NBN Guitars

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Three Area Men Combine To Manufacture Guitars

The Longmont Daily Times-Call - January 18, 1969

"It's actually a fine art form that fulfills something in us.  There is just a certain fascination in the work when we are doing the best that we possibly can."

This feeling is expressed by three men who joined as partners to build and repair string musical instruments, now in a basement workshop, with hopes to move into a larger shop after they form a corporation.

The men, Monty Novotny, 10 Ninth Ave., Longmont; Bernie Nettesheim, 5562 Olde Stage Road, Boulder; and Reb Bennett, 1010 Pleasant Drive, Boulder, have been working in their own shop in Nettesheim's basement on musical instruments for more than a year.  Their desire to work on their own instruments stemmed from training they all received while working for the Ode Manufacturing Company and the Baldwin Manufacturing Company, who both build string instruments.

The men are now in the process of trying to build a steel string acoustical guitar that will achieve perfect tone quality.  The guitar will be an original design that they have all contributed something to.

The neck of the guitar will be hand carved with the box being made from wood bought in Germany, Brazil, and India, and by the time it's perfected they hope it's "the finest on the market."

Along with the guitars and repair work on any string musical instrument the men will be making custom banjos to order.

The men are just working in their small shop part-time away from their regular jobs, Novotny as a finish carpenter, and Bennett and Nettesheim working for Public Service Co., in Boulder.

"When we do become a corporation," Bennett said, "we are not going to become so competitive as to sacrifice any of our quality, and an instrument will not leave our shop unless we feel it is perfect."

The reason for starting the business, according to Nettesheim, was because the men felt there was lack of a good steel string guitar on the market.

Novotny said that they have all done much research on the proper way to produce a good tone quality in instruments and have done a lot of experimenting with instruments they have made in an effort to make the best possible instrument they can.

The three will start by making one standard guitar, called an NBN guitar as their trade mark, but will do any customizing to fit the individual buying the instrument.



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Craftsmen’s Output Small but Expensive

The Denver Post ? ~ November 1972

 

An old country schoolhouse four miles southeast of Longmont reverberates these days to the sawing, hammering, sanding and occasional twanging of newly strung instruments that go into the guitar-making business.

 

Twelve to 14 high-quality guitars are being built each month by eight men who make up the work force of NBN Guitars, which has claimed a piece of the high-priced guitar market without even advertising or setting up a dealership network.

 

The business is owned by partners Monty Novotny, Bernie Nettesheim and Reb Bennett, all of whom were with the old Ode Co. of Boulder, which built banjos before being bought out by the D. H. Baldwin Co.

 

NBN Guitars, which was moved from Boulder two years ago to its present site, initially manufactured both guitars and banjos but dropped banjos because of losing its source of the metal rims, too costly to build on a small scale.

 

The NBN guitars, generally ranging from $425 to $850, are not electrified at least at the factory.  They depend on craftsmanship in fashioning such renowned Instrument woods as rosewood, mahogany, silver spruce and ebony into sound boxes that project resonant tones without electronic gadgetry.

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Handcrafted Guitars Sell Themselves

The Denver Post, 1972

 

Three partners in a thriving guitar factory near Longmont have proved you can sell a good product just by making it and offering it for sale.

 

The owners of NBN Guitars aren’t plugged into a computer printout system, don’t advertise conventionally and have never hired a research group to do an in-depth market study.

 

NBN Guitars, in a sense the successor to the old Ode Co., since its three principals were once with that former Boulder banjo-making concern, makes and sells 12 to 14 quality guitars a month.  The company hopes to hike production to 20 instruments a month, which would mean adding to the present eight-man work force, and with greater volume will come the need for more promotion to insure that sales keep pace with production.

 

Always a Buyer

But so far there’s always been somebody with cash in hand to buy the latest guitar out of the workroom, according to Reb Bennett, one of the owners.  Their guitars, available in four standard models, bring from $425 to $850, which puts them in an elite price class.

 

When Bennett and his partners, Bernie Nettesheim and Monty Novotny began making guitars with the NBN label they delivered an instrument in about six months.  With greatly increased production they’ve worked this down to three months.

 

What’s the secret for this demand in a field where the competition is sharp and the supply and variety of products abundant?  Bennett said the three looked over the market carefully before plunging into business and decided that with relatively good Japanese guitars available at $100 to $200 there was no way this part of the market could be penetrated.

 

Top of the Line

“We felt we would start at the other end and make the most highly crafted instrument possible,” Bennett said.

 

Evidently plenty of musicians agree that NBN has succeeded in creating a guitar with high quality materials and craftsmanship to justify the much higher than average prices commanded by its particular models.

 

Are they really different?  Structurally, not much.  The “box” or body is a quarter inch wider than many guitars and the strut pattern that gives the top of the box strength is a company “secret.”

 

Exotic Woods

But extreme care is used in selecting what the NBN people regard as superior woods – German silver spruce for the 3/32 inch box tops, Indian and Brazilian rosewood for the sides of the box, Honduras mahogany for the back, some sides and the neck, and ebony for the fingerboard and bridge.

 

Most of these woods are ordinarily used in better instruments, but NBN is different from most manufacturers in using only the German alpine spruce, relied on traditionally for use in fine violins, rather than Sitka spruce for what Bennett says he believes is better tonal quality.

 

Even more important than the precise choice of woods that goes into these guitars for the styling of the NBN models is the workmanship, the thing that principally distinguishes a really fine musical instrument of any kind from one of ordinary quality.  This is the area where the management of this small but production-oriented concern has had to exercise uncompromising judgment in weeding out workers without the discipline it takes to craft a nearly perfect music vehicle.

 

Experience Unnecessary

Bennett, himself a developer of great self discipline as a student of Russian that he mastered as a language major at the University of Colorado, said they’ve never hired an experience instrument maker.  “What we are looking for are people with the right attitude,” he said, adding, “A lot of people come out here and feel they have found Camelot, like the Old World.”

 

What they find instead is that despite the dedication here to some of the perfectionist ideals exemplified by some of the greater-than-life characters of that milieu there’s a catch.

 

The tedious work of sawing out, rasping, bending, gluing, sanding and finishing assorted pieces of hard and softwood making up a completed guitar is continuously repetitious and grueling and precise.

 

Attitude Important

“We’ve got to have people accurate enough to create the quality of product you want,” Bennett said.  “The appearance gets critical in the later stages.  We’re not upset so much by the lack of skill as the lack of willingness to put forth the effort to do something right.  It’s a matter of attitude.  A lot of people have not been exposed to it.  That kind of attitude permeates down.  One sixty-fourth of an inch is critical,” he said.

 

Most of the young men working at NBN Guitars can play stringed instruments and all have an appreciation for the guitar in its finished form, according to Bennett.

 

Admiration for a basically traditional type of guitar without electronic trappings has made it possible for NBN Guitars to market 126 instruments by early November.  The 135th guitar is scheduled to go out by the end of the month.

 

The use of NBN instruments by well-known performers continues to help publicize the brand, particularly among professional musicians and those who follow the stars closely.

 

Nationally known performers using NBN models are James Taylor; Steven Stills, who uses a banjo made by NBN before it went into making guitars exclusively; Leo Kottke, who tours with an NBN 12-string model that cost $1,290; and Paul Simon of Simon & Garfunkel, who also has a 12-string model.

 

Recently while Earl Scruggs was entertaining in Boulder he visited the factory and played an NBN banjo and guitar.  Bennett said Scruggs liked both instruments.

A Picker’s Delight

Boulder Daily Camera - March 30, 1975

Around Boulder County, High Quality Guitars, Banjos, Dulcimers Being Made

Whether produced in a factory or one-at-a-time by hand, a quality musical instrument is distinguished by the attention paid to its construction and the care given to it by its builder.  And according to top standards, guitars, banjos and dulcimers of highest quality are being produced throughout Boulder County.

In their mountain woodshop west of Boulder, Max Krimmel is building guitars and Bonnie Carol is building dulcimers.  Out in an old school house near Longmont, five full-time employees of NBN Guitars Limited are producing instruments for the likes of James Taylor, Leo Kottke and Paul Simon, and in Boulder Ome Banjos with six employees constructs banjos and is expanding its line to include mandolins.

Ome products 40 to 50 banjos a month; NBN seven guitars monthly; Krimmel one every three weeks and no more than 10 a year; Carol constructs four dulcimers a month.

The building of any stringed instrument is essentially the same process, whether in a bright, mountain woodshop or a Boulder factory.  There are hand processes in factory guitars and machine processes in hand building.

Wood Selected
First, the wood is selected.  One difference between factories and hand builders is that the former can stockpile quantities of wood.  Ome, for example, is a year ahead in supplies, while Krimmel and Carol are always looking for wood, they said.

Hard woods are needed to insure that the instrument can withstand stress.  Hand-selected mahogany, Brazilian or Peruvian rosewood and maple are preferred, and the best is 'quartered wood,' cut so that the grain is straight.

For Krimmel, the process begins in the kitchen, where the long strips that will be bent into the figure-8 shape of guitar sides are boiled in a long, tin pan on the stove.

He sets fret wire into the little cuts he has made on the neck, glues on the bridge, 'strings it up and plays it for a little while."

The process is basically the same for the dulcimer, Carol said.  The bracing, however, is simpler, and small hearts cut out in the top act as sound holes.  Constructing the body is only about half her work.  She has to chisel the edges flush with sides, spend a day sanding before she sprays the lacquer or oil finish, puts on the tuners, polishes, buffs and files the frets and strings it up.

Typical of how machine processes are intertwined with hand work is the spray room in Krimmel's and Carol's shop, decked out with a fancy compressor.

At Ome, the process is the same as hand building, Whelpton said, but they use more sophisticated tooling and more machines to speed things up.  There's a shaper for neck work, for example.

The company owns its own tooling for all the many metal parts on a banjo.  "Every nut and bold is made especially for us," he said.  There is a metal shop for grinding, buffing, finishing, drilling and welding the metal parts, but "basically, we're a wood working shop," he said.

The company buys the wooden rims of the banjo, which it cuts and finishes, but other than that and the metal work, the process of assembling the 200 parts that go into a banjo is the same as for the guitar.

Half Is Hand Work
And, Whelpton added, even at a factory, over 50 percent of the work on the instrument is hand work.

Bennett agreed that hand work is essential even in an instrument factory.  More than 110 hours of work goes into NBN's simplest of its eleven models.

The machines help in the primary steps of production, he said, insuring uniformity and consistency.  These machines, he said, are for wood working, including special jigsaws designed by the three owners, shapers and joiners.

It took two years for the founders of NBN to design their first guitar.  Since they began eight years ago, they have built 270 guitars, ranging in price from $695 to $1520.

NBN and Ome grew out of a Gold Hill banjo company called Ode, that was later bought by Baldwin Music.  Ome, in its five years, has produced 1,000 banjos.

Kremmel's career began 10 years ago with a course in guitar making at the Denver Free University.  Since then he has built 73 instruments, ranging in price from $400 to $2000.  Three years ago he met Carol and taught her to build dulcimers; she has made 49 of the $120 instruments.

The best woods, workmanship and materials, the instrument makers agree, are what make a quality instrument.  As Whelpton said, "A banjo is a banjo, 'cept we make 'em good."

And no one disagrees.  As Mintz said, "No one can deny that the instruments made around here are tops."

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Elvis Plays Novotny Guitar

Craftsman Opens Longmont Store

 

Longmont Daily Times-Call – December 16, 1976

 

Custom-made guitars and banjos have become a popular extension of a musician’s personality, and Monty Novotny, of the newly opened M.J. Novotny Guitars and Banjos at 810 South Sherman St. can make them “as fancy as they want or as plain.”

 

The music shop that opened a month ago has a wide line of both custom made and standard production guitars, banjos and mandolins.

 

Novotny has been in the instrument-making trade for 13 years and his clientele has ranged from “the everyday person who wants something for himself that is out of the ordinary” to established entertainers including Elvis Presley.

 

The craftsman, who takes considerable pride in his work, said Wednesday the instruments are designed to the specifications ordered by the customer and he strives “to make them a product that would be the finest being made today.”

 

It takes three months for Novotny to craft an instrument and he said he is currently back-ordered for six months.

 

He selects the finest woods for the top, sides and back of the guitar and can “voice” the guitar to the desires of the purchaser.  A heavy bass, for example, depends on the strut pattern underneath the top.

 

He adds abalone or mother-of-pearl to the inlays on the finger board on acoustical as well as electrical guitars.

 

An acoustical guitar requires the craftsman to work with the wood to produce an inner volume.  “With electrics you don’t worry what the guitar sounds like because the electronics do whatever you want them to do.”

 

One of Novotny’s prized possessions is his own $10,000 collector’s item, with an ebony back, carved Brazilian rosewood sides, spruce edges and inlaid abalone fingerboard.  The peg head is carved in ebony and Novotny said it has the finest voicing.

 

In addition to guitars which Novotny said will always have a steady market flow, banjos are experiencing an increase in popularity and the five string item is the most popular banjo in use.

 

He also custom makes banjos that have a $650 to $4,000 price range.

 

He said mandolins also experience seasonal popularity, and while banjo sales are down to some extent here, he said they are selling 50 per cent more than last year in the east.

 

Besides his own hand-made work, Novotny carries other custom made lines as well as standard production equipment that starts in a more modest price range.

 

The store also features electric basses and 12 string units.  There is a full line of accessories including strings, picks, cases and straps.  Novotny does his work at the store and also has repair facilities.

 

He said the store’s location situated between five colleges has helped business plus “there is a natural draw for highly qualified craftsmanship.”


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