Bill Lawrence Guitar's 1997 interiew

Success Comes With Strings Attached Bill Lawrence Has Been A Guitarist And An Innovator. Now, He's Making Guitars.

Posted: August 04, 1997

COOPERSBURG, Pa. — The electric guitar made a clumsy twang when Bill Lawrence let it fall to the ground. He then gave it the ultimate test. He placed one cowboy boot, and then the other, on the neck, letting the neck support all of his weight.

``If you can't stand on a neck, it's a piece of garbage,'' Lawrence said.
While there's much more to a good electric guitar than a strong neck, Lawrence uses this exercise as an example of the attention to detail he puts into his Wilde USA guitars. Depending on the design, most guitar necks would have snapped under Lawrence's weight. ``The wood cut makes it strong,'' he said.
Lawrence, founder of William Lawrence Design Corp. in Coopersburg, Lehigh County, has worked in the guitar industry for more than 50 years. After establishing a strong reputation as a designer and manufacturer of electric guitar and bass pickups, the electric magnets that transmit the sound of the string to the amplifier, Lawrence has launched a line of electric guitars and basses.
Four years ago, Lawrence brought his company from Nashville to the Lehigh Valley, to be able to work with a few friends located there and take advantage of the area's large number of tool and die manufacturers. ``This area has more advanced technology than the South,'' he said.
This spring, Lawrence debuted his Wilde USA guitars, which retail for about $1,600, at a music-industry trade show in Anaheim, Calif. He then took his guitars to another trade show last month in Nashville. So far, the company has made 200 guitars. It sold 21 at the Nashville trade show and has sold 15 through a pair of musical-instrument retailers in the Midwest.

These guitars are not the first ones with Lawrence's name on them. In the 1950s in his native Germany, Lawrence (born Willi Lorenz Stich) was a well-known jazz guitarist, playing under the stage name Billy Lorento. Framus, the German guitar manufacturer, named a guitar and set of strings after Billy Lorento. For much of the 1950s and 1960s, Lawrence worked with Framus, designing pickups and other guitar components. In 1965, the guitarist started his own pickup company under the new name Bill Lawrence.

Over the years, Lawrence, considered an innovator in pickup design, has secured several patents and published technical papers on electric-guitar components. ``His best pickups have high fidelity and natural reproduction,'' Andy Ellis, an editor at Guitar Player magazine, said.
Equally passionate about music and science, Lawrence talks about his work like a frenzied scientist, making frequent references to Albert Einstein, 16th-century violin makers, the Bosnian maple trade, and jazz guitarists.

Lawrence left school at the age of 14 and taught himself the science of sound and electric instruments. ``I'm a rationalizer,'' he said of his empirical approach to research and manufacturing.
He came to the United States in the late 1960s to work as a jazz musician in New York clubs. From there, Lawrence moved to Nashville, where he had on-and-off relationships with Gibson and Framus. In the 1970s, he helped Gibson redesign the SG, one of its most popular guitars.
Meanwhile, he continued to design and make his own pickups, and eventually licensed Bill Lawrence pickups to a Korean manufacturer. Lawrence Design moved into the Coopersburg shop in February to begin making guitars.

In June, Pennsylvania's Ben Franklin Partnership gave Lawrence a $50,000 grant to manufacture guitars. The state program gave him $150,000 three years ago to develop a new line of pickups.
When it comes to guitar-making, Lawrence's philosophy is closer to that of a European artisan than that of a factory owner. He says his eight workers are well-paid to make high-quality products, as in Germany. Low-paid workers have little incentive to do a good job. ``Number one, they have to have enthusiasm. You don't want any negative [employees],'' Lawrence said. ``We have to have production without any errors.''

It takes between 22 and 48 hours of labor to make an electric guitar. Much of the production, such as cutting the alder wood for the body and West Coast maple for the top, is automated, but there is still plenty of work to do by hand. Guitar-makers paint, buff and assemble the guitars by hand. ``We're using lacquer, like 200 years ago,'' Lawrence said.

The company, unlike many businesses, has little hierarchy. ``Nobody has a title, and nobody has a boss. The boss is the product,'' Lawrence said.

However, this sort of philosophy, and the music business in general, doesn't sit well with venture capitalists, who are looking for quick returns on their money. Until now, Lawrence has personally funded the guitar venture and has yet to draw a salary. The company has one possible investor, and Lawrence is looking for more. ``I'm looking for investors that understand guitars and understand music.''

If he finds enough funding, Lawrence plans to build a large factory in the Lehigh Valley, But really, Lawrence's goal is simple. He says he wants to ``build good guitars to give musicians a tool to make music.''

FOR MORE INFORMATION * Contact William Lawrence Design Corp., 217 S. Third Street, Route 309, Coopersburg, Pa. 18036. Phone: 610-282-3861. Web site:

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