Strung Out: 3 Rockin’ Guitar Second Acts
By Mia Geiger| June 19, 2012 |When the composition of their businesses changed, these three musicians decided to pull their own strings. Here’s how they’re striking a chord with people who want to buy guitars, and in the process, creating second acts for themselves.
Jay Lichty, 56, Tryon, N.C.
Then: Worked as a residential home builder for 30 years.
Now: Luthier, Lichty Guitars, creating high-end custom guitars and ukuleles. Guitars start at $4,000; ukuleles start at $2,200.
How he got started: He started building instruments as a hobby in 2009, about the same time his contracting business declined due to the economy. Fate intervened: He took a guitar workshop and, “The phone never rang after that workshop,” Lichty says. He decided to pursue instrument-making as a business.
He made his first couple instruments out of his garage but realized he needed a specialized space “with the right tools and humidity” for the wood. He built a workshop, and took additional classes. His wife, Corrie Woods, developed a website and studied how to make their website land on the first page of search engines, so that when people Googled terms like “custom guitars,” his name would be up high. She also handled advertising and created press releases. “We started nationally, then went globally,” he says. “That is the key to our success because 99 percent of our sales are from our website.”
Biggest challenge: “The marketing. Without the customers it’s just a hobby and the bills keep coming. In this economy, it’s getting our name out there and finding the people that have the money to spend,” Lichty says.
Advice to other entrepreneurs: “I try to live my life by following my bliss, and not taking the path of least resistance,” he says. “If something presents itself to me, I investigate it, whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I don’t stick my head down and not look where I’m going. My advice is to be open to the possibilities.”
Best part of the job: “That it’s not a job. My shop is 20 steps out my front door. I’m working harder than I ever worked but I never feel like it’s something I could call work. It’s just what I do and I spend as much time as I can doing it,” Lichty says.
Favorite type of music: Guitar music and finger-picking guitar music.
Inspired by: “The guy who I took the workshop with, Wayne Henderson (based in Virginia). He’s just a great all-around person,” says Lichty. “I like who he is in the world. His guitars are sought after and collectible and he’s just got a real easy way.”
Goal: “With each guitar, to make it better than the last one,” he says.
Danny Gold, 58, Bryn Mawr, Pa.
Then: Worked as a district manager, selling Fender guitars to shops in the Mid-Atlantic region.
Now: Owner of Danny’s Guitar Shop, an independent store selling fretted musical instruments and offering lessons, in Narberth, Pa.; host of Danny’s Guitar Shop, a local PBS cable-television show he started with two partners and features visits to guitar factories, chats with musicians, and more.
How he got started: “After 10 years of being on the road for 40,000 miles a year, it starts to wear and tear at you,” he says. “I was also becoming disenchanted with the way retail distribution was changing. Suddenly big-box stores and (large) specialty stores (appeared). It wasn’t just about mom and pop independent guitar stores, it just got super saturated and it became less and less fun.”
He had an idea to start a guitar-focused TV show and in December 2007, decided to pursue it. It took a few years to come to fruition, with Gold and his partners starting the program as a segment on a Philadelphia university’s radio station, then putting it on the back-burner. In June 2009, after talking with people about the lack of small independent guitar shops, he opened his store.
“They all said it was a great opportunity, here’s a void you can fill, just keep it small, keep it simple, low overhead, offer lessons,” Gold says. “I found this great little location in Narberth, a town I’ve always loved. It’s got a personality all its own and the space has a front porch and windows with sunshine coming through. I just said OK, let’s do it.” His weekly show began airing on a Philadelphia PBS station in February. His shop sometimes serves as the backdrop for the program.
Biggest challenge: “Staying focused and being able to multi-task,” says Gold. “You really wear a lot of hats. I’m running a teaching operation, I’m constantly purchasing things from different vendors, I have to be an accountant and do my bookkeeping and stay on top of that. I have to do the merchandising design so the place looks good and everything is displayed nicely. I have to be a salesman.”
Advice to other entrepreneurs: “You have to balance everything out. You have to make a living and also try to do what you love doing,” he says. “Life is too short to do stuff that is distasteful. I’ve found everything you do leads you to the next step.”
Best part of the job: “I don’t think a day goes by where I don’t have a good time interacting with the people who come in and out of here,” says Gold.
Favorite type of music: Catchy, pop-y rock and roll.
Inspired by: “Dave and Alice Phillips of Dave Phillips Music & Sound. They started with one store in Allentown (Pa.), and now they have three stores. They are very passionate about what they do,” he says.
Goal: “To make a living and have fun,” says Gold.
Steve Beckwith, 55, Bolton, Mass.
Then: Worked in the corporate high-tech industry for 25 years; left in January 2008 after accepting a buyout offer.
Now: Luthier, Beckwith Strings, creating handmade standard and custom guitars. Guitars start at $1,500.
How he got started: He began building guitars while working at his corporate job. “I’m kind of in the middle of the back half of the baby-boom generation. I figured by the time I’d retired I’d want something to do,” he says. “The plan had been to slowly build up the skill set.”
Biggest challenge: “My biggest problem was the economy. I started (the business) in January 2008. My target market is retiring baby boomers. What happened at that time was people that had work didn’t know if they had work for very long so they tightened up on their spending, on their disposable income,” Beckwith says. “Things have turned around since then but weathering that out really helped a lot. I’m starting to see a comeback.”
Advice to other entrepreneurs: “First, make sure you can do it financially,” he says. “Second, just drive ahead and do it. People will tell you there are obstacles — listen to them, but don’t let it discourage you.”
Best part of the job: “When I string a guitar for the first time and I start playing it,” says Beckwith. “There are adjustments you have to make when you put strings on a guitar and I might say, ‘I’m not sure I like the way it sounds.’ You go from, ‘Geez, I don’t know about this,’ to ‘Hey, this isn’t bad,’ then two days later, ‘Wow this sounds really good.'”
Favorite type of music: American roots.
Inspired by: “My wife has always been very supportive of what I’m doing,” he says. He was also inspired by his wife’s dedication to a non-profit organization she operated for a decade, which offered low-cost spay and neutering services for animals.
Goal: “I want to build the best guitar I can possibly build,” says Beckwith.
SecondAct contributor Mia Geiger is a freelance writer in the Philadelphia area.