Bruce Bennett & Kevin Maxfield
The strangely-shaped guitar painted in glistening blue and white sat snugly in its snake-skin case and was a little glamorous for its surroundings.
Sawdust and pieces of wood covered the warehouse floor where Bruce Bennett and Kevin Maxfield are cutting guitars from chunks of wood and fulfilling lifelong dreams.
“I have a passion for building instruments,” said Mr. Bennett, who has been a professional luthier, or guitar maker, for almost 30 years. “I have done it to the detriment of my finances — I’ve never made more than $19,000 a year in all my life.”
He and business partner Mr. Maxfield hope to change that with their new venture, Bennett-Maxfield Music Products Inc. It took an investment of about $30,000 to get the business running, with most of the money going to buy the equipment needed to “create a small, efficient, high-speed custom shop.”
Since their first day of business March 1, the 2,600-square-foot space inside the Chattanooga/Hamilton County Business Development Center has begun to take the shape of a guitar factory. Mr. Maxfield said that in about six weeks the factory should be producing guitars that could be sold around the world.
Staff Photo by Brett Clark-- David Carter unplugs a Bennett-Maxfield Music guitar.
Once it is operating at full capacity, Mr. Bennett said they should be able to produce about 40 units a month.
Right now, Bennett-Maxfield Music has three prototype guitars with selling prices ranging from $1,800 to $2,700.
Two of the three guitars, including the blue-and-white one, were built from drawings made by South Dakota artist John Backlund and bear the “J. Backlund Designs” insignia. Both of the J. Backlund guitars are made from African mahogany.
Mr. Maxfield handles the business side of the company, while Mr. Bennett focuses on making the guitars from Mr. Backlund’s designs. They connected with Mr. Backlund over the Internet, and after seeing his doodle drawings of guitars, approached him about turning the designs into real instruments. The company’s owners now have a five-year contract to use Mr. Backlund’s designs in their guitars.
Mr. Maxfield describes the designs as “retro-futuristic,” or similar to the way people in the 1950s thought guitars might look in the future. With the design, he said they are really going for the “wow” factor, using a flashy design and unusual shapes.
Local musician David Carter, who owns the Sound Post in Rossville, has played the guitars and said they were extremely comfortable even with the unique design.
“If I was on stage with this guitar, I know I would be cool,” Mr. Carter said as he played the shiny, blue-and-white instrument.
In his full-time job, Mr. Maxfield works as director of the Tennessee Small Business Development Center at Chattanooga State Technical Community College, which is housed in the same building as Bennett-Maxfield Music. He said the partnership with Mr. Bennett allows him to spend more time with guitars, which he has been collecting since the age of 16.
“It’s something I have always wanted to try to make a living at,” said Mr. Maxfield, 38. “This is a good way to use my small-business experience and my music industry experience together.”
In addition to the guitars, the company also is producing several other products, including two lines of amplifiers and a line of music cables. Mr. Maxfield said he expects the company to be making a profit by the end of the year.
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Video: Guitar business strikes chord with musiciansLocal guitar maker Bruce Bennett and his business partner, Kevin Maxfield, have teamed to produce a line of uniquely designed instruments that they hope to sell worldwide.