Most great inventions begin with a problem. For Nadene Isackson of Enroute Music, the solution was the Porchboard. “We were doing an anti-drug program for elementary schools,” says Isackson. “We were trying to entertain 300 children with just an acoustic guitar and couldn’t keep their attention. They wanted a rhythm, they wanted a boom,” laughs Isackson. “So, we came up with something that was analog but amplified, and controlled with the feet just like the old blues players who would add rhythm with their foot by stomping on the porch boards.” The instrument is a passive percussion instrument with “no batteries or transistors”. “You put it on the floor and tap on it and it comes out sounding like a really finely tuned bass drum.” Isackson notes that although the instrument was originally designed to accompany solo instrumentalists, the Porchboard is catching on with drummers as well. “You don’t have to mic it, it’s portable and there’s no feedback,” she says.
The Evolution of a Solution
Isackson started developing the Porchboard in 1996 and within six months, had come up with a design that worked. “Our requirements were kind of high â€“ we wanted something that was durable, so we couldn’t use a regular peizo or music pickup because they’re not designed to put your feet on and pound on all the time and they have a tendency to break.” To address the issue, Isackson decided to use what she calls a “proximity sensor.” The technology was originally developed by the automotive industry for use in car transmissions. “It’s a really heavy-duty magnetic sensor that can withstand hours and hours and years and years of somebody pounding on it,” says Isackson.
Although the Porchboard was originally made from mahogany, Isackson soon discovered that the type of wood used had no effect on the sound of the instrument. Today, Porchboards are manufactured from composite decking made of “recycled plastic bags and hardwood sawdust.” Isackson tells MMR that the choice to go green was easy. “One, it’s more durable; two, it’s green; and three, we can,” she says. “Why not recycle if you can? It doesn’t affect the sound and it saves the beautiful woods for guitars where the sound is affected.”
Getting the Word Out
Although sales are currently up, Isackson acknowledges that bringing new instruments to the market is tough. “Back in 1996, there weren’t other commercially made products like the Porchboard,” she says. Although many companies would relish the thought of having a product without battling to out-perform others, for Isackson, the lack of competition was a real problem. “Competition really legitimized us, and I would argue that we’re bigger, better, and badder than any of our competition because we’re more durable and we use a better sensor,” she says.
“We can talk about our instrument as much as we want and nobody cares, but when you get a recognizable name using one, it helps a lot. Putting it in the hands of people like Brad Paisley helped legitimize us too,” says Isackson. Although getting big name endorsements was helpful, Isackson believes that the surge in sales is due to word of mouth. “We’re now getting actual working musicians out there using them and telling people about the Porchboard. Word of mouth sales are now quite heavy.”
With sales on the rise, Isackson says that she hopes the company retains its “small philosophy” while growing into a “big company.” “I have a product that can really benefit a whole lot of musicians and I’ve got to get the word out,” she states. “I’ve had so many musicians tell me that it makes them more competitive. It might be a solo guitar player but they get the gigs now because it adds that fullness, and until musicians know it’s out there, they can’t possibly benefit from it.”