What does "Small Company" mean?

Discussion in 'The Small Company Luthiers' started by DWB1960, Feb 7, 2006.


  1. DWB1960

    DWB1960 Senior Member

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    What constitutes a Small Company Luthier? Obviously Fender, Gibson, PRS and the like do not fit the mold but in your opinions, at what point does a company no longer fit into the "small" category. Or in other words, what would be the magic number of units sold per year be that would graduate a company to the next level?

    I ask mainly because I see Reverend mentioned in this categoy but IMO I wouldn't consider them small (although I do not know how many gits they sell a year, I just see quite a bit of press and reviews on them).

    If Reverend, Hamer, and the like are small then what would you consider Thorn, Driskill, Briggs, etc.: MicroBuilders?

    Nothing too serious here folks. Just wondering.
     
  2. Chiba

    Chiba Gold Supporting Member

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    I see small as primarily low numbers, not low press.

    --chiba
     
  3. Karmateria

    Karmateria Member

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    This is an interesting question because people somehow equate small build numbers with quality, a generalization which is totally ignorant. Certainly when you get to the extreme like Samick (thousands each day) things get a little hard to monitor. But at the same time, you could easily say that someone who has only built a few hundred guitars has very little experience.

    I've seen examples of great quality from fairly good sized companies... look at PRS for example, who churns out more guitars in a day than Ron Thorn will make in a year. They still manage to make a great guitar.

    Collings, a company that has stellar quality makes about 20+ guitars each week, yet they maintain great quality control. According to Hamer's website, they make about 3 guitars per day which I think is about the same as Anderson.

    So draw your conclusions as you will. For me, it's more about the quality, and the history of a company/builder, not just the numbers. Guitar history is full of small builders who came and went. Many builders can make a good guitar, how many can make a statement that will stand the test of time?

    Karma
     
  4. SteveK

    SteveK Supporting Member

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    Agreed...Ron just does it better :) I have owned countless guitars over the years, as far as PRS goes I still have a Modern Eagle and HBI in the collection, but FOR ME Ron's guitars are the pinnacle. Jack Gretz also does a mean custom guitar, and for a "Fender" vibe only better, Tom Anderson is pretty good also. Agreed in the fact that #'s produced don't necessarily indicate quality either way.
     
  5. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    I have no idea what constitutes "Small Company" when it comes to numbers... Generally speaking, in my mind, if the person whose name is on the headstock actually built the guitar (or did at least 50-75% of the building of said guitar) that is a Small Company. If the person whose name is on the headstock just did the finishing or did the QC, that (again, just to me) is not a Small Company...
     
  6. Karmateria

    Karmateria Member

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    How small is small? well, one person would be small by any measure. But to understand this question, one needs to have perspective.

    If the numbers I've read are near correct... Fender is making 450 guitars each day(USA) and Gibson USA is making 350 guitars a day, and Taylor is making 325 guitars each day and Martin is making 350 guitars a day and Samick is making a couple thousand each day... then in my book that makes PRS at 65 a day, a (relatively) small company.

    But I think what we're talking about here are micro builders... builders who make a handfull of guitars a week. People like Terry McInturff and Bill Collings. People like John Suhr, Tom Anderson and Jol Dantzig, who, although they may not actually build each guitar, but hire, train, mentor and direct a small (there's that word again!) group of people to do things exactly as they wish them to be done.


    Karma
     
  7. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    Suhr and Anderson make over 800 guitars a year. That, to me, isn't a "small builder"... unless we are looking at "Small Builders" as being everyone who isn't Fender or Gibson or PRS or Ibanez, etc
     
  8. Vince

    Vince Member

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    You guys have touched on good points. I'd toss in that along with shipping numbers and numbers of employees/division of tasks would be how the company is owned or the number of owners/partners, how it is (or was) financed and where the profits (hopefully) end up.
     
  9. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    Very interesting, and a great point that I hadn't thought about. Can you elaborate please?
     
  10. Vince

    Vince Member

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    I'm a bit confused as well.
     
  11. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Member

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    Since when has it ever been practical for someone to do what they love - for the better of the few who can afford their wares?? I have been operating at a 'break even' for the past 6 years, and I wouldn't do any other job! Oh, and by the way - I do all the work on my instruments.:D
     
  12. DWB1960

    DWB1960 Senior Member

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    I know that lots of small builders simply buy parts and then assemble but what about guys like Thorn, Briggs, Driskill, McNaught and others in the same vein?
     
  13. DWB1960

    DWB1960 Senior Member

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    AMEN!!!!
     
  14. Joe Naylor

    Joe Naylor Member

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    Reverend is probably smaller than many people think. We have two employees in the shop, two in the office (including myself), and my wife puts in a Saturday every week to do the books.
     
  15. AJ Love

    AJ Love Senior Member

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    OK. Fair enough. And I'm certainly no-one to define who is or isn't a "Small Builder".

    I do know that alot of my favorite builders, such as Lentz, Thorn, and DeTemple are truely building guitars, and aren't farming out for parts or finishing...
     
  16. Ian Anderson

    Ian Anderson Member

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    Wilkins and USACG have made it possible for alot of guys to be guitar builders!

    I am proud to say we do everything here ourselves. Always have and always will. And we do alot less than 500 a year.
     
  17. DWB1960

    DWB1960 Senior Member

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    What is your approx. yearly output?
     
  18. Saul Koll

    Saul Koll Member

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    Yearly output well under 100 pieces. One guy, tiny shop. Everything done here. Nothing farmed out.
    How about "SUB"company luthier?
     
  19. Vince

    Vince Member

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    I don't know why this topic bugs me so much, but here goes...

    Don't forget to add Schecter, Tom Anderson (back in the day) and Warmoth to that list. They made lots of parts that got used by "guitar assemblers", but then again lots of guys who are actually great "guitar builders" today we able to get their starts, explore their own "thing" and do some really great pieces because they could get access to what they needed when they didn't have the internal capacity to do it themselves.

    In my view, the concept of trying to qualify the validity of a company's product or the quality of that product by how much or what percentage of the finished good is actually made under their roof is just ludicrous. I say this for a lot of reasons. Some personal, but most are just common sense.

    There are literally countless examples of large and small companies in every industry that "outsource" some part of their production. So where do you draw the line with guitars? How many guys actually make their own hardware, fretwire, tuners, pots, switches, plastics, etc.? The idea to outsourcing is that you can get exactly what you want, made to your specifications without having to invest unnecessary capital and manpower in an inefficient way. The "art" of manufacturing anything isn't in being able to make every single part yourself. It comes from being able to recognize the best available options of what you need to create something that comes from your personal vision of what you want to see, hear and feel from your finished product, so that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Guys like Carol Shelby or the custom motorcycle builders come to mind right off the bat.

    Obviously, building stringed instruments isn't like building cars or motorcycles. You can do it in your basement with hand-tools if you want. As the instruments become more "technical", the emphasis shifts more toward technology. Today there is a lot of emphasis on the benefits of CNC production of wooden components in electrics. I'm definitely on board with this, and all of our wooden components are produced on extremely expensive, state-of-the-art machines using production techniques specifically developed for making the most precise, repeatable and predictable wooden components we can. I source and select all our woods based on tight size, weight and moisture specs. Each board is weighed and graded, then each blank is graded on several strict criteria. The blanks for all our components (after the lumber is fully acclimated) are milled, faced and jointed on a bad-ass CNC machine before being glued-up. The components are then cut based on precise CAD drawings that I draw myself, to my designs and specs. They are as exact as you can get with wood. Because we know what's going on the machine, we can very accuratley predict what comes off in the form of a finished body or neck. On top of that, I inspect every single raw body and neck to make sure they're looking and sounding the way we want them to. If not, they're scrapped. We get the components right off the maching and prep and sand every neck and body component by hand, using NO orbital or DA sanders. Since our computer drawings are so exact and the machines so good, they're is actually very little sanding involved. We hand prep and fret our own necks. Once the correct parts are mated and assigned (for tone by order), they go into paint. We paint all our own stuff using 100% nitro based lacquers, and of course do all the buffing. Our necks are then Plekked to perfection under correct tension and the finished piece assembled using the best hardware, electronic components and pickups available.

    As you can see, we have an incredible amount of control over what we build and the product we put out. We are definitely a "small company" (me and two other guys) but we use the best technology out there. And the great part of it is I didn't have to invest close to $1,000,000 in machinery, lease a bigger shop to house it or put a staff of experienced technicians and experts on my payroll to get it done. I leave that to my vendors, who I consider to be the very best anywhere. Our CNC shop has the expertise and equipment to rival anyone's. They do work for several small, medium and large companies, and while I've used some of the others who are great, it's not anybody most folks would ever know.

    So, I think it's cool when you can do as much of your own stuff as you need in your own shop, but I don't think that's anywhere near the criteria for whether or not you make a good product. I've got all the tools I need here to make all our own parts in the same the way a lot of folks who claim to do everything themselves do it. We do make some of our own parts "from scratch" when need be, but I choose to go with the technology I need when I need it. What it ultimately comes down to is the ability to produce a product that satisfies my creative sensibilities and delivers what my ears, hands and eyes want to hear, feel and see. Because at the end of the day, that's what the customer is buying.

    Of course, I guess the argument could be made that you're really not in total control of your creativity until you have all that machinery and manpower under your own roof to do every single thing you need to produce the product. That may be true, but then again you can never really have total control in this biz. I probably don't need to elaborate that point. In my opinion, it seems to me that if you've got the output to justify having enormous amounts of somebody's money invested in all that equipment, you might not actually qualify as a "small company" by some definition, which I believe is what we were trying to determine at the start of this thread.

    OK, rant over.

    Main Entry: 1small
    Pronunciation: 'smol
    Function: adjective
    Etymology: Middle English smal, from Old English smæl; akin to Old High German smal small, Greek mElon small domestic animal
    1 a : having comparatively little size or slight dimensions b : [SIZE=-1]LOWERCASE[/SIZE]
    2 a : minor in influence, power, or rank b : operating on a limited scale
    3 : lacking in strength <a small voice>
    4 a : little or close to zero in an objectively measurable aspect (as quantity, amount, or value) b : made up of few or little units

    Main Entry: 1com·pa·ny
    Pronunciation: 'k&mp-nE, 'k&m-p&-
    Function: noun
    Inflected Form(s): plural -nies
    Usage: often attributive
    Etymology: Middle English companie, from Old French compagnie, from compain companion, from Late Latin companio
    1 a : association with another : [SIZE=-1]FELLOWSHIP[/SIZE] <enjoy a person's company> b : [SIZE=-1]COMPANIONS[/SIZE], [SIZE=-1]ASSOCIATES[/SIZE] <know a person by the company she keeps> c : [SIZE=-1]VISITORS[/SIZE], [SIZE=-1]GUESTS[/SIZE] <having company for dinner>
    2 a : a group of persons or things <a company of horsemen> b : a body of soldiers; especially : a unit (as of infantry) consisting usually of a headquarters and two or more platoons c : an organization of performing artists d : the officers and crew of a ship e : a fire-fighting unit
    3 a : a chartered commercial organization or medieval trade guild b : an association of persons for carrying on a commercial or industrial enterprise c : those members of a partnership firm whose names do not appear in the firm name <John Doe and Company> [​IMG]

    Main Entry: lu·thi·er [​IMG]
    Pronunciation: 'lü-tE-&r, -thE-&r
    Function: noun
    Etymology: French, from luth lute (from Middle French lut)
    : one who makes stringed musical instruments (as violins or guitars)



    Rant over.
     
  20. Scott Lentz

    Scott Lentz Member

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    We do not make anywhere close to 500 guitars a year. We sell direct, not at an A or B mark up and thus can enjoy building the kind of guitars we want to. What some "builders" are referring to owning, is at least one $75,000 CNC, a $12,000 drum sander and another $50,000 in tooling and software to run the machine. If you are selling enough to warrent this expense, you probably are using; U V polyester resin or polyurethane finishes to make your quota each month, to support your machinery! Is this small building? I will let others make that decision.
     

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