For Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic Guitars, success started to happen after losing his job.
After graduating high school and attending the Roberto Venn School of Luthiery, Eich worked at Huss and Dalton Guitars in Virginia, but ended up in Chicago having to work in a factory to pay the bills and building guitars on the side.
“Then in 2008, I lost my job during the recession and ended up back in Michigan,” he said.
After seeing a musician play a metal-bodied resonator guitar, Eich went home wondering if that kind of instrument was something he had to the skills to create.
At the time, there was only a factory in California and a couple other makers in the world building this kind of guitar, and he saw an opening in the market.
“But it took me a year to make four of them and I didn’t think they were very good, so I ran out of money,” he said. He went to work at a temp agency, but only made it two weeks before he had to quit - over those two weeks he had received twelve order and had to start a wait-list.
Resonator guitars were developed by two brothers in the 1930s. Big band music was exploding in popularity, and guitars needed a way to compete with the volume of brass instruments. Amplifiers hadn’t been invented yet, and so they built guitars out of metal with a thin, aluminum cone inside the body of the instrument designed to physically amplify the sound.
Jazz musicians eventually took to amplifiers and electric guitars, selling off their resonators to blues musicians who would typically play in bars and needed a guitar loud enough to compete with a room of people.
But while many people still associate the resonator guitar with blues musicians, the different sound of a Mule resonator has attracted everyone from Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, to Adele’s guitarist Tim Van Der Kuil, to Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top.
“One of the most fun things about Mule is that the kind of musician buying our guitars is so varied. They’re songwriters who are looking for a different sound, something they can’t get someplace else.”
Looking back on the beginning of his business until now, Eich has advice for anyone looking to start their own business, “I think if you get into it with the idea that there’s a set outcome, you won’t have have the steam to make it successful. You really have to love the work itself. With guitars, to be able to take a sheet of steel and a block of wood and make it into something that gets strung up and you’re able to hear a musician playing it, to see them go inside that instrument and make songs come out that wouldn’t have come out if they’d had picked up a different instrument - that’s the part that I love, that’s keeps me in it.”
Along with his love for the work, Eich places a high priority on creating a relationship with his customers - many of whom eagerly place a deposit on a wait-list that’s currently 12 months long.
“Typically with makers, the goal is to portray themselves as doing the best work, using the finest materials, doing the most of something, and in the process overstating themselves and what they do. How is everybody making the best thing? It doesn’t make sense.
When it comes to a person making something for another person, it’s not so much about the assumed perfection of the thing being made, it’s about the connection between people. In an age where machines can make the most perfect objects, why would someone get an instrument from someone who made it by hand? It’s not because I can make something more perfect than a computer - that’s not true.
But if you take the angle that two people are connecting - then the whole game changes. This person is coming to me for a guitar and wants to love the process as much as we love the process, so send them pictures daily of their guitar as its being made. We talk about non-guitars things like their families, or concerts, or share music. That’s the thing. It’s people being excited about doing something together.