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Hypothetical - When, if ever, is a small builder too small?

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by Reeek, Sep 2, 2006.

  1. Reeek

    Reeek Member

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    No intent on any derog - I was just curious as to the member's opinions. I don't have any experience with very small luthier made guitars. My only custom guitars are Suhrs, whom I consider a medium/small builder and Suhr's are magnificent guitars. I've bought two Suhrs back to back and had no intent of going elsewhere on that second one but that's not to say I will only own Suhr's down the road either. My second Suhr, a vintage spec'ed Classic T except for the neck radius, is the best guitar I have ever owned thus far.

    I'll start off with some comments/questions:

    1. Is there an advantage to going with a builder who has produced hundreds of guitars? I tend to think that ideas for improvement and tone come with experience.

    2. When does a builder become too "big"? Ever? I suppose that depends on the business model and other factors not associated with the ability of the founder. Again, doesn't mileage fair well with guitar building?

    3. When is small too small? I guess I'd be reluctant to order an expensive hand made guitar from a builder who is on his first few guitars give or take. You? Unless you know the builder well I suppose.

    Let the opinons and thoughts fly. I have many more comments and questions but I'll let you have a go. Me? I think I like the size of a Suhr or Anderson, etc. A small builder business ethic and model and lots of experience and improvements over the years.
     
  2. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    1. I suppose there is some degree of advantage to a veteran builder. I tend to like great guitars, wherever they come from ;)

    2. A builder becomes "too big" when their quality goes down, or when they start to cut corners in features... I'm *slightly* skeptical of builders where the "name guy" no longer actually builds the guitars. But, as in answer #1, the guitars do the talking.

    3. Small is too small for that time period where a builder becomes suddenly popular and their build time includes a huge waiting period. It is not very enticing to me to wait 2-3 years for a guitar, but that's just personal reflections...

    I recently went with a small builder, Tomkins, but bought from a store so I had a "trial period" to check out the guitar and return it if I wanted to (it's staying with me, it is fantastic). I tend to like to try guitars before I buy them so I personally would be more hesitant to send in a deposit to a relatively unknown builder

    cool topic...
     
  3. whoismarykelly

    whoismarykelly Oh look! This is a thing I can change!

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    When the builder only has one instrument in the western hemisphere (based in london). Im hoping for the best with this instrument (Blackmachine B2) but the builder is super small so Ill have to play it by ear.
     
  4. Luke

    Luke Senior Member

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    Too small can also mean shacky finances. When ever an operation is a one man show I always worry that the guy lives long enough to complete my project or that he'll go out of business. I prefer a business that has been up and running for a while and has a solid reputation, although even that is no guarantee as recently witnessed with the dissolution of Baker guitars and Ed Roman taking over that name. Your only guarantee of product is if the item already exists, when you custom order something there is always a chance, no matter how minute, that the order will never be filled for a host of possible reasons. If you need 100% assurance, only buy a guitar that you have personally held.
     
  5. enharmonic

    enharmonic Old Growth Gold Supporting Member

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    When they have to stand on a stack of phone books to use their router. ;)

    I don't think there's a such thing as too small. Lots of companies that became crazy big started as one or two-man operations. Not so much these days, because the barriers to entry in nearly every industry are mind boggling, but back in the day...especially when it came to old world craftsmanship :)
     
  6. cnardone

    cnardone Member

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    Gene Baker B3 Guitars, Mike Stevens, John Page, Thorn, Chapin, Driskill

    All incredibly respected bilders. Perhaps some of the best on the planet. All very small companies. Experience and size are two separate parameters that don't necessarily have anything to do with each other.

    THe only drawback for me is the quicker potential for wait times. I personally think it is worth it.

    cmn
     
  7. Chris Rice

    Chris Rice Member

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    I draw the line at 3 feet tall. Anything bigger is fine. :p
     
  8. thesedaze

    thesedaze Member

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    I wouldn't have any concern w/ a builder being on his 3rd or 4th guitar if you've played the other 3 and they were fantastic. I can't say I'd order from a 'small' builder unless I had played a model first, but that's just me. Electronics are a different beast, and can be 'reworked' so to speak...lots of changeable/upgradeable variables. A handmade instrument however, isn't so plyable once it's complete.
     
  9. whoismarykelly

    whoismarykelly Oh look! This is a thing I can change!

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    I think its a matter of gut instinct too. Ive never seen a guitar by the builder I ordered from in person. Im basing my opinion on talking to a few players and discussions with the builder. Its an experiment in part for me that I hope turns out really nice.
     
  10. PlexiBreath

    PlexiBreath Member

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    I don't think a builder can be too small. Often it's just a guitar repair operation when the guy also builds just a few a year, but that's still valid. I guess the concern would be if the guy went out of business, but you could always find someone who could work on it.
     
  11. whoismarykelly

    whoismarykelly Oh look! This is a thing I can change!

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    Ok its time for everyone to stop making the same joke now.
     
  12. PlexiBreath

    PlexiBreath Member

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    John Galt's girlfriend.
     
  13. whoismarykelly

    whoismarykelly Oh look! This is a thing I can change!

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    name of an old band. she was a woman killed by Jack the Ripper. Somehow the music never fit that kind of theme. It was much better.
     
  14. LOCUSTFIST

    LOCUSTFIST Member

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    i love to have guitars that few people have. you might get lucky and the guy blows up and all of a sudden your guitar is worth 10 times what you paid....i think i had the oppposite happen...i paid 4$ grand for a guitar from a builder that has yet to make a name for himself and i just don't see his guitars anymore....don't get me wrong, it's the best guitar of it's kind that i've played...but if i were to get sick of it right now i could barely get 1500 bucks.
     
  15. koamarlin

    koamarlin Member

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    NOW THAT`S A REALLY SMART REMARK!!
    Whatever one means with "too small" is not that wisely reflected.
    Roberto Benedetto built his guitars all by himself over decades. You have to consider a fairly high amount of money for a guitar like this - but it´s definitely worth it.
    When Benedetto worked for Fender , his whole attitude towards guitarbuilding had to change - and that´s the reason why he started his own business again and left the big F. - at least I think so.
    Nobody would ever consider Roberto Benedetto a "too small" builder,right?
     
  16. Jon Silberman

    Jon Silberman 10Q Jerry & Dickey Gold Supporting Member

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    Too small cannot be answered in the abstract. The concept takes on meaning only in relation to the buyer's needs.

    Myself, though I've done it in the past, I'm no longer willing to wait a year + for an instrument. So, for me, any builder who cannot deliver a new axe within a year is too slow. When the slowness is a function of size, then it would be fair to say that, for Jon S., the builder is too small.
     
  17. fretnot

    fretnot Gold Supporting Member

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    Often, builders who are small, as in just them, aren't the greatest at business. Certain concepts of small business practice are foreign to them, but their ability to build kick-ass instruments are not. I have a collection of guitars that are almost exclusively "small luthier" guitars. I have waited LONG periods of time, and am still waiting for several (not happy about it, but it happens). Quality cannot be rushed, IMO. If a guy's wait time is a couple of years, there is often a good reason for it. Also, any builder, regardless of size, should have a type of insurance plan in place in case of something happening to them. Whether it be a daily updated master that is given to a family member or whatever, that way if Joe Builder passes away or something awful, someone knows what to do, and people can get their guitars or money back. There is this feeling of euphoria I get when opening the case for the first time and seeing a instrument/piece of art that was built just for me. It's like a drug, to be honest.
     
  18. Reeek

    Reeek Member

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    Let's extrapolate on the long wait periods a little . . .

    In everyone's opinion, do you believe the builder/luthier is working on one guitar at a time or are they doing multiples? I would suspect doing multiples if the orders were placed makes sense for the builder so they can set up for bodies, necks, etc without flipping back and forth too much.

    But a huge question I have always had is; are these "small one man" builders working on "your" guitar everyday, all day, 5 days a week? Minus the occasional day off of course.

    One thing that would erk me is if I waited 1-3 years for a hand built guitar and discovered that builder was spending 10 hours a week or less on my guitar.

    I'm quite confident that the mid-sized builders we all know and endear are at least running a real business and their employees (craftsmen) are going to work everyday and spending a legitimate work day on the guitar we pay so much money for.

    Some of you may recall my experience with a small, "one at a time" amp builder. I placed a $975 down payment on it at the start. A year and a half later I discovered the amp had never even really gotten started . . . then I had to wait a month for the refund when I cancelled the order. I was really disappointed at that. Not just because the amp never materialized but also because I know the amp builder is generally a good man and built a wondeful amp and I wanted that amp something fierce. (amp analogy but still on the subject of guitars here)


    There's no doubt that progess reports and pictures can go a long way. Better yet, even an onsite visit now and then would set me at ease if it's feasible.
     
  19. Jim Soloway

    Jim Soloway Member

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    Let's assume for a moment that we're talking about the low end of your estimate: 1 year. Allow two weeks for vacation etc, so we're talking about 50 weeks. Now you're expecting a minimum of 10 hours per week on your guitar, so that's a minimum total of 500 hours.

    Assuming a 50 hour week (which is considered 10 hours over full time in the normal world), there are huge probelms with your logic.

    First, the builder would only be able to build five guitars a year.

    Second, in order earn enough to be able build on a full time basis, he would have to charge so much that very few people, even high end guitar buyers, would be willing or able to buy those five guitars.

    And that's the best case scenario allowed by your expectations. If it takes over a year, the numbers just keep getting worse.
     
  20. Reeek

    Reeek Member

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    Jim,

    When the math is in front of me, I understand your point.

    Maybe what I'm seeing is a correlation between build time and cost. Is that a fair assumption?

    Rick
     

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