Five Marketing Tips for Guitar Builders (or Anyone Else)

posted by Jason Verlinde

Five Marketing Tips for Guitar Builders (or Anyone Else)

I have no business telling instrument makers (or anyone) how to make instruments. The luthiers know their stuff better than I ever will; I’m just a player/collector. But I will say that, as the publisher of the Fretboard Journal for five years, I’ve observed plenty of good and bad of guitar builder marketing and self-promotion. Given how crappy the economy is, I figured it couldn’t hurt to offer some unsolicited marketing advice. I suppose this stuff could apply to any craftsman, but I’m mostly thinking with instrument builders in mind. And if you’re already doing some of this stuff, congrats, you’re ahead of the game!

1. Be active on the web. A free blog or Tumblr website that you can update yourself regularly is exponentially worth more than a fancy Flash-based website that you paid someone to build but can’t update yourself. We, your potential customers, want to hear what you’re up to this month, this week and even daily. We like picture galleries, too—even of instruments that are being made for someone else. So take control of your site and keep us updated. If you can assemble a dovetail joint, you can built a Tumblr site in less than an hour (Twitter is even faster to set up). And it may be all you ever need for a website. I’ve always admired how Bob Tedrow, a concertina builder, does Twitter. Follow him here and get inspiration. I don’t even like concertinas and I love his feed.

2. Get on Facebook. No matter how big or small your business is, make a public Facebook fan page for your business (link for business pages is here). Tack the word “guitar” or “mandolin” (or whatever you make) at the end of your company name (if it’s not already in there) so folks can see it quickly in search results (more folks will search “guitar” or whatever instrument than they will your name). Post build pictures, write updates and whatever else there. Let EVERYONE see it, with no permission restrictions (you can still have a private, personal page, of course, but let the world see your art on the public page). I often see builders posting the coolest stuff to their personal Facebook pages – step-by-step photos of what they’ve been up to, fascinating blog posts on woods, video demos, etc. – and no one but their close circle of pals is ever going to see them. I guess that’s fine if you’re backordered but it surely won’t help you sell to future, potential customers. Get out there.

3. Be helpful. On the Unofficial Martin Guitar Forum’s Log Cabin and Tech sections, a handful of luthiers (including Frank Ford, Bruce Sexauer, John Arnold and Howard Klepper) consistently post their thoughts about tone woods, construction techniques and more. These guys are all heavyweights (in my opinion) in the guitar building world who have joined a forum not because they want publicity or like to waste time but because it’s fun and they can be of service to the rest of us. On the UMGF, their posts elevate the level of discourse and, I bet, they’ve earned the respect of a lot of new players through their insight. Find your own UMGF, whether that’s a section of your own site, an existing guitar forum or a local gathering of players. And offer your wisdom, not just your latest & greatest guitar creation.   

4. Start an email newsletter. Make it informative, make it fun. Do it regularly. Most of the major “autoresponder” (aka email newsletter) sites like Aweber, Mailchimp and Constant Contact allow you to easily embed a sign-in box on your site. Don’t be spammy – be informative. Check out Artisan Guitars newsletter for inspiration…the store’s monthly newsletter not only features what’s on sale but--you guessed it--recipes! It’s not guitar-related, but I end up saving half of their newsletters in my inbox just for those damn recipes. Pretty clever. I’ve seen another builder offer great deals on guitars that were made for trade shows and have a ding or two now. It’s a great way to reach out to your growing fan base, tell them you're still alive and kicking, etc.

5. Be unique. Everyone loves a story, especially a fascinating story. And most luthiers I meet are passionate about far more than guitars. I know a guy restoring a semi truck, and someone else who is a member of Doctors Without Borders, etc. While the extracurricular stuff doesn’t necessary translate into a better instrument, it does make them memorable. Be opinionated and interesting on your website bio and tell us who you are. You may make great dreadnoughts but you don’t want your site's bio page to say nothing more than “I build dreadnoughts in the Martin tradition.” There are already hundreds of bios like that on the web. Be unique. Tell us a story, tell us what music you love, how you got to where you’re at, who you apprenticed with, etc. Spill the beans.

(Note: I know this barely scratches the surface of this topic. I hope to post five more tips in a week or two, so if you have any suggestions, be sure to let me know.)