Sales: $50 million (2002 est.)
NAIC: 339992 Musical Instrument Manufacturing
With its head office located in Montreal, Canada, LaSiDo Inc. is the largest acoustic guitar producer in North America and also carries a line of electric guitars. In addition to the North American market, LaSiDo sells to dozens of countries around the world. The company’s acoustic guitars are sold under five labels: Seagull, La Patrie (named after the small village where the company was launched), Simon & Patrick (named after the sons of LaSiDo’s founder, Robert Godin), Norman (the line established by Godin’s erstwhile partner), and Art & Lutherie (a line of entry level guitars). Electric guitars are sold under the Godin name. Unlike its major competitors, who mass-produce many of their products under a single roof (relying on cheap Asian labor), LaSiDo employs a decentralized manufacturing approach, operating four small factories—three located in Quebec and one in Berlin, New Hampshire—each devoted to specific tasks. In the village of La Patrie, one plant is dedicated to assembling headstocks and necks, while a nearby facility assembles and finishes acoustic guitars. In another Quebec community, Princeville, located 100 miles away, a variety of wooden parts are produced on the ground floor, including bridges, braces, necks, electric guitar bodies, and side assemblies. On the second floor, Art & Lutherie guitars are assembled. The New Hampshire plant is devoted entirely to electric guitar assembly. LaSiDo believes that a limited range of activities in small facilities results in great efficiency and fewer production errors, as well as promoting better communication and camaraderie among workers. Moreover, it simplifies accounting, making it easier to determine the labor cost per guitar. Maintaining a balance between cost and the quality of the instrument has been a key to LaSiDo’s success. In the words of Robert Godin, “Making a good $2,000 guitar is easy. Making a good $200 guitar is hard.” (Although its guitars start at the $200 level, LaSiDo also produces customized instruments that sell for more than $2,000.) Another important factor in the company’s growth has been its marketing approach, selling directly to smaller dealers, while generally avoiding national chains, to keep down prices and maintain “product value.” Although most consumers may not have heard of LaSiDo’s guitar lines, because the company has opted not to advertise or make a major splash at trade shows, they are attracted to the instruments at the retail level due to their superior sound and attractive price. For the store owner, margins are good and customers are satisfied, resulting in a loyalty to the LaSido lines and leading to the company’s current status as the top seller of acoustic guitars in North America.
LaSiDo’s founder, Robert Godin, learned how to play the guitar at the age of 7 and became involved in guitar making and the retailing of musical instruments as a teenager. At the age of 15, the French-Canadian worked at a guitar repair shop, where he learned the craft of the business. It was also at this age, in the early 1960s, that he took over a small Montreal music store that focused on accordions after the death of an aunt who had operated it for many years. Godin, with the help of another aunt who signed the checks and contracts for the minor, transformed the struggling business into one of the city’s top guitar stores. As rock music grew in popularity in the 1960s, and the electric guitar in particular, Godin’s shop thrived. By the end of the decade, it was generating C$1.2 million in annual sales. Still in his early twenties, Godin was already a successful businessman when he and some friends in October 1970 made a deer hunting trip to the small village of La Patrie located at the end of a 60-mile dirt road in Eastern Quebec—a visit that would change his life.
Because he did not hunt, Godin whiled away the time at the bar in the La Patrie Hotel. He listened in on the conversation of two local men seated nearby, one of whom was named Norman Boucher. Boucher had been the owner of a small, wood window-frame business that had been crippled by the market’s conversion to aluminum. A guitar player, he decided to keep his woodworking equipment in use by trying his hand at making guitars. Because he lacked access to proper materials, Boucher’s guitars were makeshift affairs. His first pickguards, in fact, were fashioned out of Formica salvaged from a kitchen counter. Despite the limitations of his situation, Boucher began to sell a few guitars under the Norman name. At the hotel bar, Godin overheard Boucher talking about the guitars he had just completed and quickly interrupted the conversation to introduce himself. The two men became fast friends and soon Godin was paying a visit to Boucher’s upstart guitar shop and trying out his Norman guitars. As he would recall years later, “Actually, they were awful guitars. The thickness of the wood was all wrong.” Nonetheless, when Godin returned to Montreal he could not stop thinking about Boucher’s fledgling guitar shop in the middle of nowhere. He soon sold his interest in the music store and bought into Boucher’s business.
Over the next several years, Godin and the much older Boucher slowly grew the business, with Boucher in charge of manufacturing in La Patrie and Godin serving as both designer and tireless salesman. The latter accommodated traditional designs and guitar shapes to modern styles of guitar playing and then traveled around the country with a van packed with Norman guitars that he sold from one small store to another, persuading owners to take one or two. The instruments were quickly bought up, and the shopkeepers would generally order more to replenish and eventually enlarge their stock. However, the partners, unable to agree on their next step, fell out, resulting in Godin leaving in 1978 to establish LaSiDo and try his hand at running his own guitar factory in La Patrie.
Godin started out making electric guitar parts for American companies, but when some of his customers went bankrupt in the late 1970s LaSiDo came close to ruin. The banks called in loans and Godin had to sell all of his assets, including personal, in order to survive. He dropped the sub-contracting business and reorganized in 1980 as a dedicated guitar-making enterprise. In 1982, LaSiDo launched the Seagull line, which adopted the company’s trademark formula of balancing quality and price. Godin tried to use hired sales rep to sell into music stores but soon grew dissatisfied with the results and once again hit the road to visit small shops and personally sell the line. Despite his experience with Norman guitars, Godin still faced the difficult challenge of introducing an unknown Canadian guitar line, as well as problems operating in such a remote location. According to a company profile in Music Trades, “La Patrie was so remote that getting raw materials in and shipping finished products out required constant pleading with trucking lines. Harsh Canadian winters necessitated working with paint companies to develop a special lacquer that wouldn’t crack in sub-zero temperatures. On top of that, securing adequate capital to fund plant expansion was an ongoing struggle.” One primary advantage in the La Patrie location, however, was its proximity to a treasure trove of tonewoods used to make the soundboards of quality guitars: maple, cherry, cedar, and walnut. In some ways, the weather of the region also proved to be a plus. Because of the extremes, severe heat in the summer and frigid conditions in the winter, the woods used for making necks were well conditioned to react to climate changes once they had been fashioned into a guitar.
Without Godin, Boucher’s business floundered, and in 1982 LaSiDo bought the Norman line. The former partners never reconciled their differences, and Boucher died in his 70s in the mid-1990s. Around the same time as it picked up the Norman series, LaSiDo introduced its Seagull line. The purpose behind the Seagull guitar was to incorporate such important hand-crafted guitar features as solid tops and lacquer finishes in an affordable guitar suitable for use by working musicians. By relying on cedar or spruce tops, rather than a laminate, Seagull produced a richer tone that actually improved with age as the wood loosened up. A genuine lacquer finish was intended to protect the wood while allowing it to vibrate and enjoy the benefits of aging. Other important features of the Seagull were a tapered headstock to facilitate tuning, a double action truss rod in the neck to better compensate for the bowing effect caused by string tension or humidity, maple dowels in the heel to reinforce the neck, and a fully compensated saddle to make sure that the guitar played in-tune throughout the neck.
Other lines would follow in the success of Norman and Seagull guitars. The Art & Lutherie line was Godin’s way to offer many of the important features of its higher-end guitars to the entry-level customer. A common practice in the industry was to focus on the look of such instruments at the expense of guitar’s sound and durability. For instance, many of these instruments were given a quick plastic finish that provided a shiny look but smothered the sound. Art & Luthrie guitars used a more painstaking process that resulted in a finish that provided protection without sacrificing sound. Moreover, the line used laminated hardwood on the back, sides, and top rather than pressboard and offered other quality features, such as precise neck pitch, fully compensated saddles, and high ratio tuners. LaSiDo’s Simon & Patrick Luthier line combined traditional acoustic guitar design with modern innovations that catered to contemporary acoustic music. The La Patrie Series was created to offer a line of classical guitars. The Godin line of electric guitars grew out of LaSiDo’s original outsourcing business. Although the necks and bodies would be produced in La Patrie, the guitars would be finished in Berlin, New Hampshire.
From the selection of the wood to the final adjustments on the finished instrument, each Godin guitar is designed and built by people who love guitars.
International Success: Mid-1980s–2000s
Establishing the LaSiDo family of guitar lines was a struggle in the 1980s. Although Godin did well at convincing North American dealers to carry his guitars, he knew that he would have to look overseas in order for the business to truly succeed. In the mid-1980s, he made a concerted effort to visit major trade shows and make contact with European distributors. A tireless promoter, he was even known to seek help from local Canadian embassies, asking for names of area dealers he could approach. As a result, LaSiDo guitar lines took hold in Europe. To manage marketing efforts in North America while he worked the international market, Grodin hired a seasoned sales executive in Brian McConnell, who had experience with a Japanese keyboard maker as well as ten years with Long & McQuade Ltd, Canada’s largest music store chain. For several years, LaSiDo’s sale force worked out of makeshift accommodations, including bedrooms and basements, promoting the guitar lines. Finally, in 1995 the company opened its Montreal headquarters and sales and marketing were finally centralized.
In the second half of the 1990s, LaSiDo succeeded in becoming a leading North American guitar company, enjoying double-digit growth during this period. Aside from increased revenues, the company achieved greater public recognition, the result of winning an number of awards from such music publications as Guitar Player Magazine. In addition, influential popular musicians, such as Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and Metallica’s Kirk Hammett, played Godin guitars, providing publicity and cachet. The company became so well known among guitar aficionados that a visit to the company’s La Patrie guitar factory was akin to a pilgrimage to Mecca, and Robert Godin himself became something of an icon among guitar players.
Business was so strong for LaSiDo that in 2001 the company expanded its primary La Patrie factory, adding some 25,000 square feet to accommodate a research center, expand warehousing, and create a separate production line for upper-end acoustic guitars. The extra warehouse space was especially important in the preparation of container-sized orders to accommodate international distributors. In charge of exporting LaSiDo’s guitars were Godin’s sons, Simon and Patrick, who were being groomed to one day take charge of the business. Despite well-financed competition in the guitar industry, the LaSiDo approach was firmly established and appeared to position the company to enjoy further long-term success.
Fender Musical Instruments Corporation; Gibson Guitar Corporation; Yamaha Corporation.
- Robert Godin and Norman Boucher become partners in making Norman guitars.
- Godin breaks away to start LaSiDo.
- Godin acquires Norman guitars.
- A Montreal office is established.
- Manufacturing facilities are expanded.
Gains, Paul, “Don’t Fret It!,” Toronto Star, October 13, 2002, p. C3.
Kirby, Jason, “Guitar Man,” Canadian Business, November 13, 2000, p. 90.
“Lasido Expands Manufacturing,” Music Trades, May 2001, p. 34.
Molenda, Michael, “Technology and Craft in Picturesque La Patrie,” Guitar Player, October 2001, p. 71.
“The Stealth Guitar Company,” Music Trades, February 2000, p. 114.