Welcome to Feline Guitars
I’m Jonathan and I created and run the company.
It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and represents the achievement of a long-held dream.
I’ve been building and repairing guitars since 1986. I’ve worked for a number of high profile guitar companies, learning and improving on my techniques and skills from other craftsmen. But I always wanted to establish my own company, and Feline Guitars was born in 1997 to make guitars to my very exacting standards.
I’m a huge music fan, diverse in tastes from classical to punk, but rock has always been my solid staple. I still get out to see as many live bands as time allows and my appreciation of the best guitar tones serves me well with the guitars I work on.
I’m also a keen photographer – the pictures you see on the site are done by me on the premises, and I have also started doing a lot of photo shoots for bands which have started to be used on album sleeves too.
When I decided to step out and do my own thing so to speak, I had a few ideas of what I would like my business to do I had been lucky enough to work for some people who had a lot of things right in certain business areas but saw room for improvement in others
I received a lot of great training and guidance from a few of the leading names in the guitar repair world, and soaked up as much information as I could lay my hands on – one boss once amusingly claimed that I poured over guitar catalogues with the same zeal that other young men reserve for top shelf magazines (if you catch my drift). I just loved working with guitars and have never really wanted to do anything else By the time I went full time, I had also worked outside of the music industry for a number of years - within a customer service based environment both in the electrical engineering industry and the energy supply industry.
In the Electrical engineering world I had worked for a major electrical motor manufacturer dealing with complex technical specs for major contracts all round the world, liaising with buyers and technical directors for major companies, as well as dealing directly with the UK based factories where the motors were manufactured .
For the Energy supply company I was dealing directly with customers and consumers in the slightly tricky and troublesome area of electronic pre-payment meters, which tend to have the problem of going wrong or not being understood.
I think having patience, good humour and the ability to investigate problems & explain things in at least twenty different ways was something that came out of that period. Certainly a crash course in human nature was gained in this job. Much of that day to day customer focused approach seemed to be missing in some areas of much of the music retail sector that I had seen as a customer, even though technical expertise may have been there in abundance.
I had hoped to blend the two and bring something special as a result, since I felt that I had the technical know how, the broad product knowledge and the right approach to customers.
First Workshop Facility
So in the late spring of 1997 I finally did the sensible thing and went full time with the guitar thing . My first workshops were in the basement of the old Bell Music shop in Surbiton, no longer called Bell Music but The Music Store.
Bell Music had been famous for its mail order catalogue which was something of an industry staple during the 1950s-1980s (see right for typical catalogue cover).
In it’s heyday the store in Surbiton had covered several shops on both sides of the road and had a clientele that seems incredible today serving big names of the day who bought stuff from them – the likes of Clapton, Beck and The Rolling Stones.
Sadly the remaining shop was in it’s swan song and was destined to close and be sold off to property developers, but it gave me a chance to get established.
Second workshop – closer to home
We then moved closer to home in Croydon – to a workshop behind a small music shop called Martin Phelps Music.
This was a store that we had been doing repair work for over the previous couple of years, and offered a guiding hand and advice to in a transition from being primarily a keyboard and electric organ shop to being a guitar based shop that also stocked a range of digital pianos and electronic keyboards. They were kind enough to let us take over a lock up workshop facility behind the store and build a good local reputation.
We did a lot to make that lockup feel more like home and home it was for another 3-4 years.
It was a pretty symbiotic relationship that worked well for both sides, as having a guitar repair facility on-site was just what they needed to bring in extra customers – especially as they were also busy with a guitar & keyboard tuition school as well.
The fact that we advertised, exhibited at guitar shows and got some guitar magazine attention can’t have hurt either.
And for us it was a great opportunity – as we would be introduced to customers visiting the shop, students learning with tutors at the store, and local players calling into the shop seeking out possible guitar repairs and upgrades.
I have to confess that we also benefited greatly from our friends at Scream Studios who have a rehearsal room complex (and recording facility) just down the street that allows up to 15 bands to rehearse at any one time. See www.screamstudios.net for more info.
In time though it became necessary to spread our wings and find new larger premises...
In some ways we were all victims of our own success. The shop had added several more teaching rooms, meaning that the extra stock of guitars & keyboards had to be stored even more tightly, and there was more stock to be stored anyway as the shop was doing more and more business and had to keep extra stuff in stock just to keep up with demand.
As for us – we just kept growing!
Never content with just doing repairs and upgrades, I had stuck with my true love with my range of custom built guitars. As the word spread about our guitars, we just kept taking more orders for them and making more stock for exhibitions and for demo purposes. In the end there was just no room to move in the workshop and a move to a bigger workshop became essential. So in 2002 we moved again - this time we only moved a hundred yards.
I had been very keen not to lose my local clientele, and was lucky to find somewhere pretty much ‘just across the road’ – less than a minute’s walk from our previous workshop. Finally we had somewhere that did feel like a home and had room to stretch out to do our stuff the way we wanted to.
What a busy time it’s been since then
We have exhibited at a large number of guitar shows, had magazine reviews and a lot of coverage on social media. We launched our own brand of guitar strings and continued to extend our branding with the help of cult artist Vince Ray. Not forgetting the countless guitars we have built and done an untold number repairs and set-ups
One factor that I have wished for over the last few years is that they would manage to perfect human cloning – so that I could make half a dozen clones of myself to help with the workload.
I have tried to stay close to the ideals that I set out with and the biggest frustration is not having enough hours in one day or not enough of me to get all of what I would like to get done achieved.
So finding good people to work either for you or with you is paramount to meeting this need. I have been lucky in that capacity to have had some very good helpers long the way - many having trained at Merton college - another college that turns out guitar makers and it remains my pleasure in giving back to the college communities that gave me my start in offering selected talented & gifted others the same chance that I had when I started.
Maintaining quality in an ever changing world
The musical instrument industry is changing a lot lately.
Just like so many other industries – manufacturing has drifted to far eastern countries such as China, to drive down manufacturing costs. Sadly what is often lost is quality and this is something that many players have grown frustrated with.
An interesting side effect is that specialist companies like Feline Guitars have gotten busier as players who want quality goods more than they care about cheapness seek out companies who offer quality without compromise. This has meant that we seem to be busier than ever.
One thing that we are having to do is to look carefully at the quality of all the parts that are available to us on the market, as like the guitars themselves- many of these parts have been cheapened and moved to cheaper production plants.
I am committed to high quality parts and will continue to seek sources of these out as it is what my customers really want. Our longstanding and more recent involvement with companies like Bare Knuckle Pickups, Oil City Masterwound, EMG, B-Band, Earvana, Tonepros, Floyd Rose Tremolos, Graphtech, Sperzel, Hipshot, Gotoh, Schaller etc will continue and strengthen.
I wish to increase the portfolio of top quality parts that we deal with as well as keeping the quality of our own custom made product high and improving in any areas that we can.