23 May 2016

The Custom Guitar Industry: Honest Pricing


Things might get a little bit spicy.

10 years ago when I was at Huss and Dalton as an eager 20 year old I wanted to build guitars all the time.  I did many operations during the day but not the whole deal.  I wanted to keep my chops up. So in what probably was my first internet forum post I went onto the Acoustic Guitar Magazine Forum and posted something along the lines of :

“Hey guys. I work at Huss and Dalton but want to build guitars on my own.  If I charge $500 to cover materials would ANYONE buy them you think? Or would they just think they were too cheap? I’m just building for fun.”

The next day Mark came into the shop and chuckled and told me to check the post. It had accelerated into a huge argument about how I could “never make a living” and “would be insulting and cheapening every maker’s work who actually did make a living” the last little bit coming from a well known guitar maker who spent so much time on the forum it was a wonder that he had any time at all to build guitars.   I tried redirecting the conversation to my original question as it devolved into the nether regions of pricing and living wages and value and  and and…. I just wanted to know if people would ignore a $500 guitar.  People got insulting, and at that time anyways, so I deleted any insulting post. Of course that erupted into people saying that I deleted any opinion that disagreed with my own.  The editor of the magazine got involved.  It got spicy.

Why? It’s the probably the same reason that whether you get a refret done in Flint, MI or San Francisco you’ll probably pay $300-$350. How the heck does every repair guy in every locale require the same amount of cash to make it worth their while?  Well I imagine it has something to do with a subconscious unspoken agreement between makers of things that if we all play the same game and charge the same then we all make more money. It’s like a union against the consumers.  Now I totally get that some people think  they shouldn’t pay for anything, or hand work is not valuable.  I get it, of course I do because I make a living making things.  But I most often I see a sort of predisposition from makers that all consumers are trying to screw them so if they price high that will show buyers that the work is valuable.

It’s lazy, it’s whining.  If people dont value your work, maybe your work is not as valuable as you think. Or maybe you havn’t convinced them WHY yet.  The CEO of Southwest was asked why he didn’t raise the price on the flights from New York to Florida by $10- nobody would notice and they would make 10 million extra dollars a year.  He said they can always raise prices and not doing so kept them hungry for looking for the harder ways to cut costs.

You cant fix problems with pricing you can only cover them over.   Why rely on the customers to do the covering?  I think there is a real art to getting an awesome guitar made at a price that is not inaccessible (relatively speaking of course).

I’d like to tell that guitar forum internet hero that it worked.  When I started the resonators the price was $1000. I made enough to buy food. It took three years but now I have two guys who work with me and we make 100 guitars a year.  And most importantly I’m incredibly proud of every guitar we make, it’s exactly what I wanted to make in the beginning but needed experience.  I built and improved and I was only able to do that because of the low price. It was a honest price, I didn’t mis-value my work.There are bigger more important questions to be asked first. Find and answer the big ones. Then when it comes time to type some numbers on a line you will have already decided.   It worked. It can work for you.

21 May 2016

What to Expect Buying A Handmade Resonator Guitar

What’s it like buying a handmade resonator guitar anyways? If I can’t pull it off the wall and play it first, why should I buy it?

I totally admit it’s a completely different experience buying a resonator guitar that isn’t yet in the world.  You e-mail or call me, and we talk about what you’re looking for, what kind of playing you do. You send a deposit and then several months later we confirm details, you get pictures as the guitar is being built and voila you’re playing it and hopefully loving it in your own home.

Point #1:  Keep an open mind.

Part of the reason I love guitars is each one is different.  Resonator guitars are certainly no exception.  If you let them be their own creation, listening hard to them will teach you things about tone, and this making of sound is what inspires us musicians.  Playing the same chord on four different guitars can take you four different directions.

Something I’ve tried to do is really cut back on the verbage you hear from a lot of guitar makers/companies.  Hidden amongst all the flowery adjectives is usually some amount of miscommunication. It also attempts to put into your head what a guitar sounds like.  It’s advantageous to makers that you believe that this guitar will fulfill your every desire for tone- “booming low end that belies it’s parlor size”- but it’s inherently faulty. One person’s “shimmering highs” might be another person’s “Round and full treble”. Building a guitar regarding sound is more like building a boat than landing a helicopter.  We use adjectives of course, but fairly general ones. If you are looking for ‘warm’ or ‘punch’ or ‘balance’ we can get you there.  If you keep an open mind and let the guitar be what it is, it will take you somewhere musically you didn’t expect. That’s inspiration.

Point #2: It’s about the people

One of the biggest surprises about doing this was how attached people became to me and my work. I send guitars off and I get beer, bottle openers, homemade maple syrup, tshirts, invites etc in return. It’s awesome and my greatest pleasure. I get comments on my character and people get philosophical. Over resonator guitars? Well it’s not the guitar, it’s the people.   You worked hard for the money you are giving to me. You spent part of life doing the work that you do so you can give it to me so I can do the work I do. It’s an exchange.  It’s so much bigger than perfect miters and fancy finish formulas.  It’s also something that can only happen in the context of buying a guitar directly from the person that made it.  There’s certainly advantages to buying a guitar in a shop and I’m not here to convince people this is The Ultimate Buying Experience.  It’s just different.  It’s a connection between people and I love being a part of that.



21 May 2016

Building a Resonator Guitar: Learning How to Build


The e-mail sometimes goes like this: “Hey Matt, I love resonators and have always wanted to make one.  How?”

I totally get the feeling.  I worked at Huss and Dalton guitars for a while and went to a guitar making school, so I had experience with making guitars.  When it came time to make metal body resonators, that was kind of a new story.  I knew the important basics but had never soldered/welded/machined/cut a piece of metal ever.  That’s where the digging began.

I had to learn all that stuff by googling, and by just trying things and throwing it away when it didn’t work, then figuring out how to make it better.  It was really hard.  It took me about a year to make the first four guitars.  That was full time, I didn’t have another job at the time.  I was starting from scratch and I had to gather information from different realms of woodworking and metalworking to understand what I could, but most of it was learned by trying things and failing and just keeping my feet moving.

I don’t think you have to build a wood guitar before you build a metal guitar. They are different enough that a lot of the time you would spend on a wood bodied guitar wouldn’t transfer.  What I would say is to buy yourself an import guitar to get dimensions from.  Buy it used and sell it later.  Don’t think you can do it just by going off an $8 set of plans.

When it comes to the neck it’s the same thing. You’re just going to have to do it, and understand if you want something that is decent you are going to have to a do a few of them before you get a decent one.  Maple is cheap, start there.

If you are working on making your own resonator guitar and you get into a jam I can certainly do my best to help you. But to get there you’re going to have to do a lot of footwork on your own.

19 May 2016

Charley Hicks on Mule Resonator Guitar records every Charley Patton Song

Charley Hicks on Mule Resonator Guitar records every Charley Patton Song

If that’s not a worthy news headline, I’m not sure what is.   Charley has #42, and tow more mules, a steel tricone and a brass single cone. And a tattoo of the Mule logo on his index finger.  ENthusiastic, eh? He’s a great player and has a stellar voice.  And he’s just crazy enough to record every one of Charley Patton’s songs (along with a bunch of other ones) on Youtube. It’s awesome and you should go check it out right. Now.  I love seeing all the different ways these resonator guitars get used.