This feature appeared on Huffington Post Business, October 2013
With all due respect to Jon Landau and Bruce, I saw the future of rock 'n' roll and its name is... Bohemian Guitars.
In the spirit of Leo Fender, Les Paul and Orville Gibson who revolutionized modern music with their voltage enhanced six-string instruments, founding Bohemian brothers Shaun and Adam Lee have created the perfect axe for the turbulent times we live in: guitars made from....oil cans!
Raised in South Africa and the United States, and now residing in Atlanta, the Lees absorbed the musical culture, along with the social principles, of both continents. Then fate beckoned. Recalls Shaun " a couple of years ago, we went on a trip back to Cape Town and Johannesburg to visit family, and as we were walking through a local market I saw this guy playing an oil can instrument - it wasn't very sophisticated - but he wanted a guitar so bad that he made it out of discarded scrap..." Thus began the Lees' noble mission: to create a playable, visually alluring instrument that sounded as cool as it looked - and one that is affordable to the masses.
"Part of our inspiration also stems from the feeling that I wanted to have a guitar that is unique to my personality" reveals Shaun." I'd find a really beat up oil can that 'spoke to me' and I'd connect with it! If I buy a Fender off the rack I am doing the same thing as thousands of other people... the oil can guitars give me an identity - much like the 60s - 70s generation when guitar players routinely customized their instruments."
Similar to all renown inventors of musical gear, the Lees tirelessly tinkered until they came up with a design and components that suit the needs of the living, breathing, obsessed guitarist: a neck with an adjustable truss rod and bridge which offer accurate intonation and adjustment options fit to a player's individual requirements, coupled with electronics which vary tone and volume. The Bohemian Guitar is sturdy, stays in tune, is durable, easy to transport, and damn, it attracts attention! Plus, as the guitar is made of metal, the player not only garners a distinct resonance from the can itself, rubbing it against the human body affords an even more unique tone. This is the stuff which makes guitarists salivate.
So, you wanna be a rock 'n' roll star? The new truth is - players who are seeking the spotlight or simply wish to woo the girl next door no longer need to shell out thousands of dollars for the same guitar models used by Clapton, Van Halen, Page, or Hendrix. Hence those marquee brands are in trouble -which is also partly due to the fact that we have not had a bona fide guitar hero since Ronald Reagan was President. Name brand recognition and loyalty to the old guard is becoming passé.
Secondly, ask any astute working guitar player and you'll fast learn that lower priced models from the major brands are just as good as their higher priced versions, if not better. As such the major music gear retailers are facing financial woes too - especially at brick and mortar.
"From a business perspective I have been following what has been going on with the major retailers" notes Adam. "We learned that what would once be considered 'unconventional channels' for marketing guitars is really the way to go. That's why we are in a large lifestyle retail outlet, and we are pushing our guitars through online distribution since it is quite evident that online retail is what musicians now prefer. Also, what Shaun and I have picked up on while procuring materials is that while a major brand may promote an exotic piece of wood on their guitar - in our opinion, it has little effect on the sound. The wood materials that we use are equal to the high-end woods. So Bohemian can build a guitar at a low-cost and sell it at a reasonable margin - we don't need to sell our guitars at high price points because we are not spending large amounts of money sourcing woods from the forests of South America. We have a unique guitar that rivals the sound of the expensive traditional guitars."
With banks hesitant to loan money to start-ups, the Lees are taking the alternative route to the marketplace much like musicians who have to fend and fund for themselves due to the collapse of the record industry and the disappearance of the traditional record store: crowdfunding. By way of Kickstarter, the brothers raised about $55,000 to get their business rolling. Their next move is a securities based crowdfunding campaign through Sparkmarket which commences in early October.
Explains Adam "Right now from a federal level, if I want to crowdfund and try to raise money for equity in our company it's not legal - but it is in Georgia. The state has come up with an exemption which says if we are going to raise money for capital we can do so as long as we are a Georgia based company and only sell shares to Georgia residents. It also allows us to sell shares to both accredited and non-accredited investors. It's pretty revolutionary ...like our guitars!"