Siggi Braun: Searching for a perfect guitar
Сентябрь 19, 2014
Катерина Межекова (21 статей)

Siggi Braun: Searching for a perfect guitar

When I saw Victor Smolski (Rage) playing live for the first time, I couldn’t help wondering where does his axe come from. Later I’ve seen the similar trademark and shape in the hands of another talented russian guitarist — Elena Seagalova (Seagall).

This is how I met Siggi Braun custom made guitars. Obviously, when I saw Siggi Braun on Frankfurt Musikmesse, I was glad to have a chance to ask him some more information about his products.

It all goes back to 1990, when Siggi Braun started in his father’s basement workshop. His dream was to create his own ultimate electric guitar! Unsatisfied with the instruments of the established brand manufacturers, Siggi is constantly changing a lot. Siggi Braun perfected his ideas until in September 1993 he finally set up his company Siggi Braun — Fine Young Guitars.
In a world of mass production, having the European luthiers that are making the difference in the guitar world is the real treasure! So this is the story about passion that led to success, innovations and the great instruments!

I’m very happy to meet you, because I’ve heard a lot about you and was lucky to see some of your guitars in action. Tell me a few words about how things are going at Siggi Braun Fine Young guitars?
This year we have 20th anniversary and I am very happy about that. It is history now! I mean, when I look back from the days I’ve started building guitars till now, I have done so many steps. So did the guitars! When I started my aim was to improve the instrument! You know, I am a Swabian (Swabia is a cultural, historic and linguistic region in southwestern Germany. Swabia was one of the ten Imperial Circles of the Holy Roman Empire, — K.M.). And in my country, we have a lot of famous companies like Mercedes Benz, Porsche, etc. So I can say that we, the Swabians, have innovations in our blood. When I saw the guitar, got acquainted with the instrument, I immediately started to think about many ways how I can improve it. I developed the special, distinctive design as well as a new neck-body joint system which has been the trademark of my instruments until the present day. It all started step by step from the little things.

What do you feel looking back to all those years?
When I look back now, my main thought is that I am proud! I am proud I built so many wonderful guitars. And I met so many talented and enthusiastic customers. I intend to celebrate the 20 years of my company with all my friends. I don’t only have customers, they become my friends and we are making the guitars better together.
Like the friendship we have with Victor Smolski. I know him for 15 years now. We have built so many different guitars together. We’ve learnt a lot from each other. I’m glad he is a very demanding customer. So we can reach new goals together.

Tell me about the first guitar you made and what was your impressions when you saw it ready?
Hahaha, I’m afraid I might disappoint you, because the first guitar that I’ve built, was the complete disaster. At first I wasn’t experienced at all, I just had an urge to try different ideas. But I couldn’t build with my hands the ideal of the guitar I had in mind. I was not raised as the luthier, I’m a technical engineer. I wasn’t able to buy a guitar 20+ years ago, and there was no Youtube video to watch and learn from it. I had no one to teach me to built the guitar, so I had to learn all the things myself. I am a workaholic and an autodidactic, that is how you call it. It was completely the matter of trial and error. So, I tried this wood in combination with that wood, this pickup in combination with that hardware. Then I always listened to the result very carefully. If I wasn’t completely satisfied with it, I tried another time and then another time, till I’m happy. It took me 3-5 years of experimentations, till I was satisfied with the results. So I guess, it was the 40th or the 50th guitar when I finally said — that is what I was looking for!

Then in 1995 was the first time I went to the MusikMesse Frankfurt. I had a very small booth with just the 3 guitars exhibited! I remember very well how I was standing there in my small booth and watching many people passing by. But some of them, they stopped and said — wow! It is something really special! At that time I got my first feedback from many-many people and it was very positive. And I sold all the 3 guitars! It was a great feeling for me! With all the great companies, like Gibson or Fender, nobody knew Siggi Braun at that time. But like this, with the small steps, I had money to build another guitar, and then another one, and it all started growing!

From a certain level aspiring guitarists start to search for something special. Everyone is trying to find his/her special guitar!
You are right! There are so many Holy Grails in the guitar world, Gibson ’59, Fender ’54, but after the years of my experiments, I understood one very important thing! There is no perfect guitar, if this guitar has not been made especially for you!
I have a funny story about that. In 1996 I first met Victor Smolski. He was a very young boy, about 20 years old, and he didn’t speak any German at that time. He visited my booth. He saw my guitars and in a very serious voice he said he wants to try one of them. I was blown away by his playing! He was already famous in Russia with the band called Inspector, but nobody knew him in Germany at that time. He played like hell and the people gathered around my booth to listen to his playing. Then, after he finished, he said: «Well, not too bad!»… Hahaha!

And so we went into business together and I suggested to build him a signature guitar. He had very special ideas of what he would like to have in his model. So I built it! Next year, when we met again at the Musikmesse, I gave him his new signature model. He was so impressed by it! He said it is very cool! And I understand that to hear that from a serious Russian guy is really a big compliment, hahaha! (joking and laughing)
At that Music Fair there was another guitar luthier around the corner, with fantastic Les Paul shape guitars. But this guy had also a great amplifier. Handmade, all tube! So I grabbed Victor and we went to try this amp. He played there, in another booth, and again a lot of people gathered to listen. He played so great! The guitar builder from that booth said: «What the hell, this guy is playing so good with my amp, but another company’s guitar at my booth!» So he grabbed his best model, gave it to Victor and said: «Please, try my guitar too!» Victor was not very happy with the idea, but he took the instrument. He was standing there, a talented young boy in front of lots of people and the guitar maker. He tried some chords on it and almost throw it away, saying it has no comparison with his signature model! Hahaha! But Victor and Les Paul — it doesn’t work! It was a very good guitar, but it was not made for Victor!

It was for me the magic moment to understand that there is a great future in the custom guitars. So I opened my custom shop. I started analyzing the demands of my customers. I made an enquiry with a lot of questions, because I have to find out what do they want and what is important for them. So I think it was a great moment for me personally and a turning point in my career, when I understood that the custom-made guitar is the Holy Grail.

But the custom shop is something special by default, so there are no plans to get bigger, right?
It is a hard choice. I did extended a bit in 2005. When ordering stuff by Internet became really popular, I had to get a bit bigger, because I have a waiting list for almost 2 years. That big, can you imagine! I had hundreds of orders and it was not possible for me to handle that alone. So in 2005, I found myself a business partner and we expanded. Now they say we are one of the biggest custom shops in Europe! We have 700 m2 and about 10 people working on custom guitar production
Do we plan to expand again in the future? Well, it depends. Actually, times are getting harder after 2008, that big bank crisis. So people became more careful with spending their money. As our guitars are very valuable and high price, so for us it is not easy. But we started to take orders from everywhere in the world, people are writing every day, telling their demands and ordering their own special instruments. That is good!
So I think for a serious custom shop it is not a great idea to become bigger, because the quality will go down. We can’t afford to be less client-oriented, we want to be special for our customers. So maybe 3-4 employees to handle the worldwide orders, but not more.

For the person who never saw your guitar, how can you describe what is special about it?
Well, it’s a tough question. It is impossible to describe it in 2 sentences. The main advantage is the neck construction, how is set into the body, the neck joint! I invented it in 1990. We call it Comfortable Neck Segment-System. It combines all advantages one could think of: extraordinary stability, ideal transmission of string vibration, superb playability up to the highest registers. Sonically, the bolt-on CNS-System provides a pronounced and fast attack, along with enhanced sustain and harmonics. We also mix the frets size. The frets are getting less and less wide from head to neck.
And we have some special woods, nobody else use! I tried all the woods in the past 20 years, listened to them, so now I know which wood I need for what sound demands of my customers. I receive wood from all over the world and I choose it all myself. I have private vendors, I have traders. I think I have up to 20 different suppliers of wood — from USA, Germany, Eastern Europe, like Serbia, also in Africa for mahogany. Some of them are retired now, but they still have the old wood in their storage, which is perfect! Well, this is the best treasured secret for a guitar builder — the sources of the wood!
Also the design is very special…

…and recognizable!
Yes! Our best advantage is that all the instruments are customizable. There are not many luthiers in Europe who could that.

So each one of your guitars is a signature model for the person who ordered it! Cool! Are there any new clients you plan to work with this year among famous musicians?
We have quite a lot of orders! We are going more into a 7- and 8-string guitars, because there is a growing market for this. We are preparing some new 8-string guitars! Besides, we are building up a sub-line now. It is the same as Squire to Fender or Epiphone to Gibson. We are starting a kind of economy line, because I have many people saying that they love my guitars, but they need something affordable for their budget. We made some research and found a way to launch a sub-line. So we plan to make guitars which would cost about 1/3 of the guitars of the main line. These won’t be custom guitars in their traditional meaning, but that would be the line we make keeping in mind the usual demands of our clients.

What would be the name of it?
I don’t know yet, it is still in progress. But I’m open for the name suggestions.

When the person is starting and he can’t clearly describe what he is looking for. What is your advice in choosing your own guitar?
The experience. You have to try and keep searching and listening. Most customers come to me when they are already not happy with the previous instruments they had. Their guitars were too heavy or the sound was too flat or anything. They are like me, 20 years ago, when I started and I was not satisfied at all with my first guitar. I understand their needs. They keep searching and they come to me! The real demands of the customer are the most important!

Text and photos by Katerina Mezhekova.
Musikmesse Frankfurt, March 14, 2014
Thanks to Elena Seagallova for arranging the interview.

Катерина Межекова

Катерина Межекова