Doing it their way

Brothers Shai and Tal Macmull make vintage-style guitars, proving that passion is the key to success.

Tal (left) and Shai Macmull showcase their guitars outside the workshop (photo credit: NAAMA BARAK,MUSÉE DE LA TOUR DE DAVID,MYISRAEL)
Tal (left) and Shai Macmull showcase their guitars outside the workshop
It took Tal Macmull a year and a half to build his first guitar. To be fair, he was 14 years old at the time, and there wasn’t any online information on how to do it.
“It started with books in English and carried on with trial and error. I threw out a lot of wood,” he says.
Since then, Tal, now 27, built up his skills, and six months ago opened the Macmull guitar workshop with his brother, Shai, 31, in the Mishor Adumim industrial area just outside Jerusalem.
The two work together to build handmade, vintagestyle guitars, using old-fashioned techniques and old wood to recreate the sound of quality guitars from the 1950s and ’60s.
Their interest in guitars began when they were children. Tal has been building and renovating guitars since then, but “about half a year ago we understood that this has a very big potential,” Shai says.
Tal is responsible for building the guitars, and Shai is in charge of the marketing.
“I used to work in the world of sales management and marketing. We decided that together we could do something really big,” Shai says.
And it certainly seems that they are. Their handcrafted guitars have a unique sound that resembles old-school guitars, which they say is the result of their handmade effort and the oldfashioned products like the ones used more than half a century ago. They create replicas of old Gibson and Fender guitars, which “will give the real sound but look completely different,” according to Shai. “Today [people] understand that what was built in the past feels and sounds much better.”
The brothers build both classic and electric guitars but focus mostly on the latter. The building process takes quite a while.
“The first stage is the design process,” says Tal. “Sketching the precise sketch of what we want to get.” Then begins “the process of cutting the wood, polishing the wood, and then the process of fitting the wooden parts,” followed by lacquering.
Most of the guitars the brothers sell are made to order, and each order can take from six months to a year.
“Only the process of spraying the varnish takes between 20 days and a month,” says Tal, not counting the time it takes the guitar to dry properly.
The guitars they make are different from the standard ones produced today in that they’re made of old wood, some of which was cut in the 1920s, resin glue, nitro varnish and even cow bones instead of the modern plastic parts.
“When it wasn’t industrialized, there was a very special sound,” Shai says of the effort to recreate the old-fashioned sounds.
Guitarists are aware that old guitars produce better sound, the brothers say.
“In the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase” in awareness, Tal says.
While vintage brand guitars can be extremely expensive, the Macmull guitars strive to offer the same quality and sound at much more affordable prices. While the guitars aren’t cheap – prices range from NIS 8,000 to NIS 20,000 and up – they do offer a much wider audience the option to enjoy a topsounding instrument.
The Macmulls say they don’t have a particular type of client.
“We’re doing something very special, so people who are looking [for that] come to us,” Tal says.
Customers range from “a lot of lawyers and doctors” who fulfill their guitar dreams to professional musicians and even boys who come in with their teachers to choose a guitar for their bar mitzva present.
Some of their clients come with very specific demands. One guitar that they’re working on at the moment, for example, is headless, and all the tuning elements will be placed on the back of the guitar instead of the head. It’s very small and can only be played when strapped on.
“The idea is that it will be easy to travel with but give a good show,” says Tal.
The brothers hope to expand their business and turn the workshop into a second-hand music store, where they will trade top guitars with customers for medium-quality guitars that they will then fix up.
“Instruments that were played on have a soul; they’ve got character,” says Tal.
“We don’t want to be a factory in the future but to produce a large number of guitars in order to work with [music] stores,” Shai says.
At the moment, they can’t keep up with the production speed required by stores.
“If I found someone who had the hands to do the job, I’d bring him in,” says Tal. “It’s hard for me to let other people do the job. I have a vision, and I know what I want.”
The brothers come from a very music-oriented background.
“There was always music at home,” Tal says.
He played the guitar from a young age, and even played on a guitar that he built during his music matriculation exam, much to the amazement of the tester.
Shai has been playing classical guitar from the age of 12, but since they opened the workshop he’s moved on to electric guitars. His favorite music is American rock.
Tal agrees.
“There’s no doubt that rock and blues are something in the soul,” he says.
Do they enjoy working together? “Could there be anything better?” says Tal.
They take immense pride in their work.
“In the end, there’s an instrument that you built,” says Tal.
As for the future, they hope to expand not only to supply stores, but also to produce a line of products that will be more accessible to a wider audience.
They also hope to compete in international exhibitions, but for that they need more capital and more guitars.
In the meanwhile, they are happy the way things are going. Their customer base is expanding, and more people are hearing about them through their website and Facebook profile, but most people come to them through word of mouth. They also fix all types of string instruments, such as harps, cellos and ouds, and have a line of guitar effects.
During the summer, the brothers hosted shows outside the workshop, where guitarists of all kinds took to the stage. They plan to have such shows again once the weather improves.
Until then, the brothers are keen to point out that all music lovers are welcome at their workshop.
“It’s important to know that our door is open also to someone who doesn’t have the money [to buy a guitar]. It’s an open place to come and play and get a feel of the experience,” Tal says.
The brothers also have a bit of advice for other young entrepreneurs.
“A lot of people think that they can open a business and succeed from day one. It’s not like that. [It’s] a long-term process that takes time and requires a lot of work in a lot of areas,” Shai says. But “at the end of the road, it’s very worthwhile.”
Passion is more important than formal training, they believe.
“If a kid at age 14 decides to do something he loves without going to any academic institution, you don’t need to go to the school. You do it because you love it,” Shai says.
Tal adds, “Everything you do, do in the best way possible… It’s important to maintain the quality, the highest level possible.”