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Chart hit: TYM guitars hits the right business notes

Smarter Staff
Smarter Writer

This article has been written by the Smarter Business™ Staff Writers

Smarter Staff
Smarter Writer

This article has been written by the Smarter Business™ Staff Writers

TYM Guitars may not fit a mainstream business model, but it’s a resonating force at the heart and soul of a passionate Australian music scene.

Tim Brennan is on a roll – literally, with his own line of skateboards helping his daily commute to Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley, where he runs a 200 square metre focal point for all things rock.

Though the brains behind TYM Guitars proudly declares, “I’ve never had a business plan,” he’s clearly doing something right – and that something is working straight from the heart.

man sat in music store with records and speakers around him

What started as a matter of personal necessity – with the self-taught guitar-maker fashioning his own six-string prototype because he couldn’t find one like his heroes in punk rock pioneers The Ramones played – has now grown to the point where he’s one of the most respected people in the local music industry. 

Powderfinger, Grinspoon, Troy Cassar-Daley and Regurgitator are just a sample of the acclaimed bands – both local and international – that have called on Tim’s services. And that list grows every week.

Keeping it real

But custom-made instruments, effects and skateboards are only the start of TYM Guitars. The one-man brand (with dedicated staff) also stocks a wide range of vinyl albums, produces merchandise, hires out vintage equipment, runs a record label and a subscription-only seven-inch singles club, rents out rehearsal spaces for bands and puts on all-ages in-store appearances by bands both big and burgeoning. 

Sometimes he even gets to relax by checking out bands for fun – but not often.

 “A business should be organic – if you’re good at something, then people will want what you’re doing,” Tim insists. “I just wanted a place to let bands hang out and meet each other. Kids these days think seeing bands live is seeing them on YouTube. Until you get that kick drum in your chest and your ears are ringing, you haven’t seen a band.

Tim’s views on business – firmly aligned in a classic punk rock aesthetic -– go against the grain for many, but they strike a very loud and overdriven chord with the appropriate market.

“I’ve had offers from people all over the world wanting to set up a TYM Guitars in different cities,” he says. “I’m just like, ‘If you want this, come here and enjoy it. If you want to set up something similar up in a different city, just do it yourself.’

“I’m sure it sounds weird from an outsider’s perspective, but I don’t think the primary function of a business is to make money. A lot of people can’t get their head around that statement, but for me, the only reason for a business to exist is to provide a service or a product to someone who wants it. It’s not there to make money.”

The realist inside

Of course, that isn’t to say Tim doesn’t understand the logic behind a capitalist market – he just doesn’t embrace it as wholeheartedly as others in the scene.

“Brisbane is one of the highest-cost rental markets in the whole country,” he sighs. “Our rent on the space is hideous. That’s my biggest stumbling block – for that size shop in such an inner-city location. It’s over 200 square metres –- which I was never going to fill just with guitars.”

And that’s what motivated his expansion into side ventures. Tim may have spent eight years stacking shelves at a retail chain and making guitars in his spare time to get things off and running, but with all the pies he’s got his fingers into now, he’s one of the busiest blokes in the industry. He sees his rehearsal spaces, tucked away at the back of his retail space, as a place for bands to develop the future of local music, and he admits the all-ages in-store shows he regularly stages there actually cost him money. But he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Most interesting is Tim’s devotion to vinyl. While it might seem counter-intuitive to concentrate on a seemingly antiquated form of delivery in an age of downloads – especially when the majority of news from the business side of the music industry is all doom and gloom – Tim is carving out a comfortable niche.

“Vinyl is the only form of retail music on the increase,” he says, in light of reports that sales in old-school albums went up 77 per cent in 2013. 

“It’s still only 1.3 per cent of the market, but I’m only interested in that 1.3 per cent. Last year, downloads dropped for the first time. And CDs have gone the way of Beta. Within three years, they won’t be produced any more.”

Indeed, it’s that grassroots approach that has stamped Tim as a brand those in the know can trust.

“I’m certainly not a businessman. I despise the business side of it,” he jokes. “This was a hobby for me. I wanted to make guitars - and all of this has come out of that, which is pretty bizarre.

The craft of guitar-making

Making this trip all the more crazy is the fact Tim – one of Australia’s most coveted guitar makers – doesn’t even class himself as a luthier, placing the trade of guitar-making above what he made his name doing.

While it’s a respected skill taught at schools around the world, Tim landed in the trade in the same manner as everything else he does – boots and all.

“When I started making guitars, it was like some mythical art,” he jokes. “But I look at the solid-body guitar as the dumbest version of a brilliant instrument. To me, this is the way stuff is supposed to be made – to last. We’ve lost the value of things made by hand, made properly. I like to use all-Australian timbers. I want my instruments to last and be appreciated.”

It’s fair to say appreciation is at the core of Tim’s business. “I just wanted a shop like I wanted to go to as a kid,” he jokes. “I wanted to walk in and say, ‘Holy shit!’

“I look at it as somewhere people can come and appreciate music in different forms – whether it’s secondhand guitars or effects or vinyl records.

“Touring bands stop in at the shop, and we put that on Facebook and a heap of kids come down to meet them. Where else do you get that?

“As long as I can cover costs, I see it as a successful business. I get up every day and I’m still stunned at what I get to do. I’ve got the best job in the world. I work with my heroes, and I meet people every day that I consider to be future heroes.”

Pedal to the metal

Tim wouldn’t be where he is if he wasn’t such a music fan. The most obvious example of this is the global demand for his Fuzz Munchkin effects pedal – a device he created to mimic one of his musical heroes, Dinosaur Jr lead man J Mascis.

With the stomp box on many guitarists’ wish list around the globe, they retail for $280 – though eBay sales regularly top $1000.

“Working with people like J Mascis and Swervedriver and Mudhoney, the list of people I personally know and do stuff for just blows my mind,” the local hero says. “But it wouldn’t have worked if I just woke up one day and said, ‘I’m going to do this and it’s going to be successful.’

“It’s all just come together. You have to come from where you are and do the best with what you’ve got.”

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