Tuesday, September 06, 2005

First Act Guitars: Chiu's or Lose

The Advanced celebrate rock'n'roll, rock'n'roll requires guitars, guitars require makers, so here's something from boston.com:

New guitar companies crop up roughly as frequently as world wars. There are two industry giants, Gibson and Fender, and they've dominated the market since the invention of guitar amplification in the 1930s.

Bernard Chiu, chairman of the Boston-based First Act, believes his company's name will someday be just as familiar to music enthusiasts.

...[T]the company's most notable contribution to the guitar world doesn't boast a high-grade maple top or detailed inlay, and isn't presented under museum lights. First Act's secret weapon is a line of small guitars in cardboard boxes with see-through plastic fronts. They're sold in the toy departments at Target and Wal-Mart. And they're revolutionizing the market for musical instruments.

...''The concept is no novelty," says Chiu, 49. ''Time after time people have tried and failed. I think it's because people didn't really understand how to marry music and mass merchandising. What's unique about our company is we have people who know about moving products and people who know about music. These aren't toys. They're real instruments."

Chiu, who in the late '80s founded the Southborough-based Duracraft company, decided early on that First Act needed to ally itself with prominent musicians.... So First Act lured two key figures away from the Gibson company. In 2002 it recruited a top luthier, Kelly Butler, to start a First Act custom shop in Boston. The following year First Act hired artist relations whiz Jimmy Archey, whose Rolodex of rock guitarists' phone numbers has helped get First Acts into the hands of Franz Ferdinand's Nick McCarthy, Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, and Nick Zinner of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

''Last fall I was talking to Jimmy and mentioned that I was going to be doing 'Saturday Night Live,' and the next day this beautiful handmade instrument arrived," says Jimmy Messer, Kelly Clarkson's guitarist. ''I loved it and used it on the show. When we were in Boston, I stopped by the shop and Jimmy let me take another guitar, something a little more rock 'n' roll, to play at the VMAs last Sunday."

Paul Westerberg prefers his crimson ME501, purchased for $179.98 at Wal-Mart and used nightly on the rock musician's spring tour.

... As a child, Chiu, who grew up in Hong Kong, loved the guitar, but his parents couldn't afford lessons. At 13, he began working in his family's plastics shop. He never attended college and describes himself as a self-taught innovator with more than 100 patents in the United States.

Chiu moved to Somerset, Mass., in 1982 and gave himself a business education through a series of office jobs. He married, started a family, and in 1987 founded the Duracraft company, maker of heaters, fans, humidifiers, and other appliances. The company grew quickly, the Chius moved to Wellesley, and after selling the company to Honeywell in 1996, Chiu began an early retirement: playing golf and spending time with his family. A year later he received a call from former Duracraft colleague Ronald Izen and his brother Mark.

''They wanted to talk to me about bringing musical instruments to the mass market," says Chiu, ''and from a business standpoint it sounded like a good idea. People buy what they see. How many people are getting up in the morning and going to a music store? But they completely missed the point. The better idea is getting more people to play more music. I got very excited thinking about placing instruments in front of consumers every day."
I get very excited about that too. I'm also excited by the prospect that someone could come up to me and ask: Is that a Chiu? And I could say: Gesundheit.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just saw that First Act was doing custom guitars too.


They look really impressive!