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‘We Just Love to Innovate’ – Australia’s Cole Clark Guitars at 20

Christian Wissmuller • AnniversaryArchivesCurrent IssueNovember 2021 • November 6, 2021

The Cole Clark Guitars. team

Melbourne, Australia’s Cole Clark Guitars (distributed in the U.S. by Korg USA) is an innovative, environmentally responsible supplier of well-regarded instruments – and in 2021 the company has been celebrating its 20thAnniversary. In addition to fielding the only mainstream acoustic steel strings with a Spanish heel, Cole Clark Guitars has also developed a proprietary 3-way pickup system, and the instruments are made using mostly native and sustainably sourced Australian tone woods

A few weeks ago, MMR sat down with CEO Miles Jackson to learn more of the Cole Clark story, the features that make their guitars unique, and their distribution model in America.

 

First off, congratulations on reaching this milestone! Let’s start with some history: Who were the principal founders of Cole Clark Guitars and what was the catalyst behind launching a new brand?

Miles Jackson: It began with Adam Cole, Brad Clark, and a group of investors, including myself. Adam and Brad were well known guitar makers in Australia. I had been working in MI retail since 1979.

The concept was to meet the needs of the modern guitarist who tour heavily and plug in every night by re-imagining the acoustic guitar as a lighter, stronger instrument with a natural sounding pickup.

 

The Cole Clark Guitars site notes that the company currently has 73 employees — how many employees were there at the very beginning?

It began with four staff members and a CNC machine. By the end of the first year there were 10 employees on staff.

 

How big was that first factory and HQ 20 years ago and how large are the facilities today?

We started with 6,888 square feet and now have 20,000 square feet, as well as offices and research and development space.

 

Let’s talk about what sets Cole Clark acoustics apart from other guitars. For those unfamiliar, what are the advantages of a Spanish heel and other design characteristics unique to Cole Clark?

The Spanish heel gives you a different characteristic from guitars with an attached neck: a cleaner, more piano-like bottom end. It is the other pallet. Not better or worse – just different.

This characteristic also works better when amplifying the guitar as the sound is more focused. To enhance this characteristic, we have a unique double V bracing with a mini X between them.

 

What are the upsides of the Cole Clark 3-way pickup system?

We don’t see the pickup as an afterthought. It’s a focus in every part of our build process and has been a priority from the start. Our patented pickup system has six suspended piezos under the bridge, a unique face sensor that’s part of the integral bracing of the guitar and a microphone. Each operates in its optimized frequency and is incapable of hearing frequencies in its feedback zone. We use crossovers similar to a PA system to do this. It is the most natural sounding, dynamic and powerful pickup system available.

Simply put, we believe that when an acoustic guitar is plugged in, it should sound the same as it does unplugged… just louder.

 

With many large-scale acoustic guitar suppliers embracing sustainability in recent years — some mostly due to increased regulation, the CITIES act, and simply the unavailability of traditional tone woods — Cole Clark takes “going green” even further. Why is the brand so committed to environmentally responsible practices?

 

We have always had an ethical approach to sustainability. We were championing Queensland Maple for necks, backs, and sides and Bunya [pine] for tops since the company started in 2001. In fact, outside of rosewood and ebony on fretboards and bridges, our guitars were sustainable from the beginning. Two years before CITES restricted rosewood, we replaced rosewood and ebony with locally sourced alternatives. Now, 98 percent of our guitars have no endangered timbers. That’s true sustainability as far as we see it: normalizing the use of timbers which aren’t on the endangered list. We can’t figure out why companies don’t use new product introductions to offer alternative timbers. Some companies still exclusively use ebony for fingerboards, which is endangered.

We also get a great deal of our timber through urban recovery. These are trees that are sick and dying and need to be removed for safety reasons or have come down in storms, et cetera.

 

Are there any sonic characteristics unique to Australian tone woods that a “newbie” would be surprised by? Are there similarities to woods more familiar to most players?

Each are unique in a sense, but yes, they have tones that are akin to traditional timbers. Bunya is similar to spruce, our redwood tops are much like cedar, Queensland Maple and Silky Oak are closer to mahogany and our River She Oak and Satin Box fretboards are similar to ebony. Blackwood, which is our most popular back and sides timber, as well as our most popular plugged in top, is practically identical in look and tone to Koa. Just one DNA sequence difference.

 

When you look back at the past two decades, what were some of the most significant milestones, achievements, product introductions, et cetera?

When you’re attempting new things in a market that has so much history and tradition, the moments that stand out and those that justify the leap. The evolution of our pickup from the original 2-way system in 2003 to the 3-way system in 2010 was a huge step in our mission to produce the world’s greatest pickup. The switch in 2015 to entirely sustainable guitars gives us a great sense of pride and began a series of changes to our company that included urban recovery, the introduction of new timbers, and a shift to solar power.

More recently, we released a series of acoustics with humbuckers installed at the bridge that run entirely independent of the acoustic preamp as a separate output. This is a guitar that can create sounds no other guitar can and they were an instant hit. There are many players adding electric pickups to their sound holes to blend with their acoustic sound, but the pickup placement wasn’t optimal for dirty tones and they’d need a bunch of pedals to make it work. The Humbucker and Thinline models are confirmation that by focusing on moving with the modern, gigging guitarist, we can keep pushing boundaries.

 

Cole Clark Guitars began being exported to the United States 17 years ago. How many U.S. dealers did you have back in 2004 and how many carry Cole Clark in 2021? What is your distribution model, state-side?

We began with around a dozen dealers. Today the USA, we are proud to go through Korg USA. They distribute to 101 stores throughout the USA. Their in-house sales team is of the highest calibre. We could not be in better hands.

 

For U.S. retailers interested in partnering with Cole Clark Guitars, how would they best go about that?

Contact Korg USA about retail opportunities. Also, go to the Cole Clark website and socials. Spend some time finding out how we are different and why. A virtual factory tour will give you a good idea of what we do and they’re welcomed at any time.

 

One byproduct of the COVID pandemic has been that certain MI market segments — in particular fretted instruments — have enjoyed surging sales. How has Cole Clark been impacted?

Cole Clark business has been incredible. Between people sitting at home with nothing to do and the introduction of some great new models in the Thinline and Humbucker range, we have all our production sold until March 2023. This includes a second shift that we added, doubling our output.

 

Do you have any upcoming events, instrument introductions, or initiatives to celebrate the 20th anniversary?

We would have loved to release a 20th anniversary model. We just haven’t had time or capacity with the orders we have. We had a two week social media campaign celebrating our achievements, artists and the staff that have made it the last 20 years possible.

 

What are your expectations for the coming months — for both Cole Clark and the MI industry as a whole?

As shops re-open around the world, I think the music industry will have a strong Christmas to finish up 2021. 2022 will see some major new releases from Cole Clark in January and then more in June for NAMM in California. For Cole Clark, we just love to innovate, make more and more guitars of the highest quality, and find new timbers.

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