Saint Blues Guitar Workshop announced the suspension of their Korean imported Pro Series, and that they are moving their USA made Workshop Series and Custom production back to Memphis where the brand started in 1984. There are two main reasons for these moves: the desire to focus on production in the US, and the shrinking margins for imported guitar brands.
The Workshop Series, available since 2009, had previously been built in Nashville. Although only producing these models for just over a year, sales have been strong. While St. Blues' focus had been primarily on the imported line in an effort to offer guitarists a premium instrument at under a $1,000, it soon became evident that the international reverence for high-quality, hand crafted guitars built in the USA was as strong as ever. Due to this interest, the decision was made to move production to the workshop in Memphis and under the daily oversight of Tom Keckler, the original designer and co-founder of St. Blues, to ensure the highest quality standards.
While the quality of the imported Pro Series has not been in question and they have been well received by the public worldwide, the combination of increasing costs in Korea and shrinking margins offered by the larger retailers and distributors aided St. Blues in its decision. Bryan Eagle, owner said, I've talked to other smaller boutique brands who also import from China and Korea, and because of the pressure to buy and sell in volume due to rising costs in materials, labor, and shipping overseas, their gross margins are barely enough to make the business viable. Bringing production to Memphis creates jobs in the US, and allows us the kind of flexibility and innovation that mass production never will. Keeping the jobs here and building in small batch production is a sustainable long-term business."
The writing was on the wall," says Brian Halley, Director of Sales and Marketing. When you combine the industry's race to the lowest selling price due to big box and Internet competition with increased costs for a smaller boutique brand like St. Blues, it is a no-brainer to return to where the brand started. We're excited at being solely focused on small-batch production of very high quality instruments, each with a story that starts in the capable hands of Memphians."
The Workshop series consists of the same base models St. Blues has offered for years. The original Bluesmaster, Mississippi Bluesmaster, Blindsider, and 61 South will be the core offerings, with custom models available as well. Workshop Series guitars feature only handpicked, finest select woods, components produced by the most renowned boutique builders, and expertly finished in nitro cellulose lacquer. This level of quality and detailed craftsmanship is only available in small batch production.
The decision comes in conjunction with St. Blues' effort to further establish their Memphis location as a destination location for the over 1 million music-related tourists that visit Memphis each year. The City of Memphis has even chipped in with several grants to support St. Blues' production move and retail expansion. With a full renovation of its offices slated for a February completion, St. Blues will offer visitors to Memphis a retail environment featuring St. Blues branded products as well as items from other local attractions like the Smithsonian's Rock and Soul Museum and the Stax Museum. The décor will feature a combination of Memphis-music history, retail items, and guitar workshop. In the workshop, visitors can witness several stages of the building of the guitars, and interact with the technicians, including builder Tom Keckler. Says Keckler, This is where St. Blues guitars began, and this is where rock and roll was born, built with that in mind. This will be cool, same as it was for Tom Anderson and me building the original late '70s & early '80s Schecter axes, and then again what we did with St. Blues in the '80s here in Memphis. It's time to invest in making things in America again."
St. Blues will offer guitars directly to customers through their new Memphis retail location, as well as online through their website. They will also continue to work with a limited number of independent dealers worldwide who specialize in representing unique, high-quality brand guitars. Brian Halley added Because we are producing a limited number of guitars a year, we are only interested in dealers who have a loyal customer base built through excellent customer service, relationships and savvy marketing skills." St. Blues will represent this limited number of dealers first and foremost on the website, with consistent updates of inventory available at each individual store.
Asked if St. Blues would ever return to an imported line of guitars at lower price points, owner Bryan Eagle answered, Never say never, but we are confident that building our guitars here in the Home of the Blues and the Birthplace of Rock and Roll is the right move for now.
About Saint Blues Guitar Workshop
St. Blues has its roots in a legendary Memphis music store called Strings & Things, where the earliest models were called S&T Customs, till the name was changed to St. Blues in 1984. Using the designs and guitar prowess of one of Schecter's early founders, Tom Keckler, Saint Blues quickly became one of the sought after boutique guitar brands in the mid and late 80's, but closed the production line in 1989. The line was acquired by Bryan Eagle in 2006 with Tom Keckler back involved. The artists that played, or still play, original Saint Blues are a who's who of rock and blues legends including Bono, Albert King, Billy Gibbons, Joe Walsh, Eric Clapton, and Billy Squire, to name but a few.
Based out of Memphis, Tennessee, Saint Blues' line of original guitars are available directly through thecompany, and at select dealers worldwide.