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Should Wal scale up their operation?


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Posted (edited)

Should Wal scale up their operation, employ a few more makers / apprentices to meet the demand at a more affordable price?

 

Are the current owners of the Wal brand starving the market of an iconic English bass guitar manufacturer? Do you think if Wal scaled up their operation it could potentially reduce the quality of their instruments?

 

OR are you happy that only a few Wals are made a year and then that keeps Wal prices high? Making a Wal bass a great investment.

 

Would you rather the Wal owners sell up to a team that could reduce the 4+ year wait times to order a bass?

 

Love to hear you thoughts on this subject?

Edited by joe_geezer
grammer
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I'm looking at a Warmoth build with Lusithand electronics and Rautia old style multicoils whenever he starts taking orders again. I could be dead in four years and my missus doesn't play bass 😂

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I need to add that why a Wal? Why not something from younger luthiers that may become a classic later on? Vintage costs a lot, modern basses may be very decently priced, today. If you are brave enough, put East - or maybe your own design - under the hood and start making something totally new. Just like Wal (or Status, or Jaydee...) was special when the company started. Though their prices were not sky high, back then.

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34 minutes ago, Doctor J said:

I wish they'd sell the pickups and electronics separately but I imagine that wouldn't be quite so profitable.

Me too - it’s the only thing I really like about Wals

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52 minutes ago, joe_geezer said:

Should Wal scale up their operation, employ a few more makers / apprentices to meet the demand at a more affordable price?

 

Where would be their motivation to produce more instruments for less money? That really doesn't seem like a wise move.

There are a lot of British luthiers out there making cheaper basses faster, go for one of those.

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I don't really have an opinion on what Wal should do as the basses aren't really my cup of coffee*. How they're doing it at the moment must work for them and I'm sure they have made a decision not to expand based on the likely pros and cons of expanding the operation.

 

*A wilcock kind of looks a bit like a wal, I wouldn't mind a short scale one with a single Guild BS-1 bisonic pickup.

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Posted (edited)

I sold a Wal years ago and now wish I hadn't but what the hell, I'd fallen out of love with it.
I couldn't make it growl, it was too sweet.

Should Wal scale up and reduce their prices?
Like Rickenbacker, they know their business model well and sell enough to keep afloat and have loads of orders to fill and they are still superb instruments (even if they are not actually really WAL basses as they were). They probably don't feel the need to flood the market with more affordable basses.

Edited by 12stringbassist
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21 minutes ago, 12stringbassist said:

even if they are not actually really WAL basses

Do you know how they were able to use the brand name, did they purchase it off Ian Waller's family?

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Posted (edited)

Their website https://walbasses.co.uk/about-us/ says:
"After studying luthiery and learning the trade from top builder Roger Giffin, Paul Herman then worked for many years with Pete and Wal, eventually taking over Wal production and re-launching the business from a new workshop in 2009. Having had his own brand of fine custom instruments, knowledge gained from Roger, Pete and Wal, together with his exceptional craftsmanship, has made the Wal bass what it is today. From the new workshop in Cobham, Surrey, Paul’s attention to detail and his never ending quest to continually refine and develop this iconic bass has moved Wal into a new era."

 

also:
"In July 1988 tragedy struck, when Wal died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of just 43. Although devastated by the loss of his long-time friend and partner, Pete continued production, ably assisted by his dedicated team, including Paul Herman.
 

In 1994, prompted by the demands of players, work on the first 6-string bass began. Taking the opportunity to improve still further on the design of the body, the Mark 3 model came into life. 5 and 4-string versions were also introduced.
 

Sadly after a long illness Pete died in 2011. His and Ian’s legacy continues to live on through Paul Herman and his team. Now based in the Surrey hills the build-process and components that go into making a Wal bass remain unchanged, save for one or two subtle design improvements – an evolutionary process that has continued since the Wal bass began. Each new instrument is built to the highest quality standard, using the finest materials and traditional hand crafting techniques, with one aim in mind – to produce the best made and finest playing instrument possible."


So he worked on some Wal basses at some point and is now making them himself, in another location. There appears to be some continuity there, but it depends on what has changed regarding the designs and build, I suppose and what he did on the original Wal basses, compared to what he does now. He must have agreed some arrangement regarding the use of the name. I imagine that those who own both old and new Wals will be best placed to comment on how similar they are.

Edited by 12stringbassist
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6 hours ago, 12stringbassist said:

even if they are not actually really WAL basses as they were

That could be said for any musical instrument brand that has survived any length of time. The companies are sold and people get old and retire or pass. 
Would you say fenders are not fenders or a musicman stingray isn’t a stingray, let’s look at Gibson or Spector. 
Things move in, they evolve but to say ‘they’re not actually really wal basses’…

 

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Posted (edited)

The problem with scaling up any business is that it involves compromise. That may mean compromise on quality, culture, ethics or service. If I owned a small long running, successful business that was my passion I would try to keep it as close to my control as possible. Then again I am no Alan Sugar and that whole corporate world leaves me cold. Also once a business reaches a certain size it can become vulnerable and require risky loans to break out of that zone between being a bespoke relatively risk free operation that provides for a low number of people to a more risky business requiring significant cash injection to scale up and employ more people, buy premises etc etc. To survive this transition manufacturing often is offshored and this is when quality and service can nose dive.

Edited by tegs07
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Some years ago, for my job I had to analyse corporate banking data based on turnover. The results distribution was quite shocking.  As you'd expect, there was a big spike in the number of small businesses with turnovers measured in up to a few £million. There was another spike at 'big' corporates with turnovers in excess of  tens of £millions. There was almost nothing in between... You've got small local businesses, or big corps. What that tells you is the big corps buy out anyone that starts growing and has potential to bite into their market. The most obvious example, and one that is a cause of a lot of issues, is house builders. The big builders buy out all the medium sized companies and remove them from the market place. There are only a handful of companies building the vast majority of housing. You have some small local companies who build bespoke or very small developments. Legislation in this space is poor since what this is in reality is what is known as a 'complex monopoly' where a small number of companies control a section of the market.

 

So companies that care tend to stay small, because if they grow beyond a certain size, the risk of failure increases dramatically as does the risk of big corp buying them out. 

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They seem to have found a balance between profitability, income, and the level of grief involved in running a business, and seem content to stick with it. Much like Morgan cars. It's not for me or anyone else to disctate otherwise. In any case, start changing the formula and the product, the end result, will inevitably change in some manner and there's never a guarantee itnwould be for the better. Leave it as it is.

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Posted (edited)
11 hours ago, joe_geezer said:

Should Wal scale up their operation, employ a few more makers / apprentices to meet the demand at a more affordable price?

 

Are the current owners of the Wal brand starving the market of an iconic English bass guitar manufacturer? Do you think if Wal scaled up their operation it could potentially reduce the quality of their instruments?

 

OR are you happy that only a few Wals are made a year and then that keeps Wal prices high? Making a Wal bass a great investment.

 

Would you rather the Wal owners sell up to a team that could reduce the 4+ year wait times to order a bass?

 

Love to hear you thoughts on this subject?

 

No. If the current business model is working for them then they should stick with it.

 

Wal have spent a long time creating what is a unique instrument with a combination of features not readily available elsewhere. And with no signs of the current demand for their instruments dropping off, it's an enviable place for a small business to be. Why on earth should they dilute this? IME Employing more people is one of the reasons why most small business fail, because the added expense and bureaucracy outweighs the advantages most of the time. And if they can sell their main product at it current price why make a budget version? Anything they do to reduce the price will almost certainly remove some of the special features that make a Wal a Wal.

 

You don't have to wait 4+ years for a Wal. There are second hand Wals coming up for sale all the time. You might think the prices high, but they reflect the fact that you don't have to wait. You can pay and be a Wal owner the same day.

 

I'm a big fan of another English luthier - Gus, whose instruments are also unique (but in a different way). When I first became aware of them in the mid 80s I was unemployed with no chance of being able to buy one. However over the next 15 years my circumstance changed and in 2000 I took delivery of my first Gus Guitar. I now own 3.

Edited by BigRedX
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Their business, their decision. 

The worst thing that they could do in my opinion is sign a licensing agreement with for mass-produced designs made in the far east with varying degrees of quality control. That would quickly ruin the exclusive nature of the brand and in turn reduce interest. Hell, if the licenced products were exceptional then it might actually reduce demand for the made in England instruments. 

The prices of Wals exceptionally high and the output of instruments is exceptionally low and the demand for the instruments is really high but the demand itself is from a relatively small client base. 

Of the major manufacturers who could be trusted to make a licensed Wal 'correctly'? Certainly not Fender or Gibson and I don't see why Musicman would be interested since they have their own products. Perhaps Warwick, but Warwick masterbuilds are just about as expensive as a Wal, plus a licensed 'Wal-wick' would no doubt benefit from 'improvements' like the Just a Nut, magnetic pick up covers which have appeared on the licenced Sadowskys. 

Best to stick to their current model. There are other exceptional luthiers and custom builds out there to consider in any event.

 

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When a small craft business grows, the people who used to spend their time happily making beautiful things end up spending their time being business managers instead, dealing with tedious HR, supply chain and finance issues. Not everyone wants to make that transition. 

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Existing owners would go nuts if Wal suddenly flooded the market driving the used prices down.

And then we'd also get the Klon like "this one pre-dates whatever" price gouging just because one had a different logo on it type nonsense.

 

Maybe Ferrari should scale up their production and sell the cars for £30K as well.

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3 minutes ago, thodrik said:

The worst thing that they could do in my opinion is sign a licensing agreement with for mass-produced designs made in the far east with varying degrees of quality control. That would quickly ruin the exclusive nature of the brand and in turn reduce interest. Hell, if the licenced products were exceptional then it might actually reduce demand for the made in England instruments. 

 

This is an interesting point, as this appears to be more or less the strategy embraced by Warwick. Their German-made instruments were split into a "teambuilt" German Pro Series, and a "masterbuilt" Custom Shop line with eye-watering prices that quickly rise in excess of €10.000 even when you don't go nuts on exotic woods, solid brass hardware and other exclusive options. They introduced a "Rockbass" series of cheap Chinese basses which had none of THE famous Warwick features other than the same basic shapes and electronics. They then introduced a Korean-made "Pro Series" line, and quickly dissolved it again only to cease production of the first Rockbass line, and replace the Pro Series with a higher-end Rockbass line that does share some iconic Warwick features but not the typical wood species associated with the brand.

They barely have a European dealer network anymore, aside from the big internet names like Thomann, and exclusivity of the German basses has only gone up it seems. Pricing is insane, but people still seem willing to pay them even when many  a skilled luthier will build you something similar at half of what Warwick charges. I don't understand :lol:

 

I'm not saying Wal should do something similar, I think they're a niche brand that serve a very specific market (80s music lovers and Tool fans ;)) but the outsourcing approach seems to work for some manufacturers. 

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Posted (edited)

I remember going in to the Bass Gallery in the early 2000s and seeing a wall of secondhand Wals, i think they were prices at £800 - £1200 back then. Then Waller died & the prices started creeping up as demand grew with the help of ebay etc.

 

So is the price hike reflective of supply and demand, not on the actual materials or man hours building?

 

Here's the Wal prices from 2001 

 

https://web.archive.org/web/20010813174714/http://www.thebassgallery.com/index2.html

 

click on the top left broken image link, which links to the bass page, then click on "Other Basses" , scroll down and youll see the Wal prices

Edited by joe_geezer
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Posted (edited)

Well, as far as I recall, in their heyday Wal had maybe four or five people working directly on the basses,  by the 1990s one of whom was Paul Herman.

 

I've played the new Paul Herman era basses and I suspect one reason they are so back ordered is because they are much better made nowadays. Back in the day Wals were a bit inconsistent when it came to some of the finer points of fit and finish compared with what folks expect from companies like Alembic or Fodera.  In comparison the basses Paul is making now are absolutely meticulous and easily compare to the very best basses  made anywhere.

 

Before I get piled on by vintage Wal owners, let me just clarify that the older Wals were top quality basses but they sold at a much lower price point and were made in larger numbers. They were hand made basses, but I think the amount of hours spent making each one was probably less than now . The approach to making them in those days was a practical one, I think it would be fair to say.

 

Paul Herman comes from a sightly different background in so much as he studied instrument making at the Guildhall and is much more methodical in his approach. You can really tell that when you compare the newer basses with the vintage ones.

 

I wouldn't want Paul to compromise on the quality of his basses, but then again, I'm not desperate to buy one. A lot of folks are. 

 

 

Edited by Misdee
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Posted (edited)
57 minutes ago, BigRedX said:

 

No. If the current business model is working for them then they should stick with it.

 

Wal have spent a long time creating what is a unique instrument with a combination of features not readily available elsewhere. And with no signs of the current demand for their instruments dropping off, it's an enviable place for a small business to be. Why on earth should they dilute this? IME Employing more people is one of the reasons why most small business fail, because the added expense and bureaucracy outweighs the advantages most of the time. And if they can sell their main product at it current price why make a budget version? Anything they do to reduce the price will almost certainly remove some of the special features that make a Wal a Wal.

 

You don't have to wait 4+ years for a Wal. There are second hand Wals coming up for sale all the time. You might think the prices high, but they reflect the fact that you don't have to wait. You can pay and be a Wal owner the same day.

 

I'm a big fan of another English luthier - Gus, whose instruments are also unique (but in a different way). When I first became aware of them in the mid 80s I was unemployed with no chance of being able to buy one. However over the next 15 years my circumstance changed and in 2000 I took delivery of my first Gus Guitar. I now own 3.

If Wal were to hire an extra 2 contractors, that would at least halve the waiting times, would that be a positive move or do you think even that would degrade the quality of Wals?

Edited by joe_geezer
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