The Class of 2017: Eight Electric Guitar Brands Making Waves This Year

by Christian Wissmuller and Victoria Wasylak • in
  • Features
• Created: August 10, 2017

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Back in September of 2013, MMR decided to single out eight up-and-coming guitar brands that we felt were poised to make a significant impact in the market that year. 

With four years having passed, we’re revisiting the concept – again shining the spotlight on eight brands you may not be familiar with (yet!). To be considered for inclusion, a company didn’t need to be “brand new” – our lead-off subject is Michael Kelly Guitars and they began back in 1999, after all; they just need to be making a push, innovating, expanding their reach, or otherwise going down a path that may well lead to big things.

Read on to meet the “Class of 2017.”

Michael Kelly Guitars

Tracy Hoeft started Michael Kelly Guitars in 1999 in his own garage, starting out with a focus on niche product categories, such as acoustic basses and f-style mandolins.

“We focused on those categories going deeper and wider than the competition at the time. This worked well and we gradually expanded into other categories. We are not afraid to try new products, even if they address a niche,” says Hoeft. “Too many brands focus on the race to the bottom, downgrading instruments to hit a lower price point. We dig deep trying to find ways that we can offer consumers something special. That has worked for our brand and has worked really well for our Michael Kelly dealers who share our passion for offering their customers something special.”

Michael Kelly Guitars keeps its main office in Clearwater, Florida, where they work on product development and customer support, while a small Kentucky location helps with repairs and support. Their partnership with KMC, however, has helped to bring the company to Memphis, where KMC keeps their products stocked. It’s that kind of small-business quality with accessibility that gives the company what they call “boutique within reach.”

“This allows us a small company to offer our customers a really high level of support related to shipping, QC [quality control], terms and other critical elements,” Hoeft explains. “In the last few years we have seen a really strong growth rate, especially here in North America. While our core niche products like acoustic basses and mandolins have remained pillars of our line the biggest factor of our growth has been in the more competitive segments of acoustic guitars and electric guitars. In each we have found a set of products that really fit the Michael Kelly brand promise. We call our offering Boutique Within Reach to highlight our focus on products that follow the lead of small boutique builders rather than chasing the large brands.” 

Most recently, Michael Kelly Guitars launched a new group of six-pound electric guitars called the Enlightened Collection, their take on the ultra-light guitar.

“We are seeing an increasing demand for products like this that appeal to an aging demographic of players,” Hoeft says. “We will continue to address this and other underserved markets. Even to this day our initial concept of finding smaller underserved instrument categories and really focusing on them is a key to what we do.” 

PureSalem Guitars

PureSalem Guitars might be one of the few companies that’s willing to come out and say that they’re not looking to reinvent the wheel. In fact, Richard Sell, founder of the company, actually did. 

“PureSalem is a small family-run affair and not some faceless, soulless corporation. I design and sell quality electric guitars. That’s what I do, and I am passionate about it,” Sell says. “I wake up every morning inspired and I go to bed at night and dream about new creations. I treat my customers the way I would want to be treated and I still believe that a person’s handshake is their word. I hope every other guitar company owner out there feels the way I do. This is a great community to be a part of. I’m not looking to reinvent the wheel.” 

When Sell retired from a 21-year career in the police force in 2013, he decided it was finally time to pursue what his heart had been pining for: designing and selling instruments. Four years later, the company has plenty to offer, and the list keeps growing; soon to be added to their product roster are basses and 12-string guitar models, as well as two new fuzz pedals (named Desperation Fuzz and Indiana DeerHead Fuzz), all of which will debut at Winter NAMM in 2018. 

“2018 is set to be a big year in growth for us. We just did three big pre-order runs for new models,” Sell says. “We are introducing our first bass and 12-string and we are doing a limited custom V style model. These will go out to customers who pre-ordered them first and then we will officially debut the bass and twelve string at Winter NAMM.” 

“We have also teamed up with Dwarfcraft Devices and have created a video series called ECHOS that showcases beautiful performances filmed in unique locations,” Sell adds. “Another exciting development was being picked up by Maniac Music Factory in Australia. They will be the exclusive distributor for PureSalem Guitars.” 

One more thing – PureSalem Guitars has sympathy for the lefties of the world. 

“PureSalem is lefty owned and all our models will always come in a lefty and at no additional BS up charge,” he says. “In the end, it all comes down to the player making a connection with the instrument regardless of the name on the headstock. If you’re doing everything else, right that’s all that matters.” 

Sire Guitars

When three broke student musicians launched Sire Guitars seven years ago, their goal was to make state-of-the-art instruments that everyone and anyone could afford. In 2017, they’ve gotten far more than that; their self-made instruments are distributed in 50 countries, with warehouses in both the U.S. and Korea. 

“Sire is a company that started with the imagination that anyone would be able to play such a product, and everyone would be able to experience the joy of music through a quality instrument,” says Anna Sohn, global sales department manager of Sire Revolution. “We also felt this idea would be a great way to enrich lives in younger generations, who nowadays are limited to smartphones and tablets.” 

Keeping true to its DIY roots, all Sire guitar parts are uniquely designed, and the company runs a factory in Indonesia that solely produces Sire products. 

“Unlike other factories that produce several different brands, by producing only Sire products, we can maintain a high quality,” Sohn adds. “In 2012, we had a chance to meet and collaborate with Marcus Miller, and unlike any existing brands, we decided to create a company that does not take the benefits, but a brand that gives the benefits back to the players. For two years, we started to develop various technologies and after overcoming many difficulties, the first product was completed by the end of 2014. Since then, we have entered into contracts with Thomann, one of the world’s leading online companies based in Germany, and several overseas dealers.” 

Most recently, Sire Guitars released their Miller7 Earphones and Monster7 Red Microphones in July, and hope to release their acoustic guitar line by the end of 2017. 

“As a result of explosive positive response and popular sales, we have become one of the hottest bass brands in the U.S. and Germany,” Sohn explains. “Today, we have more than 150 experts working in each specialized field. We have representatives in the United States, Indonesia, Korea, China, Thailand, and the Philippines.” 

Prestige Guitars

Almost in their 15th year of building guitars, Prestige Guitars continues to reach further and further across the globe, this year landing a dealer in Holland with hopes to expand to the United Kingdom and Australia next. But the Vancouver-based company didn’t land overseas overnight. 

“We started with an electric guitar only lineup, to which we added acoustic guitars in 2011. In short, if you try to learn to play on a cheap, poorly set up guitar, the chances of you seeing improvement and sticking with that instrument are significantly lower,” says Adrian O’Brien, vice president of marketing and sales at Prestige Guitars. “Our guitars will go head to head on every level, with many guitars available for two to three times the price and that is precisely what we set out to create.” 

While the company usually announces one to two new models every year, 2017 has been especially bountiful for Prestige Guitars; they’ve announced six new models this year, including two completely brand new body shape designs. 

“We are now in the midst of designing two new Signature models, one of which will be a bass and both of these will aim at a NAMM 2018 release,” adds O’Brien. “We are working to develop our bass lineup and to expand on our acoustic guitar offerings as well. Further to that, we’ll be looking to add new versions of the Anti-Star VI with different hardware and finish options.” 

“Prestige Guitars are basically a custom shop instrument, straight off the rack, for well under $1,500,” O’Brien says. “That value proposition is what sets us apart from the pack. It has been our mission from day one and we don’t plan to stray from that path as it has been key to developing such a loyal following.”

DiPinto Guitars

“My wife Sophy and I started DiPinto Guitars in 1995 as a music store,” explains co-founder Chris DiPinto. “We did everything, including repairs and custom guitar building. Previous to that, I had been making guitars for myself and using them in the band that Sophy and I had. Being left handed, I could never find the guitars that I wanted, and at the time I was super into weird ‘60s pawnshop guitars, which are even harder to find in left handed. The first guitar I built was made out of extra oak floorboards from my dad’s kitchen remodel. That first guitar spurred four or five orders right off the bat. We did the 1995 NAMM show on a whim, sharing a booth with someone. Out of hundreds of guitars at the show, Guitar Player magazine selected only six guitars to be in their NAMM show issue, and our Satellite model was one of them. I think the success of our guitars can be attributed to the fact that we were the first ‘all retro’ guitar company. No one else was doing that in 1995, I know, because I would have bought their guitars if they were. We didn’t make a lot of sales in the beginning, but we caught the eye of Rick Nielson, Jack White, Elliot Easton, Earl Slick, Dick Dale, and David Bowie, to name a few. After some big names started using our guitars, the company grew. We have watched the whole retro guitar market grow with us and it’s been very exciting.” 

While the brand has grown quite a bit since the early days, they’re, “still a very mom and pop business,” says DiPinto. “We never have more than a half a dozen people working for us at any one time. We outsource the construction of the guitars. In the past they had all been manufactured in Korea. Now we are having all our production done in the U.S. 

“Being a combination of a music store and guitar company, we essentially run two business under one roof. We have a 3,000 sq. ft. location in Fishtown, which is an up and coming neighborhood with artists and musicians in Philadelphia. The front is a storefront retail outlet that specializes in vintage, used, and of course, DiPinto Guitars. We are also the premier guitar repair shop in the city, and we do all our repairs on site. The back half, is warehousing and light guitar construction and the final set-up facility for all DiPinto Guitars. All the major guitar construction takes place off site.” 

“The Galaxie Los Straitjackets has been our most popular model so far, it’s the signature model for Los Straitjackets, the largest surf band touring right now. However the Galaxie (formerly the Satellite) has also been adopted by many other artists of other genres; Jimmy Vivino of Conan O’Brien’s band uses it for a bluesy tone, Kurt Vile, indie-rock hero uses one for jangly indie rock tones. Players like Nels Cline, Steve Wynn, and Elliot Easton have used them to get their own tones.” 

As far as how to become a DiPinto dealer, Chris and Sophy aren’t looking for just anyone. 

“We’ve been a little particular about who can carry our guitars,” he says. “We’d rather deal with other family owned, or small shops. We will not sell to Guitar Center or Sam Ash or other corporate big-box outlets. We have done business with Musician’s Friend in the past, and we found their high-volume sales model was difficult to align with our smaller scale production. Also, we are trying to support the small owner. We want to preserve our personal touch by selling through stores that also offer that same interaction with their customers. We also make it very affordable for our dealers. 3 pieces is all you need to open a dealership and there are no minimums to re-up every year. We do offer greater discounts for higher quantity orders.” 

Wallace Detroit Guitars

Wallace Detroit Guitars started on a back porch of a house in the Corktown neighborhood of Detroit, and the company carries its same love of Detroit in its core to this day – literally. The company makes guitars from repurposed wood from old buildings of the American city, and cut their first guitar body in 2014. 

“I had moved to Detroit in 1999 and it’s hard not to become obsessed with the abandoned buildings in city, since there are so many of them,” founder Mark Wallace says. “A friend of mine took me on a tour of a warehouse where a non-profit was taking apart houses and selling the reclaimed wood, and I dawned on me that a guitar made out of reclaimed wood would be the coolest thing I could think of. I spent about a year making a prototype and talking to everyone I could find who knew how to make guitars. And over the past three years I’ve assembled a team of people who love these instruments as much as I do.” 

Thus far, the company has built guitars from many different Detroit landmarks, such as the Brewster Wheeler Recreation Center, the Theodore Levin Courthouse and the former Detroit Fire Department Headquarters. In 2016, the modified the guitar’s body style and began using “cap” style end grain pattern. 

“We are working on prototyping a bass and building a fully custom “build your own” module for our website,” he adds. “We’re hoping to sell basses in the fall of 2017 and to start selling bodies by themselves for people who want to make their own guitars.” 

“Our guitars are beautiful, they have amazing mojo that comes from the source of the wood, and they are amazing to play,” Wallace adds. “We are at the high-end of finish, hardware, and craftsmanship, without being insanely artistic about it. Every guitar is built to be beautiful, and built to be played 

Relish Guitars Switzerland

“We have a great growth in sales of about 200% every year since 2014,” says Silvan Küng, managing partner and co-founder of Relish Guitars Switzerland, whose innovative design approaches have already gained the company quite a following. “The brand is still young, new, and is not known to a big amount of potential customers, so there is a huge potential for us! Together with a new distribution company from Chicago we are able to conquer new markets in the U.S., overall, and Canada. Even sales reps are involved, as they have shown interest in unique products and the only part of the industry which is growing!” 

The specific details of Relish’s new distribution partner in Chicago will be released soon, but “customers and dealers will be assured constant service and contact.” To arrange a partnership with Relish as either a dealer or sales rep, interested parties should email Rick Hall: 

“We will launch a great new model soon, The Mary ONE, which will be one of a kind with unique color and surface for about $3,000,” continues Küng. “The guitar will be stunning and we will come up with a online custom shop where colors of the middle aluminum plate, body color, and engraving on the aluminum frame can be ordered. 

“Relish will provide innovations to the guitar world constantly. That’s what drives us – we want to inspire musicians again!” 

Chapman Guitars

Anyone who’s a regular reader of MMR is already familiar with Chapman Guitars, as they were the subject of a fairly sizable feature in our January 2017 issue. But as managing director Matt Hornby notes: “Since I last talked to you guys at the end of last year, we re-launched the brand with 29 new guitars, a company rebrand, and new website at the NAMM show in January. The guitars were designed with over 18 months of suggestions and input from our fans – the response has been amazing so far and 2017 is set to be our biggest year yet! 

“It’s been a very busy year for us since then, and we have some more great new guitars on the horizon, new retailers across the world, new artists and some great plans for our guitar-playing fans. Specifically this year we’ll be bringing back our popular basses, new left-handed models and delving again into the world of seven strings. 

“The U.S. market has received and supported Chapman Guitars extremely well since the earliest days of the company. Many of the early adopters on our forum and on YouTube are from the U.S., and even now, the majority of our audience across YouTube and web platforms is from the U.S. and we’re building on this every year. 

“Our model is factory-direct to retail. We’re looking to work with established retailers with both brick-and-mortar stores, as well as their own website for online sales. The guitars must be set up and checked on arrival and excellent customer service is a must! We offer great margins and online promotion – interested dealers can contact us for more information at” 


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