Strings of ax-grinding desire

Alicia Robinson

All guitars are not created equal, and Corona del Mar webmaster

Norman Beberman wants to help separate the wheat from the chaff.

About four years ago, Beberman founded guitarnation.com, a Web

page devoted to crafters of handmade guitars. As of today, the site

has grown into seven pages for different guitars with pictures

galore, reviews of how the guitars play and sound samples, and

information on the guitar makers and how to contact them. Last month,

the site got a record 99,375 hits.

"If the guitar is anything, it's a piece of functional sculpture,"

Beberman said. And his website bears testament to the artistic bent

of guitar makers, who are called luthiers.

Almost any kind of guitar imaginable can be had from the crafters

listed on the site, including one with a detail from the Sistine

Chapel ceiling on the neck or a guitar inlaid with abalone or buffalo

horn.

"My primary goal is to assist the builders in selling directly,"

Beberman said. "I want to see their sales and their income go up

because that's how they make their living and it keeps the art form

alive."

When guitar crafters do well, it also serves Beberman because they

pay to be included on his website, which is one of the few devoted to

handmade guitars.

"I really liked what he was doing," Grass Valley guitar craftsman

Harvey Leach said. "A lot of times, for a guy who builds guitars,

there's not much connection between the people who build guitars and

the people who buy guitars."

That connection is important to luthiers like Harvey, who don't

operate storefronts and can't afford big ads over long periods of

time, he said.

"Right now, I'd probably say 95% of my business comes either

directly or indirectly from some sort of Internet thing," he said.

Beberman has played guitar for about 30 years, and he's always

liked vintage guitars. A friend suggested he attend a festival

featuring people who hand-build guitars, and that sold him.

"The builders were so proud of their guitars," he said. "As you

would be walking up and down the aisles, they'd be handing you their

guitars saying, 'Play mine, play mine.'"

While working for a commodities brokerage in San Francisco,

Beberman kept hearing about Internet start-ups, he said. He had no

experience with Web design and taught himself how to build and manage

guitarnation.com. Earlier this year, feedback from guitar makers and

shoppers led him to launch another venture, the Handmade Guitar

Marketing Council, with its own website.

Through the council, Beberman invites potential guitar buyers such

as studio musicians and record producers to parties where they can

try out different handmade guitars they might not otherwise get a

chance to play.

While his websites are money-making ventures for Beberman, he also

hopes they help keep the tradition of handcrafting guitars thriving.

He expects the websites to continue to evolve because he's always

getting suggestions from people, he said.

"Every day, I get up wondering how can I make it better, [and]

what else can I offer people?" he said.

Beberman's websites can be viewed at http://www.guitarnation.com

and http://www.handmadeguitar marketing.com.

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