As we are continuing our work on organizing The Holy Grail Guitar Show, we are mindful of the feedback and questions we receive. It helps us with clarifying our ideas, with communicating to exhibitors about what to expect, and to learn what they think would make a good show for them. This is, after all, the first such show we are putting on, and even if among us we share a vast experience attending all kinds of shows, we are new to the task. So feedback and ideas are helpful to us in charting our course.
This is from an email we received after I had posted the conditions for exhibitors at The Holy Grail Guitar Show. It made some good points, and I’d like to use the following exchange to illustrate the reasons behind our format and why we think this is the best way to go:
Re: Holy Grail Guitar Show conditions
“Respectfully, I urge you guys to revise these conditions. I don't understand the philosophy of forcing everyone to show their instruments exactly on the same terms by prohibiting personal expression -- a standard based on the "lowest denominator". Tables constitute an unprofessional way of exhibiting high-end products; they are an amateurish thing. As it is proposed, I believe this will be boring for the exhibitors, and especially for the public.”
I can see that we will have to explain to people who haven’t been to either Healdsburg or Montreal why this is a better format for our work. If you take the Frankfurt Messe as model I guess I can see your point of view – but this isn’t meant to be Frankfurt or NAMM lite in a low-noise format. It’s a different animal altogether and different rules apply. We are not trying to compete with Frankfurt or the NAMM, they have a different function and serve a different clientele.
While I do think for a lot of small luthiers the idea of being able to show at NAMM or the Messe still represents the step into the world of the big boys - “Now we are true professionals! We have arrived!”, this does not square with our long-time experience. These trade shows are designed and geared towards large industrial companies, just as most guitar magazines generate their revenue from, and in consequence cater to the large manufacturers. The business model operating here is highly disadvantageous for the individual luthier. The expense involved in exhibiting at one of the large trade shows, the noise, the lack of focus, the wrong target group, the endless amount of tire kickers hanging at the booth asking for picks, stickers, posters... We are different from the large brands offering cookie-cut instruments, forced to resort to loud advertising and branding to make an impression.
Let’s go though your points one by one and see if I can explain.
“I agree with not having any advertising, or amplifiers without headphones, in order to stimulate conversations. But putting my guitars on a table presents for me the following problems:
- Lack of space. One table = four guitars are too few. If every luthier is limited to that, the length of the visit and the stay of the attending public is being limited too. The more guitars, the more conversations and the longer and varied the experience would be.”
We want 100% focus on the luthiers. It is correct that at The Holy Grail Guitar Show we will forbid pop-up posters or other large elements protruding upwards at the tables. Everyone will have the same size table, no more, no less. We will require that the master builder be present at every table - not the marketing guy. Why such crazy rules? Because this way a rich luthier cannot steal attention from the others. One can't buy 5 tables to show how much bigger he is than the rest. That is the wrong kind of competition – the kind we don’t want. You also have to understand that 4-5 guitars are usually a whole lot for people who produce between 10-15 high-quality handcrafted instruments a year. And one guitar can stimulate plenty of conversations – the most talked about instrument at the last Healdsburg show was Matsuda’s new creation. He had 2 guitars on display. As visitor at The Holy Grail Guitar Show you will have 100-120 top-shelf luthiers to choose from, so there’s no shortage of attractions. Most people will wish they had more time to spend there.
“- Lack of presentation. The guitars are the protagonist of the show, and to better present them I have to use lighting, and specific guitar stands that show them not vertically but angled, in playing position, etc. On a table you cannot do this properly; any exhibition of a certain level is based on booths.”
We want provide an affordable platform for the individual luthier who typically has little money to spend on advertising and promotion. If we would try to organize an international luthier event and simultaneously offer booths that need to be built (and paid) by someone, we would end up having a mostly local German show populated by luthiers from within a decent driving distance from Berlin. Few other European luthiers would bother. Very few luthiers from outside Europe would come. All the pro guys know how much work and expense is involved in exhibiting at the industrial style shows where booths are required. Stands can be made to show the guitars in a playing position, lights can be clipped to the table - all these solutions have been tested and proved satisfactory at the Montreal and Healdsburg shows.
“- Lack of personalization, branding, or decoration = Lack of fun. If we put our guitars on a table, they are just guitars on a table. Allow me to ditch the poetics here: guitars don't speak for themselves: we do. An exhibition with tables is not a "show"; it is more like a country fair, or a flea market.”
Well, here we may be at a philosophical divide - between the music industry and the world of fine lutherie. If you need these things to have fun, then admittedly maybe this will not work for you. We think the guitars should speak for themselves. We are individual luthiers making a living through quality and originality, not companies depending on a large advertising budget. The show is totally about content, not contest. Quality, not quantity. Rather than a flea market, try to picture this as something like a high end art exhibition with the added element of music. Blinking neon signs, pop-up posters, banners or obtrusive noise don't play any part in such an event. Believe it or not, such a show is an uplifting experience for both the luthiers and the visitors.
“- Lack of value. At the Frankfurt Messe I get a stand of 8qm for 2.100€. Here my instruments will be confined to a 1,62 qm for 550€. The HGS space is then more expensive than at Frankfurt.”
Actually the total space assigned to the individual luthier is more like 6qm. But the real value here lies in more substantial things – the contact with the public, with fellow luthiers, and with the ability to have a customer able to focus on the instrument. The public we attract is not the one thronging the Messe or the NAMM in search of goodies and star autographs – they are serious people willing to spend 3K to 5K, or even into the 20K range on an instrument – they want to be treated with the same respect they accord our work. There is nothing dowdy or cheap about this kind of format – and as you can see from the roster of luthiers who have attended the Healdsburg and Montreal shows, even the NAMM or the Messe cannot compete with the quality and quantity of builders showing their work there. In addition you get the EGB Symposium on Friday, where you can mingle with your colleagues, network, attend seminars, and the Luthier’s Dinner party – values you will not find anywhere else. Remember the Berlin Press Conference we held last November – the way the luthiers enjoyed each other and the instruments! This is going to be bigger and even better!
“The idea / concept of The Holy Grail Guitar Show has brewed for years in the minds of those of us who have exhibited at MGS, and there realized the dramatic difference in how great such a show can feel in contrast to the big trade fairs. When I heard MGS is no more, I felt really sad to not be able to go there anymore, after having exhibited there 5 years in a row. In contrast, I've exhibited at Musikmesse 14 years (!) in a row. It must be difficult to understand the depth and urge with which we, the experienced professional luthiers, need The Holy Grail Guitar Show, unless you've been there and done that enough times. I am absolutely convinced that our concept is the sole concept that can work if we desire the big names of lutherie around the world to say "yes" to us.”
Vice president, EGB