Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Gus Guitars and Calder Guitar Case

Had a great conversation today with Simon Farmer the man who designs and builds the very distinctive hi tech Gus Guitars - and in particular the G1 10 for which Simon has built a fabulous case which looks very like the Calder Case. He tells me he came up with his design about 8 years ago which in my book means he's a guy way ahead of the wave.

Excellent for me to find another human who's as passionate and geeky as I am about guitar cases and new materials. Simon hand builds all his guitars using space age materials like Kevlar and Carbon fibre. He's also designed a very elegant sounding locking system for his G1 10 case.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Day in the life...guitar case designer entrepreneur

Just in case any of you were thinking its just all Nashville, LA and other fancy places in my life...here's a slice of reality.

7.00 woke, cooked breakfast for family.
7.50 argued with my wife about...something...
8.00 found I had left the car lights on so battery flat and its time for school run.
8.01 argue with my wife again.
8.10 clear up breakfast
8.10 Wonderful Francis Porter our web designer came for e-commerce conversation. Enjoyed his calm understanding of his field. Felt sane and intelligent for the hour I was with him.
9.30 Coffee and first cigaratte, chat with 8 year old son Donald who's at home with mumps.
10.30 Spoke with our designer Michael Mailling - we are both amazed by one potential manufactures complete failure to reply to constant mails and voice messages. He's supposed to be running tests with new materials - but we have no idea if tests have been done. He has our prototype mould which I need to send to Italy....What is going on...
11.00-17.00 Writing application for money from UK NESTA Innovations Fund. Hellish detailed form - and that's just the easy one. Online form kept losing data I'd entered...or was I being dumb...never sure.
Distracted by aforementioned son wanting attention.
Distracted by aforementioned wife wanting help with her laptop.
Distracted by delivery man wanting instructions on how to find us.
Distracted by delivery man wanting to deliver something large.
Distracted by need to eat, drink coffee and smoke.
17.00 Start to cook risotto - always a major saga
19.00 Exhausted from tired hungry kids (Don's twin sister Hattie how home) and cooking eat fast, drink red wine.
20.00 Clear up kitchen.
20.30 Mow lawn until dusk
21.30 Back to study to deal with emails etc

Now 23.36 and that's it for today...exciting...

category: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 11 New Logo Development

Sept 04

Asked my friend and whizz designer Matt Wiessler if he would help with the design of website and take a fresh look at the logo.

After a couple of weeks he came round and spread different logos over the floor of my sitting room saying 'tell which you like....' Hard choice - here are some of those I liked most...at first sight.
Trial logos

Matt then said 'ok let me tell you which is one I think you should have...' and picked up this sheet.
Logo trial final001

Matt said he wanted this one cos it was just unlike any other logo - outside of the comfort zone. Once I got the idea I liked it a lot. Many hours of Matt fine tweaking the balance of the logo and the text and here is the final thing.
Final logo

category: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 10 First Logo First Marketing

Jan 04

Finding a name for the company. Came up with lots of seemingly cool names like Transcaster, Jelletele but all too contrived and too linked to Fender.

Looked at the great guitar companies - all named after the guys that made the guitars - so ok give the company my name. Comer-Calder - too long (my wife's surname joined with mine) so I chose Calder. A little embarrassed about this seemingly ego-centric idea mailed marketing man Chris Abel. Chris wrote 'yes - sounds good' and here's a logo I knocked up for you...

Chris's logo looked fine to me - elegant distinctive. Anticipating that my cases would be copied I decided to add 'Originals' to emphasise the point our brand was about originality and innovation. 'Yeah maybe you can buy a knock off at half the price - but you aint got a Calder Original.'

The CO logo's first outing was material we sent to distributors and guitar manufacturers to tempt them into meeting with me at Frankfurt in April 04. This is what we sent...

marketng cover crop

Marketng ext crop

category: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Friday, June 17, 2005

Calder Guitar Case Design - comments please on a cleaner look

I asked Michael Mailling to run a Photoshop job on photographs of the prototype to take out the lazy S line across the case. I wanted for more simplicity. For some time I've felt that the sculpted look of this line was elegant but detracted from the authenticity of the design. My aim to produce a design of absolute simplicity and authority. My opinion is that removing the S has moved us in that direction.

What do you think? Better? Worse? Don't give a damn...? Send us your comments.

CU Hard case left
Hard Case Profile

new 3/4

New profile

new rear

Coming Soon - Calder Guitar Case Designers' Stories

I thought it would make this blog more complete and interesting to have input from the designers I've worked with.
UK Designer Michael Mailling has agreed to post his views soon and I hope Bart Haney from Superhappybunny in LA will also send in a post or two.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 9 Hard Case Prototype emerges

Oct 04-Jan 05

After Nashville the next big date in the music product calendar is January's LA NAMM - the big mamma of trade fairs. I'd missed my initial target of showing protoypes in Fall 'O4 so by Jan I had to have one to show distributors.

Like everything else in this process creating a working prototype took much longer to achieve than I ever imagined.

Having gone through major panics in the run up to Nashville I implored designer Michael Mailling to be sure the prototype was ready well in time for LA.

To add a little spice to life my wife had come up with a plan for the whole family to be in India for a month over Christmas - we'd get back 5 days before the NAMM show...India - how could I not go ? But it was the worst timing ever.

Dec 12th
Left the UK - Michael assured me all would be well. From Indian cyber cafes constant emailling for updates and re-assurances. In Bangalore I got a bad bad chest infection...life is rich indeed. A pre-Christmas call to Michael gave some comfort as he reported significant progress.

Wed Jan 12th (5 days before depart for LA)
Back in the UK - hear that the machine making the case lining had crashed losing us 2 days.. aaaahh... Jet-lagged and culture-shocked my nerves leapt to code red.

Fri Jan 14th (3 days to go)
The day Michael was to deliver the protoype so there was time for me to check it out. Michael calls - the company making latches and handles are behind schedule - they will have to work over the weekend - will deliver Monday - the day I leave.

Mon 17th 2pm
Still not ready - the prototype handle had not been delivered. Michael's associate John Wright is hand carving one from a lump of plastic...they will meet me at my overnight address near Heathrow Airport.

Mon 17th 9pm
Text from Michael...'we're working overnight, meet you at the airport.' How close to the wire is this ? Drink lots of red wine to dull the nerves.

Tues18th 7am
Another text 'We're driving through snow - should be on time.'

Tues 18th 8am
Arrive at Heathrow - no sign of Michael and John. Call them - they are close

Tues 18th 8.15
They arrive - I have 10 mins to look at what they've got. Looks exciting but I am so wired I really can't take in anything they are saying.

Here's some images of the prototype in construction, and of the moment of delivery.

The two halves of the MDF protype tool
MDF 2 halves head
MDF 2 hlvs 3q
Thermoforming the foam liner.
Thermo lini
Thermoforming the outer shell.
Thermo forming hardd
The Expanded Polystyrene inner shell and foam lining come together.
prototype core:eps
John Wright looks as if he's wondering if the stressed out client is happy.
NCC w proto hw
Michael and John looking bleary after 20+ hours of non-stop work.
MM & JW at Hrw

categories: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Friday, June 10, 2005

Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 8 First 3D Models

Sept/Oct 04
Too many words in the last two post - this one's briefer with some pix.

In Nashville I'd promised a prototype guitar case by Sept/Oct. Back in the UK reality kicked in - too many decisions to be made - final shape , materials, suspension system etc. Ok so focus on detailed model-making and launch the Calder R&D website to keep distributors warm.

Designer Michael Mailling carved a full size model in blue foam - looked as good as the CAD images. Here's Michael looking proud of his baby, and some other pix.
Michael w blue m
Ble w PRS
Blue model

I showed the blue model to a UK distributor - a big Scotsman - his response '...the most exciting thing I've seen in years...'

Michael produced some half size models in black - very cool.
first black model

Michael refined half size model - with a more dramatic sculpted line across the case. Here's some of his sketches and the final model.
Mich group sketch
Mich final sket
IMG_1black model

Nov 04
Went to the Music Live, Birmingham (England). Showed both black and blue models. Distributors v enthusiastic. Their message - 'good work - now show us a prototype that works'.

Part of me feels the more sculpted look is too slick for rock guitarists to buy into. I wonder if the plainer look of the earlier black model might be better. Any comments on this? Let me have them.

One big suprise at Birmingham. 'I see you're in production' said one distributor 'No' I replied. 'Well there's a case just like yours here.' 'Oh really' say I - and hot foot to where he pointed. Here's 3 v. low rez shots grabbed with my Sony Ericcson.
Gus case profile
Gus case rear view
Gus Guitar

The maker is Simon Farmer who ownsGus Guitars . This is his $13,000 10th Anniversary Limited Edition guitar and case. Amazing that from his unusual guitar he arrived at a case so close to ours. I was a little choked to find my shape was not as unique as I'd believed - but also pleased to see how good his prototype looked.

categories: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 7 Other Noteworthy Cases

Sadly I have become a total guitar case geek. Hours surfing the darkest corners of the web, more hours trawling vast trade shows constantly seeking possible competition and maybe some inspiration...am I taking this all a little too seriously perhaps? Life a little out of balance?...surely not.

Nothing is really new - nothing comes out of thin air - and I want to give respect where it's due. So here are the case makers that have in some way inspired, challenged or just irritated me.

The very French and very elegant BAM HiTech violin case This is sleek, very light and very strong - the suspension system is elegant and the whole thing just put together so well. BAM are really into good materials - read the site for details. And some of their latest designs have the most completely cool matt black soft touch rubber overmoulding. [maybe I have a case of case fetish coming on] Expensive - yes - I paid over $450 for the violin case (and then pulled it apart to see how it was made). And they're tough I've seen one of their cello cases that was run over by a baggage tractor - and the cello survived.

BAM's design approach is different to mine - the top range cases are deeply elegant - but like classical music they seems highbrow and intellectual - apart from that black rubber they don't really grab me.

It seems like Incase also took a right hand brain approach to their super gig bag design. They worked with musicians to make a case that had every bell and whistle going. Removable laptop case, yellow rain cover, ultra high quality ruc sac strap system - the specs are impressive. They've beefed up the protection as well with a mix of foam and hard sheet material. After a lot of checking out I'm a little underwhelmed by the protection - better than most but could be better. Expensive too - $199 - but they've got rave reviews and they are a benchmark - the Calder gig bag will be better of course.

The design philosophy seems to have been pretty well focussed on function - yes it well made with good materials but does it move me? Do I want to touch it ? Would I feel good about owning one - well not really.

The big grandaddy case - the one you for your vintage Strat that you can check in and feel sure its safe. Not only that but it will still be in tune when you take it out. Hand made, custom fitted to individual guitar shapes, solid fibre glass, made is loads of colours. Expensive $700+. From user feedback the only downside is weight and bulk.

Made in my old home town of Pitlochry, Scotland - something about the Highland air makes people turn to microniche products? I haven't seen one in the flesh but reports are these are as strong as Calton but lighter and less bulky. The also come in some pretty yummy finishes. Also hand made in fibre glass. A tartan lining is available as an option - irritating as I had thought of that as well.

Calton and Pegasus come from much the same design philosophy - make it strong as hell, make it last for ever, give great personal service.

I'm going for all of that - the Calder Original guitar case will be as strong but without the weight and with less bulk. Calton and Pegasus are in the same mould as traditional guitar makers - making high quality products using a lot of hand work. I have total respect for that way of working - done well it is up with the best.

We're taking a different route - investing in design, high performance materials and tooling to take guitar case design a big step on - better performance, exciting new shapes, lower environmental impact, competitive price,

The challenge for Calder Originals is to give cases made with industrial processes that sense of integrity that hand made products have. My ambition is to create a case that gives guitarists peace of mind that their instrument is safe and also the pleasure of owning something distinctive and pleasing to the eye.

categories: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 6 Nashville Lights Pt2

The images of the Calder Guitar Case that Michael Mailling and his associate John Wright sent me were right on the button. This time I had been right to trust that all would be well.

My first meeting with a major US distributor went like a dream. The guy lapped up the images - wanted to know more - was confident his company could sell our cases and bags...provided I kept the price right. This meant that a modest premium was ok - but above a certain point retailers would reject the product as un-sellable.

Elated, I decided I must make my hotel room look a bit more rock n roll and so headed down to George Gruhn's guitar store and brought myself a black Les Paul Standard. An essential business expenditure I convinced myself.

So that as well as images I had something that people could touch and hold in my presentations I went out a bought a slick looking bicycle helmet and some amazingly lightweight Crocs beach shoes.

The props worked well - everyone picked up the guitar and admired it. And when I explained the construction of the hard case would be similar to that of a cycle helmet - showing one added conviction. The Crocs shoes were a big hit - people were amazed at how light they were. The story to go with them was this was the sort of state-of-the-art type material we would be including in the Calder Case.

Apart from a challenging Nordic distributor (who told me I was a crazy dreamer) all the meetings at Nashville went well. New contacts were excited, Frankfurt contacts were impressed and we clearly became more credible.
One big shot distributor wanted two meetings and I began to feel this was really going to happen - someone out there might actually pay us money....

There were sobering words along the lines that being so innovative would be a big challenge for retailers. The story was that retailers/dealers were used to seeing gig bags and hard cases as a neccessary evil - something to make a few bucks on. Something that was stored back of shop or hidden in a corner. To get them to believe that a case could be as exciting as a guitar that such a case would sell more and make them more money - that, I was told, was going to be the big job.

I was getting the picture - between distributors and manufacturers there was a kind of respect...but retailers...well the story from the other guys seemed to be they were conservative, curmudgeonly and dammit - downright greedy.

And Nashville itself - hot hot days, hot hot nights and some of the best music bars I have ever been to - it was hard to go to bed with so much music around.

At all the meetings I said that I would have an advanced protoype ready by the Fall when I would make a tour of potential US partners. Now that was a promise...

categories: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Friday, June 03, 2005

The Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 5 Nashville Lights Pt1

June 04

By the time Michael Mailling came on board as my designer I had little over a month before the Nashville NAMM Summer Show. I'd told prospective distributors that I would show them a prototype at the show...we needed speed. Michael assured me this was typical of the deadlines he worked to.

Big Decision One - drop my beloved translucent case idea. Finding tough translucent materials turned out a nighmare and some distributors had suggested that the last thing guitarists want is to let people see the precious contents of their cases. In the end I was fine with dropping this plan - I was learning - product design demands dreams be balanced with practicality.

Big Decision Two - we have a gig bag as well as hard case. Feedback was that we'd sell more of these than hard cases. The gig bag to have the same profile as the hard case - a key element of the Calder Original brand.

We got very juiced up about making a truly high tech gig bag. Michael suggested removable battens (as in a wind surfer sails) to force a concave curve in bag and offer better protection. Matt Wiessler my graphic designer friend said he'd seen a bag with a giant zip 2 inches wide which sounded incredibly cool so that went on the wish list.

There was no way we could make a hard case prototype in time so we opted to prototype the gig bag and take CAD images of the hard case.

Neoprene was chosen for the gig bag - an in-vogue hi-tech material available in loads of colours. We knew a number of companies making wet suits and we were confident [ha!] they could make a prototype quickly.

Michael had loads of ideas about the hard case - how it could open like a zippo lighter - but I'd learned from my experience with Bart that I wanted to stick with my original design. By now I had hear often enough how conservative guitarist can be and it was enough that we had a radical new shape for a case - more would be too much.

July 04
Very close to Nashville - still no prototype - still no images of the case - my anxiety levels slde up to red. Michael reassured me ... it was all going to be fine....

July 18th
I leave for Nashville tomorrow - still nothing. Michael '...some problems with the wet suit company but the prototype will be ready...don't worry.'

July 19th
Half an hour before I am due to leave Michael arrives He's tired but full of enthusiasm... however there are just few things that have to be done to the prototype...he struggles to fit the handle into the bag and hands me some neoprene glue just in case any of the stiching comes undone. He thrusts a bunch of hard case sketches in my hand...I get in the car.

On the way to the station my wife asks me why I am so quiet...'that bag I said is a disaster...it massively too big and looks horrible...' I decide not to take the bag prototype - it would do more harm than good. On the train I look at the sketches Michael gave me...oh oh oh ...too fussy, too designed, too many extraneous features. I call Michael and tell him keep it simple.

July 20th
Fly to Nashville without a protoype and without any images to show...nerve wracking - just a little. Went into what I called a 'state of trust'...just believing that everything would turn out for the best. Not sure what that 'best' might be...Hell what else could I do ? Apart from drink a great deal on the flight.

July 21st
A flurry of phone calls and emails - some images started to come in - maybe it was going to be ok.
My first meeting was at mid-day local time. At 11.50 a PDF presentation hit my inbox - here's a couple of the images

CAD purple profile

Purple CAD open

red CAD open

categories: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Calder Guitar Case Story Ch 4 The LA experience

Superhappybunny and Keck Craig inhabit the extremes of the design spectrum. Octanagarian Henry Keck worked briefly with Raymond Loewy before setting up his own shop and and has been designing for over 50 years. In almost every diner across the US you'll see his classic suger and salt pourers - 16m of them have been made. Bart Haney and his virtual team are only a few years out of school and have made their name one of the coolest in the business by a mix of skilled sef-promotion, outrageous products (eg a vibrator cosy) and sheer talent.

My first meeting with Henry was in the elegant Athaneum Club at Pasadena's prestigous Caltech (on the way to our table Henry pointed out a couple of Nobel Prize winners in the dining room).
I liked Henry a lot, and his design process starts with function and engineering - exactly what I wanted. He was excited about the guitar case project and was keen to work with me. I left thinking I had found my man and that going to see Superhappybunny would be simply a curtesy call.

SHB hang out in a worn out industrial area of LA - cab drivers had no idea where it is seemed reluctant to go there when they found it on the map. At first Bart struck me as brash compared to Henry's old world elegance. But once he started waxing lyrical about his love for Apple - how he'd found himself hugging his colleague's Powerbook - I began to warm to him. We spent an intense couple of hours together playing with lots of new materials in his studio and enjoying each other's delight in the emotional power of brands and great design. I left excited and a little confused - who to go with? The older tried and tested engineer or the young hot shot brand savvy design whizz?

Flying home to the UK I decided the best route would be to team both companies with Bart leading on the creative design and Henry focussing on the engineering. I wasn't sure they'd go for this but they both accepted the idea without argument. We signed agreements and set to.

I was still pursuing the idea of a see thru case (The 'Telejelly' was my working title) so Henry's first target was to find materials that were both translucent and tough. Bart was to focus on the design - taking my initial sketch and turning them into a very sexy very makable design.

My wonderful music product consultant Brendan Murray had set up meetings with a bunch of heavy hitters in the industry - guitar and guitar accessory manufacturers who were interested in distributing the Calder Guitar Case. When he saw Bart's illustrations he was ecstatic. My hope was that the big guys would be equally excited - and they were. It was my dream coming to life - revealing the illustration generated genuine gasps of surprise 'oh wow - that's really cool. One guy turned round, shook my hand and said 'well done and welcome to the industry...' this was an auspicious start. The only response I was less comfortable with was the almost universal suggestion that I had to manufacture in China - not what I had planned.

Both sides reported good working relations and it seemed we were rolling. I went to LA at the end of April for a series of intensive meetings when both sides showed me progress. Keck Craig had struggled to find a durable translucent material but had drawn up some impressive blue prints of a possible prototype that was very close to my initial sketch.
Bart came in with an enormous number of new concepts - many totally different from my initial idea - I liked the passion with which he applied to the project and the freshness of his ideas.

At the time I felt excited by the presentations and the liveliness of the discussions. But back home and looking at the amount of money spent, the time that had passed and the enormous amount still to do before we had a prototype I began to feel much less comfortable. I had promised the people I'd met in Frankfurt that I would show them a prototype at he summer NAMM show in Nashville at the end of July.

Then followed a pretty grinding month or so with me constantly asking for assurances about budgets and deadlines. Now the challenge of working at such a distance became apparent - I couldn't afford to fly out all the time and so couldn't see work in progress. Emails and phone calls are not the same as face to face. My inexperience in industrial design left me very dependent on the professionals - I kinda had to take their word when they said such and such 'had' to be done this way.

I asked Bart to focus on developing the profile of my initial design rather than develop new ideas. I liked my initial concept a lot and the reaction to Bart's initial reworking of that gave me confidence that we should stick with this rather than go to our potential partners with something significantly different. By May 22nd we had agreed that Bart's 'Profile 29' was what we would develop - here are a couple of his earlier profiles plus the final profile.
Bart p12
Bart p27
Bart p29

I finally got a firm estimate from Keck Craig as to the price of the prototype for Nashville - it was so far outside my expectations that I immediately called a halt to whole process. It seemed crazy to spend so much money on an initial prototype the sole purpose of which was to show distributors what the concept looked like in the flesh so to speak.

Bart suggested making scale models which would be way cheaper but Henry and his partner Warren insisted that this would not be good enough to convince my potential customers.

The exciting LA experience was turning sour - I began to feel very exposed. Having discussed my options with my cohort of friends who had aided and abetted me to this stage I decided to call in an industrial designer based not far from my home. I'd met him right at the start of the project but was so hooked on my American plan that I chose not to work with him. At the end of that first meeting he'd said to call him if ever I felt uncertain about what the US designers were telling me. Now was the time to make that call...

Michael Mailing looked at what had been achieved so far and at the costs, raise his eyebrows and said 'I can do this for way way less - and have a prototype ready for Nashville'. It was just what I wanted to hear.

I was sad that the LA thing hadn't worked out - the idea of two such different design firms working in tandem is very attractive and I truly like all the people that worked on the project. Bart very much wanted to stay with the project and I would have liked that but I now needed simplicity and working with just one designer who lived 2 hours away looked the best way to achieve that. Bart and I stay in touch and I keep him posted on our progress.

The lesson of this story - the lesson of this song ? For me - I needed to be closer to my designers - it needed to be way easier to talk on the phone whenever, to meet weekly, to see work in progress. And I needed to understand better the way the designers wanted to work - they all liked my briefs - Bart said they were the best he'd ever read. But I needed to get more from them a much deeper understanding of how they were expecting to work.

Here's a profile of Superhappybunny and Keck Craig Inc from LA Magazine

categories: early development

Calder blog homepage
Calder website homepage