When The Ventures re-release of their instrumental “Walk, Don’t Run” hit #8 on the Billboard charts in 1964, it signaled the arrival of the guitar as a lead instrument and helped shape the sound of a new generation of guitarists.
Among those musicians was Robert Godin, from Montreal.
Hail hail rock n’ roll
Always fascinated by the sound of the guitar, his dream was to be an elite musician. But realizing his talent didn’t match his passion; a young Robert turned his attention to refining the instrument itself.
Spurred by the advent of rock n’ roll, Godin started experimenting with ways of adapting guitars to fit their newfound lead instrument status. “The guitar strings at the time were a very heavy gauge, difficult to bend,” he says. “So, I started using banjo strings to get the effect I was looking for.”
Eventually moving to a shop on St. Hubert Street in Montreal, Godin found success customizing and modifying guitars, and in the early 70’s, decided to make an instrument from scratch. “I teamed up with a former wooden window frame maker in La Patrie, Quebec and we made some guitars,” he says. “They were very rudimentary but I fell in love with creating the instrument”.
With his passion for creating guitars fully ignited, Godin sold his store and invested everything he had into fabrication.
Having invested the profits from selling his guitar shop to start his manufacturing business, Godin found himself fully immersed in self-financing. “The banks thought we were a bunch of hippies,” laughs Mr. Godin. “They weren’t familiar with the industry, and were hesitant because much of our receivables were in U.S. dollars.”
These were dollars earned the hard way, with Godin selling guitars from the back of his van and cold calling music retailers across the northeastern U.S.
With persistence and a determination to use the finest materials to make his guitars, word quickly spread in music circles about the merit of Robert’s instruments, and more opportunities materialized.
Godin Guitars are now revered worldwide for their innovative designs, quality and sound.
Innovation is key
Godin Guitars has six factories: five in Quebec and one in New Hampshire. Utilizing current robotic technology to precisely manufacture their products, each facility is dedicated to building specific instruments. This focus results in optimized efficiency, fewer production errors, and provides employees with an overall understanding of the craftsmanship that goes into each guitar they build.
From re-creating traditional instruments to utilizing the latest guitar technology, Robert Godin is always looking for ways to innovate. Most recently, Godin is collaborating with the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research in Music Media and Technology (CIRMMT) at McGill University to develop new technology that can analyze the style and sound of different guitar models.
Godin now supplies the majority of its international markets directly from its six factories through Godin Direct, their in-house fabrication and distribution system.
“The whole idea was to make the supply channel a lot simpler,” says Godin. “With Godin Direct, there is no multiple distributor pricing systems, and every seller is effectively paying the same price for the product.”
No matter where they are in the world, dealers can place an order and expect to receive their instruments, shipped directly to their shops from one of Godin’s factories, in two and half days. “We have an amazing distribution deal,” smiles Mr. Godin. “But we had to guarantee huge volume.”
Thankfully, volume isn’t a problem. Godin Guitars is now one of the world’s largest guitar manufacturer, making approximately 250,000 instruments per year, across its six guitar brands – Godin, Seagull, Simon & Patrick, Art & Lutherie, Norman, and La Patrie.
The secret to export success
According to Robert Godin, a vital part of becoming as successful exporter is acquiring knowledge about the markets you’re shipping to. “Go to the countries you want to be in, get to know the market, and visit the retailers,” says Godin. “Relying on an overseas distributor to represent your best interests could get you in trouble.”