The number one most awesome business thing I’ve done this year – (almost) daily progress pictures for customers. I used to do it occasionally, ‘here’s the wood,’ type stuff. Now we do it every day. My brother Phil has a great camera and takes great pictures and that is what we use. (a Canon 70D with a Sigma ART lens) Not an iphone. A real camera. Because it’s awesome, and doing awesome things is fun. It’s never been easier to be a business person, and spending $2,000 on a camera setup will be the best money you spend. Spend good money on the gear. Really. Don’t skimp. I tried at first and the pictures were ok. With some practice, some learning and awesome gear you can get yourself 70% of the way there, show your customers you care about them, and blow the doors off everyone else using their phone because its easy.
The number one best improvement I made on the number one most awesome business thing this year is to include pictures of us in all the daily progress pictures. Me (Matt), Phil, and Smithers. Not just a pile of metal on a table. People. The real advantage of handmade stuff is not that you are more precise than a CNC, (you’re not), it’s that you are a person. People connect with other people, this is the highlight of our lives and in this digital age are so seriously lacking in. This is a way to connect. Use it wisely and often.
Okay. Here goes.
We like making stuff. Like, a lot. But we like doing things that aren’t being done. This is how Mule was born, how I learned what I needed to learn to make it happen. One day we got it into our heads that since we were now making electric guitars we could also make pickups. We were not pick up makers. So we took things we liked about different types of pickups and put them into a pile of ideas, and tried to think about what parts made what sounds. Then we made some pickups. The Mighty Smithers worked hard into many nights trying new things just to have me be critical the next day. A mighty warrior. And then we had it. We made a pickup that I found myself thinking about in the days that followed, but the guitar was at the shop and I couldn’t play it.
It’s hard to describe the sound, like any sound. It’s clear but not too clear. We don’t like muddy neck pickups (or tone controls for that matter). Humbucking is a big plus. We like low output pickups. What I personally think this guy does best at is that slightly dirty tone. But THE FEEL. It’s so responsive, I havn’t played a pick up that was so responsive. I know its’ special because we made plenty of pickups similar to this that were not so. It reacts. It’s awesome. We will be putting them in our guitars, and in January will be available on mulestuff.com. You’ll be hearing a lot about these because I’m crazy excited about them.
Let the Wood Be Wood: Fingerboard Wood and Color
When I started building these resonators I remembered some advice I got in guitar building school 10 years prior – “Save the good wood for later”. Even though every bit of your rookie self wants to use the fancy stuff- “save the good wood for later.”
So instead of paying $35 for the black ebony boards, I paid $15 for the streaky stuff. Thank goodness I did. Look at that selection! These were the first seven boards I picked off the pile. Beautiful. Unique. And in a world of finite quantities and arbitrary grading standards- responsible. Of course I had people say “yeah those beautiful, but guitar buyers want black boards.”
In 240 guitars, I’ve probably had five people ask for dark boards. So…..
Progress VS Purpose
I listened to four or five guitar making related podcasts last week. I ended them all early. I had no idea why. I am, in fact, a guitar maker but why was I so…irritated? I wasn’t sure at the time, but now I think I know why.
See that picture above? That’s a selection of things customers have sent to me after they received their guitars, or had has some connection with what I do. Even the paper cups- I shared whiskey with Jeffrey Foucault after a show in those cups. What you don’t see is an Advent calendar of small bottles of scotch, two Mule head bottle openers etc etc. Why would someone send me $2300 and then send a postcard, beer, or piece of art?
Connection. Hand made guitars are no better, broadly speaking, than guitars that are not. But what you do get is connection. In no other way can you get that than by buying something that is handmade. You talk to me, I talk to you. I explain why I do what I do, so do you. It sounds like a developing friendship, right? It is. Only this friendship includes someone who makes you rad guitars, and for me its a friendship where my friend allows me to do what I love for a living.
The usual talk about guitar making is irritating. I’m not saying other makers don’t have that connection, or that other customers don’t understand that. READ THAT AGAIN. I’m not saying that. What I’m saying is that what I ALWAYS hear about is growth rings, weighing bridges, deflecting tops, shaving weight, sanding sealer, finish curing, fret end shapes string tension etc etc etc. YUCK. Is that how you make friends with people? Wow them with your knowledge about things they don’t care about? No. That’s what crossfitters and beer snobs do. DON”T BE THOSE PEOPLE. It’s Progress vs Purpose. The technical stuff is progress- it’s the how to, the improvement. No one wants to hear that stuff. Purpose makes you friends, it connects you. I went to a hand tool show two years ago and Konrad Sauer, an infill hand plane maker, handed me a plane and just said “try it”. I did, and I teared up. And I’m not even into hand tools that much. I understood it all just by using it. Then we talked for three hours. THe plane was $5,000 and he could have blabbed on about types of steel, process etc. He didn’t.