Music & Sound Retailer Magazine: 5 Minutes with Tom Bedell

By Dan Ferrisi, Music & Sound Retailer Magazine

For The Music & Sound Retailer’s Summer NAMM issue—our second-biggest issue of the year—I knew we had to host someone special for “Five Minutes With.” It seemed natural, then, to approach Tom Bedell, Founder of Two Old Hippies, LLC, who helms respected brands such as Bedell Guitars, Breedlove Stringed Instruments and Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments. Given that, in all likelihood, you’re reading this article while attending the Summer NAMM show, it’s particularly germane to mention Bedell is also co-hosting “Insight” in Nashville; it promises to be among the highlights of a jam-packed four days of products, education, networking and musical exuberance.

In this intimate interview, Bedell touches on his estimable career, his deep passion for music, his dedication to responsible environmental stewardship and his “secrets to success” for why brands like Bedell and Breedlove are experiencing huge upswings in customer (and dealer) demand. So pull up a chair, sit back and join the conversation.

The Music & Sound Retailer: You have an impressive history in the music products business, so I’d like to start with your background. Give us a 10,000-foot overview of some of the highlights of your career, including how your passion for music developed and how names like “Bedell” and “Two Old Hippies” have come to be so well

known in our industry. Tom Bedell: When I was 13, I was giving guitar lessons in the local music store. I decided to set up a studio in my parents’ basement. My father had an agent in Japan who was sourcing snaps and swivels for hisfishing leaders. I sent a telex over to Ishiki and asked him if he could find a source for me for guitars that I could sell to my students. He mailed me some catalogs and, in 1964—just right when The Beatles showed up and changed all of our lives in the music world—I got these catalogs of different guitars. I ordered some. My younger sister learned how to put decals on with a “Bedell” logo on them. I took them around to local music stores, and everybody I called on wanted to buy them.

And so, I hired a friend who had a driver’s license and we started driving around. First, I brought in 500 and then I brought in 1,000 and then I brought in 3,000 and, pretty soon, I had a fairly robust wholesale guitar business in the Midwest. When I was 16, in 1966, I opened my first retail store in the spring and my second one in the fall. And so, all through high school, I was very passionate about the music business. I played in a band, of course, like all of us did. It was just a terrific time. In 1968, I actually showed at the NAMM show. I think I’m the youngest business owner who’s ever shown at the NAMM show. And I’m also, I think, the person who showed once and had the longest disappearance before I showed again! [Laughs.]

So, I decided to go to college and then, when I sold my fishing tackle business and retired, that didn’t work. And so, in 2009, my wife and I bought the local music store in Aspen CO. We named it “Two Old Hippies,” after her and me. She made it largely a boutique. It had an acoustic guitar room, and then it had a lot of her clothes and gifts and jewelry. She’s an incredible merchandiser-retailer. I started importing guitars again, this time from a company in China called Grand Reward. But I really wanted to design and build my own guitars.

So, in 2010, the Breedlove company became available. I bought it and moved my whole guitar business there. My wife and I split our businesses, so she runs the retail side and I get to run the acoustic instrument side. In 2012, I was able to buy Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments. So, now, we have Weber Fine Acoustic Instruments, Breedlove Stringed Instruments and Bedell Guitars. The Retailer: During a recent conversation with Joe Lamond, he singled out your business as a manufacturer that’s doing particularly well in terms of growth, even during a period when a lot of companies’ business has been flat. Get into some of the reasons why you’ve experienced such aggressive growth.

Bedell: Well, first of all, branding. We have to have a reason for our brand to exist in the marketplace. So, in our case, being in the acoustic guitar business, we have two very strong brands. One of them, obviously, is Martin and the other one is Taylor. And they have a reason that they have the niche that they have. And then, along comes Breedlove. So, you might say, “Why Breedlove? Why should a dealer carry it? Why should a consumer want to buy it, instead of wanting to buy one of the two stronger brands?”

We have positioned Breedlove as the innovative acoustic brand. It’s certainly totally organic. It’s all wood. It’s all from nature. But, we understand more about each individual piece of tone wood that we use in the instrument. We are beginning to catalog each individual piece of wood. We will be analyzing its density, its frequency, etc., to build the guitars of tomorrow instead of replicating guitars from yesterday. And, in the case of Bedell, we have adopted a motto of, “Seed to Song.” Where we can, we actually trace back to where the tree grew that goes into your guitar. For example, I’ve gone up to Alaska, where we’re salvaging Sitka trees. We never knowingly use any clear-cut trees in any Bedell product. So, we salvaged Sitka trees. We identify where we found the log.

And when you get your guitar, you actually know where the woods in your guitar came from. Where the tree grew. How it was handled. What its lifespan was. We are 100-percent embracing and promoting the Lacey Act and CITES… Read the full article here.