MGS - First off Kevin thanks for taking the time to talk with us.
K – My pleasure – I’ve never been interviewed for the business before, so it’s a great experience!
MGS- Can you start off by telling us your position with Godlyke distributing, how long you’ve been doing it and how it all got started?
K – I am the founder, co-owner, and president of Godlyke, which is to say I am also the accountant, sales manager, publicist, advertising director, shipping clerk, repair tech, customer service rep, Janitor, etc. – you name it, I do it! We’re a very small company, so anyone that works here wears a lot of hats, including me.
We started the business in the fall of 1998 – I was working at Electro-Harmonix at the time and ran across the Guyatone line of Micro Effects on the internet. I thought they looked cool, so I contacted a friend in Japan and she sent me their catalog and contact info. After some number crunching and negotiations they appointed us as their US distributor and we set up shop and got to work!
MGS- What brands are represented by Godlyke?
K - We started out in Fall 1998 with the Guyatone Micro Effects series, and then quickly added Maxon Effects and the Bixonic Expandora to our line card in Spring, 1999. We rolled with these brands for a couple of years and filled out the respective lines with their various models and series to make them complete brand offerings at a variety of price points.
In 2001 we started distributing the MSD Automagic Wah pedal, which is a very cool, unique wah from Germany, as well as the Switchmode Digital Power supply. Within one year we dropped the Switchmode due to problems w/the supplier and came out with our own version, the PA-9 Power-All. This is a digital switching power supply that takes any line voltage from 100-240 volts and drops it down to 9 volts DC with a current capacity of 1.7 amps. Because of this you can use it anywhere in the world to power a wide selection and large quantity of effect units from this one power supply.
2002 was a big growth year, and we added Jacques Stomp boxes and HAO Hand built effects. This was also the year that Maxon stopped manufacturing for Ibanez, so we released the Maxon Nine Series which did very well and kept us very busy.
In 2003 we added EMMA effects from Denmark. I had been using their DiscumBOBulator for a couple of years and had been after them to distro their line, so it was a nice achievement to have them say yes. It took a while to get this line going, but now it sells very well and they’re used by a lot of artists, including Warren Haynes who’s using a DB-1 in a couple of his rigs. That year we also began showing our line of Godlyke Basses, which are beautiful hand-made instruments that have a lot of high-level features at a medium price point.
We opened 2004 with the Tokai Love Rock guitars and were quickly shut down by Gibson, who claimed trademark infringement. We spent most of the year in legal battle with them, but it was finally resolved and we were let off the hook but can’t sell these instruments in the USA any longer. In between the legal BS we took care of business and managed to release the Maxon AD999 and Real Tube Series, several new Jacques models and the MSD Paranoid, which is a great sounding distortion designed to emulate the guitar tone of the early Black Sabbath records. In addition, we also reissued the Bixonic Expandora distortion under our own brand, and managed to get the Rev. Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top using her.
This year we added the Chunk Systems line of Bass effects from Australia as well as the DNA line of pro-quality effects from Japan. We also have many new models from our other manufacturers, so our dance card is getting pretty full.
Just to recap –
Bixonic Expandora – worldwide distribution
Chunk Systems – worldwide distribution
DNA Analogic – North American Distribution
EMMA – North American distribution
Godlyke Bass – Worldwide Distribution
Guyatone – worldwide distribution
HAO – North American distribution
Jacques – North American distribution
Maxon – North & South American distribution
MSD – North American distribution
Power-All – worldwide distribution
Tokai – USA distribution
You can find complete product info at our homepage www.godlyke.com
MGS - Who are some of the bigger retailers you supply with products?
K – Certainly our largest customer is Musician’s Friend, who features several of our products in their catalog and all of them on their website. They do a massive amount of business, and they’re easy to work with and are a great place to point consumers to, as they are very well known. Unlike other manufacturers, we don’t offer them special price breaks, so it’s a fairly level playing field for our other dealers.
Besides MF, we tend to work with independent retailers for the most part and avoid the big-box stores like Guitar Center. Some of our larger dealers are Musictoyz in Maine, Washington Music in MD, Truetone Music in LA, Rudy’s in NYC, Willie’s in St. Paul, Boston Guitar in MA, Rocker Guitars in San Fran, and Rock Block Guitars in Nashville, but there are many more. At this point we have about 600 dealers that we sell to, and different stores focus on different products in our line. Full-line dealers are generally the larger, more boutique, vintage or high-end guitar-oriented stores like the ones mentioned above.
MGS - Any thoughts on the current state of the effects industry?
K – This is my livelihood, so I’m constantly thinking about it and formulating different opinions and strategies based on the information at hand. I don’t want to sound negative, but at this point I feel the effects industry is somewhat over-saturated. In addition to the small guys building Tubescreamer clones in their basement, you also have many large companies coming out with cheap effect pedals in order to expand brand awareness. Too many people are treading the same ground, and it’s getting to be a case of overkill.
That being said, we’ve stopped adding new lines to our distro offerings for the time being and have opted instead to focus on new models for the existing lines. These new products fill some holes in the market that no other companies are addressing. You won’t be seeing Fuzzface or Tubescreamer clones from us, but some cool new products that few other manufacturers, if any, are offering.
MGS - There seems to be a huge homemade and modified pedals surge happening right now, any thoughts?
K – There’s so much stuff out on the market now that it’s getting really tough to keep track of it all. Unfortunately, a lot of it is just more of the same - I wish builders would get more creative with their designs and offer some alternatives to the TS808 and Fuzzface mania out there. I like the bizarre, esoteric stuff, although from a business standpoint the market for it seems to be extremely limited. Zachary Vex is a good example of someone who’s bending the rules and coming out on top – It would be interesting if more builders would follow that path.
MGS - Can you run us through a typical day of yours? Do you have a warehouse? How does the whole process work?
K – I live and work at the same location, which can be both a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you roll out of bed and you’re at work – short commute! The curse is that it’s tough to get away from work without leaving home! About 1/3 of the building is allocated to the business and warehousing and the rest is for living. We get going around 9 AM in the morning and a typical day consists of answering a lot of e-mails, packing orders, working on special projects, meeting with web and graphic designers, talking to dealers, customers, sales reps, and artists on the phone, testing prototypes and problem units, going to the bank, post office, etc. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from this type of job, but as I said we all pitch in on different aspects of the business, which helps give you a more well-rounded knowledge of the products and process and how everything works.
The office closes around 5 or 6, but then I’ll work another 2 or 3 hours, and sometimes more depending on the workload and pending projects. Sometimes I’ll find myself working much later than that, or going back and answering e-mails late at night or jotting down ideas while watching TV or whatever – again, this my livelihood and I think any small business owner will tell you that it’s not a typical 9-5 gig, and that you need to give above and beyond what you would at a normal job. That being said, it can also be extremely rewarding, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
MGS - Any new products or lines that we will be seeing from Godlyke in the near future?
K – As I mentioned above, we are trying to wean ourselves off of adding new lines to our roster as we already deal with so many and it can be very labor-intensive to break and maintain a line. I have been asked to distro many different lines, including several of the hotter boutique ones out there, and have decided to pass for one reason or another. A product line has to have a lot going for it – I need to get a vibe from it and like the products and packaging/appearance, but also the price point is very important as well as the ability for the manufacturer to turn out product – there’s nothing worse than having lots of orders with nothing to ship!
We are also much more involved with product R&D for our existing lines than we were when we first started out. As importers, we have to deal with the fact that American ears are different from Japanese or European ears, and sometimes we need to fine-tune the products so that they’ll appeal to the US market more. Maxon is preparing to release two new models, the CP-9 Pro+ Compressor and PT-9 Pro+ Phaser, that we helped to develop and they are sweet and we’re really excited about them and proud to have helped in their creation.
In May, Guyatone will release their new optical hybrids which I spent a lot of time and effort helping to develop and perfect. These units will be amazing – 100% analog audio circuitry with Photo couplers and a digital controller/oscillator section that will allow for quick jumps between functions and multiple parameter controls via expression pedal or other means. There is really nothing out there like these pedals – they are real pro-quality stuff, and I think they will make a lot of manufacturers re-think the way they design an effect and what they put into it. There’s a tremolo and envelope filter to start, and we hope to add other models with similar features in the future.
Besides effects, we’ve also launched our own line of hand-made Bass Guitars. These are beautifully hand crafted instruments that have many advanced features found in higher-priced instruments, but they cost a lot less. We’ve gotten some very positive reviews from Bass magazines, and our artist roster includes Bakithi Kumalo (Paul Simon), Dave Pomeroy (Nashville Session player), Justin Meldal-Johnsen (Macy Gray, Beck, IMA Robot), and Geezer Butler (Black Sabbath) – you can see more info about them at our website www.godlyke.com. This is an offshoot of our primary business, but we have a lot of confidence in the products and hope to grow the Godlyke Basses into a well-known and respected brand name.
MGS - I assume you are a player. What gear do you have at home?
K – I began playing upright bass in the 4th grade, and was classically trained for 4 years. After that the rock bug bit me and I traded my upright for a 73 Fender P. I woodshed for about 2 or 3 years – playing 2-3 hours a day - and then joined a local cover band in my high school, but quickly left and started my own band to play heavier music. I went to NYU for music and business, and had an original metal band from the mid to late 80’s that never really went anywhere. In 1990 I joined a heavy-rock band called Non-Fiction and we got signed to an indie label, released a CD and toured around the country on our own. Our 2nd CD was picked up by IRS records and we did more touring behind that one, including a stint to Europe opening for Overkill and Savatage. In ‘94 our US label went belly up, and we managed to release a 3rd CD through our European label but disbanded shortly after for a variety of reasons.
I started another band called Odd Man Out after that, and played the NY-NJ club scene for a couple of years. In the meantime, I began writing for some music magazines, and I had a weekly equipment column in a local music paper. I also wrote for Bass Frontiers magazine and Vintage Guitar. In ’96 I did an interview with Mike Matthews of Electro-Harmonix fame and we hit it off, and shortly after that he asked me to work for him. I handled marketing and artist relations for EH for 2 years, and then split in ’98 to form Godlyke, Inc.
I’m a real gear head, and love everything about equipment – it’s always fascinated me, and I guess that love and interest in it has led me to where I am now. I used to have a lot of Basses, but sold most of them off around the time I started the business in order to eat. I currently have two early 80’s Music Man Sabre’s – these are the 2 pickup models w/a slightly smaller body, and they are great. I also have an early 80’s BC Rich Eagle and an 8-String Bich – both made in USA and fully loaded. I’m a nut for the original BC Rich’s, and would love to get some more, but they’re getting harder to find.
As far as amps, I have a ’74 Ampeg V4B w/ 8X10 cab for gigs and a small GK MB150E combo for home practice. I have an extensive pedalboard which includes a lot of the stuff we sell – EMMA DiscumBOBulator, Guyatone Trem and Tuner, Jacques Tubeblower – as well as some vintage pieces you can’t get anymore.
I also have an extensive vintage effect collection, which includes some super-rare stuff. I’m a freak for effects, and as I mentioned I’m into rare and esoteric stuff – things you normally don’t hear or don’t have a use for! I have a lot of older pedals – EH, Mutron, Foxx, Maestro, etc. – and a nice batch of new stuff as well from both boutique and mainstream manufacturers. I probably have over 100 pedals in all, some are mine and some belong to the business for R&D – tough job, right??!?
MGS - What do you do for fun when not supplying the free world with music gear?
K – This job leaves me little time for anything else! However, when I do have free time I generally spend it with my girlfriend and our dogs, just chilling out. I also play in an original funky rock project, and we do a couple of gigs a month plus rehearsals and recording, so I definitely keep busy. If I get any free time, I’m up on E-Bay looking for pedals!
MGS - Seems the Maxon name has been popping up with players in current interviews. Can you give us a history of the Maxon Company and its current state?
K – Maxon started as a guitar pickup manufacturer in the 1960’s. In the early 70’s they developed a line of guitar effect pedals, and Hoshino quickly came into the picture and had Maxon build these pedals for them under the Ibanez name. At the time the Yen/Dollar exchange was phenomenally low, so these products were very affordable in other countries, which helped to sell large quantities. As we all know, Ibanez went on to become a major international player with their guitars and effects, and Maxon was allowed to sell under their own brand in Japan only.
Maxon was one of the top OEM electronics manufacturers in Japan from the early 70’s through the mid 90’s. In addition to Ibanez, they did work for many other companies including Samson, Panasonic, and Sony. Many people don’t know this, but a majority of the “hit” products from Ibanez were actually designed and manufactured by Maxon. The Tubescreamer, Flying Pan, the Tube King, the UE multi effects and all the original Nine Series models – all these products were developed by Maxon engineers. Ibanez did not start to design their own circuits until the 10 Series came out in the mid to late 80’s and many of the models in that series were still Maxon design.
In the 90’s Ibanez was focusing on the Soundtank Series that were designed in conjunction with Maxon but made in Taiwan, and the TS-9 reissue that was still being manufactured by Maxon in Japan. In 1998 Maxon’s agreement with Ibanez was up for renewal, and Maxon decided to finally offer their products for export. In 1999 we met with Maxon and began to import their products into the USA. We’ve been going strong ever since, and despite some initial resistance to the price point, we feel that the Maxon brand has been welcomed with open arms into the US market.
Based on our success with their products and shrinking business from Ibanez, Maxon decided to stop all manufacturing for Ibanez in 2001. In 2002 they launched their own Nine Series models, which were re-vamped and improved versions of the original designs. Ibanez has since reissued several Nine Series models and the TS808 Reissue in an effort to compete with Maxon, but the circuit designs, build quality and sound are simply not comparable to the Maxon versions. Overall, Maxon’s goal as a company is to develop their brand name and stop being known as an OEM builder.
This year we will be releasing two new Nine Series models – the CP-9 Pro+ Compressor which is a DBX compression circuit that runs at 18 volts, and the PT-9 Pro+ Phaser which is an optical 4-stage phaser that runs at 18 volts as well. While Maxon cannot compete with Ibanez on a price standpoint, they will continue to offer high-quality, innovative, professional-grade products that will be superior in sound quality and construction to anything that Ibanez has to offer. We’ve also been focusing a lot on artist endorsements for them, and have just added Slipknot, Scott Henderson, Judas Priest, and Queensryche to our artist roster, as well as a whole slew of NWOAHM bands including Shadows Fall, Killswitch Engage, God Forbid, As I Lay Dying, Dillinger Escape Plan, and others. The complete artist roster can be viewed at www.maxonfx.com.
MGS - What was Godlyke’s top 5 sellers in 2004?
K – Our best-selling product is by and large the Godlyke PA-9 Power-All digital power supply. This is a digital switching power supply that takes any line voltage from 100-240 volts and drops it down to 9 volts DC with a current capacity of 1.7 amps. Because of this you can use it anywhere in the world to power a wide selection and large quantity of effect units from this one power supply. There are similar, cheaper products on the market from other manufactures, but they don’t have the noise filtering or construction quality that the PA-9 does. In addition, the PA-9 is sold with an assortment of connecting and adaptor cables, so you don’t have buy a whole bunch of different things to get your board up and running. It costs $40, and has really caught on for guys looking to downsize their pedalboard and save space and money.
After the PA-9, the big sellers are overdrives, delays, and compressors. The Maxon OD808 and OD-9 are the two hottest, for obvious reasons – both these pedals are based on the original TS808 overdrive and sound amazing and are at a great price point. When we first released the OD808, most boutique guitar shops were pissed because they A/B’d it against their $400 TS808’s and could not tell the difference! They soon caught on and realized that there was a limited amount of customers willing to pay that kind of money for an effect, and so they turned the rest of them on to the Maxon’s.
After that, the Guyatone MD-3 is probably the largest mover – it’s a low-priced, great sounding digital delay with just the right features – it retails for $99 so practically anyone can afford it, and it is much warmer and more natural sounding than other digitals.
Taking 5th is the Maxon CP101 compressor, which is a great-sounding optical compressor with a 4:1 compression ratio. It’s very subtle, and the way the Photocoupler works the compression does not affect the initial note attack, which gives it a much more natural tone than other comps.
MGS - How was the recent NAMM show? I saw Godlyke was there, did you personally go? Anything or anyone there that really caught your attention?
K – This was our 7th Winter NAMM and 10th NAMM show overall. I always attend, as does my partner George and all our sales reps and in-house staff. I feel that NAMM, despite some shortcomings, is still the place to be to spread the word on your products and get to meet the people that you do business with around the country and the globe. Personal attention is very important in this day and age, and we enjoy being able to meet with people that we do business with and put a face to the name, so to speak.
This past NAMM was extremely busy for us – without a doubt our best show ever – and we doubled sales over 2004. Because of this, I barely got a chance to get out of our booth for a breather, let alone walk the show. The things I did see that caught my eye were the reissue of the Foxx Tone Machine, which is a dead-on copy of the original at a decent price point; the Deusenberg line of guitars from Germany which are really beautiful, hand-made affairs, and the MusicPole, which is a new type of MIDI trigger that is very ingenious and unique. I think that product has amazing potential if it’s brought to market correctly, and I hope that someone has the vision to do so.
MGS - How much of your business is internet only vs. brick and mortar? And what are some thought on the 2 outlets?
K – I’ve never done a percentage comparison, but every year the internet business gets larger and larger. We believe this is for several reasons. First - guitar effects are still a reasonably affordable item and somewhat of an impulse purchase, so it’s not a big deal for someone to drop $100-200 over the net and snag a pedal to try it out. If it doesn’t suit your style most internet dealers have a flexible return policy, or you can just flip it on E-Bay or another classified ads website for about what you paid for it. This is a lot different than purchasing a guitar (which can be a substantial financial investment) or an amp (where freight costs will kill you). However, I’m sure that those two product categories are seeing an increase in their internet sales as well.
Second - it seems that there are very few brick and mortar dealers who have caught on to the concept of the “boutique” market segment of this industry. Let’s face it; with the advent of Guitar Center and their conquest of a large portion of the business in all the major marketplaces, it’s gotten really tough for independent dealers to stay afloat. In addition, what we’ve seen is that instead of diversifying and offering products that GC doesn’t sell, most Indies try to go head to head with them and offer the same product lines, which I believe is a big mistake.
I worked at GC for several months when I first started the business, and they’re policy of “guaranteed lowest price” means that they will undercut any dealer’s price to get the sale. I once sold a Fender Squire for a gross profit of $7 just so GC could beat the price of an Indie store a couple miles up the highway – this is their strategy, and they have the purchasing power to make it work. This being said, if you are an indie dealer how can you hope to compete with GC by offering the same products? They will ALWAYS under sell you, so why carry what they sell? Unfortunately, most dealers are very set in their ways and don’t want to take a chance on a new product line, or don’t want to put in the small degree of extra effort it will take to turn a customer on to a new product, or both.
This attitude further complicates things, as most of the major product lines that GC and subsequently most indie dealers carry have very large quantity (and thus monetary) buy-ins. This means that even if an Indie was interested in checking out a new line, they probably can’t afford to because most of their capital is tied up in inventory that they were forced to purchase by large manufacturers and cannot sell. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in many stores where they have DOD and Boss pedals from 5 years ago that are just sitting there collecting dust, and they’ll have to blow them out at cost in order to move them out of the store.
This sounds insane, but it’s true and it’s one of the major problems with this industry. The result is that you have a large portion of music dealers who are at the mercy of a small group of large manufacturers, even though they don’t need to be. As an example, I’d like to point out that Gibson recently cut a substantial portion of their independent dealers and restricted the remainder from selling via the internet of mail order, while they still allow GC, MF, and 1 or 2 larger chains or mail-order houses to do so. Basically, they’ve cut a large group of long-time dealers and supporters to after the fast buck. These large manufacturers are not in this business to support independent retailers, and the sooner that the Indies realize this and start putting their money elsewhere, the better chance they have of staying in business.
This being said, unless there are some dramatic changes inside the music industry within the next 5 years, I think that there will be more and more brick and mortar dealers closing their doors for good. It’s sad, because this is the type of store that I grew up with and bought my first instruments from. I remember going to 48th Street in New York and there were at least 10 guitar shops on one block – now on the same block there’s two stores and one of them is Sam Ash! Maybe this is just the wave of the future, and as we move forward this industry will move to an internet and mail-order only platform – I don’t know. I do know that it can’t sustain itself with its current direction.
MGS - Well I better let you get back to work anything you would like to say in closing?
K – Thanks! It’s now 7 PM and I still have to test about 25 repaired pedals and set up two Basses, plus restring my bass for tomorrow night’s gig - The fun never stops!
MGS - Thanks so much for your time Kevin we appreciate it.
K – Thank you – It was my pleasure to speak with you and if any of your readers have further questions, they can contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. musicgearsourceFeature Interview with Kevin Bolembach, president of Godlyke distributing