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Born Guitars’ head luthier Dan Hehnke says his background in aircraft design gave him an edge in guitar building.
“I managed to get his phone number and information, and we had a long conversation over the phone one day,” recalls Miller. “I completely spilled my guts about my beliefs, my passions, and what I wanted to do. He told me his history at Fender and why he left there, and about how he started his own company, and his process and his beliefs about the guitar. We just instantly clicked and he’s always been really supportive, and every time I talk to him or send him a simple email he’s always gone above and beyond to write like a three-page email with every little detail of his process—down to the brand of tools he uses and where he’s sourced things. It’s been a real blessing to work with him and gain that kind of inspiration and insight.”
Page’s seal of approval and support has done wonders for Born, a startup trying to make a name in an undeniably crowded field of guitar makers. “That validation has been important to us because we are a very young company,” says Davis. “A lot of companies start with someone coming out of Gibson’s or Fender’s custom shops after 20 or 30 years. Obviously, they have all that clout with them, which we didn’t have, so to get some validation from somebody with John’s status has been huge for us and really boosted our confidence.”
Feeling as though he’d acquired the right amount of business acumen and direction, Miller began to put his company together. But he needed a staff. “I met Jonathan through an internship posting at CU,” says Davis. “He was looking for an intern to help him finish writing a business plan and figure out financing and whatnot for a custom guitar-building company. What started out as a two-week project obviously turned into a lot more than that.”
With a business-minded partner onboard, Miller began to scout out an expert luthier who could help bring their vision to life. “I had a friend who was into a lot of startups and had met Jonathan, and she told me about the job,” says head luthier Hehnke. “I contacted them and they had me come in with some of my guitars. I was really impressed by their commitment to sustainability and using cool woods and making everything really custom.”
Hehnke, a native of Santa Barbara, California, had been building his own guitars for well over a decade, but his professional background is in the aeronautical engineering industry. Hehnke feels that the experience he’s had working with and designing aircraft parts has helped his guitar building. “It really gave me a good background for the precision aspect of it—approaching it from a precision-engineering design problem.”
From Stump to Stage
As the team came together, Miller continued to refine and rework his business plan, while hammering out the last details of the two guitar models his company would offer: the single-cutaway OG and the double-cutaway MG.
“It took a long time,” Miller says. “I spent about a year just designing the initial OG model. I was really trying to pull from what people like about lots of guitars. I talked to tons of guitarists about what their favorite guitars were and why it was their favorite.”
The way he envisioned them, the OG and MG models would serve as a template for prospective customers to create the ultimate guitar of their dreams. “They’re really a chassis,” Miller offers. “We tried to create shapes with a really broad appeal and nice aesthetic quality, but these shapes can be modified in several different ways to reflect an individual’s personality and playing style.”
While respecting the history of electric guitar design, Miller wanted to push the envelope in terms of quality and ergonomics. “For the basic body shapes, I really tried to make something that was our own, but didn’t ignore what had been done in the past. Obviously certain designs and guitars are staples in all music and they will be for a long time to come—we aren’t trying to take that away from anyone. But we felt we could improve on some of those models and make them a little better—really focus on ergonomics, try to get the best tone, and make our own innovations to build a better guitar.”