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Author Topic:  If I Wanted To Get Rich Building Pedal Steel Guitars
Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 7:48 am     Reply with quote

This thread is great. Lively indeed.

My own experience is Lap Steel Guitar is WAAAAAYYYY more popular due to its basic concepts but mainly its PRICE.

Most players I have bumped into over the years in the flesh got into as a shot in the dark because it was less than £100. So if they squeezed major chords out of it lathered with distortions then stuck it in a corner forever. It wasn't really a huge loss.

Pedal Steel - is an investment and costs more than a second hand car or motorcycle and some models cost more than both combined.

Also portability and weight are also a factor but I think Price is a huge problem.

Also worth noting: to date, as a young person myself, NOT ONE company I know of has invested in up and coming enthusiastic players like myself.

Or even offer sponsorships. I know MSA is now considering doing this but I truly think these companies are disconnected from my generation.

We grew up with marketing all over skateboard magazines, and now are bombarded with product placements and endorsements from companies in Social Media from the every day person, the enthusiast and the pro. Usually in my generation most everyday marketed products did better in sales than the pro models at least in the skateboard world.

I remember Vans and Etnies sponsoring DJ's, Skateboarders, Indie Bands, Events, Bloggers, Everyone.

Now look at them they are so clued up its hard to believe they were net to nobody when I was a kid and only die hard skateboarders knew about them. Now Vans are everywhere. Even T-shirts are ridiculously priced now because they have a Vans sign.

I say this because:
I have written to Many steel related companies and I think its a bit insane how they don't get it. I think of the companies I contacted about 3 actually responded with a non-generic response and none were interested in product placements, endorsements, sponsorships, giving away products, advertising .

So part of the problem is the companies who have this huge generation gap and don't get how to relate to US and quite frankly aren't bothered or interested in even trying.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 7:48 am     Reply with quote

This thread is great. Lively indeed.

My own experience is Lap Steel Guitar is WAAAAAYYYY more popular due to its basic concepts but mainly its PRICE.

Most players I have bumped into over the years in the flesh got into as a shot in the dark because it was less than £100. So if they squeezed major chords out of it lathered with distortions then stuck it in a corner forever. It wasn't really a huge loss.

Pedal Steel - is an investment and costs more than a second hand car or motorcycle and some models cost more than both combined.

Also portability and weight are also a factor but I think Price is a huge problem.

Also worth noting: to date, as a young person myself, NOT ONE company I know of has invested in up and coming enthusiastic players like myself.

Or even offer sponsorships. I know MSA is now considering doing this but I truly think these companies are disconnected from my generation.

We grew up with marketing all over skateboard magazines, and now are bombarded with product placements and endorsements from companies in Social Media from the every day person, the enthusiast and the pro. Usually in my generation most everyday marketed products did better in sales than the pro models at least in the skateboard world.

I remember Vans and Etnies sponsoring DJ's, Skateboarders, Indie Bands, Events, Bloggers, Everyone.

Now look at them they are so clued up its hard to believe they were net to nobody when I was a kid and only die hard skateboarders knew about them. Now Vans are everywhere. Even T-shirts are ridiculously priced now because they have a Vans sign.

I say this because:
I have written to Many steel related companies and I think its a bit insane how they don't get it. I think of the companies I contacted about 3 actually responded with a non-generic response and none were interested in product placements, endorsements, sponsorships, giving away products, advertising .

So part of the problem is the companies who have this huge generation gap and don't get how to relate to US and quite frankly aren't bothered or interested in even trying.
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Ross Shafer


From:
Petaluma, California
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 8:24 am     Reply with quote

Sponsorships...product placement? I think you're way off the mark...comparing pedal steels to skateboards and such is a pretty big stretch. Vans are friggin' shoes....everyone buys shoes...and knows what they are....a pretty dang easy to market to consumer base.

FYI, back in the mid 60's or so when Vans first appeared (to me anyway), no one wanted them as they were the bargain basement, cheap alternative to Keds, Converse, Red Ball Jets and the like. They were sold then only in Van's outlet stores. Everyone in my family wore them...I always liked them and didn't understand the dissing I got for wearing them. They were killer tennys for about $5 a pair.

As a refugee from the high end bicycle world I know a lot about sponsorship, product placement, advertising, etc. and and what it gets you in a very large market...which is the key. The larger the market the more such investments pay off...in a minuscule market such as pedal steels such investment will not work the same. If for no other reason, the lack of funds most builders face to invest in such promotional ventures.

Price for a reliable, quality pedal steel is certainly a hurdle, but I don't think it's the big one by any means...I feel the biggest hurdle is the difficulty in learning the instrument and the lack of general knowledge of what it even is.

Just my opinion of course....heck I've got lot's of 'em!
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 9:35 am     Reply with quote

Hey Ross

I disagree only because Vans for example invested in a next to nothing skateboard market and now look. It's a pop culture icon in the grunge world and the skateboard minuscule market. Which since has grown significantly. However if you compare skateboarding to other sports it's very much like steel guitars to regular guitars.

In that same vain there was a tiny skate magazine called Thrasher that went out of business but someone bought it and had the foresight to invest in young up and comers by giving away Tees to my generation and now it is one of the more expensive boutique shirt brands you get now.

Also Skateboarding is not easy and about as complicated as steel guitar. It was once minuscule and non existent but thanks to the foresight of taking a chance on the younger generations it's now thriving.


I think Lap Steel Guitar due to its cost and availability has this potential and companies like MSA or Morrell etc should look to invest in the younger generation players. Until this happens the coffin will continue to close on the steel community. Just my two cents.
lol
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Karl Paulsen


From:
Chicago
Post Posted 18 Aug 2017 11:51 am     Reply with quote

The Skateboarding example is an interesting one. Mostly because wonder what they've done to reach out to new groups of people.

Maybe this is just growing up in the suburbs, but when I was a kid in the 80's and 90's, it seemed like it was mostly middle class suburban white kids who were skating. Now I live in the inner city and you now see tons of brown, black and white kids of a variety of socio-economic standings skateboarding. It's pretty awesome and I don't think the sport was nearly as diverse 10 years ago when I moved here.

Maybe there's something to be learned in how they expanded their reach?
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 1:15 am     Reply with quote

To answer your question abut how Skateboard companies do sponsorships and I think Steel guitar companies should take a page and start helping us younger guys.

Flow Sponsorship
This is the starting point for most careers in skateboarding. If you’re able to get on a flow sponsorship, then you have a good shot of moving up through the ranks to the professional level. Flow skaters aren’t necessarily sponsored by a company, but they do receive free products. No contracts are signed and no expectations are set, but most flow riders receive a big box of new gear every month. Companies hope that these little bits of free equipment will help the skateboarder reach the next level.

Am Sponsorship
This level of skateboarding sponsorship is the first step into the big leagues. An am (amateur) sponsorship means that you’re actually an employee of the company that is sponsoring you. The company will distribute video footage and pictures of you skating and promote you through magazine advertisements. In return, they expect you to only use their equipment and to talk about them in a positive light. Most skateboarders with an am level sponsorship receive as much free equipment as they can handle but don’t get paid any money to use it.

Pro Sponsorship
If you reach the pro sponsorship level, then you’ve made it to the top. Pros are massively promoted by their companies, appearing in multitudes of videos and advertisements. Sometimes, companies even give their pros signature gear. This means that they allow the pro to take part in the design process of a particular product and then use their name on it. In addition to all of the free equipment that a pro receives, the company that they are sponsored by actually pays them a salary to use their products. This paycheck can range from a few hundred dollars a month to over one hundred thousand dollars per year.

Skateboarding is a sport that started out as a nitty-gritty activity that was only done for fun. Even though companies are paying top dollar for the biggest and best riders, skating is still primarily about the love of the sport. This doesn’t mean that you should throw away that dream of a sponsorship though. Skateboarding companies are constantly looking for the next big thing and are always eager to sign on promising new riders. Plus, skating takes a heavy toll on equipment and even a free board every other month can be extremely helpful to the beginning skater.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 1:21 am     Reply with quote

I had an amateur sponsorship back in the mid 90's from a company called Chocolate and they use to send me free boards and stickers and t-shirts 4 times a year.

If the Steel Guitar companies hopefully read this at some point. I'm all in and as long as I have breath in me I've finally found my calling.

I live this life.

Steel player Steel going strong.
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Ross Shafer


From:
Petaluma, California
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 8:07 am     Reply with quote

Just for Sh_ts 'n giggles....how large in gross sales numbers do you think the average pedal steel guitar company is?

You have to acknowledge that the whole skateboarding thing grew like it has because of "lifestyle marketing". A teensy, itty, bitty, minuscule portion of the skate market is actually inhabited by hot shot, highly skilled skaters. The sponsorship $ for the pros and the up and comers is subsidized by the zillions of folks who dig skateboarding, but aren't necessarily skilled skaters. When my son was a teen he and all his buddies had the vans the t-shirts, the boards and the mags....but very few actually dove into it as a sport. It was more about the look and association with skate boarding. This same phenomenon is rampant in the bicycle market and standard string guitar market.

Vans did not start its foray into skating until after they realized sh_t tons of skater were using their shoes. The began marketing toward skaters in the mid '70's after realizing this...at least that's what their website says. I grew up about 10 miles from the original Vans factory and literally saw all this happening.

I'm not sure how many folks there are to subsidize dough for sponsorships because they want to look like a steel player.

As someone who has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on rider sponsorships, racing teams and events when I had my bicycle business....I can say with complete certainty that the size and nature of the pedal steel market cannot support the ideas you're proposing.

I know for a fact that numerous players have gotten free steels or discounts from steel builders/companies over the years....these certainly have some marketing bang....but the droves of steel fans and wannabe players your ideas require just aren't there.

Wouldn't it be awesome if the pedal steel market was even one percent of the standard guitar market (2.3 million guitars per year in the US which is approx 40% of the worldwide market)? If it were, what you're proposing would already be happening and there'd be a lot more folks making pedal steels.
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Damir Besic


From:
Nashville,TN.
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 8:40 am     Reply with quote

I don't know about skateboards or tennis shoes, but I can tell you that one steel manufacturer sold a bunch of guitars to young kids, as a direct result of sponsoring Robert Randolph ... just a thought
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Ross Shafer


From:
Petaluma, California
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 9:17 am     Reply with quote

I'm sure they did, giving Robert Randolph a guitar or a discount on one (which I'd guess he got) certainly offers the "marketing bang" I mention in my post above.

This type of endorsement/sponsorship arrangement has been happening since before RR was born. It was was a great promotional move for that builder....the key is how many is a "bunch", how much profit margin the instruments offer and whether or not the the growth in sales from such a sponsorship is measurably ongoing or just a momentary bump. And of course...how many Robert Randolphs are out there to bring the younger rockin' crowd in? Precious few to be sure.

Interesting discussion ,but the market size is a huge portion of the equation that's not being fully understood or considered.


Last edited by Ross Shafer on 21 Aug 2017 6:04 am; edited 1 time in total
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 9:42 am     Reply with quote

Quote:
...the market size is a huge portion of the equation that's not being fully understood or considered.


The market size is tiny, tiny, tiny. There was a discussion here a few years ago about the number of pedal steels built each year. After several pages of replies we concluded that most pedal steel companies build about 30 to 60 pedal steels a year (approximately). Some build less than that. And back in the 1970s the most popular brands, Sho-Bud, Emmons, MSA, probably built 200 to 400 per year. It's a very small market. And as stated earlier, increasing supply is not the answer. We need to increase demand. The only way that's going to happen is if some youthful mega-star plays pedal steel guitar, and I don't see that happening anytime soon. Unless Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift, or Rihanna suddenly start playing pedal steel! Laughing
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Nathan French


From:
California, USA
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 6:02 pm     Reply with quote

I'm convinced a large part of the low supply is the difficulty manufacturers have had at cost reduction. The budget instruments are priced around $700. That's about 5x what an entry level electric guitar goes for. Nobody buys a pedal steel on a whim.

If I had to guess there's at least $100 in assembly labor on those budget instruments. Even if you designed everything around CNC manufacturing (a large reason why the budget guitars are dang near perfect these days) you have a complicated thing to tune up.

There's a long thread here about alternative linkage mechanisms. I'm slowly making progress on something that scales better with modern manufacturing.

One promising thing I see is a resurgence in resonator guitars. Once you're playing with a slide it's a slippery slope into steels.
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Stephen Williams


From:
from Wales now in Berkeley,Ca, USA
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 9:35 pm     Reply with quote

I see no reason why this instrument cannot be more popular.

It's partly because it's pigeonholed into a certain genre. Nothing wrong with that but I think this instrument would be great in all sorts of music.

It's not a requirement to use a volume pedal or pick-blocky fast pickin'. I don't think the kids'll go for that. I also think the main problem is the incredibly obtuse way it is tuned to E9.
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Per Berner


From:
Skövde, Sweden
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 9:50 pm     Reply with quote

I find the sponsorship angle "Why don't you give me loads of expensive stuff for free" quite disturbing....
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 20 Aug 2017 10:45 pm     Reply with quote

I hear your comments and appreciate that pedal steels are vastly under manufactured currently as there is no market. But Steels all started with a Lap Steel.

And a Lap Steel Guitar is a solid introduction to Pedal steel. Heck how many of you guys started off on a Lap?

I say this because I think if Steel Companies focused on that the costs can be equivalent to a skateboard.

And not only is there potential to get more people into Steel playing but also potentially the ability to have some of them eventually become Pedal Steelers as well.

The oversight of this is shocking to me cause it is highly possible. PLUS there are a vast number more Lap Steel Guitar owners and players out there at home and in the spotlight and up and comers than pedal steelers.

To address sponsorship and free stuff:
Playing steel offers companies multiple ways to market.

From Fingerpicks
Thumbpicks
Volume Pedal
Amps
Strings
Lap Steel Guitar
T Shirt, caps, march
Stickers
Guitar parts (machines heads, pans, legs, Nuts, bridges, pickups, replica knobs etc.)
Cables
Effects pedals
Guitar Cloth
Lap Steel Guitar hard and soft Case
Bars
Bar cases
Bar holders
Travel cases
Apps

My goodness if any of you guys can't see that their is an ability to market and offer sponsorship on soooooo many levels that doesn't have ANYTHING to do with making a pedal steel.

Or is it maybe once again the idea that there is no market.

I know artists like Ben Harper have a huge fan base but there are countless others out there who can be reached in other ways and help to promote playing Steel.

It is not about an instrument it is a LIFESTYLE. Thus marketing can be done to that. Or am I totally missing it???

Forgive me if I sound aggressive its the enthusiasm. So apologies if there is any offence.
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Ross Shafer


From:
Petaluma, California
Post Posted 21 Aug 2017 6:04 am     Reply with quote

Per Berner wrote:
I find the sponsorship angle "Why don't you give me loads of expensive stuff for free" quite disturbing....


Well said Per...I had to navigate hundreds of "sponsorship" letters each year "back in the day".....a very large percentage came with no real proposal or resume were really requests for free parts because my company was known for being generous to "up and comers"

Stefan: I can tell you're very enthusiastic and that's awesome, its also important to dream, so there's certainly no offense.

Steel playing a lifestyle?...indeed, for those of us who are way into it. When a guy with a thrasher t-shirt, Vans and baggy shorts walks down the street he's flying colors that his peers, many others recognize.....that's lifestyle marketing....Walking around in a Sho-bud t-shirt, cowboy boots and a "Make Pedal Steel Great again" hat is going to garner some questions form your friends and the occasional passer by, but you will not get the "that guy's a steeler, I want to be cool like him" kind of reaction that lifestyle marketing is aimed at getting. Get some big mainstream pop stars on steel guitar (any kind!) and things could change....Justin Bieber on steel guitar would get the young'ns attention fo sho! How 'bout a steel guitar quintet built around the "boy band" concept...now we're talking'! Rhianna on steel guitar just imagine the outfits and hairstyles...that's mainstream!

"Or am I totally missing it??? ", I too mean no offense, but yes, you're pretty much missing it.

Stefan, I'll tell ya what, send me a sponsorship proposal and a resume, if it's what I'd consider a real proposal and something that would benefit the sales of the instruments I build (Sierra Steel Guitars), I'll send you some steel related stuff. Deal? Hmm, I could post your resume on the forum to be voted on by people living the steel guitar "lifestyle"

Again truly no offense meant, and my offer is real.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 21 Aug 2017 7:04 am     Reply with quote

Cool Ross. Deal it is.

Feel's like Pop Idol letting the Forum being internet judges but whatever. I'm cool.


Will get something together for it then.
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Bill Hatcher custom 12 string Lap Steel Guitar
E13#9/F Bebop Tuning

Head & Hands to Steel your Heart.
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Steve Pawlak


From:
Arizona, USA
Post Posted 21 Aug 2017 7:35 am     Reply with quote

Curios
Did ANYONE ever get rich from building steel guitars?
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Bruce W Heffner


From:
Payson, Arizona
Post Posted 21 Aug 2017 6:34 pm     To Quote Del Mullen Reply with quote

Many years ago Mr. Mullen told me, "steel guitar is a rich man's sport, the only problem is there are no rich men in it". Words of wisdom from a great steel guitar designer and manufacturer.
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 21 Aug 2017 6:49 pm     Reply with quote

Quote:
Did ANYONE ever get rich from building steel guitars?


In 1965 Leo Fender sold his company to CBS for $13 million ($102 million in today's money). Steel guitars were part of his product line. Valco Co. in Chicago built and sold thousands of lap steels for Supro, Oahu, National, Silvertone, and others from 1940 to 1967. In the modern era... I doubt anyone is getting rich building PSGs.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 21 Aug 2017 11:16 pm     Reply with quote

So many valid points about cost of pedal steels and numbers vs Lap Steel Guitar. So for mass production maybe the focus should be on Lap Steel Guitar for marketing and then bespoke/custom pedal steels when requested.

What do you guys think?
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Bill Hatcher custom 12 string Lap Steel Guitar
E13#9/F Bebop Tuning

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Ross Shafer


From:
Petaluma, California
Post Posted 22 Aug 2017 6:29 am     Reply with quote

It's a fine idea and pretty much already being done.

There's no shortage of low priced lap steels out there....a quick look online shows Guitar Center selling at least 5 brands all under $300. And there's a zillion cool old lap steels from the days they were sold door to door that can be had pretty cheaply.

Guitar Center wouldn't bother stocking them if they didn't sell...that there is a strong indicator that lap steel sales to the masses doesn't mean much to the popularity (sales) of pedal steel.

I've no doubt Ben Harper has helped sell many thousands of low priced resonators and lap steels for quite a few years now...Can't say with certainty, but I don't think that's meant squat in sales for Pedal steels.

If I have it correctly you're suggesting those of us building steels should also be making/marketing affordable production laps to reel in those millennial for future pedal steel sales. Speaking purely for myself...I've got my hands full building pedal steels as I'd guess might be the case for most psg builders.

I'm really not trying to rain on your parade Stefan, but the business reality and history of our beloved slidey axes has to be considered. You could always start a steel guitar company and prove us geezers wrong. I'd welcome that!

OK enough for my morning entertainment, I've got to go fire up the beast and start "Makin' Chips": https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-EM4eno5E3EaJN4l9LF7sA?view_as=subscriber
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Doug Beaumier


From:
Northampton, MA
Post Posted 22 Aug 2017 7:30 am     Reply with quote

Quote:
there is a strong indicator that lap steel sales to the masses doesn't mean much to the popularity (sales) of pedal steel.


I agree with that. Pedal steel is a different animal... more complicated, heavier, and 10 times more expensive than lap steel. The main attraction with lap steel is portability, and simplicity and low cost. None of that applies to pedal steel.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 22 Aug 2017 8:45 am     Reply with quote

Doug Beaumier wrote:
Quote:
there is a strong indicator that lap steel sales to the masses doesn't mean much to the popularity (sales) of pedal steel.


I agree with that. Pedal steel is a different animal... more complicated, heavier, and 10 times more expensive than lap steel. The main attraction with lap steel is portability, and simplicity and low cost. None of that applies to pedal steel.


Agreed with this.

Simplicity in design but way more difficult in playing like for like. From chords to single note runs.

I must say that I love the idea of pedal steel and how each lever was developed due to necessity of the player. Heck even the tunings too.
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Stefan Robertson


From:
London, UK
Post Posted 22 Aug 2017 8:46 am     Reply with quote

Maybe someday I'd go for a 12 string Uni. When I have the budget but it'd need to be a hell of a lot more portable for public transport around london.
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