Eastman Busts the Barrier!

Oct. 13, 2015: Solid wood guitars at $600?  Say it isn’t so!  Ah, but it is, and this time they’re smart enough to use an open-pore satin finish so the sound can all come pouring out!  Last month, Eastman has added 4 new models to their lines — two orchestral shapes and two dreadnaughts.  Check out this video, see and hear how sweet it is (or isn’t)

Where’s the catch? The catch is that, like the rest of Eastman’s line, they’re made offshore, in Asia.  So some that may not matter.  After all, most guitars are imports.   But there’s a big difference between Taylor’s lower end guitars being made 30 miles away from their San Diego factory and having the entire operation be halfway around the world.  The proof may be in the pudding, but jury’s still out on these instruments.  We aren’t opposed, but note that their entire video presentation doesn’t have one strummed chord.  Most any instrument can sound good being picked and through enough electronics.  So we’re in “Wait and Hear” mode, and will try to get an unbiased review for you in the near future!


Guitar Center Jumps The Shark!

Sept. 20, 2015: Guitar Center, the music industry’s retail giant for decades, has finally Jumped The Shark.  The end draws nigh.  In the final analysis, their recent decision to remove the ability to negotiate prices on high-dollar items will be the coupe-de-grace, an effective suicide disguised as an attempt to become more profitable.

On November 17, 2014, just shy of a year ago, Guitar Center’s Board of Directors appointed Darrell Webb to be the company’s new President and Chief Executive Officer, effective immediately, the same day that Mike Pratt resigned.  They also put Michael Amkreutz in as Executive Vice President in charge of Marketing, Merchandising and E-Commerce on that same day.  Just one large problem, a massive pink elephant in the living room: Both of these guys are big corporate brainiacs, but are they even remotely in touch with musicians?

Yesterday this writer visited them, interested in seeing if they had a 2015 6-series guitar in stock yet.  While there, I demo’d a few guitars for a buyer (who eventually chose a 210e Taylor for his new “beach” guitar, and happened across a 214e that I’d have liked to have made my own.  Of course, the guitar was marked priced at MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) but guitars at that level are never actually sold at that price by anyone in the know.   I brought it to a salesman I’d seen in the acoustic guitars room and told him that I know the standard answer these days is that they don’t reduce prices, but to talk with the manager, (whom I’ve bought through before) and tell her that I’d take it for about $800.  Guitar Center frequently has 15% off coupons, so this wasn’t much of a stretch at all.

About 5 minutes later, he came back saying there was nothing he could do about it, that I’d just have to wait for a sale.  I blinked several times, incredulous, before requiring that he have the manager join me.  He begged off that she was in a conference call (on a Saturday).  I insisted and she appeared, reiterating what the salesman had said.  I reminded her that we’ve done business this way before, but all she did was repeat and add that the policy came down to her a couple of months ago, that Guitar Center no longer negotiates or discounts, except to price-match.  And therein lies the lie.

High end items like Taylor Guitars always have MAP (Minimum Advertised Price) requirements.  While MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) may be $4998.00, no dealer is allowed to advertise that guitar for under $3498 or $3199, or whatever it may be.   This is why they ALL have the same price for the same model guitar.  Of course, they’ll only ever be price-matching the MAP, so they’ll all always be at the same number.  How convenient!  I’m sure the manager, a bright gal, realized this as well.  I informed them that I will no longer be doing business with them, and left.

ANALYSIS: In this industry, in a time when the Internet makes it a Buyer’s Market, when every high-end guitar dealer in the country is cutting deals, only an idiot would make such a decision on ALL products in a brick & mortar store.   With this decision, Guitar Center just labeled itself the WalMart of Musical Instruments.  But Walmart survives and thrives primarily by selling essentials like food, clothing and basic entertainment.   Guitar Center’s customers are buying what amounts to most to be a luxury item, and people have many options available for buying such items, nearly all of whom will negotiate.  Perhaps GC meant this policy to turn the tide for their already failing company.  But deals are how they’ve survived as long as they have.  To stick to their stickers on small items and accessories might just work, but to do so on primary items and major purchases is a major mistake.  If they don’t recant, that faut pas is certain to be their swan song.

Brick & mortar Mom & Pop music stores provide a valuable service to their communities and ensure future generations of musicians.  They’re wise enough to be expanding into Internet sales, and to negotiate prices.  Guitar Center seems to think they’re too big to fail.

They’ve always had systems in place to keep staff from helping themselves and their friends to unjustified deals and losing money.  Pack pricing (costs which include the cost of advertising, shipping, etc.) has ensured that no employee would end up losing them hard cash on any item.  Their current bizarre computer software, itself a text-based dinosaur, managed to keep them alive and thriving for decades.  Now in one fell swoop from a corporate pencil-pusher, the giant is about to fall to its knees.

Sorry, GC, but you’re not a bank holding the mortgage on our homes, so we won’t be bailing you out.  You’ll continue to get some business through creative financing and people too green to know better, and via small items that people need immediately for a gig or session, but your days are decidedly numbered.  If only you had trusted your managers a bit more.

Guitar Center had its beginnings in the late 60’s.  I began buying from them a decade later at their Sunset location in Los Angeles.  Over the years, between my own purchases and those made for clients, I’ve spent roughly $250,000 with them.  At 10% profit, that’s not a small sum, and I’m far from one of their biggest customers.  To show such indifference to that much patronage was foolish, even if I hadn’t been personally responsible for selling dozens of upper-end guitars for them in the past year.  I will miss them, but look forward to working with even more of the Mom & Pop stores than we have in the past.  No, they haven’t closed their doors yet.  To me, though, they’re already gone.  Whatever comes after this will not be the same company we’ve spent our entire lives with.

Guitar Center, 1959-2015, RIP.

Ovation Guitars To Resume Production!

Ovation had been making guitars for almost 50 years.  Such greats as Glen Campbell, Cat Stevens, Paul Simon, John Lennon, Mick Jagger, Eddie Van Halen, John Denver and Melissa Etheridge have all played and recorded Ovations.  This author is quite fond of the Adamas 12-string models that Melissa reintroduced him to several years ago.  But all of that was about to change.

Melissa Etheridge playing an Ovation guitar
Melissa Etheridge playing an Ovation 12-string. This would become her signature instrument.

Fender had purchased Ovation and, as is their M.O., closed down the factory down in June of 2014, in favor of the lower costs of Chinese production.  More than 40 workers were fired and much of the equipment was sold at auction.  Similar moves were done to Tacoma Guitars, for example, and resulted in the entire line becoming extinct, the Tacoma facilities rebranded to produce another kind of guitar.  It seemed like Ovations would be limited to those lesser instruments fabricated in Asia.  But there is light at the end of the tunnel!

Ovation Guitars has recently announced that they’ve renewed the lease on their Connecticut factory space and is resuming production of their US-made instruments.  It will be in a much smaller part of the factory, and the staff  will have to build some of the equipment sold off after the factory was closed, but American-made Ovations are back. In a time when guitar manufacturers seem to be dropping (read: being consumed by Fender) like flies, this is refreshing and welcome news.   The down side is that it will not be the same old Ovation.

Standards like the Balladeer, Legend and Elite will now be made abroad along with the Celebrity/Applause line.  Only the most expensive of guitars will be made by a staff of just four people, in New Hartford.  Since they’ve announced that the guitars will cost between $3,000 and $5,000 each, it seems reasonable to assume the factory will be producing only the Adamas line, and at a higher price that ever before. That may price these impressive guitars well beyond the means of previous customers.

Ovation Adamas 1598 MERB -- Melissa Etheridge signature model 12-string guitar
Ovation Adamas 1598 MERB — Melissa Etheridge signature model

How did such a miraculous turn-about occur?  Through the efforts of four previous employees, including Darren Wallace, who kept the equipment in Connecticut intact and ready for production, though they were no longer on the payroll.  When the new owner and his CEO, Chris Lombardi, saw the efforts of these four dedicated people, they decided to reopen the factory and allow them to do what they do best.  Who wouldn’t be moved by such dedication?

Mr. Wallace and the three other faithful former employees working under his direction have begun making prototypes and expect to resume production this month.  Another landmark for this phoenix will be the company’s 50th anniversary editions for next year’s Ovation milestone.  We’re very much looking forward to being able to review them for you soon!



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