Supposedly an episode about guitars. Which starts after we talk about bikes and The Simpsons for about 20 minutes.
The Matt Sodnicar Podcast. Founded on the belief that one need not be famous to tell a compelling story. Focused on turning points in business and in life, those moments that will inspire others.
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Matt Sodnicar 0:33
everybody, welcome to the podcast. This is Matt Sodnicar. Thank you so much for listening for your comments for your support Cat Jeff, I really appreciate it. This one's for you, buddy. And with me here today is Doug cowher from cower guitars in he manufactures perfectly Cromulent guitars were in the noble tones and big in the smallest amp.
Doug Kauer 1:02
Yeah, you too, man. Hi, how are you, buddy?
Matt Sodnicar 1:04
I'm good. I'm good. Little bit of trivia about me on my dating profile. I went to Hollywood upstairs Medical College. Yes. Oh, I
Doug Kauer 1:15
love it. God, I love a good doctor Nick reference. Yeah. I definitely make the in federal blue means flammable. What a country joke. Like, every time I walked to the paint locker that's got, you know, all the warning labels. And that only happens like seven times a day every day. And I still make the joke at least once a day. So yeah. Oh, man. Yeah, I have one guy at the shop. Who has. He's not my oldest employee, but he has the highest level of job security because he is the other Simpsons and Seinfeld fanatic. So he's the only person who gets my references about 80% of the time. Everybody else in the shop just kind of nods along and goes, Okay. I'm sure that's Yeah, yeah.
Matt Sodnicar 2:05
My personal favorite with me and my son is anytime he says we're going somewhere I just go grammar rodeo.
Doug Kauer 2:15
Yeah. Oh, man. We could go down this tangent for a while. Yeah. Sunday, I went out for a buddy of mine went out to ride. And he's he's actually first guy ever played guitar with a band and he's the photographer that does like all our real photos on our website. Okay, who also you know, I've known since high school and we conveniently got him to buy a house two doors down from us and you know, anyway, so we go out to Ryan like it was like, pop in from the garage. Head now if we don't come back, I've entered debts and then just close the door and ran off. Yeah, there's a lot the license plate on my car is literally Mr. Globex. It's been the running gag forever. The likeable supervillain that works out pretty good. We almost made that on the box for the guitars. I think we ended up we we just I had a our graphics guy did like the Jebediah. Springfield statue, but was it's me with a guitar. And we almost use that one for the artwork on the boxes and the, you know, a noble tone and big as the smallest amp and I was like, I'm either gonna get sued, and I'm going to have like, 1000 boxes that I'm gonna have to recycle. Or no one's gonna get this joke, but like for people, and I'll just get endless emails about, Oh, yours a misprint on your books. And so was doubt, maybe next time?
Matt Sodnicar 3:50
Well, that that's a great segue. So the artistic line, and I'm gonna sound pretty pretentious here. And I'm not meaning to be but the artistic lines of a bike frame and a guitar I think are two of the most amazing designs on the planet. And what is what's that intersection for you and like, talk to me about biking. Talk to me about guitars. Where do you work? Because I'm fascinated.
Doug Kauer 4:18
You know, I mean, I got started building guitars. Got like 15 years ago now and I grew up my dad was a cabinet maker who just retired like this last January a few months ago finally so I you know, I've been in the family business since I was five. And you know, I grew up doing cabinets and building furniture. There's, you know, I know it's on a webcam, but like, you know, furniture all around the house here. It's all stuff I've done over the years and oh, yeah, sorry. Speaking of there's the last Simpsons reference for you. If you're gonna have a laser you might as well put it to use from time to time but it's laser it's water bottle of round Yeah, no. Yeah, that probably doesn't translate to radio very well here but but yeah, I you know, like I've always done this stuff and like 15 years ago, I guess more maybe that more than that now. This piece of maple came in the shop that was really pretty and I just kind of offhandedly said something about, you know, we've just tried build a guitar out of this. And because I played guitar, my dad played guitar. I met my wife because she started singing in my band back in high school, and I mean, she's my wife now she wasn't, I didn't marry her in high school. I was, it was a slower burn on that. But, uh, last name. Do you remember? Out of order? Because that's okay. Yeah. But you know, it's just, I said something kind of offhandedly in my father in law did like, like moderate to light duty Guitar Repair in the 70s. Like when he was going to community college. And he worked at the music store across the street from the college. And so he knew like fretwork and wiring that's guitar specific. And, you know, and I grew up building cars with my dad did all the woodwork. So one day that just kind of meshed together. And I was kind of nice to design something that wasn't a box or a square, though. I'm very good at designing things with 90 degree angles after 20 years of cabinet work. You know, it's kind of hard not to do that. But yeah, I just got into it. And I didn't know there was a bowtique guitar scene, you know, I didn't have a lot of expensive guitars or a deep, you know, knowledge of them. I just did it because it was fun. And I liked doing it. And then you know what, ultimately what happened is I designed a model that was just something I wanted to build for fun. And people liked it. And weirdly enough, the recession came around back in like, Oh, 708. And there was just no cabinet work to do. So I started building guitars to pass the time because there was nothing else to do. And they like dad's business dropped like 90% overnight, like it just was nothing. And people started buying them. And then I kind of hemmed and hawed because I had hobbies that I had, like, I, when I built cars for years, you know, I would get a business license just to get wholesale for myself and, you know, sell to friends just enough to justify to people that I wasn't just buying stuff cheaper for myself. But it always ended up ruining the hobby, like, I ruined cars for me for for a long time, because it just got to this point where like, you know, I'd be helping people out and something that I didn't ship with dropship direct from the company, we'd be missing one part, and I had to get the one screamed at and I'm like, No, I'm not, I'm out. I'm not doing this. And so I didn't really want to take something that I was enjoying doing and turning it into a living but kind of became no choice a little bit. And then I started meeting other people in the, you know, finding out there was this whole bowtique industry of guitar builders and, and made a lot of friends. And honestly, I kind of just got into it full time because I liked the other people so much. And I really love doing it. But like other builders and you know, it was like, it's, you know, there's not a lot of communities I've been in Where are you, you know, at least where you're talking about people who earn a living where it's such a joint, everybody shares as long as you're not ripping off somebody else's design, everybody's in the club and wants everyone to succeed. You know, and to this day, I have friends and, you know, Taylor Gibson and fender big companies that are high up dudes there who are friends of mine, and you know, we've had supply chain issues, like everybody else last couple years, and
my buddy is runs the repair department over at Taylor or he's one of the main dudes there. And his nephew, or his uncle is Bob Taylor, who I've met also and I own a bunch of Taylor guitars and and we ran out of clear coat and our clear supplier was like, Oh, we're a month out there's no polyester. I think they were blaming truckers this time, but it's always some it's, you know, whatever. And Taylor bailed me out, they sold me like the five gallons because they actually had phase two a slightly different product anyway, so they had five gallons left and they bailed me out on it. It's kind of amazing that this industry works that way. So I you know, kind of got into it and just fell in love with it like that. And then it turned out that I had a pretty decent sense of design. You know, it's, it's like anything else you kind of have to find your little niche in and guitars is a very diverse doesn't look like it if you're not into it, but there's a lot of diverse styles and so, you know, I have a little niche that works for me and and learn very quickly that you just kind of have to design the stuff that makes you have me happy and hope other people like it because if you try to design for other people, you're gonna end up building a telecast or again or something, you know, it's been done to death and, and if you're happy with it and you'd like it and you believe in it, the gotta kind of be willing to stick with it for the long haul, because sometimes it takes, I mean, this is our, like I said, like, 15 years in and it's just kind of finally feeling like it's clicking and the last three or four years of, you know, it's gone from like, oh, you know, I don't like this choice he made or I don't like that too, like, oh, no, these are these the whole thing, it's an artist thing and, you know, whatever. So yeah, you know, I kind of came to it through that and really enjoy it. And then the bikes if there is an intersection, and I think the intersection is honestly, not always in the design, because there's obviously they're very different things. But among people who build guitars, there seems to be a very common theme of we all you know, mess with cars or bills is something we're all into building things or how things work or mechanical things in general. And so the bikes are always very appealing for me that I'm definitely a big nerd on the I guess the kit and the tech side of that I and I was always the same way with cars too. I really enjoy you know, that element of even though I don't have like, I have friends who work for SpaceX who I would get drunk with at Volvo car shows when we were like in our early 20s cobbling these things together and now they're like legit engineers and run you know, metal 3d printing machines and five axis CNC is and I have friends that went on you know, actually have friends that have kind of a similar background of me where they you know, wasn't what they intended to fall into but they started making not pocket knives as a kind of a hobby and now they've got a multimillion dollar business doing knives and you know, same thing and these are guys that you know, I just we're just all nerds who enjoyed making things or building things and all happened to pick the same random car and message board and you know, geographically live near enough each other to occasionally run it you know, get to hang out it's just kind of weird how that stuff happens. So the bike stuff definitely hits that that front for me.
Matt Sodnicar 12:12
What do you have in your garage? what's your what's your bike setup? Your
Doug Kauer 12:18
the main bike I'm riding right now is a canyon. Grizzle CFL, CFL six, just adore. It's kind of really me it's, I finally realize what it is. It is the bowl of my bikes. It's exactly the same thing as I got into okay, it's a weird segue when I was a teenager and so building cars with my dad, my dad was into first gen Pontiac Firebirds. So we used to restore, we restored a bunch of those. My first car was a 69 Firebird that I built when I was like, 13 till I was 16. And then it was my first car. And then, and then I made this weird shift, because I had a friend who had a Volvo 240. And I just liked it. It was just a weird car, right? It was kind of neat. And I got really, like, I've had a lot of troubles. But I liked them. Because they're kind of difficult. They're not like building a Camaro or, you know, small block Chevy, where you just open the jigs catalog, and every single we had to engineer a lot of this stuff or figure it out or adapt it. And like my gravel bike. It's faster than you think. But not as aero as it could be. I guess it's kind of the the mix and it's, you know, more durable than than like the Ferrari but it's not as heavy as you think it would be. Voles are you know, that even though the kind of the tank reputation they were, you know, especially those 80s 240s they were legit, they could be legit, fun. Sport car might be a little bit of a stretch, but kind of like a yeah, there goes the dog. That took longer than I expected this time actually. You know, they're kind of like the the pony car thing. And so, yeah, that that bike is kind of ruined because I I don't know, like, like everybody else, I got like, 1000 tabs of bikes to drool over, but I just have a hard time. Like committing to any other bike. I have, you know, a handful of mountain bikes and stuff but not like a real proper road bike. That one kind of sits in that middle ground and you know, and the same thing like with Scott, my photographer, he's the one who kind of got me into this because I only really started writing in the last year. You know, like, in a version that I enjoy, like I do now like I just had a handle on everything in late 90s Rockhopper or something like just, you know, some generic e Grodd found mountain bike that I've had forever and ever and it was just the nightmare of a bike, you know, couldn't keep tubes in it for more than one bike ride. And I've got Do young kids and you know, so I wanted to be able to start riding with them more. And they're finally at the age where we can go out and ride bikes and I bought a truck FX two just to go, you know, ride with and stop my buddy is like, we call him Scott Sumur reports because he's a nerd at the highest level two like, and so he's, you know soon as that door likes to call it man I used to you know, when I was in high school in college and up until we had because I wrote so much and so I didn't know he was really into it. And then so we started riding together and then bikes started kind of coming up. And you know, what he and he bought, he bought a canyon Grail. And like, it was just this line of like, No, I just want a bike that I can go ride with the kids. And then I was like, I don't want to be that guy. And it was always something that was like the next step of like, I'm not going to be the guy with cleats. I'm not going to be the guy with I don't want to drop part like he was finally had to fully embrace. I'm just that guy like I like, you know, there's no threshold now that I'm unwilling to cross other than I don't have like a triathlon bike or something.
Matt Sodnicar 16:06
You're a mammal, you're a middle aged man. And like, oh, man,
Doug Kauer 16:09
it's Yeah, yep, that's That's exactly it. Yeah, it was like it was, well, I'll just get bike shorts, you know, and then they'll get bids. And I'm like, I gotta jersey, because I'm not like your stereotypical cyclists build. You know, I'm a bigger guy. And you know, I wrestled and all that stuff. And so, you know, I'm not exactly the best looking in spandex, but no, it's become a thing. And so he and I, we ride together a lot, have a group of friends that we write all kind of ride and it's the there actually works out kind of well, because in this they're kind of my same bubble from COVID and everything. They're all friends, our kids are all the same age, and we're all there. Three of them are teachers with my wife. And so you know, we've been in the same bubble but they're all my to do a Seinfeld reference there. My Tony friends, they're, they're like the athletic hiking rock climb, they're always out doing something and I hate all of those, like, not interested in any of those. They never go camping, you might go camping on a freakin chance did 10 lifetimes of camping growing up, I'm good. But the biking is the one thing that kind of overlaps with all of us. And then weirdly, I got, you know, to not be that guy and yet somehow be that guy and like, especially because they're in generally like much more athletic than I am. I got annoyingly competitive about it. And you know, to be fair, is the only form of exercise I do. They do much rather many other things but I really enjoy being faster than them and can ride a lot further than than them so I got one thing
Matt Sodnicar 17:51
if there's too well, I was in the bike industry for the longest time I still kind of am but when I was the the brand manager for at BH bikes out of Spain, that's when gravel bikes first came in, and I honestly dug thought it was just the bike industry being the bike industry, like trying to squeeze more sales, you know, out of that rock, until I actually got on some gravel roads here in Colorado and just out of nowhere, but I was going faster than on a mountain bike, and I was totally hooked. I saw that like, this is a thing. This is legit. I
Doug Kauer 18:37
love I love mine, you know, I as part of his kind of phobias, I do ride mine as a road bike, essentially, most of the time, it's down here, there's not really any gravel to get on. And when I was kind of going back and forth about what I was gonna buy, you know, the appeal of being able to say, you know, I got this bike, it's a little more relaxed position, which is what I've kind of preferred to be honest. And it's just a different tire set away from being able to do a few different things compared to you know, something with tight forks and whatnot. And my parents have a place they built a cabin about 10 years ago, they finished it and it's kind of right between Mount Lassen and Mount Shasta. So if you drew a line, it's kind of right in the middle, it's an area we've camped in my entire life, they built a house up there. So like the last time we were up there, like you know, I I that's what I did before I put the you know 45 C's back on it and rode the hell out of on gravel and then I came home and put a set of I've got a set of you know pan rates or gravel kings that I ride around town on most of the time and I put those back on and then rode bike it and then you know, I'll go back up in a month when we get to go back up and I'll reset it the other way and I just adore that setup. It's really like there's definitely like the there's some money and or personal goals that are attached to one bike that been sitting in that tab for a long time that I'm not quite there yet. I might, but I just have this feeling I'm gonna it's gonna be the bike that looks the coolest in my garage. But I probably still wouldn't write as much. I really love that bike that Grizzle. It's, it's been great for me.
Matt Sodnicar 20:17
Well, I love so going back to the design of bikes and guitars, there's like these harsh right angles, acute angles. Sure. And then there's absolute circles and curves. And there's, there's something about getting a guitar tune and mechanical shifter dropping in and being exactly on the cassette in the right space. That sure, just, it sounds good, it feels good. It's, it's, I don't want to say perfection, but it is as it should be. And there's something wonderful about anything that's reached, you know, it's perfect state.
Doug Kauer 21:05
Yeah, it's funny, you know, it's like, like how your car drives a little better after you clean it, right? Like you have those days. Like, yeah, like, you know, you get out on a bike, and you just have that day where, you know, it just feels on the money, everything's good, chips, great, you know, whatever, just for some reason, it's just a little better than normal. And we have guitars do that same feeling some days where you just get it, you know, for at least from a production point of view, you know, you'll have one that just stands out a little bit better than the rest or whatever, you know, and then you get to deal with, for us, you know, I have, I mean, we're a pretty small shop size wise and production wise, but I have three CNC machines for CNC machines. Three and a half of the half of the civil, I'll explain, you know, we do UV cured finishes, I've got a laser, you know, we have all these really advanced tools, especially for a six person shop, you know, these are, I have some tools that are usually saved for the big guys, I have this one very specialized CNC machine that comes in and, and, you know, scans all the fret work under tension, and we can mill off the top of each fret to the 1000s of a millimeter in each under each string in each position. Like it's just nuts, this kind of technology and stuff and, you know, that ability to kind of perfect and fine tune and whittle away those extremes. So that you do get that, you know, every guitars feels within that plus or minus, you know, I like to be like 3% range, which is a purely arbitrary number on arbitrary thing, but you know, that just that tightness, so that you do have that, you know, and the bikes are chi that way, you know, that's the part I have heard out about. It's the mechanical aspects of it and stuff. And, you know, definitely not annoyed at all that, you know, they get to work with non organic materials, and our entire life revolves around organic things and trying to make organic things act like an organic material. You know, not move every time the weather changes or whatever. But yeah,
Matt Sodnicar 23:18
well, something you said, talking about your design, style or ethos took me back to love sort of a marketing and sales quote that if everybody's your customer, then nobody's your customer. Sure. And I'm also listening to Michael Lewis's podcasts. He's the guy that wrote Moneyball, and all those books, and he's going back. And he's revisiting his first book, liars poker about the bond market. And he's talking to other authors in he talked about, and this is what made me think of when you're talking about that. He said, It took him a while to find his voice. Because as he was writing that first book, he's like, Oh, it's kind of Kerouac and then I was Hemingway. And then I was this and then do you remember the first time you created a real tower guitar?
Doug Kauer 24:17
Yeah. Yeah. So the first model I ever designed? Well, okay, there's two ways to look at this. And actually, I have both sentiments here. The first thing that was ours, that was my, the one that launched the business was a model called the day LIDAR. And the day LIDAR was mine. I'm gonna say mine ish. It wasn't. Sometimes with my business, you kind of the best way to segue into trying to get kind of a foothold on it is that you put your spin on something established, right? That's an old tactic. So the day letter was a Jazzmaster shaped guitar, which is fenders, want to fenders, guitars, but I always love that guy. tar shape wise, but I kind of hated every single other thing they did with it. But I thought that shape was really great. And so we kind of made that I made that version combined with kind of everything like about a Les Paul. So the carved tops at Gibson scale humbuckers, but not the Les Paul shape, which I equally despise, I don't find it a comfortable guitar to play or anything. And I kind of mash those up together. And that's kind of what caught for us. And then, so we did that for a few years, and I did a model we still do called the Banshee. And that was kind of that same boat, that original version of the Banshee was basically just a, how can I make Gibson as Firebird, which is a very eclectic thing from them. And actually good guitar instead of the kind of middle. I mean, some of them are good, they're just a, they're a finicky guitar. And since I wasn't tied to having to be vintage correct, I can make some changes that would make that guitar much better. So we did those early on. And then the very first thing that I could say, was entirely mine, when I finally found like, the pure version of my voice, or voice, you know, my style was a model called the Starliner. And so that was about six, five or six years in. And it's funny because it was one of those ones, I was trying to design a little bit more of a traditional I kind of coming around to the realizing that I'm kind of a single cut guy at heart style wise. And so I was trying to make kind of find that for me to find single cut. So like on a guitar, you get the neck and then like an acoustic the body kind of comes around on an arc at the neck. And you know, and then that's no cutaways, and then a single cutaway is like we're on the bottom side, it kind of scoops back the other way to give you room to get up the neck. And then like a double cutaway is like a Stratocaster or something like that, where it's on both sides. So like a Telecaster or Les Paul, those are single cuts. And so I designed this model called the Starliner. And it's funny because I just this is the other thing I learned kind of quickly with or I've learned over the years, I had a design that I had drawn and I just felt like I spent the last I was 10 minutes away from getting it where I was happy for six months and I could not like I just no change I could make to this day like it never quite synced up the way I wanted like I couldn't put my finger on why I didn't like it as much and I just finally went it was like I give up and I just deleted all of it kept the you know the the stuff that it doesn't change per guitar the next scale and all that stuff and then just started completely clean sheet and in the wind 10 minutes I hadn't Starliner design like it just came together. And I looked at and when that's the one if I realized if I spend if I can't get it where I you know, maybe not so much like okay, if I move this knob or this control that's that was kind of just like the nuts and bolts part but like the fundamental design the feel the vibe of it, if it doesn't come together in like an hour is never going to come together and it's never going to feel right because you just force it and force it and force it and and Starliner was that way like it came together and it was entirely my thing clean sheet you know from scratch. Famously I cannot draw guitar by hand who saved my life i can't i Everything's drawing AutoCAD you know, like I just I can't I can't sketch one I can't it's there are some actually like inside like the cower group chat like pictures of like when I had to like Mark a piece of wood and people will take pictures of how badly that does not look like a guitar at all. But Starliner came that way. And then that model we still make it it's evolved a couple times in like kind of sub versions and then
we did a one called we do want to call the Super chief which is like a big semi hollow and as Starliner shape it's just scaled up to become a big semi hollow body and that's another one like I dropped my kid off this is when I only had one kid at daycare in the morning and I was in the car filming like It's like 10 minutes from my shop and I was like you know what I think I want to sit down in I know I have a bunch of other things I need to do today but I want to sit down I have this thing in my head I want to do it. And I had within an hour the prototype body I had drawn it programmed it and had the prototype mocked up off the CNC within an hour and that guitar same thing like it has not fundamentally changed since I designed it I guess four years ago now and again we're on the webcam here where you can see that's that's four of them. They're like it's
Matt Sodnicar 29:48
Oh, you muted yourself
Doug Kauer 29:52
there we go. My battery. Yay. Yeah, it's the only thing I have more than one of mine. Oh stuff that I've designed. Like I, I just love that model. It's everything I've wanted to do in 15 years of building guitars. It's kind of the tough side to that as it's put me in a rut, because now I'm like, I don't really know what these are so good. We have one model that we're have kind of a finally like, it is kind of in that row of like, I've been struggling with it. And then I finally realized what I was struggling with. And, and, and it it, I changed it. And I'm really happy with it now. So now we're launching that one next month at this trade show we do every year. We used to do every year. This would be the first time back in a couple years. But uh, yeah, it just kind of you know, it's kind of my niche. I don't build a modern guitar, I don't build an acoustic I don't build something that's metal I don't build, you know, it's kind of a, you know, I'm probably the oldest 38 year old you'll ever talk to, you know, I've always been, you know, when I was 16 I was playing classic rock, you know, and and was driving 60s Firebirds and you know, so I kind of have that's always been kind of my wheelhouse and our my design sense for our guitars. That's kind of the thing that appeals to and so it's it seems to be my my wheelhouse.
Matt Sodnicar 31:15
That's my dream car, by the way. Yeah. 69 Firebird.
Doug Kauer 31:22
I can't swear I was just talking about this today. So I mine was a 69 originally 352 barrel. We rebuilt it restored as a 404 barrel, 400 H O spec. And then I sold it in 2001 When I started going to college. And because I felt bad, I kind of got to the point where I was just taking it out to go to the track. And I was like, yes, time to sell it, build something else. And then crazily enough about, I don't know, three months ago, you know, every once awhile, I'll kind of Google search just to see if it ever pops up, it popped up, it popped up at an auto like a like a kind of specialty car lot in Michigan. And I sold it no one. So it was 20 like 21 years later. And it was exactly as I had sold it. I mean, same tires clearly had not been just been stored and barely driven. And like I missed it. Not that I had the money to buy it back. But like, like if I had caught it like a month earlier, I might have been able to buy it back. And I was like, yeah. Which is probably for the best because I have 64 Chevy stepside that does run. And I have the current mobile project that I think is going on year nine now and does not run and has very little hope of running anytime soon. It's got a lot of yes, the money pit. The bikes have kind of eaten that up a little bit. My wife is very understanding about that money spending. I think she's kind of happy the cars or maybe not as much right now.
Matt Sodnicar 33:04
I wanted to come back to your design methodology because he talks about that first design where you felt you were 10 minutes away and never got there. And then the part where this newer guitar, you're still pursuing that design?
Doug Kauer 33:22
Yeah, at what point?
Matt Sodnicar 33:25
And maybe it's intuitive, do you just go, Alright, I know that there's an endpoint here, or I know that this is just, this was not wasted? Because I learned something. Yeah. How do you? What gives you the sense which way it's gonna go?
Doug Kauer 33:41
It's tough. I mean, I do try to have the perspective that there is no failures if you learn from it. And so, I mean, they're, they're frustrating, but, you know, I've definitely walked away from things thinking, Well, you know, and I've had other models in the past that were built to do very specific things, and they just didn't catch, you know, marketing wise and, or whatever reason, and I kind of built them just to show we could and to keep me, you know, sane at a certain point to, you know, not go crazy build the same thing over and over again. But like this one that I'm working on right now that was stubborn. What ultimately finally kind of broke it loose was to ditch the idea of what I wanted it to be in terms of kind of the niche in our lineup, where I thought it might fit and go kind of almost completely left field with it into a different direction. And then and then it allowed me to kind of change a couple proportions that were that I think was what was hanging me up visually on it. That is one of the nice things about the CMC when I was early on is, you know, the fact that you're drawing everything on the computer is tough to get kind of an organic feel. And so the ability to just like, do I like the shape is that proportion correctly? What looks good on the Screen maybe, you know, like the first couple of versions of some that, you know, first model the day later, were way too big in real life like I would end up just basically dumping the outline to the most simple just flat 2d, cut out of whatever piece of scrap, I could on the CNC just to, you know, pick it up and hold it. And that was probably what took me the longest is kind of having that intuitive feel about proportion and scale and curves. And you know, that organic is looking at something drawn 2d on the screen. You know, I learned, I mean, this kind of a tangent. I learned AutoCAD in my senior year of high school, because when I was a junior in precalculus, I realized that as far as I'm gonna go in math, that was the end of the road. And for whatever reason, AutoCAD counted as a math class. And so I took that my senior year as kind of a, you know, sure, why not. And and after I had was in that class, my dad actually bought, he was like, the first cabinet shop in Sacramento to have a CNC machine, like 1999 or so. And so it kind of became my job to draw and program for that machine. You know, because he didn't want to do it. And not that he couldn't he learned how to do it. But it was just happened to be this, you know, synchronized just fate to those things went together. And you know, I don't know how to draw on 3d. I never learned I took the one year of AutoCAD and 3d wasn't really a thing in the late 90s Yet, like it is now. And so I, you know, I can still run circles around anybody to do a two dimensional thing on the seat, like two and a half d because it's drawn 2d. And then I assign all my tool depths and stuff. But yeah, I can do that super fast. But I have a new kid who is really smart. He just started working for us in the last year. And like, he's got, you know, a hobby CNC and a hobby 3d printer and stuff. And so I've been just turning him loose, like, even today. I was like, oh, man, I could see this thing in my head that is just kind of beyond my skill set of like, can you 3d model this thing and print it, because I need to have a jig that drills a wire hole at an angle through the body and comes out in a very specific spot that I've done by hand it for the last 2000 guitars or whatever, but doesn't have 100% success ratio of not coming out through the face of the guitar somewhere. It's not supposed to. And he's like, Oh, yeah. And then you know, and so I don't actually do the assembly that much these days, I only do it in a pinch. I have you know, it's I do other things in the shop. And so I had to cover today for my assembly guy, one of my assembly guys. And so I got to use the jig for the first time. And I'm like, Oh, this thing is so awesome. Oh, these guys are so much smarter than me.
But yeah, it's you know, I, I've made a pretty good career out of fakie my way through, the best way to describe it is I have the super natural ability to learn just enough to be dangerous and fake it at almost anything. Like if you can show me something, and I can roughly grasp the essentials of it. Like, almost immediately, like every time we get the new machine like a new machine or something like that. We have to get trained on it. Like immediately I've got it, but not really mastered it just enough to like I would be a great exclude. Yeah, I mean, I was, ironically, I was a third of the way through my teaching credential. When I fell into building guitars, my wife was ahead of me. And so she finished and we had bought a house around the same time. So I went to work full time just to I figured, well, I'll come back. And I'll do the credential finish the credential program after you and so I probably wouldn't be a good teacher who is just one lesson ahead of the kids at all times. I could I could fake my way through it. But yeah, it's, you know, it's kind of long tangent to a question that probably didn't matter to this now. But yeah, it's it's kind of how I got there.
Matt Sodnicar 39:06
I love the tangents. I absolutely. One of the one of the questions I ask business owners, that was a carryover from when this was a true business podcast was, clearly you haven't quit. But was there a moment? That was the inflection point where it was? I'm gonna sleep on this. And how close was it and what did you do to work through that?
Doug Kauer 39:35
Well, about every 45 minutes, I'm ready to quit. Well, okay, yeah, I'll give this in perspective. I, there were days doing this, especially when it was me in and then eventually there was a couple of us and stuff. There was three of us at one point for the first couple years that are not the first couple of years. There were three of us. None of us got paid still, like we were just scraping by, you know, or barely got paid. And I still I'm the lowest paid employee in the shop, I take the least might, as long as my wife continues to have a unionized teaching job, my living situation at home will always be covered. So I try to take the least out, I do get some of the fun perks compared to everybody else. But yeah, I mean, there'd be days, I would just go home and hide under the covers, like I just would be exhausted and in tears frustrated, and, you know, ready to burn it all down, you know, no, no clue how tomorrow is going to happen, how I'm gonna get through the end of the week. And that stuff still happens. Right now. You know, I mean, I definitely have weeks where I'm like, you know, if the phone rings, right? Oh, man, okay, I have the best story for this day. We had a day like this a few years back where it was like, it was a Thursday afternoon, there was literally maybe $22 in the bank account, nothing, just nothing left in it. I had no prospects for what was coming in. We had no guitars that were billable, that we're wrapping up in the next day or two, you know, nothing. But we had one guitar that we had just finished up that day, that was actually inventory that we could put up on the website. And maybe we get lucky. And we're just kind of sitting around the shop, getting ready to wrap up for the day. And we're all kind of in the same crappy booth, just like the three of us, like, you know, and my buddy calls me from Texas. And he goes, he calls me he's like, Hey, man. And he would do these guitar building workshops. And I, you know, knew that was going on in that. And so, like, I was like, Hey, what's going on? How's your class going? Oh, man, we got these guitars were wrapping up. But they didn't send me these very specific screws that you can't find it like at a hardware store. They're very, very strange pieces. Like it's a real long screw with a tiny head. And he's like, he's like, is there any chance you have any of these? And I'm like, Well, you're in Texas, and it's gotta be 430 They're like, it's too late to get in from all parts who's also like the parks wholesaler in Texas. He's like, Yeah, I'm like, Alright, so you're playing the timecard of timezone advantage here, Mike. Yeah, I got you, buddy. Well, we'll get you taken care of. So go find these screws. And I'm like, Well, I gotta send them probably USPS express to get them there tomorrow. You know, the only one I have is like a medium size box. But if it ships it fits, or if it fits it ships, right. So I was like, we should go fill this with packing peanuts and toss those four screws in there randomly and they're like, like a toothpick with a head on their tiny screws. And, and then I'm like, now that's not mean enough, what we really should do is we went to the dust collector, and we have this huge dust collector. And it's got basically for like 100 gallon bags. And first, the bag furthest from the inlet fills up about once every seven days. But the bag closest to the inlet is fills up about once every nine months. Like it's like, because of the velocity is just the finest, lightest stuff eventually fills that first bag. So like assholes, we pulled that bag filled a medium sized flat rate box to the brim, tossed the four screws randomly in there, and then taped it up and shipped it. And then we went to go ship it and it was too late to guarantee it overnight through USPS. And I was like, oh shit, I'm screwed. Because we dicked around wanted to make this joke. And so I was like, well, the other problem is I don't can't really afford to ship it any other way. I was like, Well, if I use FedEx, they won't Bill My Account till Monday. It'll be there. My card won't work. But the pack the box will be there. So we've FedEx we ended up spending $140 to overnight, four screws. And then I got home and and like I telling my wife and she's like, You know what it happened and like how it had just lifted the spirits in the shop like we were. So we thought it was so freakin funny that we left in this living we were just like slit her wrists miserable before that. I came home telling her about I put this guitar on the website. And it was one of those rare times where I had put it up, I put it on Instagram and it was gone in 20 minutes. And I was like, Thank God we'll survive the fight another day. And then we spent the entire next day unable to work waiting for the phone call
for Yeah, it was worth it. Getting a video of it. Yeah, I just got this text that was just You're an asshole and then a video and like, yeah, like the old timey chimney sweep right. That's what this box became when you touched it. It popped out of every tape seem like he started to open it. And like it was like drywall dust. Yeah. And so Oh yeah. It Yeah, yeah, he we did that to him twice, actually the second time, and he knew it was coming the second time now and we wouldn't do that to you again. And then we definitely did.
Yeah, you gotta have those moments, man. Because it this, certainly the lows are the lowest when your business they suck. You know, but I, it's not a good business plan, but I have definitely had the miracle, something always comes through, you know, like it's not hard to plan for that doesn't make it any less stressful, but you know, and I definitely have had days where the accounts negative and and going to come out for a day or two until this payment we've been waiting on clears or, you know, I don't want to you know, or somebody that I'm waiting on is late, whatever reason, but, you know, I have a buddy who said it, you gotta be dumb enough to start and stubborn enough to stick with it. And that's kind of kind of what we do. And, you know, here we are all these years later. And you know, I do business with Guitar Center. Amazingly, that's a whole other conversation and, you know, dealers and customers worldwide. And you know, I'm was literally writing the invoice up for a guy that I hope pays quickly tonight. Before we got started on this, because it's you know, payroll came out last night and it's tight. We'll be fine by tomorrow, but tonight, it's tight.
Matt Sodnicar 46:30
Well, we're not doing this because we wanted to get rich, right? There's other ways to do that. But I think you and I have souls that need to be fed with creative endeavors. Yep. And I think that's the price you pay for, for having that. I call it a gift, right? The Creator gift and it can be art, it can be music, it could be web design, whatever it is, you're creating something out of nothing. And that has led me on. Yeah, I would say interesting financial journey as an adult has allowed me some amazing moments that I look, I worked for this one guy he was he was a CFO. And he drove a Honda Accord. He had one jacket, smartest financial guy I ever met. And he was the model of consistency and knew that and just was steady. And so I tried to take the the characteristics of those people in Europe and look at what those strengths are. But I could never do that. I wish I could sometimes but
Doug Kauer 47:46
it's a funny thing because like, I've had some really surreal moments in this right. Like we have big artists who play my guitars, big artists and and Sacramento is not a huge it's not really a known as a music town. I mean, like the Deaf tones are from here. And that's cool. Or it is great. But like usually when bands come through, it's like LA to San Francisco to whatever right. So then Sacramento is kind of got a music scene. And it's been getting better. But we're not known for that. So we have these weird connections like Walter Becker from Steely Dan played our guitars, he you know, to be fair, Walter Becker played everyone's guitars, he loves guitar, so it wasn't like it, you know, it's a nice thing to have. But like, my dad, you know, he's a kid from the 70s. And so he's a, he's a white guy from the 70s. He loves Steely Dan. You know, I guess his band. And, you know, or grew up in the early 70s. And, and so we the last time that we got to see Steely Dan, before Walter passed away, you know, they played in the city, and we got to take my dad and we got to go hang out. Like, I'm like, you know, we're friends with Walter we get to go hang out whenever he's in town, we'd go hang out and Bs about guitars and like, so my dad, you know, we get to drag my dad along him. You know, he's sitting in the greenroom with us and Walter just hanging out in the corner, like afraid to say anything. And I'm like, you know, this is because I didn't want to take calculus that you get to sit here and do this, you know, and you know, I have it's such a surreal, weird, winding road that gets you here and that those things do make like, I you know, I don't know how it is in cycling community. But for me, you know, like, we get random people in the shop from time to time and UPS drivers or whatever. And every time you get somebody to do is like, oh my god because Bill guitars again, right? You just need someone famous to play yourself and you'll make it and I'm like, we have famous people who play or stuff like, that's not that important. Like it is it helps but it doesn't. The dude with kids or you know the person with kids in a day job as who pays our bills, not not Walter or Scott or you know, Tom DeMont or any of these guys I love them dearly, and they're good for us. But that's not, you know, maybe it's for sometimes it is. But for us, it's just been, you know, we don't have that like, oh my god, they put us on the map moment and we're busier. It's been a slog. But what artists do for us besides being one of the most reliable ways of, especially when you're starting out, sending guitars around the world to different climates and different you know, knowing all that, that just that like, mental victory for us, like, oh, yeah, we don't suck at this. We're good at this, right, these people will play our stuff. And we are good at this. Like, you know, I have a brad Paisley's guitar player, Gary plays our guitars, and he's another guy, I met through a weird friend of a friend and like, so when Brad comes to town, the whole band is the nicest group of people, the his road crew is all like, it's always the same team. We see him every year, we get to go spend the entire show drinking free beer on stage, four feet behind Brad Paisley, and, you know, directly behind Gary and his backline. And like, you know, so we get to bring friends along for that and it's a kind of a fun flex to do and it's you know, I'm like, that doesn't pay our bills, but it certainly makes us a lot more worth it and enjoyable and then you know, you we get to do events and stuff that makes it look fun and meet people but yeah, it's it's it's really surreal. Especially that same thing like I'm like, we're just not have just the guy who started building guitars because a piece of wood that sparked his interest in now I have, you know, big artists who play our stuff and and who have had to pay for their guitars, I don't give them away. We have some that I once they reach a certain point in relationship with us, they may get early test stuff for like, occasionally I have to break in like new painters or something in the shop or, you know, we're the only way you can do it at a certain point is just be willing to say, hey, something's not going to come out. Maybe he's visually as good as it could. That's the kind of perfect guitar for you know, Tom or something like that. Or Dennis flogging Molly. But yeah, it's cool. It's enjoyable.
Matt Sodnicar 52:06
Yeah, I remember the first moment with my clothing company that I saw somebody I didn't know wearing it. And they walked by at this big event purely random that I saw him as a huge, like, 3000 person event. Sure. Wow. I mean, it was one of those those moments and I think you're right like that, being too stubborn to quit. I think it this might be too big of an analogy, but you're thirsting in the desert there. And it could be a financial reward. It could be encouragement, it could be a text or something like that. in it. It gets combined amalgamated if that's the right word into just that little extra calorie you need. Yeah, we'll just like the universe rewards not quitting.
Doug Kauer 53:06
Yeah, I had that exact moment I can I can synthesize it almost exact to your analogy, actually. Before I had gone full time, so I was still building I was building guitars. But I was still working for my dad and I built guitars after hours. This the very first RSU started playing guitars is a guy named Michael Burks. And he was a blues guitar player. He passed away a few years ago, unfortunately. And I was working I swear to God, this is ridiculous. All my birthday, which is in like Memorial Day weekend. So it's like 110 degrees already in Sacramento. It's just surfers in the sun. And it's like three o'clock and I had reached that age when like there's definitely an age when no one cares. It's your birthday anymore like that. All your family like other than the people you maybe would run into in your immediate house that day. No one cares and and rapidly. Okay, that sounds simple. You don't I mean, like like I was like 25 and I got a phone call from the not my car insurance agent. But the Secretary to the my, you know, who covered my all state plan or whatever, right? Just wishing you a happy birthday. Okay, cool. Thanks. So I'm in the trailer and we're loaded John go out in the next day and it's just a million degrees and I'm sweating and I hate every minute of it at this point. And Mike the guy who was the first guy ever started playing my stuff called me and I knew he was on tour to my current showing like Italy right now. It's like yeah, man just wanted to call wish you happy birthday and just let you know, your guitars doing great and how much I love it. And I'm you know, on like, and like, that was that that was that moment where I'm like, he almost will always have this, like sixth sense. When I was first starting out where I was, at that point, were like, why am I doing this to myself? He would call me like he would just somehow know and I would end up because he was a nerd. I mean, we're all nerds. So we you know Hey man, I was you know, I just ran across this, you know, amp or something and we just BS about guitars and how much he enjoyed his guitar for me. And, you know, you'd have that moment where you just, it gets you through, it's that that cheerleader or whatever you needed in your corner to get you that the next, you know, the next mile. Yeah. And, you know, well, your wife can only do that so much. You gotta have somebody else. Actually, that isn't biased.
Matt Sodnicar 55:28
Right. Well, last question, and I'll let you go. I want to turn the the famous person question around a bit. Any guitarists living or dead? If you could put a guitar in their hand and watch them play it? Which guitar? Would it be of yours? In which person would that be?
Doug Kauer 55:49
Ah, that's a good one. Well, I am a nervous parent. So I almost always hate watching my stuff get played. So much. Okay. I hate that first time. In some regards, like if it's a brand new guitar, and it goes out right on stage, I'm always like, Oh, God, I hope we didn't miss something or that's just broken in. I'm good. But I would probably say, for me, it'd be my super chief model, for sure. And the guitar player would probably be Otis rush, who is a blues guitar player from like the most notably from the 60s. He's that guy that nerds know he is. But almost everybody doesn't realize they know who he is. Because his guitar playing is. So once you kind of hear him, you realize all the Clapton and Jimmy Page and all that stuff, that's who they listened to. And he's just kind of this relatively, like, just never got his do, I think as famous as he should have been, like, he's not like, as known as Albert King, or, you know, see Ray Vaughan or any of those guys, like, you know, or BD, obviously, you know, he's not a household name, but he's my favorite guitar player. And, and, and not even like, all of his stuff. Like I like a lot of his albums. And there's, they're all really good. But there's one album, that is like a, it's a terrible, I mean, it's recording wise, it's literally like a recorded am radio appearance that he did, like, it was like a club that they played at and broadcast on the radio, right? It's called Live at wise fools pub. And it's, the quality is not great. And it is just the most ferocious, amazing guitar playing like, it was one of them. I didn't like I as a kid. And even growing up with the musical background that I had. I didn't find this rushed much, much later in my life, like in my 20s. And I heard that it was like, the thing just went off. And, you know, you could be being an almost history teacher was like, this whole section of history gets clumped into place, like, oh, that's who those guys were listening to. I get it now. So yeah, that'd be the one.
Matt Sodnicar 57:54
What was the name of the album again?
Doug Kauer 57:56
Or the live at wise fools pub, I think is that album? It's, yeah. And it's it. It's, weirdly, I ended up meeting a guy through guitar building, who is, you know, a hobby guitar builder. And who turned out to be the saxophone player on that album played sax for Otis. And I was like, just yeah, my life has this weird circle of connections that somehow always is interesting to me. And probably not to anybody else. But I don't care.
Matt Sodnicar 58:25
That's why I think your designs land is that you're doing something for yourself. Right? Yeah. That's the trick to it. Yeah. And you'll find you'll find the people that that resonates with those design choices that exclude, either intentionally or accidentally people, they, they wouldn't be happy with your product
Doug Kauer 58:45
either. Yep. Yep. It's the same thing about people who complain about our prices, like, ironically Okay, with bike cycling and stuff, like when you own a business, and so when you own a business that sells things, you definitely have a different appreciation of wholesale resale retail supply chain, like he understand that. And then when you you know, like, the average guitar, for me, even with all the equipment we have, is still 30 to 60 hours of hands on work, depending on the model, sometimes higher, but usually it's 3540 hours. I mean, just paint is, you know, eight hours to get through finish assemblies, just to assemble is six to eight hours, depending on the model. You know, that's not including glue up times or anything like so it's time intensive. So like, you know, people who complain about our prices, some it hasn't happened nearly as much as it used to, I'm like, Just come work for me, man. You have a totally different appreciation of, you know, the fact that you can go buy, you know, it's not a mass produced. It's not, we're not talking about a Hewlett Packard laptop, where they make them, you know, they have all the infrastructure to build these things that 1000 An hour or whatever, right? It takes us freaking forever to do these and I do it faster. The most it's gives you that appreciation of how much effort goes into just making anything like, you know, I had a friend we got on a tangent about like a $200 Barbecue that you could buy it, you know, Lowe's, like how how was that even possible? How do you even like not like a Weber? Like a total? We're like a full on propane, stainless grill that, you know, yeah came from China but I'm like, just doing the packaging for that. Right? Like, how do you get in a new cell that thing in such quantities to the Lowe's will buy it and still make 140 bucks on it probably or what? Like, just something, you know, that whole thing is mind boggling. So you know, I I'm very cognizant of we don't build something cheap. I build it as reasonable price as I can I you know and stuff in and I have a very strong appreciate. Like, when I buy stuff for my bike or new bikes, I will spend the money to buy the thing that I know that I want. And I don't gripe about the price, because I know how involved is it to make that thing. You know, and yeah, it's It's nuts.
Matt Sodnicar 1:01:18
Well, Doug, this has been awesome. It's I love that. I think we went 20 minutes without talking about guitars and it was Simpsons and
Doug Kauer 1:01:28
well, my pleasure.
Matt Sodnicar 1:01:29
Yeah. So entertaining and just getting a look inside just another piece of functional design and artwork in. Yeah, just. It's been great chatting with you and to know Yeah, really?
Doug Kauer 1:01:41
Yeah. Well, me too. I appreciate the conversation. And it's been very fun. I I do enjoy it.
Matt Sodnicar 1:01:48
Thanks. And I'll post links to cower guitars, ka u e. r guitars.com. And take a look at the artists pictures. The pictures and the guitars are amazing. And the guitars on their own are just stunners.
Doug Kauer 1:02:02
Thank you. Instagram is usually the best place to find what we're up to the most. I don't do too much other social media these days. But just at our guitars, you know, we're always doing dumb stuff on there and the occasional Simpsons joke, not as much as we used to, but it's almost a little too busy lately to get the jokes in there as much as we'd like. But, yeah, that's where we're perfectly Cromulent at.
Matt Sodnicar 1:02:28
Thanks, Dr. Nick.
Doug Kauer 1:02:31
Well, thanks, man. I appreciate it.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai