Chuck's Guitar Shop's Tailpiece Wrench and Harpley Slides: 2 Accessory Builders Found on Reverb

We use the term "handmade" about instruments all of the time. However, making musical tools goes far beyond just the instruments themselves. Selling handmade gear on Reverb does not just apply to custom pedals or one-off guitars. These grassroots items are as simple as pre-wired harnesses for electronics, bass ramps, pedalboards, and unique versions of familier tools like picks and slides.

We wanted to highlight real one-person shops, those who make, market, and even pack all of the items they produce, personally. We want to hear about their products, but also how they keep their dream going in a business with margins thinner than a banjo wire. We talked to a toolmaker and a slide maker to see how they have transitioned their passion and experimentation into solid products and growing businesses.

Chuck’s Tune-o-matic wrench

Chuck Conrad’s story about making his tool is about as grassroots as it gets. He saw the well-regarded StewMac tools for tune-o-matic bridge posts and liked them, but thought they were not affordable for their limited task. "I love StewMac, but I thought I could do better, so I made 10 prototypes that night," Conrad said. His background as a carpenter gave him the insight to building, and he knew the need for a functional yet affordable tool.

Chuck's Guitar Shop Tune-O-Matic Stop Tailpiece Wrench

"I knew I was on to something when I made a batch of 25, and sold them all in a matter of weeks!" The business has been growing slowly, and a prominent guitar YouTuber has already asked him to feature his product. With a product so affordable, profit can be slow going, but Conrad is already seeing positive returns. He also takes custom orders for players with unique needs. One customer commissioned a unique-sized model to fit his Reverend guitar hardware.

For marketing, Conrad is also focused on building an internet presence, and plans to make an online video series documenting his builds—a proven and popular medium to reach guitar buyers. He is also building his own guitars out of reclaimed wood that he plans to market on Reverb. Conrad shows that if you have a good idea, chances are someone will agree. You may not need to make an instrument, but if you can make one small thing better, you can get started in the guitar business.

Harpley Slides

Another maker with a similar story is Jared of Harpley Slides. A guitar player and glass blower, it was only a matter of time before he combined the two passions. He decided to make a slide, an easy task, but wanted to make it better. "My thought was—why just make a regular slide? Why not make the best slide possible?" After extensive experimentation, Jared not only found that he could make the glass more durable, but also sound far superior. "Dunlop slides were crappy, frankly," Jared continues. "They break easy."

Harpley Marble Tipped Glass Guitar Slide

Jared’s first discovery was tempering the glass. This not only made a more durable slide, but also greatly improved the tone. "The tempering process was about a year and a half of experimentation," stated Jared. Fine-tuning the operation, Jared tempers each slide for 6 to 12 hours. "The tempering made the sound unbelievable!," Jared exclaims. With the material figured out, Jared went on to improve the form of the slide.

Working to constantly improve on his discovery, he looked at some of the limitations of other slides. This is where the idea of the Torpedo slide came from: "I wanted a slide that made it easier to use on the higher frets, and the Torpedo shape makes it easy to reach the high frets and not have to move your hand in weird ways." Jared also has moved into other shapes, as well as picks, all made through his tempered glass process.

Harpley Torpedo Glass Guitar Slide

Running a musical instrument business is hard, especially when you are a one-man shop. Jared makes each slide himself, and it is a slow process. "It takes time, but I make sure each piece is right," he says. After being a serious business for about a year, Jared is finally feeling more comfortable. He does not have a brick-and-mortar location, and keep prices down. He also packs each slide personally, making sure that even the packaging is an experience for the consumer: "I want the customer to be happy, and make sure they see the care I put in their slide—even how it is shipped to them."

Conrad and Jared show that a simple idea to the right audience can be enough to launch a business. While Conrad’s tool is admittedly utilitarian and a bit rough, he tackles a real problem with efficiency and effective design. Jared of Harpley Slides takes the time to make sure each of his products is perfect, and a true handmade original. These small business people are not so far from the humble beginnings of Leo Fender and Paul Bigsby. Take a look at the handmade section of Reverb, you might be surprised by the solutions you find made by like-minded people.

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