Custom vs. Boutique / 1 Man vs. Small Company

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by JoeinLA, Aug 10, 2006.

  1. JoeinLA

    JoeinLA Member

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    I'm sure I'm going to be demonstrating my power of stating the obvious, but there seems to be 2 "camps" of niche builders: "Custom" guys and "Boutique" builders. The custom guys build made-to-order guitars, while the "Boutique" builders build a limited number of models. To me, Thorn, Driskill, Myka would be custom builders. Boutique builders would be Huber, McNaught; while each of these can make guitars to-order, they're pretty much making a standard model, vs. Thorn and Driskill where you pretty much spec out the guitar the way you want it. Not sure where Heatley stands in all this.

    Then there's 1-man shops like Thorn, Driskill, Huber, McNaught, Heatley, Myka, vs. "small-company" shops like... well I don't really know any of these but I see names floating around that I'm guessing are more like groups of luthiers that work together to produce some line of niche guitars.

    Any thoughts as to the pro's/con's of choosing one group vs. another group? Is going from 1-man to a "small company" a good thing or a bad thing? I think Driskill and Thorn are both really busy with really long waits, but I think they both enjoy the art of creating these guitars. I wonder if it's better from a financial standpoint to "standardize" your offerings and grow to a larger sized company.

    Your thoughts/comments would be appreciated!
     
  2. John Page

    John Page Member

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    I've taken small shops and turned them into big ones (Fender Custom Shop), and I've had my own one-man shops (Page Guitar Works and John Page Guitars). The latter to me is where I want to be now, and I think that's what it boils down to with each builder... where they want to be now. When you decide to "grow" your shop, you usually end up taking more of a leadership/management role as opposed to a hands-on building role. I want to cut wood right now, so I like having a one-man shop. It is not usually the best way to do business if you're looking to make the most money, but I think most builders do it for the love of the building, not the money. I guess the main thing, no matter what a builder decides to do, is to not lose the art for the business. These little sticks of wood with strings on them, have souls... if you build them right!

    Just one man's opinion...
     
  3. paintguy

    paintguy Long Hair Hippy Freak Silver Supporting Member

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    Nicely said:AOK
     
  4. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    Scott Lentz builds "boutique guitars". He builds them his way, with a minimum of options. They are fantastic guitars, he knows what works with his design.
     
  5. Dana Olsen

    Dana Olsen Gold Supporting Member

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    Thank You John!

    A simple explanation, uncluttered and unadorned. Those little pieces of wood and wires DO have soul ... if you build 'em right.

    Thanks, Dana O
     
  6. JoeinLA

    JoeinLA Member

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    I think this sort of reinforces my own gut which is that I'd rather buy from a 1-man show than a shop...
     
  7. Teleplayer

    Teleplayer Silver Supporting Member

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    So you wouldn't buy a custom built one-off from a cat like John Suhr?
     
  8. John Page

    John Page Member

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    "I think this sort of reinforces my own gut which is that I'd rather buy from a 1-man show than a shop..."

    JoeinLA,
    I wasn't trying to encourage you to do that, I was just trying to explain why a builder might go one way or the other. Some of the small shops out there, like my friend John Suhr, make some of the finest guitars in the world right now. Don't count those guys out... you won't be doing yourself a favor.
     
  9. sanhozay

    sanhozay klon free since 2009

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    I think guitar makers often confused PERSONIFICATION with SOUL.

    Anyway, I like when I take apart a guitar and I see some chicks name like, *Amber* or *Daisy*. It just makes me want to keep taking the guitar apart looking for a phone number or something...
     
  10. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I have yet to really bond with a guitar that I didn't get to play before I bought it. Not saying that it isn't possioble, but that's just been my experience. Another advantage to a builder getting bigger, from the point of view of the customer, is the much greater opportunity to try out the guitars before buying it...

    We all know how it is, you can have 2 seemingly identical models of guitars, and one of them "just feels more right" than the other. Having relatively small builders with guitars in stores that I can try out is a huge plus, to me...
     
  11. thesedaze

    thesedaze Member

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    If your idea of custom vs boutique is lumped into those categories, there's bound to be a sub category of custom that describes builders who don't produce loads of a particular model w/ a template and duplicarver.

    There's not much difference to me with someone building a 'stock' model from a template, and just changing the wood types, pickups, and asthetic treatment from a group of 10+ people working under one roof doing the same thing. Seems to me like the latter company are just better business minded.
     
  12. suttree

    suttree Member

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    i've owned one-offs, and i currently own a mixture of big shop (fender) vs little shop (santa cruz). i think that if someone is driven to make perfect guitars (or as close as possible), that will show in their work, whether they own the shop or work there, nameless or not. i dont for instance know how much of a hand richard hoover has in each guitar these days, but i know that his spirit and his "pet peeves" are looked at in the guitars that come out of his shop (he's always had a rep for being ultra fussy about sloppy glue work, for instance. my "cheapo" om/pw is immaculate inside and out). i have an alvarez that i love, too.. even though they're a relatively large company, the attention to detail is very strong, and the guitar really has a lot of life in it.

    it's very interesting to read mr surh's comments. the buying power in terms of initial wood quality is certainly wonderful to have, i know a friend or two that would struggle to find good wood, and it would take a ton of their time to source what they need. having a shop and a somewhat standardized lineup certainly makes that whole job a lot easier. let alone being able to hire someone to field phone calls and emails. i've always had best luck with shops, not one-man/woman operations. but. i've played a few solo jobs that were straight out stunning (linda manzer and judy threet both come to mind).
     
  13. Teleplayer

    Teleplayer Silver Supporting Member

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    I think the issue with this thread is as follows: It's simply not an "either/or" proposition.

    I bought a Suhr 3 pickup T last year that was built completely to my specs. I requested everything from a very lightweight one-piece swamp ash body to the ability to add the neck pickup at anytime via a push-pull tone control. The guitar was built exactly to my specs.

    After the first couple months of ownership, I was having some initial issues with getting the guitar to break in, and get the wood/neck/etc. to settle. I sent numerous e-mails back and forth with both John and Ed. I also spent a lot of time on the phone with John on a couple separate calls.

    John was extremely gracious and helpful - willing to do anything to make sure that, in the end, I wound up with exactly the guitar I wanted. I received "star" treatment, and was never made to feel rushed in any of my conversations. Nor did John or Ed ever give me a hard time, belittle me, or try to brush me off like I was crazy.

    The guitar eventually settled in after some very fine tuning, and it is now an absolutely stellar axe. The thing runs and purrs like a Ferrari.

    When all was said and done, it was as if John was running a one-man shop. His attention to detail - and the quality of the instrument - are second to none. He also treated me like a guy that had bought twenty pieces form him, or was out on tour showing off his work every night to twenty thousand people.

    Thus, while Suhr Guitars is certainly no one-man shop, the quality of both the product and customer service are first class. It's as if John was building his axes in a house next door to me. That's how accessible he was. Plus, I learned a lot about how guitars really work regarding woods, resonance, truss rods, string vibration, pickups (and their effect even when the guitar is not plugged in), etc. from one of the most prominent cats in the business.

    I don't know how a one-man shop could have possibly delivered better customer service or a better product for what I was seeking.
     
  14. jds81

    jds81 Member

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    I can understand the one person shop lure, definitely, but I think that the more important thing is One Person's Vision, or a shared vision among capable people. I think this is why Suhr's products are really incredible, I've never owned one, but I've played several at a local shop. I usually put them down after a little while because I start thinking about maxing out a credit card while playing one- in short, every one I've played is consistently amazing. So, maybe, the point is not how many people there are in a shop, but whether the shop is producing a product (crass, I know!) that adheres to a high standard. Anyhow, great debate, love this topic and that we are getting real feedback from builders and other experienced people (much more than myself) and not to blush too much, but speaking of Suhr, I just heard the Badger amp demo, and I'm floored. I happen to be amp shopping, and that thing has me hot n bothered.
     
  15. Douglas Baines

    Douglas Baines Member

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    With Thorn and Driskill (correct me if I'm wrong), I don't believe they offer custom body construction. By that I mean, customer-designed shapes and construction techniques are quite out of the question. I'm quite sure that you must choose their existing shapes as a framework to design from.

    I think it is worth separating David's (Myka) from the others, as his is guitars are true one-offs, whose designs are not hindered by the limitations of CNC machines. It's quite a different style of working that allows for new experimental construction techniques to come to fruition and he's really succeeding at building some amazingly musical guitars.

    Nonetheless, all of the aforementioned luthiers are excellent in their craft and consistently produce beautiful, sonorous instruments. Or else we wouldn't be talking about them would we?
     
  16. paintguy

    paintguy Long Hair Hippy Freak Silver Supporting Member

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    Being that I work in L.A. and deal with a quite a few guitar custom shops, small builders etc....

    There is a lot of behind the scenes stuff going on with some of the small builders. There are some builders who want you to believe they do everything. This couldn't be further than the truth. Some have nothing to do with certain steps or processes.(or even have a clue how to do them)

    They claim expertise in these steps and take all the credit for someone elses hard work. I feel really bad for the luthiers and painters who get zero credit for their workmanship and it really bothers me that some small builders are deceiving their customers(big time) at the very least. I guess that's business.

    I have one friend who works for so many small builders it's mind blowing. I have been at his place of employment when 4-5 different builders show up in the course of a evening to drop off things for him to do. Cut bodies, slot fingerboards, shape necks, fretting and dressings, paint, inlays, etc.... the list goes on and on.

    I do have a lot of respect for guys who give credit where credit is due.(like Dave McNaught, who gives the other Dave credit for the paintwork and Jason Shroeder who gives credit to someone else(I forget who) for the final set-up on his guitars.

    I guess what I'm saying is don't believe all the one man shops are all one man shops. Even the two and three man shops. Some of the small builders have more than a few behind the scenes guys doing a fair amount of some very crucial work. They will have you believe they work 16-20 hour days, never sleep and are way too controlling to let someone work on their guitars.

    I suspect few do it for the love of it, although they claim they do. What I have seen is it's about the the money, their ego and then the love.(and nothing wrong with that) Just don't claim differently. It's a business!!!

    I'm not saying all small builders are like that. I'm just saying John Page is much more of a rare bird than many would have you believe.

    Sorry for the rant! It's been hard over the years watching guys take credit and bask in the glory of someone else's heart and soul.(Or at least their hard work).
     
  17. Karmateria

    Karmateria Member

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    Yeah people, don't believe all the hype. There's a hell of a lot of "spin" going on with these small "builders." I've been through a few shops that do sub-contracting work from inlay and painting, all the way to completed guitars for some of the names that get mentioned on these pages.

    Besides that, I don't want to buy a guitar from a guy who only has a hundred or so guitars under his belt, I don't need to finance anyones apprenticeship. That's why it's cool when a talented and EXPERIENCED guy like John Suhr or Tom Anderson or Jol Dantzig put together a shop full of great specialists. It's like orchestrating a band full of awesome players instead of trying to play all the parts yourself.

    That said, I think that whatever you call it (boutique or Luthier or whatever) is just semantics.
     

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