years to plan and we had an 83 page business plan that was absolutely Stellar in it's comprehensivness
    we went after 150K worth of initial funding and even that was a bit light. with secondary rounds of funding in the next year already lined up.

    I've been told this by some of the best known luthiers in the biz.

    "you wouldn't make any snap decisions reguarding who your gonna marry would you? so don't make any snap decisions reguarding something that will become just as big a part of your life as your wife."

    hope you can find something useful from all this junk in my head... from what I've seen in 45 years...Some folks lead a charmed life.. while others.... not so much.. I've had it HARD.. I consider myself a pesimistic optomist.. so take all I say with the amount of salt that matches your own experience.

    Have fun and Best of luck to you.
  3. Mike Navarro

    Mike Navarro Member

    Feb 18, 2008
    Brian, theres some Federal grants you should check it out as an possibility and option, is the first step, some of them they just give you the money, and some as a loan with very easy payments with very low or none interest. You have to work in a business proposal, has to be very professional with cover, index, resume, concept of the idea, inventory need it, capital etc. I don't know were to go in your town, maybe to the mayor personal, that will be your assignment!!!
  4. Rist-Guitars

    Rist-Guitars Member

    Jun 8, 2008
    I have been doing this for 30 years. I have no family, nor do I own a house. I have seen affluent and very LEAN times in this business.
    Not having the responsibilities that you have I have been able to ride the wave with out any major ill effects. I also have no one to get upset when lean times hit.
    Given your situation I would say treat it like you were trying to become an actor.
    keep a day job! do the building nights and weekends. get some guitars done, sell them for what the market will bear, and build up some clientel.

    All that being said, I have NO regrets for my career choice. I would do nothing else.

  5. Brian Porter

    Brian Porter Member

    Jan 27, 2007
    Boise, ID
    Thanks for the thoughts, everyone. I've been looking into funding this with other work and have been up to now. Family comes first, so I'm looking for creative ways to take care of the family with any extra going to guitars. Things aren't moving as fast as I would like them to, but they are at least moving!

    I think I want to stay away from a lot of debt since we don't really have much right now. If I can float the business with pre-orders and my own income, I think that is the best way possible.
  6. Terry McInturff

    Terry McInturff 40th Anniversary of guitar building! Gold Supporting Member

    Nov 4, 2003
    Pittsboro NC
    Dear Brian,

    Before you do anything further, I suggest that you commit to researching and writing a formal business plan. When writing it, err on the conservative side.

    When the plan is complete, have it reviewed by business professionals. Ask around, and you will find retired business people who would be delighted to review it with you. You will want to review it with a financial professional for sure.

    I cannot stress the importance of doing this enough. You simply have to research the market completely, and to be able to make educated choices based upon your research.

    In my opinion...the time to go looking for money is after you have completed your conservative business plan...and have satisfied yourself and others that your business has a good chance of success.

    One very difficult question that you have to be able to answer is "Why would someone choose to buy one of my guitars instead of another brand?"

    Remember...being "the best" is far from enough to make a go of it.


    Jul 12, 2003
    Raleigh, NC

    It's very difficult to get into the guitar business today. There are 10...uh.. more like 50 times the guitar makers than just 10-15 years ago.

    You literally have to sell 1 guitar at a time. If you barely have enough money for supplies, it's NOT the time to try to make a living at it. Selling a few guitars at a time helps pay for more supplies and tools. You just have to build your business brick by brick so to speak.

    Lots of guitar makers got their start in repair work, and that's what paid the bills until they could start making more custom guitars.

    If you're by yourself and have no other responsiblities, you might be able to live in the garage and just sacrifice everything for your guitars and make it happen. But with a child on the way and family to think about, you've obviously got other things that need attention and financial support.

    My advise is to try and finish a few guitars at a time - get them 100% perfect and done. You can sell a finished guitar and bring more money in. You prove yourself 1 guitar at a time.

    Don't have a 12 guitars laying around, all 1/2 finished and run out of money.

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