Move over Gibson Guitar Factory. Memphis Guitar Spa has launched an in-house brand of specialty guitars.
When Memphian Elliott Ives and his bandmates with The Tennessee Kids joined Justin Timberlake on stage at the 2015 CMA Awards, the show’s up-and-coming star was a Memphis-made guitar.
For Memphis Guitar Spa, the performance was an important moment in the launch of what has become its latest focus, production of the Ferner & Hilbolt line of guitars and bass guitars.
At the CMA Awards, Ives used a custom guitar built at Memphis Guitar Spa at 2561 Broad Avenue. It was the first of what is now six models of guitars custom built at the Broad Avenue Arts District shop that opened in 2013.
Ferner & Hilboldt guitar bodies hang in the workshop waiting to be connected with necks.
Kevin Ferner opened the business with a focus on of guitar repairs, custom builds and custom finishes. He was later joined by fellow luthier Hans Hilboldt. The pair manages everything from broken tops and necks to finish work.
“We’ve been building them for years, but to say it’s actually Ferner & Hilbolt with that head stock was the one we did with Elliott,” Ferner said of the guitar debuted at the CMA Awards. “We’ve been planning this for a long time. We’ve been doing one-off customs for seven or eight years, but we wanted to start our own brand.”
The official coming-out party for the line of guitars came at a showcase in November 2016 at Memphis Made taproom, where anyone in the brewery could try their hand on one of the new instruments.
From that moment, Hilbolt said the company has been in full production mode for orders of the instruments.
The guitars are a mix of a classic series and ones that pay homage to popular styles and high-end, boutique guitars. Ferner said the the team is filling a niche in Memphis and the guitar market in general.
The plan is to add another six models by the end of 2017 to the current line. It’s a good starting point, Ferner said, but the duo will happily still make any custom design that someone brings in.
Hans Hilboldt & Kevin Ferner pose with a custom guitar in the Memphis Guitar Spa workshop
No matter the product or work completed, Ferner said it’s important to keep prices competitive because they want their guitars played by working musicians.
“We’ve grown a lot,” Hilbolt said. “We’re seeing a lot more in our repairs department coming in that’s local, but also seeing a lot more coming in that’s shipping in because our name has grown and we’ve formed that bond of trust.”
That trust has been an important part in how Memphis Guitar Spa has built business through word of mouth. The company doesn’t spend money on marketing or advertising although they did recently bring on a publicist.
The duo doesn’t have plans to leave Broad Avenue, but the space has become pretty tight. That eventually could lead to considering having a second production facility while keeping a storefront on Broad. That central location on Broad has helped the business cater to a regional customer base from across Shelby County, North Mississippi and East Arkansas.
Hans Hilboldt installing strings on an electric guitar.
The business’ lease on Broad runs through 2019, and the two are inclined to continue operation out of that location, even if it means opening a second manufacturing facility elsewhere. No matter where they operate, Ferner said the repeat business they now receive is important to continued success.
For now it’s just the two of them, but they do plan to bring on a full-time office manager this spring.
Memphis Guitar Spa began long before its storefront opening in 2013.
Hans Hilboldt adjusts the tension of the strings on a guitar.
In his youth, Ferner bought pawn shop guitars to pick apart and learn how they were made. He eventually found his way to music performance beginning with the cello at eight-years-old and later other instruments.
Later in adult life Ferner did guitar repair on the side, first out of a utility closet in his garage in Florida and later in a larger shop behind his house. The business was known as Guitar Spa, a name he carried over when he opened the Broad storefront.
The business got an early boost as one of eight finalists to participate in the MEMShop small business incubator along Broad Avenue. The program, then backed by the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team, provided business assistance and subsidized rent.
Memphis Guitar Spa also received a grant from River City Capital that was used for façade and retail space improvements. River City Capital offers assistance with a focus on Binghampton, South Memphis and Frayser.
Ferner said the future of Memphis Guitar Spa, which will include expanding the line of models of Ferner & Hilbolt guitars, will be a challenge.
“A lot of this industry is building a reputation for yourself and it takes a while to do,” Ferner said. “It takes quite a while to actually get paid what your time is worth in this business. Nobody goes into this to get rich quick.”