5 Years of the Home of Tone!
It has been 5 years since I started James' Home of Tone, which feels amazing to say! Some of you reading may have been following since the beginning, whilst some of you may be totally new to what I do here so I thought the 5 year anniversary of beginning this venture would be as good a time as any to share a little about my story! A great deal has happened over the past 5 years, to say the least, so I'll try not to bore you with every detail! But I thought it would be healthy to touch on some of the things that helped shape the Home of Tone and moments that continue to mean a lot to me and this journey. Plus it's nice to be open about the story behind a business!
The original logo I crudely put together, it was inspired by some of those retro 'speedshop' type motorcycle workshops, not sure whether I captured that or not but this logo lasted about a year until I had some branding design work done by someone that is far better at it than I!
In August of 2015, I decided to set the wheels in motion for my early plans for James' Home of Tone. I'm not sure of the exact date but I know I registered for the home of tone domain name in August, so consider it the birth month at least. It was already an incredibly exciting time in our life personally, as Emma & myself were getting married the following month. So who knows, maybe I was just plain crazy to get the ball rolling on my business venture around the same time as this already whirlwind time, or maybe I was just spurred on by how inspiring that time in life can be, either way I couldn't simply think about doing it any longer and had to get stuck in. I knew it had to be the long game, patience was key for me, something I very much still have to harness 5 years on, fueled by my passion for wanting this to work and my love of guitar. I didn't have any start-up cash or plan on obtaining loans to get it off the ground, I was happy to start small though, very small for that matter, find my feet and find an aspect of the guitar market that suited me and my interests as well as representing my morals.
A photo Emma took of my for the website in 2016 I think with my old CS Strat which I have since sold.
The first stock order I placed was for a handful of Orange Drop capacitors, then some pots and other assorted components. Super basic stuff at this stage to say the least! This was as much as could afford each month with spare money from my full time job at the time after all the bills were paid (which certainly mounted up with the wedding too!). I was lucky, my work were incredibly supportive of me, and for that I'm forever grateful to them. They too had started their business from the ground up and remain a big inspiration to me, I was lucky to have worked there and gained an awful lot more respect for small business owners in the process. I owe a lot to them. It was really exciting, I was inspired by partscaster builds and the associated community around that time, I loved the idea of people creating guitars step by step to their dream specs that weren't perhaps available as production guitars, not without being high end custom shop pricing of course. I have enjoyed modifying and working on guitars the majority of my life, and had enjoyed the process of putting a partscaster together in 2015 which made me aware of the community aspect of it.
The partscaster I put together in 2015 that inspired many aspects of what I still represent today.
Although the long term goal was to run a broader guitar shop experience, it very much began early on with an emphasis on parts. Running a small, online business has many restrictions, one of which is what you can and can't stock. Some distributors or major brands have purchase minimums or limitations to only sell to brick and mortar retailers which I continue to have to be respectful of even in my current position. But it didn't deter me in pursuing the idea of establishing a website. Speaking of which, I built an incredibly basic website, using a simple eCommerce package that I could afford at the time. I'll hold my hands up and say coding was and still isn't my strong point, but I did what I could to get things started and have learnt on the job ever since, as with most aspects of running a business!
I realised that this early on, despite first impressions being vital, I am unlikely to have many visitors to the website with minimal stock range and zero brand awareness being so new! So I concentrated on the likes of eBay for my sales, financially not a great option by any means due to the high fees and low margins I had to work with. But nonetheless, it got me out of the gates and sending a few parcels here & there out to customers which gave me the chance to hopefully make an good impression on them with my service and presentation as well as get the Home of Tone name out there a little. I relied on eBay almost exclusively for orders for around a year, getting a feel for what items customers liked in particular, all whilst looking for brands to represent and stock that would help me stand out from the crowd a little. My workplace helped a great deal with storing some stock in a spare area of the warehouse for some time, and the parts I needed access to at my office at home more regularly I transferred to and from the boot of my car every single day! It really makes me laugh looking back on it, but I did what I had to do in my circumstances. Wouldn't change the time for the world though, it's taught me a lot that's for sure.
The McNelly Pickups logo I put in a frame in my old office at home, a super cramped room which I worked out of for 2 years.
I already had a keen interest in more unique brands but to be honest, I hadn't even heard of the whole 'boutique' market by that point. If I had, I didn't realise it was named as such anyway, I was pretty naive to all that kind of thing really. I simply admired these smaller brands, makers and luthiers doing their thing which more often than not, was away from the traditional curve of the market. It was inspiring to me, and I was drawn to the idea of stocking and representing those brands early on. The very first of which I approached was my good friend Ian of Diamond Bottlenecks. I had known Ian for a number of years due to being a customer of his and have bought many slides from him over time. He kindly took me on board and I began stocking his slides which remain a staple in my range 5 years on. He was and continues to be support of my venture and certainly helped me gain confidence in my approach which I appreciate a great deal. Gaining my first quality, handmade brand helped give me the confidence to approach more brands, most of which were overseas too and probably the most notable at this time was Tim at McNelly Pickups. I was honest of my situation and humble beginnings and as with Ian, Tim supported me and helped me begin offering and stocking his pickups which again, I continue to do to this day! Tim's support was vital to my business and it felt great to see a quality, overseas brand on my website and under my banner. It honestly felt like a pivotal moment for me and this felt like a natural direction, one where my personal interests lay too which helps keep me inspired with the guitar in general.
The original Home of Tone logo on a banner at my first guitar show in 2016.
I was very much finding my feet throughout the rest of 2015, spending any spare bits of my monthly wage on stock and looking for cool brands to work with in the future. Stepping into 2016, The Guitar Show exhibition held in Birmingham was approaching. I had visited this show as a customer a few times and enjoyed the atmosphere, so I had the rather innocent idea that I'd try and get a stand of my own! I had to sell some of my own stuff to be able to pay for this stand, and I knew I didn't have a huge range of stock to offer or a recognisable brand to the visitors, but I knew it would teach me a lot about the industry as well as customers too. So I absolutely badgered Jason, the organiser of the show, for a stand for a good while, unluckily for him! I can imagine he must have cursed my name a few times early on (sorry bud!) but he kindly managed to fit me into the show which I was both incredibly excited about and hugely anxious about in equal measure! This was a huge turning point for me and the approach I wanted to take with the business. Although I didn't sell much stock at all at the show, I tried not to be too upset about that as I mainly used the opportunity to simply enjoy speaking to visitors in person. No one would have realistically heard of me at all by this point, even if they had it would have been a faceless eBay or website transaction, so I was desperate to get out and speak to people. Just to get a feel for what kind of things people like to see from a shop, see if my gut feelings towards working with more unique brands and products was the right thing to do aside from just my enjoyment of doing so. Luckily it seemed it was and the weekend was such an important moment for me, an expensive investment, of course, but a worthwhile one nonetheless. I still aim to attend this show each year, for the same reasons as I attended my first show there. As a predominantly online business, I still feel getting out to the shows is vital for me to catch up with friends and customers and ensure I'm on the right path. I genuinely thank Jason at The Guitar Show for giving me that start. I was rather innocently out of my depth at my first show but he gave me the chance for sure and still look back on it today to learn from it. A huge thank you also to my parents for being at the show with me (something they always continue to offer to do even now), it was great to have their moral support that weekend.
After the show, I continued to keep a look out for brands that inspired me and reach out to them when I saved up some money from my full time job to invest in what they do. I won't lie, I get pretty addicted to this even to this day and trying to find quality and unique brands I want to stock is borderline obsessive! Sometimes that's a good thing, but other times I definitely got ahead of myself which caused set backs in the long run as I spread what little I had, way too thinly. This is one of many, many lessons in doing this and reminded me I needed to be patient. I came to represent a number of fantastic brands, granted, some of which unfortunately didn't work out, which again taught me some invaluable lessons both in life as well as the business really. I only ever take on a new range or brand now when I'm at a point where I feel I can comfortably invest and carry good stock of my other lines first. I hate the idea of letting a brand down simply because I have spread myself too thinly, and learnt that lesson a number of times in trying to jump the gun. An important lesson for me, but some of the brands I still work with to this day which is wonderful to me and a testament to their support in me. I wouldn't change any of that for the world though, the more difficult moments and decisions are as, if not more important as the good moments. I'm naturally a very self critical person and take everything to heart, but I'm slowly coming to realise that shouldn't necessarily be a bad thing if I can harness it into the strive to improve rather than be complacent, or worse, give up!
After the birth of our son Miles in 2016, the effort being put into my business and my lengthy commute to my full time job at the time, something had to give and I made the decision to go self employed at the end of that year. It was a scary decision that was the result of many sleepless nights, but I had lined up some other self employed work which allowed me to have more flexibility and a little more security which I needed with the Home of Tone not yet earning me a steady wage. I continue to juggle these self employed jobs the best I can, meaning most of my time working on the Home of Tone has been long evenings, but I respect that I must put my all into it. More than happy to put the hours in that's for sure!
Another lifeline for me was the incredible support for the folks at Guitar Magazine/Guitar.com (formally Guitar & Bass Magazine). As with my approach towards new brands and stock, I just threw myself into speaking with magazines, what could I loose I figured?! And from the get go, Guitar Magazine were so support and enthusiastic about the brands & products I presented them with. Reviewing and featuring McNelly Pickups early on, as well as any cool guitars or pedals I began stocking. Seeing my name on those pages was such a thrill, I'm so grateful for their support and honest coverage of the products I'm so passionate about.
I've come to stock and represent a number of guitar companies over the years too. If you've followed me for a while, you may of noticed that I don't perhaps represent as many today as I did a couple of years. Although a tough decision, that has been a conscious one to be truthful, as at my stage in the business it wasn't always viable but I do strongly feel it helped establish the Home of Tone as a place for unique guitar gear and was an amazing experience. The custom guitar market is incredibly tough, and I always aimed to do it with integrity as well as enjoying the process with the customers too. I've met and gotten to know a great deal of people who kindly entrusted me to help obtain a custom instrument and it meant a lot to me. As much as I loved it, I had to accept that it sadly wasn't the healthiest way for my business to grow in those early stages.
I do indeed plan on representing and stocking more guitars in the future again though, so if you miss seeing lots of different boutique guitar brands here then fear not, it'll certainly happen again someday. I learnt a great deal, what to look for from handmade instruments, specs and designs etc. I also visited the incredible Holy Grail Guitar Show in 2018 which was one of the best experiences during my time running the Home of Tone and I took a lot away from the time there for when I re-address stocking more handmade instruments. For now though, I offer instruments from a couple of great luthiers whilst I predominantly concentrate on what I set out to do in those early days. Being a reliable source for quality parts & accessories as well as continuing to grow my own range of pre-wired harnesses which have been a staple for me since 2015 too. This shift has proved vital to me having a fighting chance at getting the business off the ground, so thank you for supporting that and sticking with me whilst I find my feet.
Working on some harnesses back in 2017 I would imagine judging by some of the components I was using here and being in my current office. I think this was with the first batch of my own CNC'd mounting boards I ordered, as prior to this I was cutting and drilling all of the mounting boards by hand which was messy and time consuming to say the least!
I was first asked to do a few pre-wired harnesses by customers who had bought McNelly Pickups from me too. These were initially just one-offs, but I began making more on request and really enjoyed the process. When I was younger I remember having to take guitars to a tech to have pots or pickups changed and something inside of me, even at a younger age, felt that wasn't right for me. I longed to do that myself and for some reason, guitar wiring interested me a great deal. It took a long time to find my feet with my harnesses, finding components I could rely on and experimenting with great sounding and functional schematics. I bought resource books and studied them, I experimented on my own guitars as well as simply just pulling out the wiring from my guitars at the time to see what values and types of parts they had. It was very much a hands on learning process.
Personally, I've not been a fan of crazy switching or push/pulls etc throughout my time playing guitar, so I have intentionally kept things relatively traditional in that regard and have instead spent the time refining my own work and offering a solid range of harnesses that help bring out the best in a customers guitar. This range has become a real backbone to the Home of Tone and I'm so proud of those harnesses. I've learnt a great deal and continue to be flattered by those that opt for one of my harnesses when there is so much choice in the market these days.
There is so much more I could talk about from the past 5 years. As it rightly should be, it has been a lot of work, genuine tears and determination to reach this point and I've got a long way to go yet to making this a viable business to help support my family alongside my incredibly hard working wife. A heartfelt thank you to each of you for either just checking out the blog or my social media stuff, to placing an order no matter how great or small. Even the sometimes hard to digest feedback and set backs I have been grateful for as well as the truly humbling responses through nice e-mails or reviews left. It all means a lot and is as much of the journey as the first tiny stock order for Orange Drop capacitors I placed back in 2015! I have to remind myself of that when I feel down on where I currently am as it's been a fair journey since then! It will be interesting to see where I'm at when the next 5 years rolls along, I hope you can continue to join me on the journey as I've loved sharing it with you to this point.
Although a lengthy blog post, (apologies for that and impressive you made it this far without getting too bored I hope!) I feel I've barely touched the surface but I hope it has helped share some of the experiences and important moments to me and the Home of Tone. Thank you for your kind support over the past 5 years. The business has given me so much purpose in life, so much to work for and I hope it inspires our son Miles to work hard for something he loves too, whatever it may be.
Thanks for reading!