My thinking is that this guitar would initially be aimed at working professional guitarists, or serious amateurs. Perhaps touring guitarists who want something stylish for the bus, plane or hotel. Or session musicians who want something that’s small and easy to carry to the studio. Or perhaps the studios themselves who want a pro-quality guitar that’s easy to keep out of the way and tough enough to survive being knocked over a few times.
I have a picture in my mind of someone in their 30s, 40s or 50s who once dreamed of being a rock star, never became one, but now has a successful career and is sufficiently well-off to be able to own pretty much whatever guitars they like. This person probably already has a Strat and a Les Paul and perhaps a few others. They buy guitars for their beauty as well as to play them. Up to a point, money isn’t a particular issue – if they like the guitar, they’ll buy it. So the big question is, will they like mine?!
I doubt anyone would buy a Hirsch SB-1 as their only guitar. But would they buy it as a third or fourth? Something different to complement their Fender, Gibson or PRS? Also, how will the guitar be perceived? Will guitarists think of it as ‘just another travel guitar’ or, as I intend and hope, as a ‘proper’ guitar that happens to be well suited to travelling with? And are there enough players out there who would rather not make compromises for the sake of portability, as with many of the relatively cheap travel guitars on the market, and instead prefer a top-quality guitar to travel with?
My intention is to start small, with very limited edition runs of hand-built guitars – probably just five or so at a time. This is for both practical and pragmatic reasons, although it does mean that these guitars will be expensive – the retail price is likely to be around £3,000 to £4,000, which is a lot for a guitar albeit not that much for a hand-built one or compared to some of the name-brand custom-shop and reissue models currently on the market.
Ideally I would like to get the price down to something more in the region of £1,000 in order sell in larger numbers, but the market is not proven and in any case I do not have the cash it would take to set up mass-production on the sort of scale that would bring the costs down to that level (and without a proven market, it’s unlikely I could raise the funds from investors).
So the rationale is that by building them in small limited edition runs, I can get started on the funds I do have available (and also avoid the risk of a large investment) and test the market – if the first five sell, I reinvest the proceeds on another five and so on, gradually ramping up production according to demand. If the first five don’t sell, I haven’t lost too much money and I’ve gained a bunch of guitars that, at worst case, I’ll enjoy playing for myself – or maybe I’ll eventually sell them on E-Bay or whatever.
Hopefully this will also serve to position my guitar as a prestige, premium product, with its limited edition status making it all the more desirable (that remains to be seen of course!). My thinking is that it’s far easier to produce cheaper, lower-spec models off the back of a premium product than it is to go the other direction – if you start out cheap, that’s how the brand will always be perceived.
Of course, no matter how good the product, good marketing is key. Even poor products sell well if marketed properly – actually, history is littered with examples of inferior products winning out over better-quality rivals thanks to their marketing. Unfortunately at the moment I have virtually no budget for marketing, which is potentially a problem. However, given the low-volume production, a big marketing push might not be a particularly good idea for now – the risk is that it could work too well and create demand that I would not be able to meet. Perhaps not a bad problem to have, but I suspect a slow burn, gradually building, word of mouth approach might be better for the time being.
A good starting point, I think, will be artist endorsements. The first problem there is that all of the really famous guitarists are already tied in to deals with other manufacturers and so probably wouldn’t be able to help, even if they did like my guitar enough to want to. So I’ll need to find up-and-coming, about-to-get-famous, artists – if you know of any, please put them in touch!
The second problem, though, is that I’m not in a position to give away any guitars just yet, which I imagine is what endorsees usually expect. Maybe there will be some well-known guitarists out there who will like my guitar enough to buy one and endorse it, but I somehow doubt that. Still, you never know…