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Hello All,

My classical and flamenco guitars have been selling well lately to people that I know, but I haven’t taken them out in the real world yet. In asking around to try to determine the state of the market for luthier built instruments I get reports of everything from “several years backlog of orders” to “the economy is in the tank, and nothing much is selling”.

So, for those of you that are actually selling instruments to strangers, what’s your take on the state of the market? Just for reference, I'm charging $3750 for a cypress guitar and $4000 for East Indian rosewood.

Cheers,

Brian

 

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Hi Brian,

Yr post is getting a little lonely here and it's probably going to remain so: 

A successful and  respected East Coast Luthier has remarked that "after you have sold your guitars to family, friends and relatives and others in your local sphere of influence, the hard work begins" (words to that effect)   

Which means I guess, as has been my experience, that you may then need to get your feet wet and commit to brand building in a highly competitive market place where there are many similar luthiers with similar products attempting to do the same thing that you wish to do do.  This situation is often displayed against a backdrop where the luthiers in competition are often part timer or hobbyists with very little in common with professional reality.    

The term " several years of backlog of orders" is often used,  and if you are only able to make a couple a year it may reflect reality, alternatively it may mean that someone has such an attractive discount policy that people are prepared to wait years to get a cheap high quality guitar.   Given the raft of similar high quality instruments for sale at comparable prices it's unlikely that anyone will wait for a couple of years on the basis of brand loyalty to a particular product in the 3-4k price point.   It can also be  a function of  the common business tactic of not telling anyone how bad you are doing.  

"the economy is bad...sales are down...."  if the big guys are still in business and double shifting you can safely assume that sales are not down for the industry.   Sales may not be forthcoming for small operators or boutique makers but that doesn't mean the market is down.

I have been fortunate enough to have great mentors and advisers all who have been successful in business, both in the retail music industry and popular culture comsumables and have had five solid years of brand building and market experience.   It will take another 5 years before I claim anything like sucess by any common business standard.   I love to work, which in the case of guitar building in the modern world is very fortunate.  

I can now say that how the market views your product and accepts your brand is a direct function of how hard you work to make your brand visible in the local,  national and international market.  Hard work is also to no avail unless you wish to invest significant resources (and a lot of money) into making your brand stand out and appear professional.  

Building a beautiful guitar with a very competitive price tag is not anything different than what 30,000 other people are doing around the world and all of them have global reach due to the internet and social media.   A concerted effort to gain market share in the local area may be enough to satisfy your sales and max out your capacity - going national and international is good for the ego but bad for the bank account and I suggest invading Russia would be easier.    

However, this is low hanging fruit stuff and you may well know this, but I never know these days where to start.

The market is out there, people are still buying guitars, and a lot of people are buying cheap imports.  But, the market for quality is still going to be the same regardless of how many entry level guitars are sold.

This is my typical rambling grab bag of things that are on my mind regarding yr question - sorri if it's at the wrong level or has some appearance of negativity, but it's a huge subject with very few concrete "one size fits all" answers.    Hopefully it will kick off some additional, and surely more erudite, discussion and advice from our fellow forum members.

Regards, 

Rusty

vancecustomguitars.com 

Hello Rusty,

Thanks very much for your thorough and thoughtful reply! Much appreciated (:->)...

I figure that I should fill in some more details about my situation.

I’m fairly well known as a teacher of lutherie, which I have been doing for the last ten years or so. I have built a few instruments along the way, but mostly spent my spare time trying to figure out what needs to be done to produce a high quality classical or flamenco guitar every time.

When the economy went in the tank, my teaching dwindled, and I began building more instruments. Three of the four guitars that I have sold so far this year have been bought by accomplished players. They have all been very encouraging, and have bought the guitars on their merits.

So, my plans are to make perhaps half a dozen guitars a year, with a couple of serious restrictions---no custom orders, and no going to shows. I'm almost 77, and travel is just too fatiguing, not to mention expensive. I'm willing to ship a prepaid instrument on approval within the U.S. I figure that if I make instruments that please me, there will likely be other people that are pleased with them as well.

In the classical guitar market $7-10,000 is typical for an established builder, and $4000 is about the lowest price that can get any notice from a serious player. The flamenco market is a niche within a niche, so I don't expect to build many of those.

So I hope this bit of clarification helps. I would really like to be able to make a modest living as a guitar maker, and not have to go through a career change to pizza delivery (;->)...

Cheers,

Brian

What Rusty said and this is a very common issue with builders, what to do after you addressed the friends and family market.

Lots of approaches here.  I have taught marketing professionally and made my living selling and marketing some of the biggest ticket items on the planet....  That aside I can tell you what worked very well for me.

Being a fan of staying the hell away from what others do.... or, in other words the last place that I want to be is yet just another builder in a crowded room of builders.....  And to add insult to injury pay money to do so.....  Not something that pays off unless you already have an established name AND you are conspicuous by your absence.

Now that I have all the show promoters hating my guts...:)

I opened a repair business and built what I liked, hung it on the wall and refused to do commissions.  My building enjoyment was maintained for nearly a decade because I did not have to toil on someone else's awful vision of what a guitar should be....  I'm not opinionated am I....;)

My repair clients would one by one say "what's that and can I try it?"  One by one I let them in the privacy of my own shop with no competition, no expense or effort what so ever to sell my wares.  Next came the call the next day wanting to bring the wife by to see it and next came a check.  This happened dozens of times and an added benefit of my approach was I really got to know my clients on a personal level and we often because close friends and would jam together.

I spent my life as mentioned in marketing and sales for the largest company on the planet at that time.  I've organized countless million dollar trade shows, spent millions on advertising and promotions and went to university decades ago to learn how to do all these professional marketing and sales things.  I was also at the top of the game and a senior executive when I retired.

Strangely.... when it came time to market my very own wares I went rouge.... and turned my back on the traditional approach and am very glad that I did.  It greatly increased my profit margin, made the sales rather effortless, and I didn't have to do anything beyond sit back and enjoy watching others discover what they like or not.

I also did not promote my stuff at all.  I simply responded in the positive when someone asked what was hanging on the wall.... 

Nor did I have to sell futures which can be easily tarnished by one bad egg.... and I speak of commissions AND I never had to let someone else have any say on my own creativity.

If I was to do it all over again I would change nothing in my approach except perhaps have a shop above ground with better light... 

Hope his gives you some food for thought AND lets you know that many of us are finding our own way.  There is no right or wrong here in what approach you take provided that you are ethical, honest, keep an eye on having fun, and are the sort who enjoys being of service to others at times.  I suspect that you will do very well too!

Hello Hesh,

Boy, are you singing my song! The only thing I need to do slightly differently is to do some promotion. I'm located outside of a little town 50 miles from the nearest freeway, and don't have a retail location. Fort Bragg CA happens to be a tourist destination because of the beautiful coastal location, and historic Mendocino, but that's not enough by itself to get someone to come out here to look at a guitar.

Also, I've never had enough interest in repairs to develop any of the necessary skills. I lived for 31 years in Palo Alto, and could always call on Frank to fix things. So there is no stream of prospective buyers coming through my shop.

For some reason, probably because of my teaching, I'm pretty much the same in front of a video camera as I am away from one. So I recently bought a "bare bones" Canon that uniquely has a jack for an external mike for recording decent audio.

My plan is to make a short video of each guitar when it becomes available, and make it accessible through a website dedicated to the instruments that I make. My current website only covers my teaching. As I mentioned, I'm willing to ship a pre-paid guitar on approval for a week or so. There is no substitute for actually playing an instrument to decide whether you like it well enough to buy it.

So, thanks very much for your encouragement, and confirmation of the path that I've chosen! It's always gratifying to have someone knowledgeable agree with your prejudices (;->)...

Cheers,

Brian

I am 72. I started building in the 90's as a hobby and seriously for the last 12 years, steel string flat tops and archtops. About 6 a year.

My big break was becoming affiliated with a well known store, The Podium, in Minneapolis around 2005. They liked my stuff and by promoting it on their website and in the store gave me some credibility. Many of the good players in the Twin Cities hung out there and together with the store staff and repair persons, were a great source for critiques that played a large role in the evolution of my guitars.

Now I just sell off the wall, don't do commissions, and sales have been great the last few years. It took a while to inch the prices up but I am close to where I need to be now and it's perfect for me at this stage of my life.

Don't underestimate the effect the endorsement of a well known boutique retailer can have on credibility in the marketplace. For me it has been well worth the consignment commission.

Good luck

Terry Kennedy

Hello Terry,

Frank says (correct me Frank, if I'm misquoting) that builders build first for tone, second for playability, and third for appearance. Buyers buy first for appearance, second for playability, and third for tone. I think he's right.

I've pretty well got the tone and playability down, but getting the appearance of my guitars up to current day standards takes me an inordinately long time, and even then it's not all that great. Hence my questions about spraying shellac.

If I get production up to the point where I'm making more guitars than I can sell, I'll approach good ol' Frank, and see if he would like to carry them (:->)...

Cheers,

Brian

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