Mule Resonator Guitars
Custom handmade resonator guitars
My name is Matt Eich and I, along with my brother Phil and Adam Smith, build handmade steel and brass bodied single cone and tricone resonator guitars. After witnessing Kelly Joe Phelps play his resonator at a show here in Michigan I left wondering if I could use my guitar making skills I learned at Huss and Dalton Guitars to make metal bodied resonators. They are just so much guitar: volume, range of tone, look- and potential. I wanted to do them differently. I wanted them to sound more guitar like, meaning more warmth and low end. I also wanted them to look the materials they were made from- the raw steel and brass, with a patina I've developed over the years. I'm so excited to be able to offer them to players. Options like a P90 pickup, a tricone in a single cone body like the very first National guitars... I'm having the time of my life building these instruments and hearing what players like Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, Kelly Joe, Charlie Parr, Jeffrey Foucault, Jason Dennie, Jay Lapp and so many more players I've had the pleasure to get to know during the building process. When you send an e-mail, you get me. My brother Phil will send build pictures as your guitar goes through the work. That's part of the experience and story. I'm happy you're here and if you have any questions please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The guitar made it here alright, no problems at all. In fact it was pretty close to being in tune as well. And, shoo-boy, what a stunner!! Such a beautiful thing, Matt! Just wonderful, between the wood choices and the way you’ve finished them, and the great metal-work work. Eeeh yow, I love it, I love it. The shape and size of the neck is awesome, too. Now I kinda wish I had a steel-string guitar with that same neck on it. So comfortable in my hands. Yeah; a steel string with the Mule’s neck and a 12 fret joint. That’d be a good feeling guitar. Such a great sounding guitar, I love it. A musician friend of mine, Cahalen Morrison, was over here a few days ago and he played it and loved it, too. Both the sound and the look in equal measure, both awesome. He also (as do I) loved the fact that it was quite literally “The Mule.” We both figured you nailed that one right on the head.
Peace and Blessings,
So in 1927 National made a proto-type guitar that was a tri-cone fit into a single-cone body, it was some kind of test I think and they never made a production model out of it. My Mule is just that, a tri-cone set into a single-cone stainless steel body and the sound is somewhere right in between the two designs. I'd never part with my National, but this guitar doesn't really sound anything like it, and I've found that I'm using the Mule a lot these days. Matt did a fantastic job all around on this guitar, the neck feels like I've played it for years, and it's got a custom made P-90 that really sounds nice and not overly electric. I love the sound, and it's versatile, changing from sharp to growl to mellow depending on where your right hand is.
I've been playing two or three hours every day. Open D and C a half step down feel best to me, but G rings nicely there too. It's Incredible to me - having scarcely played a steel guitar except in shops - how nuanced and sensitive to attack the cones are, how each seems to pick up different combinations of volume and frequency to generate distinct overtones. I can play quiet or hard or between to the two and it's like I have three or four different guitars. Running through my rig - essentially tape echo, trem, verb, and OD - the colors multiply. Particularly dialing up the wow and flutter on the tape echo creates some note decay with the slide that feels like a whole new tool.
the craftsmanship is just beautiful. I'm really happy to have it. When I get a chance to shoot some useful video - something you can use on your site - I certainly will.
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.
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