Origin Guitars: Rob Nishida and Lucian Tu
A chance meeting between two long time friends at the 2010 NAMM, sparked an interesting question. What would happen if they took their 25 + years of combined music industry experience and channeled their own ideas into a guitar design? Two short years later, Rob and Lucian have transformed an idea into a company.
This month Origin Guitars are releasing their brand new Convergence Series 6 and 7 string guitars. Designed from the ground up to be the quintessential guitar for metal and rock playing, the Convergence guitars include a series of features like the innovative ALT5 neck plate – a recessed 5 screw design that increases sound transfer, minimizes neck shift, and offers increased access to the upper frets of the instrument. Rob and Lucian were gracious enough to sit down with us (via e-mail) and answer a series of guitars about both the guitars and the challenges of launching a new product line.
1. I know that both of you worked at Hoshino (U.S.A.). How did that experience affect your design aesthetic?
LUCIAN: Yes, both Rob and I worked for Hoshino. I am a metal player and Rob is into heavy rock, so our experience with Ibanez was very focused on performance electric guitar players. My primary background is in Product Development and my role at Ibanez US HQ (based out of Philadelphia), was managing the production of Ibanez electric guitars for the US market. Those are the regular RG, S, and other miscellaneous bread and butter regular production guitars Ibanez sells.
Rob was head of Artist Relations and General Manager of The Ibanez Custom Shop in Los Angeles and his background with artists and custom US-built guitars combined with my manufacturing and design experience was a key to starting Origin Guitars. Our design aesthetic is absolutely focused on metal and heavy rock players and that is clearly evident from the design of the Origin Convergence line of guitars. Both 6 and 7 string guitars were designed with unique features from the ground-up with the performance guitarist in mind.
2. Can you talk more about the 7 string? Other than the extra string – how does it differ from the 6 string in design?
ROB: The 6 and 7 strings, although they share many traits, were viewed as two separate instruments from the start. For instance, the grip shapes are quite different between the two, in order to make each neck as comfortable to play as possible, keeping the differing neck widths in mind, yet still allowing enough wood for strength and integrity.
Also, we spent quite a lot of time with both headstocks, making sure that both the 6 and 7 looked killer in their own right and of course still retained straight string pull.
We also chose a separate bridge and tailpiece for the fixed bridge version of the 7 string to allow for tighter tension for the low B string. On the 6 string fixed bridge version of the guitar, we chose a wrap-around type of bridge, which we felt gave the 6 string the best overall tone
LUCIAN: At Origin Guitars, we didn’t design the 7 string as just an after thought, like many companies did. The 7 string market is established and mature now in its own right and as such, we didn’t simply widen the neck to accommodate the low 7th string. Aditionally, we sculpted the 7 string neck where it really matters.
The shape, taper, and strength-to-weight ratios were carefully sculpted to meet the modern day aggressive 7 string player. The down-tuned aggressive style established by those players, allowed us to innovate subtle, yet unique features such as a massive volute. This proprietary “Zero-Stop Volute” is a very important ergonomic/performance feature which allows aggressive players to feel the “Zero-Fret” by hand on dark stages during a live performance. So much of modern 7 string riffage is based on the “zero fret” and first few frets for that absolutely oppressive riffage and being able to actually feel that “zero-stop” during performance is a really nice feature.
Other special 7 string design features include the same 6 string body scale for comfort, and the same 25.5” scale so that players mixing 6 and 7 string guitars in a single song won’t have undesirable pitch and harmonic overtone issues common with mixing baritone and odd extended 7 string scales with standard 6 strings. The result is a real standard 7 string guitar scale tonality that is the fundamental starting point for the Origin 7 string. The straight string pull and reverse headstock allows high tension on the lowest bass string for maximum low-end tightness. No one likes mushy undefined low-end.
3. The recessed neck plate is a really nice touch. Adding in the scoop in the lower bout, it has to make accessing the higher frets much easier. A number of other player accommodations that have been made like glow in the dark neck inlays, belly cuts, a contoured top. Can you talk a little more about any other elements that you incorporated into the design?
LUCIAN: At Origin, extreme playability is critical but tone is also a priority. The precision-sculpted, Convergence design truly has the right balance of necessary physical wood tone, balance, and tone transfer from headstock to body.
High-gain crunch, ultra-clean tones, playability/ergonomics, aggressive styling, (and most importantly) massive tone, ergonomics and build-quality were our goals in designing the Convergence series.
By just looking at the Convergence guitar design, there is no mistake in its purpose as a shred machine. The body shape is a balance of thick Mahogany tone, extreme ergonomics, physical balance, and the proprietary styling that makes Origin Guitars unique.
4. How much R&D went into the current design?
ROB: It took nearly two full years of R&D. The main concepts came easily. The ALT5 neck plate concept and the super ergonomic body design came together within the first couple of weeks of us getting together. We always knew that the guitar was going to be a bolt-on design, with a neck joint that could not be rivaled both tonally and functionally. We also knew that the body was going to be as ergonomic and “smart” as possible, which meant hogging out huge chunks of wood to reduce weight in areas like the belly cut, simultaneously making the guitar super comfortable to play, but keeping the wood thick and solid in areas that give the guitar it’s tone.
Going from concept to first prototype took about six months, and then the real R&D began, which meant meeting with artists and touring pros. We wanted input from guys like Marty Friedman, who used an Origin prototype extensively on his Tokyo Jukebox solo album, Terry Balsamo from Evanescence and numerous local guys to really help to shape what the Convergence should be.
The basic platform was always there, because Lucian and I always shared a clear vision, but features such as the headstock design, the large volute on the neck and CV neck shape, glow in the dark side dots and recessed side input jack were some of the refinements that were made in the final year and a half. These features were based on requests from players, my experience with custom guitars from running the Ibanez Custom Shop and having a world class designer like Lucian actually doing the designing and tweaking. All of these factors played heavily in the final design process.
5. What are the challenges with building guitars in the states?
ROB: It’s difficult to build the guitars in the States, mainly because of production costs and regulations involving paint etc., but we decided early on, that we needed to establish the brand name with a no compromise guitar.
We could have achieved this overseas, but not nearly as easily. The benefit of being able to oversee production of the guitars was important to us. Luckily, having been in the business for a while, Lucian and I know a good number of amazing builders here in LA, several of which are working with us now at Origin.
6. Now that you’ve settled on the design and the build – what are your respective roles in the company moving forward?
ROB: We will continue to share the role of running the company and wear many of the same hats, but generally speaking, Lucian will concentrate on design, sales and marketing and I will concentrate on artist relations, PR and marketing. But we will still continue to develop new guitar designs. That’s really what we’re both most excited about.
7. You’re about to execute what I expect to be a successful launch. For budding entrepreneurs out there, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions about being an independent builder?
ROB: As an independent builder, I think that it’s tremendously important to target a particular niche and attack it. One thing that we learned at Ibanez, as large as a company as they are, is that you cannot be all things to all people. Once people trust in what you do, it becomes much easier to market to your clientele.
For instance, we chose the boutique, hard rock / metal guitar market. This label defines probably most of the players we know, the artists we most identify with and the type of guitar we know best. Because of this, we feel confident that, since we’ve harnessed all of our energy and incorporated all of our long held ideas into Origin, we can build instruments that serve that market better than anybody else. Our hope is to give players in this genre the best guitars they can own.
8. What is the pricing for the guitars?
ROB: The base Convergence starts at $2499.99 and all guitars ship with OHSC (original hard shell case).
LUCIAN: At Origin, we worked hard to equalize the price difference between 6 and 7 models. In-fact, the Direct/MAP price difference for 6 and 7 is only $50. We also don’t up-charge for the Floyd on either 6 or 7 because we want the a more level playing field and let the customer pick what standard model is best for them.
We want our customers to have some flexibility on what specifications they really want on our standard models. Of course that said, crazy custom graphics and “sky’s the limit” options can certainly push the price of a guitar as much as the customer wants!
9. What level of customization do you offer?
ROB: Right now, it’s very limited, in order to keep our prices down as much as possible for a US made custom guitar. You have a choice of a Floyd Rose locking bridge, or Tone Pros fixed bridge, maple or rosewood fingerboard, hand rubbed oil finish or gloss finish as well as graphic finishes. We are currently using EMG and Seymour Duncan pickups in all of our guitars.
10. Are the guitars commercially available yet and (if so) how can people order them?
ROB: The first guitars start shipping this month (February). We plan to keep production to under a dozen per month in the first year. We want to make sure that each guitar that goes out is absolutely incredible and, for us, that means keeping the production going at a slow and steady state in the beginning.
Our primary pipeline is direct sales, but we have been speaking with numerous distributors and dealers around the world, so it will be a combination of direct sales and sales through some of the traditional channels.
Our guitars will soon be in several showcase dealers around the country as well as in other areas of the world. We’ll keep the dealer section of our website updated to let players know where they can try them out.
LUCIAN: The Origin website will have a store page implemented in the near future. In the meantime, please send inquiries to info@originguitars and we’ll be happy to give an estimate for build and delivery schedule (US customers only for direct web sales).
Lucian and Rob, thank you for your time!