This Godin 5th Avenue Uptown GT is an archtop cutaway with a silver leaf maple neck, ebony fretboard, cream binding, Bigsby, and Canadian wild cherry top, back, and sides.
By tapping into classic concepts yet constantly adding new ideas and refinements, Godin Guitars has grown into one of the largest manufacturers in North America over the last 40 years. With an annual production of 175,000 instruments across its six guitar brands—Godin, Seagull, Simon & Patrick, Art & Lutherie, Norman, and La Patrie—the company is most decidedly not a small guitar maker. Certainly not when compared to solitary luthiers toiling away in basements, attics, and backyard shops. Yet the company retains a smaller, more boutique feel as a result of its constant striving for innovation, improvement, and responsiveness to player needs. And those characteristics are a direct reflection of founder Robert Godin’s personal attitude toward instrument experimentation.
6-Point Buck or 6-String Factory?
In the early 1960s, amateur guitarists everywhere were struggling to replicate the sounds they heard on records. Among them was a 15-year-old Canadian named Robert Godin. Like many others, he was fascinated by the tones of the Ventures and the Beatles, but he found the majority of instruments available to him weren’t suited to those styles. While working at Harmony Lab, a Montreal music store, Godin began experimenting with different string gauges, employing banjo strings on guitars, and modifying other instrument components. His innovations garnered praise and word-of-mouth testimonials amongst local guitar players. Gradually, that fan base grew to musicians from cities all across Canada.
“He ended up becoming the place [to get mods],” says Mario Biferali, sales and marketing manager at Godin Guitars. “He had people coming from as far away as Toronto and Quebec City. Toronto is, like, five hours away! People talked, ‘Oh, there’s a place to go … he’ll make that guitar scream.’”
Godin worker Daniel Picard operating a drill press at the La Patrie guitar factory in the mid 1970s.
Godin acquired a Conn Strobotuner, a gadget that he feels was the first in Canada, and that one purchase led to a major career realization for the young luthier.
“In the old days, tuners were the size of a refrigerator and cost thousands of dollars,” says Robert Godin—still president of the company that bears his name. “I was doing intonations on guitars and realized that guitars needed many modifications to get the sound I was looking for. That’s what really got me started on my dream of creating a guitar truly built with the player in mind.”
On a hunting trip in 1972, Godin came across the factory for Norman Windows—a wooden-frame window manufacturer that, strangely enough, also dabbled in guitars. Norman’s 6-string efforts had been disappointing, but Godin became convinced he could improve the instruments. Shortly after returning home from his travels, he solidified plans to take over the factory and focus on building the guitars of his dreams.
“Everyone else on the hunting trip came home with a deer,” Godin joked in a 2011 interview with Music Trades. “I came home with a guitar factory.” To this day, the Norman guitar line still honors the window-manufacturing facility where it all started.
In It to Innovate
As you’d expect, those early years were challenging for Godin as he loaded up a van and began crisscrossing Canada in an effort to establish personal relationships with guitar stores. It didn’t help that some of his ideas were kind of out-there. In fact, from the beginning, many of Godin’s designs have been unusual enough that the average player expecting traditional appointments and construction needed to have the concept explained in order to fully appreciate it. For example, one of Godin’s earliest breakthroughs—using thinner finishes so that his instruments sounded and felt livelier—was so simple that it’s a no-brainer by today’s standards. But back then, most instruments featured a heavy, shiny finish that seemed to prioritize looks over tones.