A veteran Israeli guitarist is producing an instrument that is proudly joining the Fenders and Gibsons in music stores worldwide.
Celebrated veteran Israeli guitarist Shmuel Budagov is on the way to realizing his dream that music stores worldwide will one day stock Fender, Gibson and Budagov guitars. His line of ‘designed in Israel’ electric and acoustic guitars is already in demand in Israel and is making its way to Europe and the US.
Over the past five years, working out of his flagship Budagov Music Store in south Tel Aviv that doubles as a technical lab, and a nearby factory, Budagov (55) has quietly and effectively positioned his electric and acoustic guitars against the big boys, by making quality guitars and selling them less expensively. Thousands of guitarists around the country are now opting for the Budagov as their guitar of choice.
The trend could soon spread everywhere, Budagov suggests to ISRAEL21c, from his second-floor office above the bustling Tel Aviv store. Interspersed among some of his favorite guitars that adorn the office wall are framed vintage posters of fabled Israeli bands he’s played with, which include the likes of Sheshet and Brosh. These are joined by covers of some of the nearly 1,000 albums that Budagov has played on or produced for artists ranging from Arik Einstein to Hayehudim.
From playing guitars to making them
“All the years I was playing, I was never interested in flashy, name brand guitars. A lot of the guitars on the wall here don’t have famous brand names, it’s all nonsense,” Budagov asserts, waving his arm around the room.
“All my life, I searched for the perfect guitar sound, a good guitar that cradles in my arm comfortably. I had a beautiful, riveting journey with playing music – but at around age 50, I flicked the switch and began realizing my dream of building my own guitars.”
As soon as he made the decision to move from making music to making guitars, Budagov started learning all he could about guitar building, which included traveling to the US and Taiwan to visit guitar factories. The first Budagov guitar, that appeared more than three years ago, was a classic acoustic guitar, but he soon branched out into electric guitars for all tastes and pocketbooks.
“It’s my taste – I brought elements to my guitars of what I like as a musician,” says Budagov, trying to explain the difference between his guitars and others.
Today, with the Tel Aviv shop, another nearby in Ra’anana, and smaller branches in two music schools in Modi’in (midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv) and Tel Aviv, Budagov’s tinkering has led to thousands of satisfied customers, including some high-profile guitarists. Benua Nehaissy, axe man for popular rockers Synergia, has been using a Budagov classic acoustic guitar ever since the band backed Rami Kleinstein on an acoustic tour last year.
“I was looking for a good acoustic guitar and a friend said ‘you have to go hear a Budagov,’ ” recalls the 29-year-old Nehaissy.”I went to the store and played some of the guitars, and I really liked his high-end acoustic. It has a really warm and big sound, exactly what I was looking for.” Nehaissy worked out a sponsorship deal with Budagov, used the guitar on the tour and continues to play it at Synergia shows and recording sessions.
A signature partnership with David Broza
Another better-known musician, David Broza, was so smitten with Budagov’s guitars that he went into business with him. Long-time friends, the pair have designed seven top-of-the line Broza signature classical guitars with the names Galil, Megiddo, Yarkon, Carmel, Negev, Yarden and Masada.
“For a long time, he was coming to the store, looking around, buying guitars for his nephew or another relative. One day, he came and looked at the more top-of-the-line guitars I was making, and he said, ‘let’s do something together,'” recalls Budagov, adding that he’s been eager to produce a signature line of guitars ever since meeting Eric Clapton in 1989 after his performance at Jerusalem’s Sultan’s Pool and seeing the Fender signature Clapton model up close.
“We got some tips from a friend of David’s, a famous guitar maker in Spain, and we went to the factory that produces my premium guitars and worked on the models. David would ask for variations – ‘I want the neck this way’ – and he adapted things for his own feel. I took care of the rest. It’s all high-end, the very best parts and design.”
Broza has already played three guitars from the line at concerts, and Budagov is manufacturing 600 guitars slated to be sold throughout Europe. It was Broza’s idea to give them historical Israeli names, but Budagov, in his own stroke of patriotism, has insisted that all the guitars he manufactures bear the label “Designed in Israel.”
“When agents from Europe came to me, and they said how much they liked the guitars and wanted to expand their sales in Europe, I said ‘great’ But I said, you know it says ‘Designed in Israel’ on it’ thinking they would want me to remove it. And they said ‘no. You don’t understand that when we’re talking about politics and the Palestinians, it’s one thing – but this is business. In business, the word ‘Israel’ is magic – whether in the security field or in high-tech, you’re talking about quality.’ So all the guitars that are being exported to Europe have ‘Designed in Israel’ on them,” he says, adding that the first 600 guitars were recently shipped out.
Underselling the competition
With a multitude of guitars to choose from, why would a consumer choose a Budagov over a recognizable, well-tested model? According to Budagov, it all comes down to price, and ultimately, the big names mean high cost.
“My main advantage today is that the same factory which is producing my guitars according to my specs and tastes, is also producing the most popular guitars in the world – at twice or three times the price because the consumer is paying for the brand,” Budagov relates.
That comes in handy when picking out a guitar for a young beginner when a parent doesn’t know whether the child will stick to it or not. Budagov says that his beginner guitars don’t scrimp on quality, but don’t cost a fortune to buy.
“A beginner doesn’t need a name brand guitar, he needs a good one,” he says. “You can put any name on it – McDonald’s, Coca Cola, and the price skyrockets. It’s a shame to spend that money. The same factory that makes the professional, high-end guitars for me – I said to them, I want the same line exactly, with regard to its feel and touch and action and its setup, because I didn’t want to lessen the quality. Make the strings close to frets. Let the kid know he’s playing a real guitar.”
That’s sound advice, which just may propel the Israeli Budagov guitar to the status of a Fender or a Gibson for the coming generation.