Working for a boutique company?

Discussion in 'Off Topic' started by Brian I, Aug 1, 2013.

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  1. Brian I

    Brian I New Member

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    I just thought I would ask if anyone here has any experience working for a boutique guitar maker. I ask because although my dream is to be a professional guitar builder who can not only survive by doing that, but make a nice living doing so (it can be done: I'm friendly with a few makers who make six figure salaries), the idea of having a steady paycheck, a place to gain contacts, and a place to learn more about efficient processes seems like a really great way to start out into professional building.

    A few years ago I was at the Woodstock luthier showcase, and happened to be showing a guitar I had recently constructed to my friend/tonewood dealer, Tom Thiel. While showing Tom the guitar, a man walked over and started to ask me about questions about the guitar: that man later revealed himself to be the president of Bourgeois guitars, a small, highend, boutique guitar company in Maine. He proceeded to hand me a business card and told me that I didn't need to go to college: essentially just follow my dream and work for Bourgeois after I graduate high school. That experience is what had given me the idea of potentially working for a small maker. I graduate next year and there really isn't much anyone can say that would convince me to not go to college, but even though I still have about 5 years left to think about what I will do in life, I assumed that it's never to early to help elevate one's chances of succeeding.

    If there are any members here who have experience working for any of the small manufactures such as Collings, Bourgeois, Santa Cruz, etc. would you mind sharing some of your experiences with these working at these places?

    Sorry about the length of this post... :shock:
     
  2. Murkar

    Murkar Well-Known Member

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    I could be mistaken but I think Bourgeois is quite large for a boutique guitar business :O They make some extremely beautiful instruments and I know that there are at least a few of their instruments for sale in shops around here (and I live in Canada, not that close to Maine). Took me all of 3 seconds to find two of their guitars for sale locally on a local shop's website just now. Others might have a different opinion, but I think that Bourgeois would be a very good business for you to work for if you are seriously considering doing this for a living :)
     
  3. Brian I

    Brian I New Member

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    They only have about 10 employees, so I'd consider them a small shop. Thanks for sharing your thoughts: many very good builders have worked for bourgeois including TJ Thompson, Laurent brondel, and John Slobad. Adding my name to this list would be a very cool thing.
     
  4. poro78

    poro78 Well-Known Member

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    I'd say follow your dreams.
    (A bitter old man's point of view. :naughty:)

    Here's my 2 euro cents with a little ramble. :D

    I've studied this and that and even at the moment I'm studying for another trade - And I have to say that the only passion for everything I've studied has been money...
    Diplomas and degrees only help me get another job I hate doing. :rofl:
    Guess what usually happens when things are getting boring or minor things are starting to irritate you at work?

    Well, I can tell that my life goes in about 3 years cycles. Do this, get bored/irritated, search another place, quit your old job, start at the new one, do that for a while, get bored/irritated... :D

    All that keeps constant is my hobbies and interests.
    And they are that kind that cannot be turned the into a cash flow, because there's no market for my skills an/or I'm not good enough to produce something that would sell on its own.
    Or the projects take so much time that I would starve to death before getting them cashed. :hmm:

    You on the other hand seem to have the skills, knowledge and contacts, you're young and will become even better as you gain more experience.
    You even know some weird facts about guitars/instruments I have never heard of. :D
    All that and the passion and a dream... What else do you need? :thumb:


    Forum member Adam works as finisher at Collings, maybe he could tell you how he sees working for them.
     
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  5. Shooter

    Shooter New Member

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    Do whatever makes you happy.

    Period.
     
  6. TKOjams

    TKOjams Well-Known Member

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    You only live once, man
     
  7. emoney

    emoney New Member

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    Sounds to me like it's a good time to start shopping for colleges in Maine! Glad to hear you say that noone can talk you out of going to college, but for your generation it's a "must do" thing. Regardless of what you love, etc., having a degree to fall back on will open doors for you that not having one won't.

    Now, having said that, some of the most successful students do both: work & go to school. Often times it's the "down time" at college that trips you up. I'm not saying don't go and experience "college life", because you should. However, if I could have back all the 'down time decisions' I made while in school, you better believe a LOT would be different now.
     
  8. Renkenstein

    Renkenstein Well-Known Member

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    Life is too short not to pursue happiness, yet this economy leaves no room for error for those without a plan B. Choose wisely, but always follow your heart. Go to school in Maine, work at the boutique guitar company. That opportunity is pure gold and shouldn't be passed up.
     
  9. Adam

    Adam Well-Known Member

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    Collings is a great place to work, IMO. I should have come here sooner. I did Roberto-Venn in Spring 2006 and went back to Dallas and tried doing my own thing for years. Out of Roberto-Venn you know just a bit more than nothing, so it was a pretty bad experience, one that I dragged out way too long. 6 years of doing my own thing I finally got sick of it, needed a change in my life, and contacted Collings. I've been there just over a year now and things couldn't be going better.

    I started in buffing, did phenomenally well there (got up to 6 acoustic bodies per day at one point before the lacquer became finicky and I trended down to 4), and started helping out in finish after a while because I was just too efficient at buffing. Turns out I was good at finish too, because I moved there after being in buffing for 7-8 months. If you ever want to really learn how to build guitars, become a professional guitar buffer. Your eyes will be opened to miniscule details you never ever thought you'd be able to see. It's a pretty phenomenal transition.

    So I'm in finish now, and things are again going phenomenally well. I've been spraying all of the acoustic lacquer for 2 weeks now, and that's not looking to change any time soon. Finish is an awesome department to work in, and you learn so much more that translates to every other aspect of building (especially if you like recurves).

    Being at Collings has made my appreciate my own building so much more and has busted me out of the slump I was in before I got here. Now I'm working my ass off on my personal projects and they're a million times better than they would have been had I not come to Collings. If you want to build guitars then do it. Skip the luthier schools, they aren't necessary. You can start at Collings in buffing with minimal skills and they will teach you. From there you can move virtually anywhere in the shop, everyone is willing and ready to share knowledge. It's really a fantastic environment.

    What are you planning on doing in college? I'm an on again off again college student majoring in mechanical engineering. Have no idea if I'll finish my degree (I've barely started it really) but I chose that field because it is the most helpful towards building. When you think about it guitar building really is engineering, even if it doesn't require a degree.
     
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  10. Adam

    Adam Well-Known Member

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    Nah, go to school in Texas :hmm: UT Austin isn't too far from Collings.
     
  11. Brian I

    Brian I New Member

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    Thank you all for your replies.

    I want to go to college, not so much for a backup plan (although it's not a bad idea), but more of a vehicle to learn and experience things I otherwise wouldn't be able to. I've narrowed my choices of majors down to ethnomusicology, english, or history; and none of these will directly help me in guitar building, they are subjects I greatly enjoy learning about and may help me in some indirect way.

    Adam, thank you for sharing your experiences with Collings and Roberto Venn. My friend Jason is a former student (I believe he was a student during the same time as you) and instructor there basically told me that in my circumstance, RV wouldn't be a necessary, or even beneficial thing to do.

    While there aren't any schools in Maine I'm interested in, UT Austin is a school I was thinking about applying to as a backup, but with the potential of working at Collings on off periods like summer or winter and spring breaks has caused me to seriously consider this school. Do you think Collings would hire someone who would only be able to work during certain times of the year? Perhaps this is something I should enquire about.
     
  12. Adam

    Adam Well-Known Member

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    Jason Kostal? If so, he had the bench next to me.

    If you're not going to college for a backup plan or to directly help guitar building then you're basically going to put yourself into massive debt for no reason. There's a guy at Collings who is on again off again, working only when he needs to while he's going to school. Not sure they would do that for anyone else since he was a full time employee in good standing before, but it's a thing.
     
  13. bruce bennett

    bruce bennett Active Member

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    10 employees = a factory..

    a Small boutique shop = 1.. MAYBE 2 employees tops.

    I worked for Tobias and with 10 employees.. we were able to build 120 units per month.

    Now tell me that 10 employees =s a small shop





    Sigh. here we go again..

    Everyone will tell you everything is all peaches and cream.

    that is a complete lie.

    building guitars has NOTHING to do with talent and EVERYTHING to do with popularity.

    you can build the best stuff in the world.. but the plain truth is..

    if you can't sell them for a profit.. your done. and selling an unknown brand of high end handmade guitar for a solid profit,
    is one of the biggest magic tricks there is. ESPECIALLY when your racing that 30 day clock

    Listen when they tell you, to study for a backup..

    if I knew then what I know now. I would have gone to school learned a top paying career and then built my HOBBY guitar shop in the PAID FOR BACKYARD of my PAID FOR HOUSE and used my PAID FOR TOOLS to build whatever I wanted and then IF someone ACTUALLY wanted to buy one of my guitars for cash the price would be high enough that it would be worth doing again IF I WANTED TO.
    and because i didn't have to rely on it for my LIVING. I could out wait the cows coming home if need be.

    Sorry, but after 34 years of doing this for a "living" (what a JOKE) I've lost my passion and my patience with building guitars.

    best of luck to you.. but NEVER say that you were not fully warned.
     
  14. Brian I

    Brian I New Member

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    Adam, yes I did mean Jason Kostal. I definitely plan on having a backup plan and college is definitely a factor in securing that, it's just not my main motivation for wanting to go.

    Bruce, thank you for sharing your insight and experiences: I'm sorry to hear you've become disillusioned with guitar building. I can certainly see what you mean when you say that popularity largely factors into one's ability to sell guitars: luckily I have the internet to help me in gaining a rapport with players and collectors alike via forums. This seems like an invaluable tool that I am very grateful to have.

    I'm also lucky enough to have some very in-demand luthiers offering advice and sharing some of their wisdom with me. For example, Jason Kostal, whom I had previously mentioned, has been offering me quite a bit of advice on everything from bracing designs to what courses in college might better help me with my eventual goal of guitar building. Jason has a nine thousand dollar base price and a three year waiting list now, and although he may not be the norm, there are others like him who are able to enjoy the fruits of their labor and live comfortably due to their careers as guitar builders. Although the odds may not be in my favor, I hope to be one of them one day.
     
  15. Adam

    Adam Well-Known Member

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    Internet rapport is a fickle thing. I used to have a lot of people asking for quotes and had racked up a lot of orders, but ultimately it became more than I could handle and I just stopped taking on new business and stopped trying to promote myself so much. Idealism is good to a degree, but the harsh reality is being a successful guitar builder is extremely hard and requires a lot of sacrifice (namely your sanity :lol:). Backup plans are a great idea, if I weren't working at Collings I'd be doing IT work somewhere.
     
  16. otterhound

    otterhound New Member

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    It takes a certain kind of person to do the self employment thing regardless of what you are doing .
    Would you be so kind as to inform us of what contributed to making it more than you could handle ?
    I ask because hearing about the down side is necessary for anyone considering the self employment path . It provides info and balance .
     
  17. Renkenstein

    Renkenstein Well-Known Member

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    Hehehe...I like you Bruce. You sound like a beat salty old man...exactly how I sound when talking about playing music on a local level. There's a love for it deep down, but all the bullshit endured has ruined the joy we once found.

    I had a similar experience working as a graphic artist. 15 years drawing corporate logos, and I can barely put pencil to paper. This was after a lifetime of drawing as primary hobby(it predates my being a musician by at least half a decade).
     
  18. Adam

    Adam Well-Known Member

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    It all narrows down to customers being a pain in the ass. I've been able to get the pain in the ass customers taken care of and now only have great customers, but I'm not necessarily looking forward to opening up my orders again because I know the pains will come back out. I'm considering doing production style guitars, maybe with minimal options, instead of full customs.
     
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  19. Renkenstein

    Renkenstein Well-Known Member

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    Customer demands can really ruin art, huh? How much of that is nit-picking versus actual customer needs? Are talking about petty picking like "there's a light stripe in that ebony fretboard" or legit "those dimensions are a whole 16th of an inch off"?

    The worst part is conveying a message or a product to a layman who knows just enough to get him in trouble or enough to form a stubborn opinion. "It needs to look like this..." when often that just won't work in the medium the artist is working with. I'm sure there's a LOT of that in custom guitar building.

    I was lucky...the only instrument I built and sold, was embraced by the customer with a fondness that I could have only hoped for.
     
  20. otterhound

    otterhound New Member

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    Customers are your bread and butter in every business .
    How have you managed to now only have great customers ?
    What are you doing differently ?
     
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