Hey Luthiers, why do you do what you do? Pro/cons for direct vs dealer sales.

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by LTE, Feb 9, 2006.

  1. LTE

    LTE Member

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    Just wondering how you guys got into this game. Who do you look up to? Who do you think will carry the tourch on for the next generation?

    Also, what made you decide to sell to dealers or direct? Meaning, what do you think are the advantages of your decision? What are the pitfalls?

    Thanks for taking the time to answer this. I have respect for you all in this tough business.
     
  2. Douglas Baines

    Douglas Baines Member

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    I'm just getting into the game right now... At 18 I went to college for Electronics Engineering in Toronto. I quickly got scared out of my wits at the thought of doing TV repair or hooking up satellite dishes for the rest of my life. I dropped out after the 2nd of 4 semesters with the intent to go home, get a job, and start saving for lutherie school. That was two years ago.

    I went to the Lado Lutherie School in Ontario and now I'm tooling up to start building in my home shop, with the intent to start building commercially once I get enough practice and confidence under my belt.

    As far as looking up to someone... my teacher Joe Lado... Matt Artinger, David Myka, I really like Jack Briggs' work, and Saul Koll. I have a thing for Hofner and Framus as well. Jim Soloway is quite an inspiration too. He's built such a success so quickly. Smart too.

    I think guitar builders can take inspiration from bass builders too. I really like the Benavente basses.

    As much as people are hating Gibson these days, I'm really inspired by Orville Gibson. He really was an innovator in his time and I think I've wanted to put my hands on a Style-U Harp Guitar since I was about 14 or 15!
     
  3. Scott French

    Scott French Member

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    I can't help being inspired/influenced by everything I see, but I do have some favorite builders. From the older school I really like Steve Klein, Ned Steinberger, Leo Fender, Harry Fleishman, and at the top of the list is Semie Moseley. Some of the guys I've heard about more recently that look great are Simon Farmer @ Gus Guitars, and Claudio Pagelli. There's plenty more but those are the ones I used on my site and had at the top of my mind.

    I deal direct because I am so small that it's all that makes sense. I also don't really trust anyone else to represent me. I've heard of smaller guys having a bad experience with dealers, not only losing those potential sales but taking a hit on their reputation when that dealer talks them down when be comparing to the products the dealer still offers.

    I only do a few instruments a year and I enjoy building a relationship with my customers (when they want to, some people just order a guitar and you never hear from them again). Without that direct contact and interaction with my customers I don’t think I would enjoy building nearly as much.

    Take a look at the popular builders on the board, I would bet these are going to be the guys to carry the torch.
     
  4. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I wouldn't say that I'm a luthier, but I've put together more than a few Partscasters from USA Custom Guitar (and other) parts and toyed with the idea of starting a business making T and S style guitars. Then I played a few Scott Lentz Guitars and realized I was never going to build a guitar that great no matter how long I worked at it... I think people like Lentz and Thorn and a few others are carrying the torch in this golden age of guitars, and I consider them modern day Stradivaris
     
  5. Joe Naylor

    Joe Naylor Supporting Member

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    Let's see... started in repair, went to Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery, owned a vintage/used/repair storefront, got into the boutique amp & speaker biz (Naylor), started Reverend, built production amps/pedals/guitars/basses, now just guitars.

    Here's the long version, with some insight into the dealer/direct thing:
    http://www.musicgearsource.com/joe.html

    I look up to all the classic American companies: Fender, Gibson, Gretsch, Rickenbacher, Danelectro, National, etc. To be a well rounded designer, I think you have to have a good understanding of all the prominent guitars from the golden eras.

    Who'll carry the torch? Hard to say, there's a lot of talent out there. I must say, in the boutique realm, I'm very impressed with Matt Artinger's work. His concepts and execution are impressive, especially for such a young guy.
     
  6. JPERRYROCKS

    JPERRYROCKS Member

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    If your a small independent luthier, I can't see the point in going thru dealers to sell 35-50 guitars a year. If you're going the CNC and volume production route, it may make sense to use dealers if you have goals of "hundreds" of guitars a year.

    I don't see the rationale in paying dealer markups for doing stuff primarily over the internet. Maybe the builder already has too many things to do. But so many people are buying things over the internet and "sight unseen" in this market, what is a dealer other that some middle man that customers have to pay a mark-up to?

    Newer builders like Ron Thorn are doing things a different way and are offer stunning qualty work at very reasonable direct prices.
     
  7. Rich Rice

    Rich Rice Member

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    I look up to the old school innovators, and the modern small luthiers. I also try to take into account other instruments, such as violins and their construction. There are many things I could do to earn a living, far more lucrative than this. That having been said, the only thing I'm interested in doing is building and playing guitars. So this is what I do, and that's why I do it. I read somewhere that one should not ask what the world needs, but ask what makes him explode with passion, makes him come alive. After all, what the world needs most is people who are passionate about what they do. So, as the poster child for A.D.D., I build the best guitars that I can...

    As for the dealer thing, well, a salesman will never understand what goes into every part of every guitar that I build with my son. I would prefer to have five completely satisfied customers, rather than 100 who think my product is "ok"... Dealers have their place, and the big boys need 'em, but they fight over market share. I'm looking for a different mentality altogether. The Internet has opened up the world. I prefer to deal directly with every client or prospective buyer, in order to stay in touch with their needs and to ensure there isn't any hogwash going out to the public. It's OUR name on the product, and reputation is everything.I have been approached by a couple of music stores who would love to sell our instruments, but I feel they could never represent them properly. I'm also aware of the way sales people can manipulate customers into lesser products with higher profit margins. Not our bag, folks. What you see is what you get. Period. At the end of any time in a store, I'm afraid we would end up with a bunch of poorly adjusted, beat up instruments. It is far better for all concerned to deal direct. Better descriptions, better service, better prices, and better customer relations. Everybody wins.

    This is an interesting thread, and I look forward to seeing more responses. The opinions I expressed here are my own, YMMV.
    Rich Rice
     
  8. Saul Koll

    Saul Koll Member

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    Wow! Good question! For better of worse, this is my take:
    In college I studied art. My sculpture moved from static to kinetic and I then started studying sound and began using that as an element in my work. I had been a guitar player all along and the two ideas merged. Eventually I made some rudimentary guitars using Sloan's book and after graduating, armed with that, landed a job at a violin and guitar shop. This was a windfall. There I was exposed to every aspect of repair and restoration. Musicians of all levels from the famous to the beginner need their stuff worked on. I learned to work with everyone. In addition to the normal and not so normal work going through the shop, people would want things made that simply were not available or did not exist and I would make it for them.
    I was working as both guitar maker and dealer. While many of these instruments were unique and would not be repeated, some of the ideas stuck. As I made these one-off instruments, I began to develop a kind of style. Many of the models I produce today had originally started as someone's idea. They needed this neck with this kind of sound,(or whatever) and so I made it, and tried to make it look cool. These collaborations sometimes turned out super cool and unlike anything had there not been a collaboration. I used my skills to try to fill their void. If early on I had some sort of dealer network, I don't know that I would have learned as much. I really like working with the artist. When It works it can be like a good songwriting team.
    That said, it is very hard to make a living doing only that. It can be exhausting to go through a unique design process with every new artist and every new order. Thankfully, some pretty smoking designs have come together over the years, those have become my models and I will often make them on spec. I will also just make stuff I just want to see exist. For these I am now working with a dealer who really knows about sound, about guitars and about the business. So for the moment, I do both. I work directly with the artist when that make sense, and for all the other stuff, I have Cliff.
    This business model, or lack thereof, has worked for me. As I get older, I see the importance of not spreading oneself too thin.
    For the last twenty years or so I have tried to make great instruments, guitars and similar, that inspire me. Things that turn me on. I will make anything simply to try out an idea or test a theory. What if I did this? That sounds like a cool idea, let me try that! I bet it would be cool if I moved these lines around, or used this combination, etc. Thankfully, others have found my little vision interesting or at least mildly entertaining, at least enough allow me to make my living doing this. For that I am profoundly apreciative.

    cheers,

    Saul
     
  9. Douglas Baines

    Douglas Baines Member

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    Wish I'd remembered him for my list!

    (I like your guitars as well)
     
  10. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

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    Just remember LTE - a good luthier doesn't necessarily make a good businessman. The opposite is also true - a good businessman doesn't necessarily make a good luthier, or even a luthier at all. Best of luck in your endeavors!

    --chiba
     
  11. Rich Rice

    Rich Rice Member

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    Very wise words. It is a difficult task to try to balance perfection/production/profit.:BEER
     
  12. Shades

    Shades Member

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    Well, I kind of fell into it. I grew up with a grandfather that was a carpenter and a father who was an electronics engineer at Raytheon. I started doing both woodworking and electronics at around 8 years old. My dad had an electric guitar that sat in its case by our back window for a while and I used to pull it out when nobody was around. It was a fascination to say the least. In junior high I got asked if I could fix an electronics problem on a guitar by a guy that knew that I tweaked around with electronics. I fixed it and that got me into the idea of tweaking around with guitars in general. I bought the Sloan book and the first Kamimoto book. I already knew my way around woodworking pretty well and got into a bit of trouble in junior high wood class for elaborating of the designs that they gave us to build. I built a few guitars of less than stellar quality but each guitar got better. I started doing repairs and mods out of my house and fixing up guitars I bought at yard sales to turn over for a profit (there used to be quite a few cool guitars at yard sales before vintage mania and then ebay came along.) I started building Strat style instruments in the early 1980s, which was all anybody wanted in the 80's (and yes I did build with and install Floyds and Kahlers.)I worked both as a musician and doing repairs in San Jose while studying Music at SJSU. I made quite a few contacts with area musicians,which would lead to my later return. I then proceeded to the Roberto-Venn school to learn more formally about building acoustics, which I found a bit odd at times as I had been building electrics for some time and I had developed my own ways of approaching certain things that didn't always mesh with their methods. I moved out to Texas for a while where I became a student then an assistant teacher at South Plains College repair and building program before the school shut down the program. It was in Texas that I met Mike Stevens who I was able to milk for valuable information (both in design concepts and inspiration.) Next, I worked in an acoustic repair shop and for Outbound Guitars building travel acoustics. I got into Kasha style design concepts and started to incorporate these ideas into semi solid instruments. When I moved back to San Jose I started a series of interesting collaberations with area artists (Hollowbody vaulted brace electrics, a 6 string bass with the inner 4 strings fretted and the outer 2 fretless doubles of their adjacent strings, Full acoustic, fan braced, side soundhole, blended set neck nylon string guitars in a t-sized body.) I ran tests with standard designs ranging from fingerboad replacements with different woods to see the effect of the board on the sound of the instrument to finish tests in different finish materials at a given thickness to judge the tone in relation to the sound "in the white." These collaberations and experiments were some of the most rewarding and enlightening things that I've done. However, I found that while I loved doing it, relying solely on this made making a living challenging. I started teaching at the American School of Lutherie (while it was still in Healdsburg,) doing sub contract work for a few other makers and I started doing T, S (after being convinced to do them again) and Hawk shapes only (hollow and solid.) I decided to focus on these styles but make the most diverse and unique instruments that I could out of this range. I sold only direct until very recently. Currently Cliff at Destroy all Guitars and Mike at Tonegurus are dealing with stuff that I really want to build because I know it will be cool but doesn't yet have a home waiting. For the customer this gets some instruments out there where people can get there hands on them and also allows them to avoid the wait involved in a custom order. For me, it allows me to build things that I simply get an itch to build. So, for me, the answer is both ......"did someone yell tangent?"
     
  13. LTE

    LTE Member

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    I totally agree. But I have no dreams of trying to build a guitar. Power tools and myself go together like oil and water. My building of a guitar would be a disgrace to luthiers, guitars and guitarists past, present and future.

    I totally suck at the handyman thing. I'll stick to playing the guitar.

    Just curious on everyone else's thoughts and stories.

    I'm enjoying this thread.
     
  14. aoguitars

    aoguitars Guest

    great question and great thread! It's always fun to read about all the builders that frequent these forums. I personally got started by picking up the guitar about 20 years ago and tinkering/repairing/modding my own stuff. That quickly became an obsession and the thought of building one for myself drove me to get in there. I built a 5 string fretless first, then went to work at a guitar shop and did all the repairs that I could get my hands on. After college I went to work for Spector Basses and then MTD while building my own stuff at home, and then started my own thing. I think working direct with the customer is hands down the best possible way to provide the best product so I will continue to do so for ever. However, the smaller "boutique" dealers can be excellent to work with and can do excellent work for the smaller builders. Its the big guys that can be troublesome...

    as far as influences and inspirations, I try to take in everything I see. This is an art form so rich in tradition in that everything is accountable for the instruments being built today. I try to bring the grace of violin builders like Strad and Guernieri and archtop builders like Benedetto and d'Aquisto together with lines and shapes from Languedoc and Irwin. Then of course there are so many gorgeous guitars being built by small guys like Dave Myka (we've built guitars for each other and bounce ideas off of each other from time to time), Matt Artinger, Rob Moriarty...the list could go on. And no matter what, we're all influenced by Leo Fender, Orville Gibson, Ted McCarty, and Les Paul due to all of the experiments that they did to pave the way for the guitar as we know it. Personally, my biggest influence has been one of the godfathers of the electric bass, Mike Tobias (MTD) because of the years I spent with him. He has built some of the best basses on the planet (imo) with two separate companies over the last 30 years (Tobias, bought by Gibson, and now MTD).

    Hands down, I do what I do because I love every aspect of it, and I absolutely love going to work every day. Can't beat it.
     
  15. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I agree, Tobias is a great bass builder!
     
  16. amper

    amper Member

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    As a non-quite started yet luthier (just finished my first two body designs last night, and I'm *very* happy with them), I'll say I look up to Paul Reed Smith as my primary inspiration for lutherie. I think Paul came up with some designs that will be looked on as true classics, and I think that the production values exhibited by PRS are close to the values I would like to have.

    As far as other, or larger, companies are concerned (I still think of PRS as a "small" company for some reason), I'm a big fan of Rickenbacker and Warwick. In fact, you might say that my first two original designs are influenced by both PRS and Rickenbacker in equal measure, but with significant differences from either that are concious design decisions rather than changes for the sake of making them different from existing designs.

    For instance, I think that when most people see my double cutawway design, they would probably say, "That looks like a PRS", at least, until they take a closer look...in the same way that a PRS Singlecut looks sort of like a Les Paul, but not really. I'm truly gratified that the first guitarist I showed my designs to said "That sort of reminds me of my Rickenbacker".

    I think that down the road, the luthiers who will be remembered best are those who will strive to create original designs that are still aesthetically balanced (assuming playability is a given). Fender and Gibson copies will always abound, as will "odd" designs, but I think to truly make your marque, you need to have designs which are pleasing to the eye.

    I can't wait to get started on building the first prototypes. Hopefully, within a few years I will be able to quit my "day job" and make instruments full time.
     

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