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Innovate or Fade Away: Michael Ciravolo’s Balancing Act at Schecter Guitars

Denyce Neilson • FrettedNovember 2018 • November 5, 2018

Michael Ciravolo began his career at a small music shop in New Orleans. In 1995, he decided to take a leap and move to Los Angeles. He quickly scored a job at Lab Sound, a guitar and amp retailer on Sunset Boulevard, where he was schooled on guitars. Ciravolo eventually changed jobs and climbed a rung or two, becoming a manager at Sunset Custom

Guitars. It was around this time that he met Hisatake Shibuya, owner of Schecter Guitars and, as he puts it, “I guess I was at the right place at the right time with the right skill set.”

That also took place in 1995; now fast forward a couple of decades to 2018, and you’ll find Ciravolo playing guitar on stage with his band, in a recording studio laying down some tracks for a new record, or at his desk carrying out his role as Schecter Guitars’ president and CEO, where he says, “I am ultimately responsible for all aspects of the company. I have assembled a great team here that I’m very proud of. Most of our employees have been with the company for over 10 years.”

Currently, Schecter Guitars has 42 employees, but was a smaller organization when Hisatake Shibuya took ownership. Michael explains the trajectory: “It had been a decent-sized company in the 1980s, but like many of the great companies of that era – B.C.

Rich, Dean, Hamer – Schecter made some foolish decisions and almost faded into oblivion. When I was the director, my vision was to expand the growth of the company, which I did. Eventually, becoming the CEO was part of that success.”

The Early Days

Schecter Guitar Research (the official company name), was founded in 1976 by David Schecter in Van Nuys, California. At the time, they manufactured guitar parts such as necks, bodies, pickups, bridges, pickguards, et cetera. In 1979 Schecter began manufacturing their own fully-assembled electric guitars. Michael explains, “ It was during that time, that no one would ever play an off-the-rack guitar. You had to customize and modify your guitar. Schecter was the first to do all of the crazy, exotic wood bodies and necks along with heavy brass parts. Almost by accident, it became an official guitar company when some dealers began assembling completed guitars from all the Schecter parts they had. Pete Townsend and Marc Knopfler discovered Schecter Guitars at Rudy’s Music on 48th Street in New York City. This was certainly a pivotal point in the history of the company.” Schecter marketed these new guitars as Dream Machines.

‘I Can Never Let Us Rest on Our Laurels’

Today, Schecter continues to innovate, as Michael says, “I can never let us rest on our laurels. You innovate or fade away. We are always prototyping new ideas, shapes, and colors. Right now, we are focusing on our 2019 lineup.

For us, that timeframe has moved up and sort of follows the auto industry in terms of announcing and, in some instances, already shipping to dealers.” The majority of Schecter’s inventory is custom. A few years ago the company moved their operations to Sun Valley, California. The new location hosts a 14,000 squarefoot manufacturing center, where they are able to build 40 production guitars and five, completely hand-made, masterwork instruments.

In addition to the manufacturing space, there is a main building dedicated to a custom shop and pickup department. As for their pickups, Michael says, “Over the counter sales are good, but our main focus is winding our pickups, for not only our U.S. custom shop guitars, but also some of our Diamond Series models, which includes our popular Apocalypse Collection. Basically, we use every pickup we can wind.”

So who is Schecter’s typical customer? Michael explains, “I think it is hard to really define the Schecter customer. We have a really diverse lineup of endorsed artists that other companies don’t have, since we have a wide variety of instruments to choose from, such as a semi-hollowbody with Bigsby vibratos, a nine-string extended scale with active pickups, or an electric 12-string to a sixstring fretless bass. Since the majority of our endorsed artists are rock and metal players, we do have a big contingent of younger players from that genre. I think if a music store only carried our brand, they could satisfy most, in not all, of their customers. This is definitely a luxury that not all companies have.”

In 1998, Schecter introduced their Diamond Series of guitars at Summer NAMM. The series gained the attention several popular bands, such as Papa Roach, Powerman 5000, and Stone Temple Pilots, who eventually attracted new, heavier-sounding bands to the Schecter artist lineup. Schecter’s artist roster does feature many heavy metal players, but there are others too. They have casted a wider net with artists like Morris Day and The Time, Cheap Trick, The Cure, and none other than Prince.

Over the past 20 years, Schecter built many guitars for Prince, including the purple one he played at the 2007 SuperBowl halftime show.

An Artist at the Helm

Michael Ciravolo is also a “Schecter artist,” so to speak. He has recorded several albums and toured across the U.S. and Mexico. In September, he released a full-length record, Finding Beauty in Chaos, and as he describes it, “It’s not really a Michael Ciravolo solo album, but a beautiful collection of extremely talented artists. It has been a lot of work and a year of my life.” The lineup of the artists who contributed to the recording is quite impressive – they include Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, Al Jourgensen of Ministry, Wayne Hussey of The Mission, Doug Pinnick of King’s X, Ashton Nyte of The Awakening, and Ice-T. As for Michael’s favorite guitars, well, “Schecter Guitars of course. I love our Corsair and TSH-1 models. These have been my main studio and live guitars for the past decade. I have about six of each, plus a couple of 12-string prototypes. Those are put through several Roland and Supro amps with more pedals than I can count.” Yes, there are many perks to being the CEO of a guitar company, especially if you play them.

In addition to his roles as CEO and musician, Michael is the father of two teenage daughters and the husband of Tish Ciravolo, who just happens to be founder and president of Daisy Rock Girl Guitars.

Michael explains, “My role at Schecter is more than a fulltime job, as is being a parent with my wife to two teenage daughters – this is our first priority. With both daughters heading off to college, I will have more time on my hands. As far as the balance goes? Besides having an amazing team I can count on, I have an incredible wife who supports me, and I live close to my office and studio, but I don’t get much sleep, and there’s lots and lots of coffee.”

The Future is Bright

Ciravolo’s life is certainly a balancing act, but he says that it’s made easier at Schecter with an owner who trusts his abilities and allows him to do what he feels is best for the company. As Ciravolo sees things, “We don’t always do everything right – and really, who does? – but I think we get more things right than wrong.” Looking ahead, he is enthusiastic.

Heading into 2019, Schecter will be launching new models with their artist, Keith Merrow, offered at multiple price points. “We have a lot of great, new guitars and basses hitting the market. These are all set up and personalized by a staff who actually cares and has pride in what we do here at Schecter Guitars,” Ciravolo says.

Continuing in a positive light, he adds, “Counter to all of the talk about Gibson and the gossip of the eclectic guitar being dead, I think the guitar market is fairly healthy. Schecter is certainly up double-digits over last year, and that trend seems to be continuing.

Guitar prices are going up because manufacturing costs are going up, but that is nothing new in our industry. The CITES issue regarding rosewood certainly threw a monkey-wrench into most companies’ plans last year.” As most MMR readers are aware, CITES, the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species of Flora and Fauna, is the 2017 law regulating the movement of rosewood and other endangered woods and it is believed that overuse in manufacturing musical instruments has contributed to their endangerment. Ciravolo continues, “Now California’s Prop-65, requiring caution labels regarding possible chemicals in the product, is causing issues and concerns for manufacturers. There is never an easy or dull moment in this industry!”

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