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Capitalism and Market Economics

by vaughn skow October 18, 2010 3 min read

Amp designer and manufacturer Bob Burriss and me.

For more than a few weeks now, I’ve kept this blog pretty much on the topic of speakers and guitar tone.  I warned ya all that every now and then I’d be off on a wild tangent, and I think I’m overdue.  Let’s talk about American vs. World manufacturing, and just so as we don’t stray too terribly far, we’ll keep it in the arena of guitar and amp manufacturing.  This will be kinda like a David and Goliath story; pitting a huge multi-national company against an American micro-manufacturer (what we in the guitar biz like to call a boutique manufacturer).  Playing the part of David will be the Burriss Amp Company, and Goliath will be embodied by the giant Samick Corp. Sound good?  Well, let’s get going! 

I met Bob Burriss while doing a review of his "Dirty Red" amp for Vintage Guitar magazine.  Visiting the Burriss facility in Lexington, KY was a lot like what I envisioned it would be like to visit Fender in about 1949 ... and to me, that’s very cool.  Bob’s amps are 100% made in America and nearly all the parts are sourced from the US as well.  His amps are phenomenal, and his business is doing great.  So, it turns out we will still pay a little extra for a hand-made in the US amp.  Awesome, right?


Me and Guitar design guru JT Riboloff

Here’s where it gets interesting.  In this month’s Vintage Guitar you will find a feature story I did on JT Riboloff, a prolific American guitar designer.  JT headed the Gibson Custom Shop, Historic Division, and R&D dept for many years, right here in good ole’ Nashville, TN.  He’s a blue blood through and through.  But, and like I said, this is where it gets interesting!  He’s now working for the huge Korean based Samick corp.  He’s overseeing their guitar production facility in Indonesia and has designed a line of guitars for Samick that carry his moniker on the headstock.  When I asked JT what it was like living and working in Indonesia, he said "it’s total freedom man, like it was in the US decades ago" (I’m paraphrasing a little here).  In essence, he went on to explain how capitalism is exploding throughout the pacific rim, and that he is not the only Yankee in the area shaking things up and making guitars like it was still 1959.  JT longs for the good ole days when the US actually encouraged and supported domestic manufacturing instead of doing everything possible to run manufacturers out of the country.  He’s got a point, ya know.

I’m going to wrap this up with this conclusion:  both David and Goliath are winning here.  Small American manufacturers like Burriss and our own WGS are managing to trim their sails into the wind and still make some very respectable headway, while folks like Riboloff are proving that fine guitar craftsmanship is not the exclusive domain of American workers.  The common thread: good old fashioned capitalism and market economics.  In other words, they are all making products that are worth what they cost and that people want to buy.

Until next week ...   -Vaughn-

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