Letter to the Editor: What Makes an Amp Boutique, A Small Builder's Perspective

Editor's Note: This letter was submitted in response last week's article, What Are the Actual Most Popular Boutique Amp Brands? Having received feedback from a variety of readers about our criteria for inclusion on the list, we've opted to publish this letter for some further perspective from respected amp builder and Reverb seller, Richard Goodsell.

After reading the recent article "What Are the Actual Most Popular Boutique Amp Brands?" I have no reason to doubt the data presented. And since being active on Reverb.com for only a little over a year myself, I have no delusional expectation to be on that list.

However, after scanning the names on the Top 20, it gave me pause for reflection on my own place in the boutique universe. In doing so, I have to wonder how big this universe is, how one gains entrance, who gets to stay, and for how long.

Most of those included in the Top 20 started out like myself: a builder with one to three employees, grinding out product one piece at a time at a pace so slow that surviving meant having a "day job" or some other source of income to pay the bills. In my case, that day job was wrenching Hammond organs and Leslies.

Richard Goodsell

Now, 12 years in, I am back to being a one–man show. After last decade's financial debacle, I'm cautious about hiring and have lost my will (and ability) to indulge in costly advertising. My single–human output limit is an average of two amps per week, about 100 amps per year. That sounds like a decent number, until you back out the cost of sales, rent, insurance, and marketing. I am working cheap.

But what about the Top 20? Most of them have been around longer than I have, though some have not. I'd wager that in three quarters of the brands listed, you would not be able to reach the founder on the telephone, either because they no longer work there or because they’re so far removed from the daily process that they’re unreachable.

Scrolling down to the bottom of the article, one will find statements like “...one builder or a small team…” used to describe the companies chosen and statements about how brands that utilize third party contractors and/or large–scale manufacturing were excluded. But I can assure you that this is not the case in more than half of the Top 20.

The reality is that most of them have had to hire outside help to keep up with demand, not just for assembly but for the administrative and logistics needs that go along with the bigger numbers. Most of them were once where I am now.

Goodsell Black Dog 20

I submit that the quasi–definition outlined in the article does not describe the majority of the Top 20, but it does, however, fairly apply to operations like mine. I'm at the point where, in order to grow any larger, it would require help, infrastructure, and, of course, money.

I know for a fact that some of the Top 20, when faced with these same circumstances, took on one or more partners, found angel investors for working capital, or simply sold the brand to someone better qualified to take it to the next level.

I'm not saying that this is a bad thing. Many brands that deserve to thrive wouldn't have survived certain extinction without outside help. I'm standing on that plank myself, looking over the edge and trying to figure out what to do. Who wouldn't want to run with the Top 20?

I think the bottom line here is a desire for a more inclusive or accurate way to describe what constitutes "boutique." Maybe it's just semantics and doesn't really matter. The only time I really think of myself as "boutique" is when I check the box as I'm creating a listing on Reverb. But to a lot of consumers and connoisseurs, it's still a buzzword, and I'd hate to miss out because I don't meet an arbitrary or imaginary "boutique threshold."

If I had the answer, I might be a rich guy with a Rolex and a diamond pinky ring. In the meantime, anyone who wants to talk to an actual amp builder can reach me via email or text. During business hours, I may even pick up the phone if I'm not elbow–deep in an amp or running the vacuum cleaner.

Richard Goodsell
Goodsell Electric Instruments

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