Yes, Manufacturers Might (Eventually) Listen to You

Mike Lawson • Perspective • March 2, 2018

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I go to a lot of music conferences for educators, as well as manufacturer product shows such as NAMM and Musikmesse, which is held in Frankfurt, Germany each year in the spring.

Travel starts with the College Music Society/ATMI in October, the national NAfME conference in November, NYSSMA and Midwest Band Clinic in December, Winter NAMM in January, then OMEA and TMEA in February, ABA Convention in March, Musikmesse in April, and finally, the NAMM Foundation Washington D.C. Fly-In, where we lobby congress to support music education. Summer NAMM is thankfully here in Nashville where I live.

Nearly all of the events have trade show floor exhibits. At these exhibits, at least in the larger shows, you will find product manufacturers showing their instruments and accessories, though at smaller shows you may only find retailers who sell for them. If you are at the larger shows and find the manufacturers on the floor, and have an idea, or improvement, or bone to pick, you can often find somebody who will listen to your needs.

Case in point: I am a guitar player, and as I’ve progressed in years, my guitars have begun to cost a lot of money as I have ventured into higher-end instruments and custom-made guitars. One thing you can’t do without as a guitarist, especially when you’re hanging $5k around your shoulder, are good strap locks attached to a very comfortable strap. My latest acquisitions have been replicas of Jerry Garcia’s Wolf and Tiger guitars. Tiger weighs 13.3 pounds! To keep from becoming completely crippled wearing it for a three-hour show, I need a wide and well-padded strap. My guitars came to me from the builder using strap locks made by Schaller, the venerable German manufacturer. One problem though, was that the threaded shaft that goes into the strap was too short to use with a proper, thick, quality leather strap. And it required a socket set or wrench to tighten down if you could manage to get the bolt to thread at all.

For at least seven, maybe even eight years, I have visited the Schaller booth at Musikmesse and lamented about the insufficient length of the threaded shaft. The first years, being very German, they were certain that I was just using the product incorrectly. I wasn’t.

The listened to me wailing and moaning each year, and I consistently showed them the problem. After many years of bringing this up, and I can only assume many others doing the same thing, I visited Schaller at the 2018 Winter NAMM Show where I met their VP, and again bemoaned the inability to use their product, which I prefer over their competitor, with any strap of my choosing.

Imagine my surprise when he reached into the display case and said, “Well, we have finally listened.” He handed me a set of strap locks with multiple improvements, from how they are screwed together to yes, finally, a longer threaded shaft. I told him I had been persistently telling Schaller about this for years, in person, both in Germany and at the U.S. trade shows, and he said something to the effect of, “well, we Germans can be very stubborn and set in our ways, but we finally heard enough and came out with this new model, which is beginning to ship soon.” He explained the tooling costs required to make what seemed a simple change, making a longer threaded shaft part for thicker straps. I was delighted. Seriously, this was one of the coolest things, as a guitar player, that I saw at the show. As I own somewhere around 50 guitars now (don’t judge me!), and multiple guitar amps, it takes a lot to excite me when it comes to new products at a NAMM or Musikmesse.

It made Schaller happy to know my problem was solved, and I would be ordering multiple sets of them to replace on my guitar collection. The sent me home with a sample. It is so new, it  isn’t even on the website, yet.

Persistence pays off. If you have an issue with a product, or suggestion, you’re probably not alone. Tell the companies at these shows. Be persistent. They want to sell what you need. It may take a while, but eventually, they just may make changes.

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