Morgan Hill Music’s Mike Shellhammer
In only a few short years, California’s Morgan Hill Music has made quite the impact with its innovative and popular Boulder Creek guitars and, more recently, Wedgie Picks and Accessories and Riptide Ukuleles. MMR recently sat down with vice president of product development, Mike Shellhammer, to discuss recent developments and future plans at the company.
MMR: So how did you become involved with Morgan Hill?
Mike Shellhammer: I had been working for another major MI company and I’d been in the industry for about 30 years. One of the owners of a Silicon Valley tech company – Probe Specialists – was familiar with me and wanted to get into music industry and that’s really how things started.
MMR: These were folks with no prior MI experience, really? What was their motivation for getting into the business?
MS: They wanted to diversify, plus music was something they were passionate about. They knew I was working on a revolutionary design for the acoustic guitar. The SBS suspended bracing system, which was patented a year ago, was really the first fundamental design change in acoustic guitar manufacturing since Martin’s X-Brace from the mid-19th century.
MMR: What’s your current role at the company?
MS: I’m vice president of research and development. I develop all the new products for guitars, and do all the design and artwork – including ads and catalogs and instruments.
MMR: How many others are on staff, presently?
MS: Well, the owners are Randy Medina and Jim Camp – they’re the originators of the company, the people who first contacted me. Jeff Strametz is the vice president of sales and handles major domestic and international accounts. There are probably around ten other employees, total.
MMR: Aside from Boulder Creek Guitars, you have a number of other product lines – talk a little about that side of the business?
MS: We purchased the Wedgie Picks and Accessories Corp. in 2007. We have a number of digital tuners, metronomes, and accessories. Riptide Ukuleles hit this past November and have been a big success, already. Right now, we’re totally out of ukes, in fact. We’re back-ordered through the NAMM show. It’s been phenomenal – one dealer bought 150 ukuleles at once.
MMR: What’s your assessment of the current MI market? How was last year for Morgan Hill Music and what are you expecting in 2010?
MS: Last year we were up 30 percent over the year before, but we’re a small niche company and we have a revolutionary product, so we’re in a unique position. This year if off to a blazing start. We picked up three new distributors at Winter NAMM and we’re predicting – conservatively – another 30 percent growth this year. We’re now worldwide with 16 major distributors. The ukuleles are just booming, like I said. We also have Boulder Creek guitars on tour with Fleetwood Mac, Taylor Smith, Jennifer Lopez, and Rascal Flatts.
MMR: Boulder Creek really has made an impact in a relatively short time-span.
MS: From the start we went against the grain with the concept and design. We wanted to build a better sounding and better looking guitar, not just another guitar that looked and sounded like everything else. I think we accomplished that. Many artists are switching from prestigious named guitars to Boulder Creek for just that reason.
We’ll take on anybody – we don’t care. We tell stores, “Don’t compare our guitars to others in our price range.” We want you to play your favorite $3,000 guitar, plug it in, and compare. Tell us which sounds better. Our bracing system keeps the top from warping but also allows energy to transfer more effectively, so the sustain on our guitars is twice what you’d normally expect. When you play harmonics or a chord, the guitar rings like a bell – It’s alive. They’re just amazing instruments for the money. Every guitar we make has XLR and ¼ ” outputs and the other design features, aside from the bracing system – such as the placement of the sound hole – really benefit the instrument.
MS: Having a hole in the front of a guitar – that’s the worst place. What if you took a snare drum and cut a hole in it? You’d kill it. It’s very similar with a guitar. All you need to do is release the air, so we put the hole in the top and that achieves that end without sacrificing tonality.
MMR: Makes sense. Are there any upcoming projects for Morgan Hill that you’d like to share details about?
MS: Our EBR3-N4 bass is up for a mipa (Musikmesse International Press Award) in Frankfurt this year – it recently also won “Best Acoustic Bass Guitar Overall” at Bestcovery (www.bestcovery.com). We have a new line of more acoustic electric basses and we’ll be introducing the first models at Summer NAMM. We’re always working on new guitar models and finishes, experimenting with different kinds of wood right now for beauty and tone. Things are going great and the products have been catching on, so we’re just aiming to continue along those lines.