Nathan Richardson

Trust the work and yourself, be vulnerable, and commit.


Nathan E. Richardson is a Luthier, guitar designer, and technician currently working to share his understanding of the guitar with all guitar enthusiasts. His career began at Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, Massachusetts, and since then he has served countless musicians and shops throughout New England. His recent work focuses on improving soundboards, bodies, bridges, filtering circuits, and using new materials. Nathan holds certifications in NHLA Hardwood Lumber Grading (short course), Dampp-Chaser Humidity Control Systems, and Lean and Lean Six-Sigma.

Where did the idea for your book come from?

In 2016 I was preparing to deliver a presentation to a local guitar society that addressed how luthiers (guitar makers and service providers) must “learn to speak guitarist” due to the difference between histories, perceptions, and expectations between guitar makers and guitar players. That process led me to realize the lagging information exchanges between these groups. It also became clear that I could compile the talks I gave in 2014 and 2015, and my field experience into a useful volume. This grew into Learning to Speak Guitar. It’s the book I wanted to read when I was learning to play, repair, and build, and now it serves as a compass for how things move forward.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

My book was just published in March, so I spend much of my time networking, marketing, and generally building a following through outlets such as HARO, email campaigns, and social media. Beyond that, I often prepare strategy work for the future. These things mean my day has many creative tasks like designing and editing graphics, or working on products and services, as well as more logistic things such as content planning and scheduling for social and email campaigns.

How do you bring ideas to life?

When it comes to my work, I believe there are no bad ideas—only untested ones. I’m a supporter of a highly iterative process, one when there are lots of rough sketches, models, prototypes, and brainstorming sessions. From there I like a minimum viable product for proof of concept.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m pleased to see an increased use of alternative materials within the guitar industry. This trend is helping to create more assumed choice in the instrument market. More broadly, smartphone capabilities (especially AR and on-demand delivery services) are very exciting. These advances have primed many markets for dramatic change.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Most days I prefer an early start that includes making to-do lists of items with daily or weekly deadlines. Doing this helps me to see the large and small aspects of my work, prioritize my day, and finish simple tasks early.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Trust the work and yourself, be vulnerable, and commit.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

When looking at the instrument market as a whole it is clear to see every guitar for sale is essentially the same. Also, and applicable to many other industries, when building, repairing, or using any product information is the most important factor. Every company today is an information company.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I am always open to learning, listening, and watching for changes. We must continue to learn and to listen to others, and to the market. If we stop learning then we stop growing, and without growth there isn’t much of a future.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Recently I have learned the difference between marketing to individual potential customers and marketing to influencers and other media sources. Doing this has expanded my reach, and better supports my goal of fostering positive and sustainable change within the guitar industry by building a better community with effective and empathetic dialogue.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early on I assumed that by simply being available I would have a viable business. This sort of “Field of Dreams” approach didn’t work, and I found myself wondering why I had very few (or no) customers. To overcome this I’ve had to get comfortable with (and good at) telling people not only about my business but why it matters.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Subscription-based and on-demand services are increasingly popular. If you can find a way to get products and/or services to customers (of anything from guitar strings to cooking spices or office supplies) on their terms, that is an idea worth exploring. On a lighter note, because of their size and current foodie trends, an English muffin pizza business (as humorous as it sounds) could work in the right market.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

The ISBN for my book was $100 well-spent. Now not only I am the author, but the publisher as well. Owning my ISBN gives me the freedom to publish as I see, without being permanently tied to a single platform or other third-party.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

I’d have to say Mailchimp is number one for me. It has made sending and analyzing email marketing campaigns simple and efficient. I especially enjoy being able to resend campaigns to unopened subscribers right from my phone. I’m also a fan of Adobe’s mobile photo apps and Typeform. Both tools help make little things easier and enable me to look at the big picture.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

“Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future” by Peter Thiel. I recommend this book for its unique and challenging views on business. The ideas Thiel offers around horizontal versus vertical growth, markets, and hidden truths are simply fascinating. It’s also just an enjoyable read.

What is your favorite quote?

It’s a tie between these two quotes.
“It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.” —Herman Melville
“All great achievements require time.” —Maya Angelo

Key Learnings:

  • There are no bad ideas, only untested ones.
  • Daily, granular to-do lists can ease stress, increase productivity, and simplify tasks enabling people (or teams) to address bigger questions from a more lucid place.
  • Keep learning, listening, and remain open to change. We must adapt. This recipe insures customer satisfaction and maintains the potential for growth.
  • Look for existing solutions using platforms such as Mailchimp, Adobe mobile apps, or Typeform to ease and improve public relations work.
  • The views in Zero to One—though apparently unconventional—are paramount to major change.


Instagram @learningtospeakguitar