There’s a theme that seems to be developing in the last few features on this site. This theme centers around seeing something in the world that you can improve, and deciding to act on it. I’ve always been drawn to this and being a bit of a history aficionado, it comes up quite often. The opportunity to talk to the folks from Baum Guitars felt like a perfect combination of a nod to history and definite action and forward motion.
Baum Guitars is a company founded in 2015 by Morten Bau – based in beautiful Aarhus, in beautiful Denmark – unsurprisingly they make beautiful instruments. There’s a lot of custom guitar builders in the market right now catering to a lot of different styles. There are companies like Suhr releasing “inspired” instruments that look very similar to some popular mass production names. There’s TMG who lean further into these classic designs and focus on the relic side of them, making them play exactly like one of those vintage classics. Then on the opposite end of the spectrum, you have companies like Aristides, Keisel or Strandberg who are pushing the envelope when it comes to modern, technology first instruments. Baum lives safely between these two at the middle point of the gradient. The point where new and familiar blend together, where modern and vintage coexist. This is an incredibly interesting place.
The entire Baum lineup feels familiar but unique – they were nice enough to answer a few questions regarding their company, philosophy, branding and of course their guitars. Hope you enjoy this as much as I did coming up with the questions.
First of all, thanks so much for taking the time to do this! It really means a lot! Maybe first we can get a quick intro on the company and your history?
That’s a good place to start, Chris! Well, Baum Guitars was officially founded in 2015, but I think that these ideas have lurked inside my head for many, many years. I’ve built guitars for three decades now – in fact, 2019 is actually exactly the 30th year anniversary since I built my very first guitar. A lot of water has passed under the bridge, and during the years I have built both own designs and inspired-by guitars. These projects were all made in my spare time, and I learned a lot about what I liked from each of these designs – and also what I didn’t like. Anyway, in 2015 I found something that I really liked when I worked on a prototype, and this made me think more seriously about doing something with my name on it. There are four of these prototypes out there in the wild somewhere, but the current Baum collection is actually quite different to these. So, the first complete Baum models were the Leaper Tone and Conquer 59 & 69 – and since then, the new models were transformed from ideas to pencil strokes and then into real guitars throughout the following years. Now, in ultimo 2019, the Baum Guitars catalogue consists of 11 models, and this has become a serious project and the beginning of fulfilling a lifelong dream.
I’m going to selfishly immediately steer this conversation towards design – you have a beautiful style when it comes to guitars as well as the branding and photography – I’d love to hear some history on how that came about.
Thanks! Design is everything to me. The whole process of creating something from a blank canvas, being either a real canvas, a piece of wood or silence has always interested me. That’s why I paint, build guitars, play music – and do designs for a living. My professional background reinforces this, as I educated as Art Director in 1998 and have worked with design and concept developing ever since. Next to Baum Guitars, I am the Art Director in a marketing bureau where photoshop and Illustrator among others are my creative tools. And to me, the design of the guitar is what makes me want to pick it up and plug it on – or not. The shape, the colors, the visual aesthetic influences my mind and inspires me to play certain things on certain guitars. Which, of course, is why we all need more guitars!
Your connection between guitars and vintage automotive design is incredibly fascinating to me (especially as a design minded fellow living just outside of Detroit, MI) – what parallels do you see between the golden age of guitar and automotive design?
Guitars and cars have always been intertwined in some way, e.g. Fender used car colors on their early guitars. But I wanted to take it up a notch with my own guitars.
The link between Baum Guitars and the classic cars comes from my fascination with that era’s curves, style and personality in objects. There is something special about that period and what was designed. Whether it was instruments, cars, furniture, clothes, etc., they all had their own distinctive and unique style, which all embodied some kind of personality. The cars had it all – some were elegant and sounded smooth, while others were raw and sounded immense. You don’t see this kind of personality in modern cars. I don’t think, we will look back in 50 years on today’s cars in the same way, we look back on the classic cars.
The step from “a guy who makes guitars” to a company is always quite a leap and most of these decisions key around significant life events – what was the trigger moment for you to move into producing instruments as a business rather than as an individual?
Good questions – I will tell you, when I am no longer just a guy who makes guitars as an individual, haha. In fact, Baum was me alone for the first years, and then I was contacted by Jeppe Garfunkel, who helped with pushing the brand forward. He joined Baum officially in March 2019 as the Global Marketing Manager. So now we’re two! Though we do many things together – brainstorming about ideas, strategies, GASing about gear etc., I am still the only one building guitars, while Jeppe takes care of the communication and such. And we have our day jobs and families next to Baum – I as Art Director and Jeppe studies his Master in Corporate Communication at Aarhus BSS.
The trigger to take Baum more seriously has really been the positive response that we got from people all over the world. I was overwhelmed when the first 100 people started to follow Baum on Instagram, and suddenly it was a thousand people. Now, we are followed by almost 40.000 people – it’s CRAZY! One day I’d like to throw a party for each of you that follows Baum and thank you in person. When I can fit all of you in my living room and not get any complaints from my neighbors.
Your approach to guitar design is deeply rooted in history but also has a very modern flair – how do you walk the line between familiarity and innovation?
I think this comes from my love for the classic stuff and my upbringing here in Denmark. In Denmark, we have that iconic Nordic Style, which captures the simplistic and raw merged into one. Mixing that Nordic inspiration with the more familiar designs and my love for the classic cars, it blended into my own Classic Collection of guitars. My goal is that a Baum guitar feels like meeting an old friend for the first time.
The guitar gear industry as a whole (custom builders + boutique pedal manufacturers) is seemingly growing at an astronomical rate – how do you focus your signal above the noise of the industry as a whole?
I really think that the best way to not be distracted by this is by focusing on your own workbench. And working together as friends instead of competitors! I’ll get back to this later. The current tendency shows, that more and more people prefer quality over quantity, and want custom guitars that either reflects their personality or the luthiers. What I really love about this growth is, that all of these smaller brands build so unique guitars with each of their own personal touches. It has never been easier to find a guitar luthier who builds a guitar that allows you to be yourself and express yourself through something one-off, and I really hope that some people can reflect themselves in one of my guitars. By having a guitar that allows you to be yourself, you are able to express yourself much clearer.
And because you mention the growing industry, let’s do a little shout out to some of my favorite luthiers out there at the moment. Because I think that by supporting each other, we can strengthen this movement and the overall guitar industry, which will benefit all of us in the end. In no particular order, my favorite (small-scale) builders are:
– Kauer Guitars (USA)
– Novo Guitars (USA)
– Millimetric Instruments (CA)
– Hansen Guitars (DK)
– Frank Brothers (CA)
– Chris Ferebee (USA)
– Walsh Guitars (USA)
– Soultool (CH)
– Dahlberg Guitars (DK)
– Jennings Guitars (USA)
– Hewn Guitars (USA)
I’d also like to mention some of the boutique companies, that we collaborate with. Why collaborate? Because by giving space to each other on each of our own channels, we can reach out to many more people than if we just isolated our self from the community and tried to do it alone. We collaborate with:
– Stringjoy strings – our preferred custom strings (USA)
– Schmidt Array Pedalboards – The Mercedes of pedalboards (GB/GER)
– Nordvang Custom – Danish high-end pedals (DK)
– Thorpy FX – The best pedals from the UK (UK)
– Revelation Cables – they match our guitars and sounds great (CAN)
When you’re done reading this blog, please spend some time on the internet reading about and listening to these brands. I promise you that it’ll trigger your GAS and I’m not even sorry about that. They’re good. And you’re worth it!
I’ve seen a few questions about the price of your guitars – can you outline the process and the time that goes into building these instruments?
Yep, well first of all I source and use the best materials. The wood is super important to a guitar, so I always try to match pieces that fit together both sonically, visually and in weight. Fitting the right pieces of wood together will give the most resonant and well-balanced guitar, which is what we want. Every guitar is custom made to the specific customer, so there are no economies of scale to benefit from here.
Hereafter comes the process of shaping the wood into the desired model. I use a combination of CNC and handcraft to do this. The CNC secures consistency like no hand can do. This is really important with e.g the neck pocket, the overall shape of the guitar, the measurements for the hardware etc. But the CNC leaves a pretty rough body, so this is where the handcraft takes over. The time goes with shaping the neck, applying bindings, smoothening out the body. Then the body gets painted and lacquered, the neck gets oiled, fretted and set-up etc. And so much more than this. Our Goldsound Pickups are hand-wound here in Denmark as well. Our pickup covers are custom cut and laser engraved.
By the way, the current lead time is around 6 months. Regarding the price, it is also important to remember that Denmark has a high living wage – it’s expensive to live here. So, the price also covers taxes, insurances, tools, mortgage payment, expenses to guitar shows, electricity, gear purchases, website – and maybe even also salaries etc. If I wanted to become rich, I would find something else to do, haha.
Tell us a bit about your Goldsound pickups, they seem to follow the same design philosophy of being familiar, yet something new at the same time. What made you decide to create your own pickups rather than use a larger manufacturer?
Again, it started with my love for design, as you can see that I have all my covers cut and engraved with my own design. I wanted to use pickups, that didn’t sound like any other brand, and this required that we developed our own pickups containing the Baum Sound. The Goldsound pickups are all handmade here in Denmark by a good partner, Søren Lücking, and the tone is completely tailored to our guitars with a focus on transparency and dynamics. We want them to sound like you.
How amazing of a feeling is it to see one of your guitars on stage? 🙂
It’s an honor. And it hits me every time. The very first Conquer 59 (owned by Alex Vargas) debuted on stage in front of 25,000 people in 2017, while another Conquer 59 (owned by Anders Folke from The Minds of 99) was played on stage this summer warming up for the freaking amazing, legendary Foo Fighters. There are Baum Guitars in Canada, The USA, Asia, Europe – and I frequently get pictures of them on stage, off stage, in studies, during late-night jams, videos on YouTube etc (editors note: Probably played by F&E contributor @olzios). I hear the music they’re a part of, and all of this moves me a lot. That’s why I build guitars.
Anything else you’d like to add or specifically cover?
We’d love if you would follow us on Instagram (@baumguitars), Facebook or YouTube. If you go to Baumguitars.com, you’ll find a custom builder module, that lets you design a Baum Guitar in real-time! You can tweak the essential things like hardware, color, pickups, neck wood, fret inlays etc.
I usually try to have some nice closing statement here but I think everything that needs to be said has been said. These guys are amazingly passionate and build absolutely spectacular instruments. I’m so appreciative that they took the time out to answer these questions and work with me on this feature. As stated above, check out their social properties, give them a follow and consider them for your next one-off build!