In this edition of The Journey, we spend a few moments talking with Ben Nystrom of Nystrum Guitars. We get his thoughts on everything from the gear industry as a whole to some of his first and favorite guitars and gear.
For more on Nystrum Guitars visit their website: HERE
What made you get into guitar building?
Well it started when I was very young. I was obsessed with music and guitars at an early age (6 or 7). I would spend weekends with my Grandpa and he had a wood shop with all old hand tools. He emigrated here from Sweden and served in the Korean War. His father was a wood worker as well. They choose to move to America when the govt. told my great grandpa that he couldn’t drive his car on Sunday. He said F-that, Im moving! Anyway. My Grandpa would, and still does make these unbelievable wood carvings. He showed me how to use all the tools and we would build and shape guitar bodies. They were pretty terrible, but it was very satisfying to my imagination and what I was seeing on Mtv as a kid in the 80s. So as I grew up I always had that desire deep down inside. I finally got to pursue it 30 years after the initial spark.
What are the key elements of a good guitar?
For me, humbuckers. I just feel satisfied with what I hear. It’s me hearing that classic rock Jimmy Page sound from my bedroom as a kid. And I also love a neck with block inlays. Its cool to see exotic woods, but I don’t get too hung up on it. Give me a goldtop anyday.
What was your first guitar? Do you still have it?
My first guitar was a charvel. I think I got it in 1989. I really wanted a washburn N4, but I only had a couple hundred to spend. It was way way different in how you could aquire gear in the late 80s.I didn’t even have a pawn shop in my town! It was strictly mail order catalogs or driving to Minneapolis to a guitar shop. I don’t have it, but it was my first “refinish”. I stripped all the paint off and remember I could not believe that there was this beautiful (probably basswood) wood underneath. I drew a real cool design on it with markers. I was 14, I made my own N4.
Whats your take on the “types of guitar finish” debate? (Nitro Vs Poly etc)
I honestly like both. I don’t really hear a difference, with ours at least… I like poly on a new finish and I love a nice beat up relic nitro as well. No one wants to play the same guitar every day do they?
Big question, but what are your thoughts on the gear industry right now from a builders perspective?
We live in a Walmart world where everything is disposable, exchangeable and tradable. G.A.S. seems a bit out of control. The “out with the old, in with the new” seems to dominate. I have guitars that I have kept for over 12 years, some longer. Music is really the only thing we have close to a time machine. You can listen to a song that you wrote and instantly it can transport you there to the time you wrote it, or the first time you tried to learn to play a particular song. Those memories seem not as sacred anymore, or if they are few attach them to a guitar, because it’s a gear traders paradise.
What are some of your favorite pieces of gear you own?
-My Gibson KS336 number 12 of 200 from 2007
-My 1956 Martin 0017 that I got from an old hippie who used it to record the endless summer movie soundtrack.
-And I have the first Nystrum Guitar made that started it all for me.
What makes a Nystrum guitar unique?
That you get to feel like your building it with us. You get to experience the whole process. It’s a journey that you get to take for the next 6-9 months and get excited about something that is being built just for you. We use the absolute best quality of wood, hardware, and components. I now have a partner in Kevin who I have no problem declaring one of THE best setup guys in the biz. It’s the cherry on top of everything we have struggled to break through to deliver the best quality to our customers. My Goal is to give you the best guitar at the best price, and we do, do that. I truly believe that now in 2016.
What are some things you’ve learned about business in starting and running guitar company?
Unfortunately That there is little to no money in it. I didn’t start it to make money, but I thought at some point there could be, and there eventually can, but it seems pretty far off. I do it because I love it and I feel like a kid again at least once a day doing this. It has also taught me a ton about marketing and customer service.
For those looking to start their own business (even non guitar related) , what advice would you give them?
First and foremost you are a marketer. Decide from day one, that you are the only one (or at least most important one) who can market your business the way it needs to be done. Read Seth Godin books, read all of Dan S. Kennedy’s books and practice marketing daily. If you can’t commit to market, then you should not start a business. You need to work for someone else.
You recently started blogging more about your business, what was the thought behind that?
I was starting to feel like people didn’t really know me. They think they do, and that’s ok, but I feel the need to communicate and express more. Purely just for that. My friend Wade and I are starting a podcast to take it further. It’s just an excuse for us to hang out more basically, but also to express ourselves and not take this whole gear thing too seriously. Both are a release and something I just do for me. I live in my head a good part of the day, so this is a time to let it out, be real, and tell the truth.