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Mule Resophonic: The Art of Making Resonator Guitars in Saginaw, Michigan | Matt Eich

 

The Art of Making Resonator Guitars | Mule Resophonic

Matt Eich knew he wanted to be a guitar maker.

After attending guitar-making school, he worked various factory and manufacturing jobs for 10 years before he was able to start Mule Resophonic Guitars, a custom handmade resonator guitar business based in Saginaw, Michigan.

Everyday, for 5 years, he started work at 6:30am. Get up, do the work, learn, rinse and repeat.

He had to make a lot of mistakes along the way and have incredible discipline to get to where Mule is today with a 12-month customer backlog.

For him, building a guitar for someone is a personal experience. The customer is involved in every step along the way. People who buy a Mule aren’t simply purchasing a thing, Matt and his team are putting their soul into the guitar’s creation and connecting the consumer with their art.

This is their passion and their story. This and more on the latest episode of Small Business War Stories.

Listen to the podcast:

The Soul of America Tour

This episode is part of the Soul of America tour sponsored by Tecovas Boots, Badger Maps, and Impact Dog Crates. During April 2017, I drove with my six month-old puppy Muddy Waggers, my guitar, and my podcasting equipment with the goal of recording podcast episodes with small business owners throughout the heart of America.

Show Notes

A summary of our interview with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic Guitars is below.

You can use the links below to jump to your interests.


Can you tell me a little bit more about Mule and how it is that you got started? What do you do and what’s your story?

Matt Eich: My name’s Matt Eich and I own Mule Resophonic Guitars, we’re in Saginaw. I went to a guitar-making school right out of high school and that was kind of what I was interested in. It required the least amount of school possible, so I just wanted to get out and work. I didn’t want to get into the school system anymore, so I went out to Arizona to a guitar making school there and started doing that. That was 14 years ago, and Mule has been around for about four and a half years. It was kind of a long way getting here, different factory jobs, manufacturing stuff, and there was two or three years there at Huss & Dalton Guitars in Virginia. That was where I really learned the ins and outs of making good instruments, so that was pretty pivotal.

I ended up moving to Chicago to help out with some family issues that were happening and I was working at an industrial supply place, and then the big recession hit and I lost my job along with a lot of other people. Ended up moving back to Michigan, it was like now what do I do?

So I moved back to Saginaw, Michigan after about 10 years of wandering around. This is where I grew up and went to high school. I drove around for a year playing guitar at random coffee houses and stuff, and then I saw Kelly Joe Phelps play his resonator up in Traverse City. I left kind of wondering if I could do that, if I could make an instrument like that. I knew the acoustic guitar part of it, but I had never cut a piece of metal or anything. That was kind of the trick. It kind of started off as can I do that? Not like hey there’s a business opportunity there. I didn’t know what else I could do.

Interesting, so Huss & Dalton is a well-known high-end guitar manufacturer and they make mostly acoustic guitars. You could have gone and started making wood acoustic guitars, why not that?

Matt Eich: Well I think it was timing really. I saw Kelly Joe play and people kind of lost their minds over that guitar. They were shouting questions at him in between songs. That kind of got the inspiration going a little bit because it was something that was traditional, resonators have been around since the 30s, but it was something that not a lot of people were doing. Almost nobody, there’s like five people that do this, and so it had kind of that ‘unreachableness.’ There wasn’t someone I could ask, “Hey what’s the jig that you use to do this? What’s the depth of your sound well or something like that.” There wasn’t anyone to ask, I had to go into the garage and figure it out. That was really enticing.

Pablo Fuentes: Did you have any background in metal fabrication before?

Matt Eich: No. I had no idea how to cut a piece of metal. “Oh tin snips aren’t for tin?” That sort of thing, “what’s the difference between welding or soldering or brazing?” I had no idea, or the difference between laser cutting versus water jet cutting. I had zero clue, so I was trying to gather information from a bunch of different sources.

Before we met in person today I read your blog where you talk a lot about discipline, you talk a lot about perseverance, you talk a lot about processes and trusting process as opposed to needing an outcome right away. How did that help you? What came first? Did you develop that philosophy through failing over and over before becoming a success, or was that something that you had coming into this?

Matt Eich: I think a great deal of the way I think about this came from the 10 years or so I spent in factories. This was rubber extrusion, this was plastics, this was industrial supply, and so the processes were so strong and efficient, but then that whole time I was like, “I want to be a guitar maker.” Kind of that combination of having those really strong processes combined with 12 hours a day standing at a rubber press thinking about being a guitar maker. I think the confluence of those two things ended up where oh, now I’m actually a guitar maker. I used those 10 years of experience from factory work to do this.

I’ve started work at 6:30 everyday for the last five years, and that’s being self-employed. I took a Friday off three weeks ago and that was like the first time where I was like, “You know what, I’m just not going to come to work today.

I think having that discipline comes from that kind of experience previously. I think that’s a really powerful thing. I think a lot of times people get into making stuff or arts or being self-employed because they want to be free to do whatever it is that they want to do. I think the success is in the balance of any two things, and so a lot of times people are way over on either side. Either you’re so robotic and mechanical that you don’t make anything new and worthwhile, or you’re just so freewheeling enough that you’re going to make whatever you want to make even if nobody wants to buy it. Now you’re not successful because you’re just doing whatever you want to do. That’s not a mature perspective to have, it’s a very childish way of doing it.

The difference between genius and insanity is that genius has limits…

Matt Eich: Absolutely, 100%, yes that constraint is a really powerful thing, and a lot of times people want to push off constraint as well I don’t want to be limited. No, it’s not limitation, it’s focus. If you can do anything you want whenever you want, you end up doing nothing. I think that’s a really beautiful part about being a guitar maker in particular is there’s constraints to guitars. If someone is playing something that is just insane it’s a distraction. If it’s crazy, fancy wood or a crazy design it’s a distraction and that’s not the point. You want to make something that is inspiring to the player and the audience doesn’t really notice it. That’s success to me is inspiring the player and then getting the heck out of the way.

Let’s talk a little bit about the actual process of making a guitar. You’re a custom guitar maker, but you have certain parameters and you give people options. Every instrument is unique and it’s made with that player in mind, but it’s not like I can come and ask you to make something that is made out of copper, right?

Matt Eich: Yes, you have options, but they’re limited options. It’s steel or brass or it’s a single cone or a tri-cone. I think in that way too, having that constraint for the people who want to buy an instrument, they come to you, you’re the professional. If you say well it is whatever you want they don’t know, they don’t know what you do, this isn’t hanging on the wall, you have to be the professional. When I say, “These are the best options that I’ve discovered in the 300 guitars that I’ve made” they’re not going to argue with you. That’s what they want, they want you to decide. This is the music I play, what do you think? Here’s what I think, perfect, that’s it.

It’s not like when you walk through the grocery store aisle and you see 100 different types of salad dressing. It’s bewildering, I just want salad dressing, that’s it, I just want one. It’s the same thing with instruments, it’s the same thing with anything, you can get swallowed by decisions.

Your backlog is currently about 12 months…if a customer were to put a deposit today, tell me the entire process from soup to nuts, what is the whole process of making a guitar?

Matt Eich: If someone were to put down a deposit today, they’d send an email and I would email them back. That starts kind of the unique experience of buying a guitar from a person you actually interface with. Then during that wait time people are kind of figuring out from videos and listening what they want, and then when it comes time to start their instrument I’ll email them and then we’ll talk about the details and then confirm them.

Then when we start the guitar we send semi-daily build pictures to them, and we always try to include the person making the work with the work, it’s not just a pile of metal sitting on the bench, it’s Bill hammering the flange, it’s me pesonally carving the neck. That way it’s like connecting people to the thing. It’s not just a thing, this isn’t a thing that you just go in a guitar shop and pull off the shelf and you’re inspired by. It’s about Matt, Phil, and Smithers making this instrument. Those pictures I think really help people connect.

This is not about the guitar as much as I think people think it is. At least for me personally, I think this is a mechanism for people to connect around something. I think making things is a mechanism for learning things about life, about all sorts of metaphysical stuff. This is a way for people who are inspired by similar things to connect. I do something, you do something, both of these things work together, now we’re doing this.

You do podcasts about small businesses, I’m a small business, now we’re here doing this thing, this is now bigger than me, it’s now bigger than you, that’s a really powerful thing in a time where we don’t have that connection to other people.

Just show up, do it for the story. You have to do things. It’s not just Facebook ranting or talk, it’s you getting in a car with your dog and beer and showing up at people’s places, it’s a much different experience than just here’s the questions I emailed you, can you type me out a response and I’ll do whatever.

How do you balance tradition and innovation in building these guitars? How is the process that you use today similar or different than it would have been done in the 1930s?

Matt Eich: Yes, I think that’s a really great question. We were just talking about that today in regards to a few different things. Probably the most important thing that I learned at Huss & Dalton was that balance. They build traditional guitars. When someone says guitar, the models of guitars that they make is what pops into your head. They do it differently though and in pretty imperceptible ways. The Rosette is the same style, it’s a little different. There are some construction things inside the body that are done a little bit differently, but when you look at it that’s what you expect. I think that building what others expect that’s part of your service as a maker, it’s not you caving to a market, it’s you being a service to a guitar player. This is what they want, you are in a position to build that.

In regards to resonators, the body shape that I use is a traditional resonator shape. It has F sound holes, it has a single cone cover plate, it’s a chicken foot cover plate just like you’d expect.

When I started, I saw a lot of resonator makers who were building resonators with lightning bolt sound holes, or their own body shape that they had drawn up. It wasn’t what people expected. They would say, “Oh look that’s cool, the cover plate’s a hubcap, that’s awesome, that’s very creative.” But people didn’t want that, that’s not what they expected, they’re not going to spend money on it.

The way that I do that is the traditional body shape, the F hole, the sound hole. Now the way I make it different is the material choices, the stainless steel, there’s some construction things inside the guitar that you wouldn’t know. If you looked inside the guitar you probably still couldn’t even tell but that’s me thinking about the resonator in a different way.

I think about it more like an acoustic guitar, where traditionally the resonator was designed specifically so that the resonator cones are what’s doing the most vibrating. The rest of the body is built like “Hey we have these cones in here.” I’m trying to get the back moving and I’m trying to get the back tensioned a little bit more specifically than just gluing in a bunch of biscuits to support a sound wall. Mule Resonators have a different support system so that I can now affect the tone differently through the inside. On the outside, other than the patina, it’s not really any different.

Actually a lot of folks, if you look up the reviews for these kind of guitars, they talk about that, they talk about how it has a different sound, it’s full, it has a great tone. Also, a lot of people who are fairly well known, like Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys and Adele’s guitarist and a few other folks have shown a preference for your guitars because of that tone and that resonance…

Matt Eich: Yes, and I think what’s really important to note too is that I mean I’ve owned 20 guitars. All guitars are different and that was how I approached resonators was I wanted to make something different. There was really kind of one game in town for a lot of years and that was “the sound,” that was it. Acoustic guitars are not like that, everyone has a sound. I wanted to contribute something different. I’m not here to say my guitars are the loudest or the bassiest or the warmest or anything, it’s just what I build and if you’re down with that cool. If you’re not, there are so many awesome guitars out there that you can go and find, it doesn’t have to be mine. I’m not here to try to sell you that this is the guitar you’ve been waiting your whole life for, it’s just what I do.

I like that the resonator thing hasn’t really been done that much. It’s really fun for me because people don’t know that that’s what they were kind of missing or looking for. That I think like we talked about with the connection, when that happens it’s pretty awesome because it’s a really special thing.

I’m sure being in the business of music, which a few of our guests have been in the business of music, I’m sure you see a lot of odd wacky things. What are some odd wacky stories that come to mind?

Matt Eich: Yes, I think in the beginning I was starting to realize how wrong people could go with their instruments like once they got them. This was probably guitar number somewhere in the 30s, so this was in the second year. We are on #270 now, so it was a while ago. This guy got his guitar and he broke the truss rod. He was thinking that he could adjust the action with the truss rod which is a no-no. Please podcast world, don’t do that.

He was cranking on the truss rod and broke the truss rod nut off. I was like “not a problem, ship it back to me and I will fix it for you.” People would tell me “well that’s very kind of you, that’s not your fault, that’s his fault, etc., etc.” This is not about whose fault it is, this is about one, I hate to say it but it’s about winning. What’s the bigger picture here? The bigger picture is this guy messed up his guitar, I can fix it. If I don’t, regardless of how I explain it to him he’s going to think it’s my fault.

Every single time that I have gone the extra mile for a customer they have always become an evangelist. There’s one guy where a similar thing happened and I fixed his guitar and he, at every opportunity, is vocally supportive of what I do because people don’t expect that. They expect some backhanded comment like well this is your fault, but I guess I could maybe kind of sort of help you. If all you say is ship me the guitar I will fix it, I’ll refund your shipping, here’s my address, there’s no discussion, nothing then you’re a hero. That’s the bigger picture is I want to be that hero. It works out for them, it works out for me.

Yes, so that guy shipped his guitar back to me and not only was the truss rod broken but the neck had been carved, and the wood was completely bare on the back and there were two Phillips head screws in the head stock to the strings were like string trees on either side. That was never mentioned. All we had talked about was the truss rod, and I got this guitar back and it was like there’s Phillips head screws in the head stock, the neck is carved, and the truss rod is broken. I was like “wow.”

This was so just commonplace to him, he didn’t even think to mention it. My email back to him was I noticed that the neck had been carved, would you like me to refinish that for you? Would you like me to replace those with stainless steel Phillips head screws? I have gotten in situations where me and a customer would have to have a discussion because honestly, if something warranty happens nobody feels worse than I do. We are on an even page I stay up at night thinking I want this to be cool for you because again, this is about the person, this isn’t just about a guitar. I feel very badly, but sometimes it’s very easy to tell when someone’s trying to put one over on you and when someone is like, “Hey Matt, this happened.” I’m like “yes, I will fix that for you.

Do you have people try to put one over on you with repairs and returns?

Matt Eich: I would say out of 300 customers, I’ve had three. One was a repair guy, well he worked at a guitar store and he had a repair guy work on the instrument and he didn’t understand that the truss rod works backwards. On older Nationals and on these and on really any guitar with a double action truss rod without a truss rod cover they work opposite of normal. It’s a very easy thing to notice if you’re paying attention.

You could see it with your eyes, you don’t even have to look at it. If you turn the truss rod one way and the neck does the opposite of what you expect, don’t keep doing that thing that you’re doing. This repair guy kept doing that thing that he expected he should be doing. He was trying to go clockwise to make it flatter.

We kind of had this back and forth where I was trying to understand what was happening in their situation and he said “well I’ve been around guitars for 35 years, you don’t need to tell me how to do this.” I’m just asking questions because we’re doing this remotely. I have to understand what’s happening. I got the guitar back and took it out of the case and the neck was completely back bowed so it was just buzzing. I turned the truss rod a half turn the other way and it was fine, and that was after I refunded him his money because it was this huge issue and this and that. All it took was a half turn the other way and it was okay. I kept that one and then I ended up selling it because it was completely fine.

Now that was one of the early guitars too, and so here I shipped this guitar to this big shop out in New York City and then there’s this huge situation in my mind where I’m being accused of something. I knew for a fact before I got that guitar back that I had messed up big time because this was from this shop. I mean I felt sick to my stomach. Then I got the guitar back and then lo and behold it’s totally fine, and that was really eye opening to me. “Oh, I know what I’m talking about. I don’t have to be subject to other people’s opinions of this.

When you start you suck at everything, and along the way you stop sucking and then you start being decent and then you start being good. There’s nobody around to tell you that except your own realization. It’s hard to shift gears where it’s like “okay, I’m a professional now, this is the tool I should buy, not this one, or I am the professional now because of the experience that I’ve had.

Let’s talk about suppliers, so you wrote a great blog post about what to accept and not accept from suppliers and how to deal with people. A lot of small business folks have suppliers, I certainly have suppliers, a lot of most of the people I know have suppliers and this is a common problem. Maybe without going into the whole blog post which is a great post, what’s your philosophy on dealing with suppliers and the whole hostage concept?

Matt Eich: Yes, don’t be a hostage. I would say going into any situation it’s about integrity. Integrity is doing what you say you’re going to do. In any situation, stuff comes up. Stuff comes up for me, everybody, but time and time again someone will say, “Thank you for your order, this will ship out Tuesday.” Tuesday comes, order not shipped. I will email them the following week, where’s this order? Sorry, my grandma had to go to the hospital, I wasn’t able to do that. It’s the proximity excuse. It’s not that your grandma got sick yesterday, it’s that you didn’t ship it on Tuesday, you have to go further back. So they’ll say, “Well it’ll ship out on Wednesday.” Wednesday comes doesn’t get shipped. Now that’s an integrity issue, and that’s when you have to really think about this is not the supplier for you.

They’re holding your business hostage. You are subsidizing their business. You gave them money, they took this as a one-month loan. They have this money in their bank account that they can use now but you don’t have your stuff.

Actually that’s a big thing for small business owners. Sometimes you don’t think about the fact that the cost of capital means that having cash out to a supplier or inventory on the shelf means that you’re basically not using that money for your business…

Matt Eich: Yes exactly, and I think the biggest problem is it limits your ability to make decisions. If I email someone and say, “I have money, can you do this?” They say, “Yes I can.” I go, “Okay, all my eggs are now in your basket, here’s my money.” Now you can’t do it. Well if you just said, “No I can’t do that in this timeline“, I go find someone else. Totally cool, this is the world but don’t you dare tell me you can get this done and then not do it, and then I ask you about it and then you don’t do it again. That’s a big issue because now it’s an integrity thing.

So much of being a small business person is being efficient with your decisions. That was how Mule got started…I would say “I don’t know how to do this, I need to acquire information in the next hour, and then I have to buy this tool or try this thing and then move on.” You can’t sit and ponder, you can’t put it on the backburner, there’s not time for that, you need to live your life, you need to run your business, and if suppliers are taking that hostage by you having to email them five times to get a shot bag or a file or something it’s ridiculous. It should be right there on the shelf, take it off the shelf, put it in the box. If not, they lied to you.

I think what you can do is be as informative in your initial email as possible. I have this thing I need done. I would also like it to ship next week, can you do that? Otherwise it’s ambiguous, so if you can remove that ambiguity. Also sometimes, depending on the situation, I’ve said, “If it doesn’t ship by Friday I’ll check back in with you to see what the status is.” So they know that I’m not going away, and I’m going to check back in with you so don’t just forget about me.

My laser cutting guy, I pay more money for him because I could text him right now and I get a response from him in five minutes, every time. For the past four years it’s been like that. His name is Jason, and his business is PTM, so if anyone’s looking for laser-cutting, he is your guy. Jason is lifesaver. In the beginning when no one wanted to pay attention to me because I was ordering one set at a time or two sets at a time he was like, “I like guitars, I can do this for you.” He had no business like helping me at all. I’ll give him money until the day I die. Jason has always done what he said that he’s going to do and that’s priceless.

Let me flip that around on you, have you ever had to delay a shipment to a customer?

Matt Eich: Yes, in the beginning that was one of my biggest mistakes. We all suck at estimating. When you say, “I’m going to put a new floor in my house, I could do it probably in a month of weekends.” Nope, it’s going to be winter. You better find a new place to live in the meantime because it’s just impossible. In the beginning things took off pretty quick and that was really surprising to me because after 13 years of working in factories, building guitars in basements, all of a sudden it was working.

Let’s say, for example, I had 40 guitars and that was let’s say 10 months of guitars. I would say, “Okay the wait would be 12 months.” It’s not 12 months, not when you’re one person. In the beginning we would get to that point where it’s like you were trying to estimate over a year of wait time and I’d screwed that up, so there would be a delay. Now, I’ve built in a buffer, so when I say it’s 10 months there’s really like seven months of guitars. That way there’s that buffer time because I know stuff is going to come up and when you email someone and it’s a month early, now you’ve exceeded their expectations.

Now I also swung too far the other way because I used to add five months of buffer time, and we got to the point where it’d be like, “Hey your guitar is ready to start” and they’re like, “Whoa, don’t have the money for it.” It is a very fine line because you can’t go too far either way.

You wrote something really interesting about how over time your price has gone up because it reflects the experience that you have in guitar making. That’s really interesting because I felt two ways with that when I read that. I felt like “oh that’s awesome, he’s getting better at guitar making.” Then I felt: “what about those early people? Does that mean that they didn’t get as good a guitar? How do you handle that?”

Matt Eich: You’re never going to be as good as you are tomorrow. That was the biggest hurdle I had to overcome in the beginning. I lost my job, I wandered around for two years playing music, then had this idea for guitars, built four of them and ran out of money. I had $1,000 left and had to start working at a factory swinging engine blocks back in Saginaw, Michigan.

Then I worked there for two weeks and I had 12 orders and I realized I could make more money making these guitars than I could at this engine place so I quit. But now you’re in this position where now you have to build something for somebody and then you have to accept their money for it, knowing that it’s still a work in progress. There is no other choice, you can’t wait. It’s like putting out your first CD. It will always be the first CD.

So when I raised the prices again it was: “how do you value this instrument?” How do I assign a number? They were $1,100 to start, so I made $150 on a guitar and that was the lowest I could go. Then after every 10 guitars I think I upped the price $250 or something. It probably wasn’t that much, but that was just the only mechanism that I could come up with that was a real thing. I have built more guitars, therefore it shall be worth more money.

Will somebody buying a Mule ten years from now likely pay more than you would today?

Matt Eich: Ten years probably yes. We’re kind of at the price point where I want to be though. I don’t want to raise it anymore, then it starts getting into a different thing. If you’re paying $4,000 for a guitar you’re approaching it a little bit different than a $2,000 guitar. I can’t tell you how many surprise birthday presents, 50th anniversary presents, retirement, wedding gift I get from people and I really love that. I really want to keep it around that price so that people are still able to do that.

It’s amazing. I love to get pictures from someone when their fiancée opens up the guitar case. I’ve probably done 30 guitars like that where it’s a surprise. We have to somehow figure out the options and all of that stuff.

It was the most unexpected thing about doing this because part of the reason I put off starting this was that I didn’t want to sit in my shop for the rest of my life by myself. I’m not that type of person, so I didn’t want to subjugate myself to this life of whittling wood by myself in my shop. It’s not like that.

Well you have a cool vibe in the shop and you have crazy podcasters from Texas that drive all the way up to Saginaw, Michigan to talk to you…

Matt Eich: Oh yes, Minnesota, New Hampshire, people will come by and then the people who can’t, I mean the beer you’re drinking was sent by a customer. I have a whole shelf of stuff. This guy we’re going to start his guitar in a couple weeks, he’s sending us lobster.

He’s from Maine and he lives on this little island off the coast of Maine and three out of his four sons fish and he wants to send us lobster. What the heck? I never would have thought that that would happen, and so it is really about the people and it’s bigger than the guitars.

What would you say is your number one lesson or piece of advice to small business owners out there?

Matt Eich: There’s going to be two things. It’s one, constraints are not limitations. Whatever it is you choose to do you are there as a service to whoever it is that might purchase it. You have to provide them with something that they want period. This is the essence of being a business person. It’s not about you, you can’t do whatever it is that you want, it’s the balance.

I think the second thing is it’s not about what you do, it’s about the people. Like I said, this is so much bigger than guitars, this is about you here with your dog and the beer and this podcast, this is about a dude sending lobster to a bunch of people that he’s never met before.

If all of my communication online or with customers was about the grain lines per inch of the maple that I use or whatever, all of that material stuff that guitar makers just drown themselves in, then it is about just the guitar, it is about nitrocellulose versus UV curing versus hand rub finish. I don’t get into that because that’s not the point, and I think if you keep that in the forefront of your mind then you have a whole shelf of stuff that people send you after they pay you a bunch of money for a guitar. That’s way more important.

What do you want to go in the next 10 years? In piecing together your story, you actually have a little bit of a dilemma because if you’re going to keep your prices the same and then more and more people are using and playing your guitars and some folks that are high end, your wait is currently 10 months. One of two things has to happen. Your wait’s either going to go to 24 or 48 months or your prices are going to go up and keep your wait at 10 months. Where do you want to go in the next 10 years? Right now you touch every neck, you touch every guitar, how does that all come together?

Matt Eich: Well I think that we are where I want us to be. It took me 13 years to find this shop space which is awesome. We’re in a five story warehouse building in Saginaw, it’s a 1,600 square foot shop, 14 foot ceilings, 14 inch beams going through a wood floor, windows. After a bunch of years of working in basements and garages this is what I’d hoped for.

When I walked in here, John and Terry who owned this building, they just wanted to help us. I walked in this room and I wanted to do snow angels on the floor. It was just like I was so psyched. I think in regards to the pricing and the wait, the wait will go up, if people are willing to wait. I don’t want to chase people off with the price. I’m not going to say that I’m not going to raise the price but I am saying that I am trying not to do that. Yes, so it is what it is. One thing that I want to do is have a position open for guitar-making students who come out of the Roberto-Venn or Galloup schools.

The biggest hurdle for me in the beginning was getting out of guitar school and kind of having an idea of building a guitar. You don’t really have the quantity, in a school setting you can’t have the work quantity that you need. Then you’re kind of like, “Okay, now what do I do? I can’t make any money building guitars because I don’t have any tools, but I don’t have any money build tools.” What I would really like to have happen is to have a position open for a student who wants to go on and build on their own.

The idea is he can make money doing work for me, and then he has a whole shop full of tools that he can use to make his jigs, and templates, and his first few guitars so he can get those crap guitars out of the way because they will be junk. You just can’t get started doing this, and that’s why people start doing repair work and then I mean at least the repair guys that I know it’s kind of this hole that you can’t get out of. There will always be repair work and so you’ll always have money, which means that you don’t really have the time that you can dedicate to guitars. This could be kind of like an incubator for people who want to go on and do their own thing and use that as a springboard. Now that would be super cool.

There’s this dichotomy between people wanting to have help and help other people, but then people are sometimes scared of creating their own competition. How do you approach that issue?

Matt Eich: I love competition. I know that it might be a little bit different with the resonators because there’s not a lot of people doing it, but I know for a fact and anyone who started something should also know this, I would think, that this is not about knowledge. I could tell you how to build a guitar, are you going to do it? Are you going to spend a year in a 15 foot by 15 foot basement of your house cutting up metal and throwing it away? There is a hurdle called effort and failure that … If I tell you how to do this and you beat me you’ve earned it.

It’s not about the idea, it’s about doing it. Everyone says, “Hey, I had the idea for the hyperloop like 10 years ago.” Yes, but you’re not out in the desert making it, actually doing it. It doesn’t matter. Everyone has an idea, you have to do it. Training competition, you know what, if someone comes in and they leave and they want to build steel resonators, there would be a part of me that would say, “Really? You want to do patina’d resonator guitars now?” You’re barking up the wrong tree. A huge kind of tangent I went on was like hey I could go build wood guitars just like everyone else is doing or I could go build resonators that no one is doing. I’m going to go play my own game, and it’s the same thing.

I could tell people hey that’s what I did and then there’s going to be a segment of people that go like, “Oh yeah, there’s nobody building steel resonators, I’ll go build steel resonators too.” No, there’s something else, there’s something out there that no one else has seen because everyone is running the same direction. Everyone’s going oh this is working, I’m going to go over here, I’m going to open up a Crossfit gym, I’m going to make steel resonator guitars, I’m going to make ladder brace guitar. There’s something else there that no one else is seeing, go find that thing.

Is there anything else that you want our audience to know about you? Where can people find you? You’re Mule Resophonic, what’s your website, your Instagram handle?

Matt Eich: Yes, website is muleresophonic.com and Instagram is muleresonatorguitars. That’s really the only two ways.

Well Matt you have left me with absolutely no choice but to put down a deposit to get a Mule Resophonic guitar today which is both amazing and terrifying because there’s no lack of guitars in my home, but I played one for 20 minutes before and it sounds amazing, it feels amazing, it’s got soul. You’re a great man, I really appreciate it, so now I guess we got to finish these beers and go decide the settings of what it’s going to be.

Matt Eich: Hey, that’s a great way of doing that. 

Final Thoughts

Matt has some great insights about what it takes to succeed in business.

He puts his customers first and as a result, they become an evangelical marketing team for him.

He realizes that he will make mistakes and that’s part of the journey to creating a great product as long as you are learning from those mistakes. And ultimately, it’s about having the discipline to get up every day and do the work.

If you have any questions or comments about today’s episode, please leave them below.

 

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Pablo Fuentes

Pablo Fuentes is the CEO of Proven. He is a graduate of the Stanford Graduate School of Business and UCLA. He is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner and a blues guitar player and builder.

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