Toured a guitar factory on Monday

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by Stefanovich, Jul 17, 2019.

  1. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    I know "Pics or it didn't happen". Unfortunately, this was a private tour given as a favour and I was asked not to take photos or talk about the manufacturer. Thus, I can only give vague impressions.

    This manufacturer is low volume (less than 1000 guitars per year) but supplements the business by providing other manufacturers with wood and parts. I thought this was a good business model. Interestingly, they also buy parts from other manufacturers. The necks are sourced from a well known brand. The owner told me it was because at his production level, a CNC machine doesn't make economic sense. The actual tooling of the factory was not that impressive. It looked like what a boutique builder would have, but with 5 of everything instead of 1. There were no exotic tools, but there were lots of specialized jigs and processes were optimized for efficiency.

    The two things that stood out for me were how labour intensive the process was and the passion of the owner. He is one of those people that is 100% committed to his beliefs, especially the belief that he is building the best guitars in the world. As he was leading the tour, I thought about what he would post in a tonewood thread on TDPRI or a similar debate. His opinions were unshakeable (BTW - Bigleaf maple is his favourite tonewood) and I admired that. I can certainly see why that certainty helps sell guitars. Like all business owners, he is the best salesperson on staff. I guess no one goes into guitar making because they cannot figure out what else to do with their life. You gotta be passionate about it!
     
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  2. The Angle

    The Angle Tele-Holic

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    Was the shop building primarily electric or acoustic instruments?
     
  3. william tele

    william tele Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    I was going to ask acoustic or electric...but then you mentioned tonewood so I assume it's acoustic...
     
  4. The Angle

    The Angle Tele-Holic

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    I'd like to assume that, but it's not necessarily a safe leap around these parts. :)
     
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  5. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Silver Supporter

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    He sells parts to other manufacturers and cnc doesn't make economic sense?.....I find that odd in this day and age. Maybe the learning curve to run the cnc is the real issue.
     
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  6. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Meister

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    Just two thoughts: One, it's great a person can make a living doing something related to music and love what they do. Not many are people so lucky. Two, I think maple may be a little under-appreciated in the [acoustic] tonewood realm. With the increasing scarcity and restrictions on many of the common tropical hardwoods, I think you'll see that void filled more and more by commonly available local 'substitutes' (like maple). Things could be interesting..
     
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  7. drf64

    drf64 Poster Extraordinaire Silver Supporter

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    There's a member who poasts random, out of focus photos and claims they are of rock stars and expensive maps. They usually give me the vague impression of an empty roller rink. In contrast, you did quite well.
     
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  8. william tele

    william tele Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Well, I'm self admittedly not a quick person, but if I were building guitars and someone asked me about a good tonewood...and the world were experiencing an extinction of exotic hardwoods that luthiers have deemed superior for instruments, I think my answer would reflect a wood that was still accessible and economically reasonable. In the case of some companies I would suggest that a manufactured material could be as musically viable as most hardwoods. And in either case I think the person would be truthful.
     
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  9. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Meister

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    Indeed. Not to mention even other materials that are making inroads too, like carbon fiber.
    There are some really interesting other tropical hardwoods that don't get used very much [yet] and seem to have really fantastic potential for guitar building like purpleheart, katalox and similar ones.
     
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  10. jvin248

    jvin248 Poster Extraordinaire

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    .

    If the players that believed in tonewood, that can tell a difference between this and that, decided they 'could play just a little bit better' and save the rain forests then that would be really nice. And then demanded the factories find something more local, faster growing, and more socially respectable.


    The big CNCs used by many factories, like the Haas or Fadal truck sized machines, run $250,000+ each. Even if it keeps up with five manual machines hogging bodies out, that's $250 per guitar at that 1,000 units/year rate, which by the time it gets to the customer via a retailer bumps up to $500 per guitar. Certainly they can amortize it over three or ten years? But there are repairs and upgrades necessary.
    The factory fires four of the $10/hour manual machine operators, keeps the best $10/hour operator and hires an engineer to setup and troubleshoot the CNC during normal production and do R&D for future products at $50-$100/hour and ... it's not going to make sense from those numbers. Especially convincing when buyers say they would pay more for 'hand built' than CNC'd guitars ... but maybe it's worth it when considering that those customers are always talking about having to 'run the racks to find the good one'.



    .
     
  11. archetype

    archetype Fiend of Leo's Silver Supporter

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    I used to design CNC machining centers for a US competitor of Haas and Fadal. Like @jvin248 said, the capital requirements for machinery like this are prohibitive for the smaller operator. Used machinery is abundantly available, given the implosion of so many industries, but the more affordable it is the less likely it's still accurate and precise. Most machines are rebuildable, but that's more money.
     
  12. guitarbuilder

    guitarbuilder Telefied Silver Supporter

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    For a smaller operation, you wouldn't necessarily need a VMC to do the work. I bet a Techno- Isel or similar could be reliable, accurate, and affordable for a small boutique. There was a guy doing it 15 years ago that I bought 3 necks from.... who essentially was doing what the OP described. He was one of the first into it. The machine was 10K then, which is probably double now.
     
  13. DNestler

    DNestler Tele-Meister

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    Well, I know it's not Santa Cruz Guitar Company or Martin. ;)

    Are they primarily an archtop builder?

    Daniel
     
  14. Stefanovich

    Stefanovich Tele-Holic

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    It was an acoustic builder. Tonewood is definitely a thing in that world.

    Interestingly, I tried about 6 or so guitars and my favourite one used Bubinga. This includes the 2 Brazilian rosewood guitars I got to try. Before this experience, I would have never even considered Bubinga. I guess it would behoove me to be more open-minded about guitars. Honestly, I can never predict what acoustic guitars will sound great and which won't. Price is a good indicator up to a point, but then it seems some guitars have magic and some don't.
     
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  15. ArcticWhite

    ArcticWhite Tele-Meister

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    Well, I have some small experience with purpleheart. I have owned a small piece of it for years. My piece is 3/16th thick, about 30" long and 3 inches wide.

    First, it is unbelievably strong.

    I have challenged many friends to attempt to break it using their hands, or even over their own knee. None has succeeded. You cannot even get a thumbnail into it. It looks like you could snap it easily, but it is like steel.

    It is also very heavy, and I believe it is just about acoustically dead. Perhaps it might make a decent bridge because of its hardness and density. But it would make a terrible top for an acoustic. Maybe it would make a good electric solid body, but it would be a boat anchor.

    Oh yeah, it takes years to dry out. Mine exuded sap for about ten years.
     
  16. ArcticWhite

    ArcticWhite Tele-Meister

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    What kind of CNC machines did they have in the old Kalamazoo plant? And on the budget end, what did Stella or Harmony use ?
     
  17. PhredE

    PhredE Tele-Meister

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    Yup. Roger all that. I guess I should step back and just say the point I was trying to make was: the 'traditional' woods of choice will be phasing down/out, and that new woods and other materials *will* take up some of that void.
    Those were just examples I referenced (although, I do know of one manufacturer that does use the purpleheart presently -- for fingerboards and bridges for acoustic instruments). For certain, things will be different -- hopefully, the final instruments will be at least equal to what is available now. A bonus would be that they improve during the transition to the next phase.. Re: tops, yeah, not many makers will venture to stick a solid hardwood top on very often. I'd bet that spruce(s) and cedar(s) will remain dominant for tops for some time to come. Carbon fiber is working it's way into the world of tops already though.
     
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