So after 10 years of working factory jobs save for a precious few at Huss and Dalton, I had a long wait list and was building guitars full time. The wait list grew to 80 in two years, and even though I have a real shop and Phil and Smithers are helping me the wait list is about 100. How?
- Play your own game, but build what people expect. I tried metal bodied resonators because it popped in my head. Then I saw that the handmade guitar thing was really just about wood body acoustics. Sure there is that factory out west, but it’s a factory. It was hard to find the individual builders, even though there are a few stellar ones. Resonators are traditionally accepted and the human connection to the people who play them was in short supply.
- Market Share- I hate the handmade schtick of “this has been bespoken by my hands using the most exclusive bullshit, I’ve been doing it for a year, and only make them while the moon is full, pay me $$$$”. Schtick is artificial value. The reason for keeping things traditional was I wanted to keep my price down (the first four years these started between $1100 and $1800), which meant I had to build a lot of them so I needed to build something a lot of people wanted to buy. This is the balancing between creative inspiration and building what people want. This restriction is a GOOD THING. It is a great thing. It focused my energy into something that has been a part of many more people’s music than if I just did what I wanted to. This is the entire point. THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU (the builder). This is not about The Guitar. This is about getting things to people that inspire them. Bob Taylor said, “Quantity is just as important as quality.” There’s a lesson to be learned there.
- Put yourself out of work. Don’t just jump. If it’s not really working as a side job why would it work if you made the leap? It’s totally cool having an awesome supplemental gig. In a culture of biggest and best I think we fool ourselves into wanting things that are actually not what we want.
- Deposits -Subsidize yourself. In the beginning I had deposits and I used that as a loan to myself to buy the tools I needed. Use separate accounts, don’t be a dummy. Pay yourself back.
Owner-Makers lend your ears. This is a series of blog posts and stuff I screwed up and how I fixed it. Use as you wish.
When I got over the initial hump of, “How do I cut metal?” and then make a resonator from it the world of reso-possibilities was endless. This is coming from someone who’s first guitar out of guitar school was a 10 string fan fret touch-style guitar with kasha bracing. So before I started selling the resonators I tried tricones, different soundholes, brass, steel, different neck widths. And everything was crap.
I never got good at anything, spent 4x as much time as I should have making different jigs and templates. Frustrated I said, “steel, single cone, f-hole guitars and thats it. ” And then I started getting somewhere.
Any sort of option complicates things. I make brass and steel guitars, with and without a cutaway. I added a pickup. So then I have to keep tops in stock for pickup AND non pickup brass, steel, non cutaway brass and non cutaway steel. It’s more money hanging on the wall and twice as much to keep track of. That’s just one small example. I dug myself out of a lot of these sorts of holes.
When you set out in the beginning to make something for a living set out to be The Go-To. I think I read somewhere that almost all of Olson’s guitars are cedar and Indian Rosewood. Fraulini – he’s a Go-to guy. When someone in the woodworking community needs something engraved are you The Go-To? If you build instruments do you have a bluegrass guitar, blues guitar, martin guitar, archtop guitar and mandolin model? One way to look at that is you’re trying to start five different businesses at once. Mandolin guys aren’t looking for blues machines, archtop players aren’t look for mandolins. Can it be done? Sure. It will be harder.
If you’re at someone’s house and they ask if you want some ice cream you say sure. If they then tell you 15 different flavors you can pick from you say, “uhhhh.” Don’t do that to your customers.
- Focus your efforts and succeed at one thing. Then move on if necessary.
- Be the Go-To.
- Your customers want ice cream, not overwhelming choice.