Vintage Celebrates 25 Years
Vintage®, a Garforth, Leeds, England-based guitar company, reached a milestone in 2020 by celebrating its 25th anniversary. The manufacturer launched its first guitar, an Encore® Vintage Series VC1, in 1995, receiving high praise within the industry for the superior sound, quality, and modest price point. Over the last 25 years, Vintage has helped ignite a passion for music in scores of musicians all over the world.
In 1965 John Skewes formed a small music instrument agency and wholesale business, John Hornby Skewes & Co. Ltd., or the more commonly known JHS, which quickly grew to include a line of self-branded merchandise. JHS’ propriety brands include Fret-King, Vintage, Encore, Santos Martinez, Pilgrim, and Laka fretted instruments, Odyssey brass and woodwind, Kinsman musical accessories, PP Drums, Antoni Violins, and JHS Hornby recorders. Skewes retired in 2016, and JHS and its brands are now led by Skewes’ daughter, Linda, and her husband, Dennis Drumm.
The original concept behind JHS’ Vintage brand was to create a more affordable vintage style guitar that still possessed “great finishes, quality parts, and features that are typically found on a guitar costing upwards of a thousand dollars.” To achieve this, well-known designer Trev Wilkinson joined the JHS team and began producing guitars that offer a “bigger bang for your buck.”
We recently sat with Dennis Drumm, Managing Director for JHS, to discuss Vintage and its success over the last quarter of a century.
One of the features of the Vintage brand is its affordable pricing. What motivated the team at JHS and Vintage to prioritize price while also ensuring superior quality?
The original concept behind JHS' Vintage brand was to create a more affordable vintage style guitar that still possessed great finishes, quality parts, and features that are typically found on much more costly products.
When Trev Wilkinson and I got together, way back in 2003, to collaborate on what became the Vintage ReIssued Project, part of our motivation was to use our decades of commercial and product knowledge and skills to prove that we could create high volume series production guitars which would sell for a price that a first and second-time buyer would be able to afford, but also create a product a seasoned pro would be equally happy to use in any studio, gig, or on the world’s biggest stages. I’ve heard Trev say a million times, ‘If you can’t make a great guitar for $5,000 - give up! The challenge is to make a truly great guitar for $500 or less.’
An interesting thing happened in the manufacturing process. Using the best and most appropriate ‘classic timbers,’ incorporating premium constructional features, using unique and true to spec electronics and pickups, fitting hardware which sonically and mechanically outperformed the usual suspects, we never once have gone to the factory gate price and had to say, ‘Something’s got to go or we won’t hit the price point.’ And that is the way it’ll always be - Vintage will never be built down to a price, only ever built to a design and spec.
What would you consider the keys to the success of Vintage?
First and foremost, we pride ourselves on doing things the right way, simply because that’s the right way to do it. Besides, being authentic, being ‘out there’ in delivering a product with true merit and desirability, putting guitars into a crowded market that result in consumers, dealers, players, and even competitors giving credence to what Vintage offers.
Another key to our success is consistently bringing high-quality products to the market which sets high benchmarks, innovates, excites, performs, and delivers. Building credibility through a network of artists worldwide, from local heroes to major international names, who all get what we do and are happy to be associated with their brand, is vital. Finally, working with like-minded commercial partners at distribution and the reseller levels who enjoy the benefits the brand brings to them, and of course listening to anyone who wants to tell us anything about our brand, good or bad, and using what we learn for whatever comes next.
Could you provide some advice for future generations of guitar manufacturers?
Understand from the outset what you want to achieve. Is your goal to ‘rule the world’ or just delight your audience? It is possible to do both, but that’s a pretty fancy balancing act. The guitar is such a mature category, with an immensely knowledgeable yet inherently conservative constituency, that whatever you build must hit the benchmarks, cover the nuances, be credible, and be ‘real’. There is no room for getting it wrong. So, get your chops together, use your knowledge honestly, be consistent, and above all, care about the player. You are not manufacturing finished goods – you are setting someone off on the path to achieving their dreams.
Will Vintage be participating in NAMM’s Believe in Music Week? If so, to what capacity?
JHS is lucky enough to have a wonderful partner in the U.S., RBi Music, located in Ft. Worth, Texas, and our relationship goes back to the IMC/Jackson Charvel days. Brad and his team, including Product Manager Rick Taylor will be participating in NAMM’s Believe in Music Week, featuring Vintage and Fret-King guitars along with their other brands. We can’t wait to showcase what we have going on at Believe in Music Week.
What’s can we look forward to from Vintage in the future?
Although we parted company with Trev on a formal basis a couple of years ago now, we still have a very close friendship and continue to cooperate with him on hardware and pickups. The Vintage design team is presently working on a raft of new models for launch in mid-2021. There are always new colorways to think about introducing. We continue to develop our ICON Series of distressed models and have recently rolled out, in cooperation with our friends at RBi, the Vintage “ProShop Unique” concept, which allows our legions of fans around the world to create a unique Vintage guitar of their choice without having to rob a bank. Some of the concepts that go into ProShop Uniques will eventually find their way into stock models.