Its New years day and a time to reflect on the year passed and the new year ahead.
2010 was a real milestone year in the history of Emerald guitars marking our first full year back in business. After closing Emerald as a production company in 2007 due to circumstances beyond my control I had decided to concentrate on other businesses I had and make guitars in my spare time. Truth be told I was completely unhappy during this time, I thought I could follow my head instead of my heart but when the Irish economy collapsed in 2009 my other businesses were wiped out and the only thing I had left was my talent to design and build guitars.
Through 2009 I slowly rebuilt the tooling and did some great custom work and then along came Macnichol guitars and coaxed me back into production guitars. Michaels passion and the continual feedback from the carbon guitar forum has been inspiring and has had a great influence in the direction of the company.
We had a lot of hurdles to overcome due to the fallout of the deep recession that’s been effecting Ireland so much and the failure of our previous business. I was left with a 12,000 sqft factory and significant debts so the decision was whether to keep on the building and create a business that could service the debts or to sell up and start over.
We built this factory to house our family business back in 1990 and it contains too much of our history to let it go without a fight so early in 2010 we decided to set about a strategy that could save it and create a future that could bring hope to our family and in time other families in this depressed area. In the past we employed 30 people here and it was a real centre to the community how great would it be if we could build things to that level and beyond.
It was a slow start to the year but we started with optimism and set a very low target of 100 guitars for the year, tiny by any standards but we were aware of the difficulties of getting back into the market and the work that we had to do on new designs.
The first guitar up for redevelopment was the X10 and it became a guitar full of new ideas and direction. The X10 has always been one of my most popular but there was a lot I wasn’t happy with. I wanted to make it louder and more powerful and give it a voice much bigger than its compact size. After a lot of trials I came up with the Radius top, the curvature of the top gives a lot of extra stiffness and we discovered that we could use this stiffness to build the top lighter and more responsive and in turn create a guitar with much better projection. Its been a great innovation and has found its way into other designs the first of which was the X7
The X7 was basically a scaled down version of the X10 and was my attempt to build a guitar almost as compact as the X5 but with a much bigger voice. Its truly exceeded my expectations and has really carried us forward this year but I think we have only scratched the surface of the potential of this guitar. I am continuing to develop its voice and bring much more from this guitar.
The big event of 2010 was our American road trip. I have wanted to drive across America for some time and this seemed to be the perfect opportunity to take my new designs on tour and get some direct feedback and expand the market along the way.
My friends from the Forum both inspired the trip and also made it possible. We covered 4,400 miles in 2 weeks in a Dodge Charger stuffed with 10 guitars and along the way got to meet Kramster, Evan, Michael, Buzzard Whiskey, Carbon Axe and many other great characters. Thank you all for your hospitality and friendship.
We finished the trip in Nashville at Summer NAMM where we had a great show and made great new contacts. It was nice to be back in the buzz of the NAMM show and compare our guitars directly with the best. We had an incredible response over the 3 days and it confirmed we are on the right track.
We came back from there with orders and a good number of potential new dealers but it also has revealed how difficult the current market is. Many stores liked the guitars but under the current economic climate many are reducing their lines rather than taking on new ones. Its an uphill struggle but not impossible.
One of the most enjoyable parts of 2010 has been the custom commissions I have done. From simple inlay to something as unusual as the 12 string Bass/Baritone, this is my favourite part of my job. While I build guitars using a mould it doesn’t mean we cant deviate from the original design. There are many ways we can adapt the guitars after the initial moulding and create some ground breaking designs.
I think some of the bass commissions have really shown the benefits and freedom that carbon can offer. It offers me the opportunity to build guitars that just wouldn’t be feasible with wood and create tones that have never been heard before.
The 12 string has a truly unique voice and perhaps surprised me more than any guitar I have previously built.
Another great bass commission was Brian McHale’s 8 string bass. He wanted an acoustic bass that could compete acoustically with other guitars and with this Im sure we have achieved that. I cant wait to hear his response when he gets it next week.
And since the 8 string bass was my last guitar of 2010 I think this is the right place to start looking forward to the year ahead.
Right now I am coming up to what might be the busiest week of the year getting ready for NAMM.
I fly out to LA on the tenth and we still have a mountain of work to do. With the severe weather we have been experiencing here before Christmas we find ourselves a week behind schedule. The new X5 is nearly done but there is a lot still to do on the T20. I will certainly have a T20 with me but it will need a bit more perfecting when I get home.
So what is the T20? well the T stands for tradition and it will see us not so much change direction as add another direction. Throughout 2010 I have had many discussions with people about the styling and direction of my guitars and it became clear that people either loved it or hated it. I think the X series is true to me and are the guitars I want to build with the freedom that carbon allows and it was always going to be difficult to appeal to more traditional tastes without compromise and Im not all that fond of compromise.
The T series in my mind will be traditional design with innovation hidden within. They will be much subtler designs but I hope they will still have little Emerald signatures. This will also give me much more freedom with the X series and expect to see some innovative designs in the coming years.
The T 20 is a non cutaway Dred and actually takes me back to the very first guitar I built. I brought out Emerald no.1 to inspire me with this design and it certainly brought back some memories.
I have taken a lot of time with this design as it’s the first T series and will have designs that will be present in future T series models. The headstock was the big issue as that will become the prominent trade mark, I actually only committed to the final outline yesterday which shows how far behind Im running.
The other big step for 2011 will be the launch of the electric bass. I will officially be launching it at NAMM and it marks the first production solid body instrument in our lineup. I have been designing it over the last 18 months and have been reluctant to release it until its right. This is a special bass and the interest has been very strong so far. Summer NAMM gained a lot of interest for it and I identified a lot of improvements that could be made so I completely remade the tooling and with some subtle changes have made it much better.
Its going to be an exciting year ahead and I have more plans than I have time for but looking back at 2010 I realise I have come further than I could have ever expected and Im sure 2011 will surprise me in many ways too. There are a lot of hurdles ahead but the road this year looks just a little clearer.
Thank you all for your support and inspiration over the past year. Its an exciting time for composite guitars.
BRING IT ON!!!!!!!