Print provides an effective toolkit for businesses when they first start out. It helps them tell the world they have arrived, establish their identity and cultivate a sense of professionalism and validity around their brand. For 2022, we decided we wanted to follow a new business to see how print could support their efforts through the early days. We put some feelers out and were delighted when we made contact with Ancoats Guitars, manufacturer of hand-built electric guitars from Manchester.
Introducing Ancoats Guitars
Ancoats Guitars is the trading name of Dave Roberts, who started tinkering with guitars as a hobby nearly 25 years ago. For the past six years, he’s been building guitars from scratch. Having now gathered the skills, equipment and workspace to produce high-end custom-built instruments, Dave is finally able to put his dream in motion, and his guitars into production.
2022 will be the year when Ancoats Guitars becomes a fully-fledged manufacturing business, and Solopress will be following every step of the way, reporting on the highs and lows of getting a new brand up and running, and passing on plenty of tips on how print can kickstart a new brand.
Dave has decided to name the company after the area of Manchester where he has his workshop. Ancoats is a former centre for the city’s textile industry which sprang up during the industrial revolution and thrived well into the last century.
The area is famous for its imposing red brick mill buildings, though most have now been converted into luxury flats and trendy loft apartments. Dave’s workshop is a repurposed shipping container, which is very much in keeping with the area’s industrial past.
The guitars themselves will also carry names that reference areas of the city. The New Islington is the first model to be offered with the NQ, representing Manchester’s Northern Quarter, nearing the end of development.
Challenges for a new guitar brand
An important question at the outset of any commercial enterprise is: what sets this product apart from the competition?
When it comes to establishing a new electric guitar brand, there are two very imposing elephants in the room.
The first is that electric guitars from the Far East, which have always been significantly cheaper than anything homegrown, are now catching up in terms of quality.
The second is that electric guitarists, despite their rock and roll posturing, are a surprisingly conservative bunch! Designs and brands that became popular in the 1950s still dominate the market.
The Ancoats Answer
Ancoats Guitars is able to meet these challenges with a handful of unique selling points that differentiate the product and appeal strongly to the target market. Among those are build-quality, unique design, customisation and an eco-friendly business ethos.
First and foremost is the quality of the instruments. While mass-produced guitars have come a long way in recent years, there’s still no beating hand-built quality. Only expert builders, either with their own brands or building high-end Custom Shop models for the big brands, can give this level of care and attention to each instrument.
In addition to the painstaking woodwork that goes into Ancoats Guitars, Dave uses the kinds of top quality timber, hardware, electrical components and finishes that guitar players value.
Daring design, anchored in tradition
But what about those conservative guitar buyers and their loyalty to original American designs? How can anyone innovate and still appeal to that aesthetic?
It’s certainly a tricky challenge, but Ancoats Guitars walk a perfect line between modern and retro styles, resulting in unique and striking designs that still sit comfortably among the greats from the past.
Dave’s designs blend aesthetics from the golden age of American guitar production with European influences from the Art Deco and Bauhaus movements. The result can be seen in Ancoats Guitars’ debut model, the New Islington. While guitar aficionados might spot a hint of Rickenbacker about the horns, Gibson in the lower bout, Fender in the body contours and Gretsch around the hardware, Ancoats Guitars have a distinct character, with Art Deco motifs informing the pickguard and headstock shapes.
Customisation – non-standard as standard
Guitar players can be picky about all aspects of their guitars. Neck-shape and body contours affect how the instrument feels under the hands. Hardware like the tuning pegs (or ‘machine heads’) and the bridge arrangement where the strings are anchored to the body affect reliability and performance. The types of timber and the ‘pickups’ (magnetic devices that turn the vibrations of the strings into an electrical signal) have a huge bearing on the sound.
While it can be difficult for a fussy player to find the perfect guitar off the shelf, the ordering process at ancoatsguitars.co.uk allows the purchaser to specify every last detail, ensuring the dream guitar is delivered. In addition to the kinds of customisations most builders offer, Dave also offers the seldom-seen option of a ‘German carve’. It’s a curved chamfer around the edge of the body, recently revived by American guitar builder Fano.
The finishes on offer go beyond the expected range of traditional guitar colours too. If you find a shade you like that’s offered by Little Green Paint Company or as a wood stain from Crimson Guitars, then Ancoats Guitars will finish your guitar in that colour.
Dave is passionate about the environment, so each Ancoats Guitar is built from sustainable timber. With guitar building in the last century relying on tropical woods like Rosewood and Mahogany, responsibly sourced timber has become an important consideration for guitar builders and buyers. Dave works with G&S Specialist Timber in the Lake District to get hold of the best quality woods while minimising the impact on the planet.
The guitar industry doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to finishing materials either. Traditional and sought after nitrocellulose finishes can be particularly harmful. From the seventies onwards, mass producers switched over to polyurethane finishes. While cheaper and safer to apply, they’re essentially plastics, so not perfect.
The finishes used on Ancoats Guitars however are all water-based, meaning they’re kinder to the environment as well as easier to touch up if the guitar gets a knock.
Dave’s also done his best to ensure his suppliers are all local in order to keep delivery distances to a minimum. And of course, if you’re ordering your guitar in the UK, it won’t have to travel halfway around the world to get to you!
Telling the world
Just as an electric guitar needs an amplifier to broadcast its music, a new brand with a bunch of amazing selling points needs a harmonious marketing strategy if it’s going to be heard.
In addition to a great looking website , an ever-expanding YouTube Channel and a growing array of social media content, Dave will be working closely with Solopress to create a stunning set of printed material to promote Ancoats Guitars.
Brand new: Getting a logo ready for launch
Ahead of getting our first print projects underway, Dave wanted to do some work on the Ancoats Guitars logo. He felt it was important to refine the brand design before launching into long term activity. This is a wise tactic for any business on the cusp of a major marketing push, and the artworkers at Solopress are always here to help if you need a logo developed, tweaked or rendered in a different format.
With design forming such an important part of the Ancoats Guitars identity, it was important that the logo design should meet the same standard. Dave worked with our designer to develop the Ancoats Guitars logo while retaining his original vision. The result is a set of logo iterations that will work on screen, in print and on the instruments themselves, including a wordmark, a roundel for social media and a guitar headstock decal.
An exciting year ahead
With Dave on board and the new logo looking great at ancoatsguitars.co.uk, we can’t wait to set to work making sure print plays an effective role in establishing Ancoats Guitars as an emerging brand. Stay tuned to this blog story at solopress.com/blog/start-up-stories for regular updates as the year unfolds.