Matt Eichen of Musicvox Guitars
Tell us the history of Musicvox Guitars. How did you get involved in designing guitars? How did that passion evolve into actually starting a company?
Having played in bands with vintage tone enthusiasts, I later became a collector of affordable vintage guitars and basses. In 1996 I designed a guitar that I would like to have seen in a vintage store. Something that I would've purchased on the spot. That was the Musicvox Spaceranger. I took the design to a luthier to have a single custom model made for my collection. He was too busy and was backed up with his custom work. I then contacted a famous parts supplier on the West Coast who said that the effort for him to make one instrument warranted going into business. That was my inspiration to produce a few Prototypes and display them at a trade show.
I ultimately selected a well-known supplier of guitar exotic woods in New Jersey to construct necks and bodies to my specs on their CNC and had them assembled and finished locally for the January, 1997 NAMM show. The Spaceranger Guitar created quite a stir at our first international trade show, prompting a few articles about it in well-known guitar magazines. The articles created enough feedback and inquiries worldwide that I decided to produce the guitars in factories so that they would be affordable. The original custom instruments were extremely expensive and out of reach of most players.
You played bass in bands. How did that experience influence the guitars and basses that you make?
Great question. I played in bands who focused on blues and cover bands that played Rolling Stones and other warm tones of the ‘60s. That influenced me to pursue bass tones similar to Bill Wyman, James Jamerson , Jack Bruce and their other contemporaries who utilized the warmth and thump of that era's basses. I was so into the warm tone that our initial Musicvox bass models featured Rosewood bridges to dampen overtones and maximize the round smooth warm tones. We still make one model with a rosewood bridge called the Space Cadet USB. For the guitars, I always strived to create instruments that had the greatest sounding pickups like the Vintage DeArmonds from the 60s. Throw in the flamboyant aesthetic designs that reminded me of the psychedelic European 60's models that I collected signature features, all that came from being a child of the Space Race Era.
How did you first become aware of the 12-string bass?
I saw a band in December, 1978 in Passaic, New Jersey that had a hit record on the radio at the time from one of their early studio albums. The sound and show was captivating. I was hooked when I saw them and how they sounded. Now that I think about it, they were so loud that I couldn't hear for a week after the show. That was Cheap Trick. There was nothing like that act. UFO opened for them with a phenomenal show featuring Michael Schenker but somehow Cheap Trick stole the stage. That show was simulcast on WNEW FM radio in New York City and I had my parents record it on my home 8-track recorder off the radio. I listened to it over and over and of course Tom Petersson was playing bass and he was "Mr. 12 String Bass".
What made you decide to offer a 12?
I received lots of calls in the early years of Musicvox from celebrity performers. Tom Petersson called my office one day and inquired about a mirror Spaceranger. Coincidentally Allen Woody wanted that same instrument. Anyway, Tom got one of our first Spaceranger factory prototype basses back in 1997. He loved it and used it in studios around Nashville. He's also a big collector. He did a great interview for 20th-Century Guitar Magazine that year and said that he liked our Spaceranger bass better than a Hofner. We began to talk about his collection, his basses , his amps and tone. He was very nice and supportive of our young company and we were invited guests at Cheap Trick shows backstage. A year later I decided to make a surprise present for him and created a Custom Mirror Musicvox Spaceranger 12-string bass for him on the 20th Anniversary of the Budokan album. Honestly, I had never seen a 12-string bass in person and had never played one. (To this day the only 12-string bass I've ever played are ours / Musicvox).
I had a famous custom luthier in LA named Philip DeForest Ralph make Tom's Custom Mirror Spaceranger 12. I think it's important for everyone to know that while I was influenced by Cheap Trick and their sound, Tom had not been consulted on the design of our instruments. He had no input at all and was not aware that we were making him this present. The features of his one-off Spaceranger 12 and subsequent production models of the Space Cadet 12 and then the MI-5 12 evolved from my interviewing 12-string bass players throughout the world. I heard about their complaints and concerns with the instruments that they had. I listened to their desires and improvements and upgrades they wanted to see. The instrument designs of course are mine but the features and methods of construction came from quite a bit of research with 12-string bass players. Our dual outputs are a nod to Tom Petersson.
Your instruments are made overseas. What all is involved in finding and working with a builder?
I deal with very nice people who I can trust and have a good relationship with. The factories that I use are all Korean owned. I know the owners personally. They are very responsive to our needs and to the features of the unusual instruments we make. After much research and experience, I found the best folks with attentive factories who were able to rise to the challenge of the 12-string bass, which is a huge departure from the routine for any luthier or craftsmen.
Bass Player Magazine published a review of the Space Cadet 12 and they soon followed that with a review of the MI-5 12-string bass. Typically they don't follow a review of a 'niche market' bass so quickly with another one. How did the relationship evolve with BP?
Bass Player is a phenomenal and highly technical magazine. We have become known by bass publications all over the world who zero in on the unusual basses we offer. Bass Quarterly in Germany has recruited a few basses from us for review in the past few years including the 12. The editors usually take note of something that grabs their eye and want to share it with their readers.
You employed a novel approach at the 1999 NAMM show to build awareness of the Space Cadet 12.
Oh well, you must mean the Tyvek spaceman outfits? I went with one of our employees to the '99 Nashville show dressed as a "spaceman" and the only thing we said while we displayed our new Musicvox White Space Cadet 12-string bass there was, "We come in peace for all mankind" and "Do not be alarmed, we mean you no harm". That NAMM escapade got loads of laughs and kicked off the product tremendously.
How much of your success is due to 'word of mouth' and player recommendations / reviews? And how important are music industry shows like NAMM and guitar shows to the success of Musicvox?
That's everything when it gets to the actual player. A lot of celebrities see other celebrities using our instruments when they are on a tour together or attend a show. So the word-of-mouth for them is backstage after they see each other using our instruments. For normal folks like you and me the word-of-mouth is critical. We have a fantastic customer satisfaction rating and have personal contact with all of our great customers. We've been committed to a 100% satisfaction guarantee. That commitment to have happy players gets around fast.
We enjoy doing trade shows. It is the best place for celebrity artists, producers, studio engineers and magazine writers to see and play our designs.
Musicvox is the only company to ever offer a production model 12-string bass strung Inverted. How well have these new basses been received? What kind of feedback have you been receiving from buyers?
Like anything else, people have different requests and desires but we find that players adapt well to either string arrangement. Having different string formats allows for some tonal differences as well as tuning changes as well. One thing we started, which a lot of people like, is to tune the middle set of octave strings down in unison with the fundamental on some of our "Inverted" Space Cadets. That gives a very rich fatness to the instrument and lowers the string tension greatly which some people like a lot.
Many of your magazine ads are adapted from vintage Sci-Fi movie themes. What was your inspiration to combine flying saucer movies with guitars?
It's the Space Age thing... I guess I'm stuck on that motif! Our ads are now available in posters and on our T-shirts. I'm very happy that players find them entertaining.
Artists like Keith Urban and Mark Mothersbaugh are playing your guitars. How important are artist endorsements and media generally to the success of Musicvox?
Our company became internationally famous because of this type of exposure. We have had the attention of people in Hollywood from the start... LUCKILY! This has certainly been extremely helpful when you're creating a brand and famous people like Mike Myers, Mark Mothersbaugh, Dan Schneider latch on to it and expose it so widely.
I love the vibe of your website! How did that evolve?
We had a 12-string bass customer in Montreal, Canada named Momo Laredo who has a cutting edge production company called Crimo Media. Momo and his life's love, model, singer and photographer Crila, run the company. They do work for large airlines, fashion designers, Canon Camera, large brands. They are brilliant. I never thought I would work with brilliant photo and videographers like this. They are also a band. Total all around mega talent geniuses. They understand me and our products and do fabulous work for us. They are Musicvox fans!
Thanks Matt for taking the time to chat with us!
I'm so thrilled to have been involved with all of this! I love bass, 12-string bass is still an unknown to most bass players. It's less than 40 years old and really "has no rules". I've been amazed watching players play the 12-string bass at trade shows. I've seen young lead guitarists pick it up and play it like they were born with it in their hands and I've seen very famous studio bassists pick it up and can't get a note out of it. NO RULES! Just fun! We owe everything to the players who support Musicvox from around the world and buy our instruments direct with confidence. We love getting to know them and hearing about their music and gear. And a very special thanks to you and 12stringbass.net for your unwavering and lasting dedication to this unusual and influential instrument!