LSL Instruments, USA
The story of LsL Instruments is a story of guitars. Guitars that made a business, not the other way around. This company was made by the guitars, it was always the instruments themselves.
Back at the end of 2007 I returned from about eight years of working in China. I built and ran large woodworking factories there. I lived in Shanghai for four years and in Dongguan for another four. In Dongguan I ran Pine Development, a company with about 500 employees making furniture and kitchen cabinets which were exported to the US and around the world. I was also playing a lot of music at night in a few bands. Though I was making a living it just wasn't enough to keep going so I left Dongguan and came back to the US with every intention of finding another position in China. I was planning on getting a job with a larger US based company where I could make a better living than I had been. After eight years in China and about 25 years of woodworking factory management I figured I could do better with a larger company. After all, all my friends there in Dongguan were making much more than I was. And being away from my family without making enough to warrant it wasn't working out.
There's a lot of music happening in China but still, its hard to find decent gear there. So every time I returned to the US, I would spend a lot of time in music stores stocking up on gear to take back with me. I was going to get myself a vintage guitar this time. I found one on Ebay - a '73 Telecaster. Not my favorite but all I could afford what with being unemployed and all. It was a great deal and I bought it. But, being a newbie on Ebay, I wired the money. There was no guitar and I was ripped off completely.
I had started my woodworking career in the guitar business. I worked for Saga Musical Instruments and was in fact their first employee. There I had to setup and play every instrument before shipping it. After a while I began doing minor repairs. Soon I was doing repairs at The Fifth String in Berkeley, Ca. where I was also teaching banjo. Then me and my partner Joe Deetz opened D&L Instruments where we started making guitars, banjos and mandolins. We could make the instruments but knew nothing whatsoever about running a business. Joe left to go back to Massachusetts and I continued until a burglary cleaned me out and ended that endeavor.
So I knew how to make guitars. After the Ebay ripoff, I decided to make my own in my garage shop. I had been frequenting a local guitar shop, California Vintage Guitar and Amp and I asked them if I could measure a '52 Tele they had there. They agreed and I spent hours doing exactly that. I told my friend who worked there, a great guitarist named Tommy Kay, what I was up to and he said "Well if you ever get it done, bring it by and I'll take a look." So after a few months I got it done and I thought it was an incredible guitar. But, you don't get to this age without gaining a little perspective. I thought it was a great guitar but I also knew that I really, really wanted to believe it to be. Maybe it was just me. So I brought the guitar down to meet Tommy at Cal Vintage. Tommy knows guitar and he's not one to pull punches so I knew I'd get the straight skinny from him. He played it and asked me " You made this?" "Yes, I made it" I said. You made the body?"
"Yes I did"
"You made the neck?"
"Yes, I made everything except the bridge, tuners and some of the other metal parts, but I made the truss-rod too"
"I'm blown away!" Tommy said.
And here's the sentence that started LsL:
"Can you make another?"
You can guess the answer. The first one I built for sale sold in two hours. And, 800 guitars later we continue making them, and better all the time.
A few months later a friend of mine recommended a guy to me who wanted to make guitars. He was willing for work for free just to learn. So I "hired" Avi Shabat, our first employee. Avi is still doing all the final assembly and setup on all LsL guitars and he is a master at it.
Our finisher is Robie Canlas. He was hired to help us move from the house into our current building. That was going to be a two-day job but after we moved I taught him how to finish our guitars. He has now finished over 800 guitars with Nitrocellulose lacquer and he also has mastered his craft.
After about the eighth guitar I started to name them with female names. And I have to say that naming the little darlings was a wonderful thing to do. It gives the guitars an identity that a serial number never could. I know where certain guitars are, who plays them and we refer to them by name around the shop. It just feels better. So we still name them. Its just a little more challenging these days.
Now LsL Instruments is in a 4400 sq ft shop in Van Nuys, Ca. We employ ten people and we finish about two guitars per day. They are all darlings and we love them all. I will never forget that spending money on a guitar is not easy for most of us. This all started because I couldn't afford one myself. So if I'm going to ask someone to buy one of our instruments it better be worth it. Our motto here is "Never sell a guitar you don't want to keep." We stand by that motto with every guitar we make.
15111 Keswick St
Van Nuys, CA 91405
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