20s reloaded - Interview with Bernd Wagner

Avatar of Thomas StolcisThomas Stolcis - 08. June 2020 - #Sound

There is a long process behind every new series. From the simple idea to the finished product, it takes months of thinking, designing and finding the right implementation. We spoke to our product manager Bernd Wagner about the development process of the new "20s reloaded series".

How did you get the idea for the 20s reloaded series?

My plan was to create a few models in January 2019 which offer a more classical outfit, simplicity and at the same time elegance, and of course according to our concept, offering lots of guitars at an affordable price. The whole idea was based on the somewhat smaller Folk Form that we had successfully launched last year on the Noir Series, which is not far from our Auditorium Form. A new series was not planned at first. The new models are to be placed in the X Series which is open to all styles.

"Behind every model that comes on the market there are at least 10 models that are discarded."

Initially, I basically considered styling, equipment, colors, etc., but of course also feasibility, taste of the time. It is always a tough, lengthy process until a basic idea is formed. Behind every model that comes on the market are at least 10 models that are discarded. Of course, market research is carried out, you want to reach your target group in the end and create a good, solid and all-round usable and, of course, visually appealing instrument.

When the goal is known, the details follow. Then the detailed work begins, discussions and emails with the partners on the manufacturing side about materials, implementation of design ideas, parts etc., as well as with our longtime designer Sophie Raynaud. Sophie not only designs our ads, banners, T-shirts etc. for Baton Rouge, but she is also involved in the design of more than half of the current product range. This whole process ended with the five X11 / LS Folk models. Soon 2 Parlor models were added to the folk forms (another 5 models are already planned for the end of 2020).

Then in March 2019, we found an additional partner on the manufacturing side who meets our requirements in terms of quality and working conditions in every respect and who is also able to build instruments that we could not have made otherwise. This resulted in an expansion by twelve instruments in the higher quality range, from solid tops to solid wood, with body woods from walnut to Pau Ferro and solid mahogany.  The OM (Orchestra Model) was used as the main form here. But also a Slope shoulder dreadnought can be found as well as other Parlor models, a baritone and an acoustic bass. Neither of these are from the (19)20s, but we hadn't thought about that yet.

The idea for 20s reloaded only came up in October 2019 during Music China in Shanghai, during breakfast in the hotel. Some decorative elements in the room reminded me of the typical 20s frame (see the label of the 20s edition). Since I was looking for a style element for new ukuleles at that time, during this research and a few short conversations and emails, one thing led to another within a few hours. The planned guitar models already fit into the picture anyway, plus the new ukuleles, which suddenly resulted in a guitar and a ukulele series, composed of a cheap and a high-quality line. The fourth series of Baton Rouge was born. Back in Germany, it took less than 6 weeks for a range of 19 guitars and 37 ukulele models to be launched and ordered - the 20s reloaded series.

What is 20s reloaded?

Well, now a fourth series of Baton Rouge, although this was never planned. In the field of guitars, the somewhat more classical outfit, the more standard-oriented equipment (no laser technology, no extravagant pickup systems), a noble simplicity, which, based on the 1920s, represents the approaching depression in seclusion. In contrast to this, the ukuleles of the 20s reloaded series present themselves stylistically in the exuberant exuberance of the beginning of that decade with their patterns, motifs and colors. Here again, for example, with a ukulele bass, an instrument that no one would have thought of a century ago. This should also underline that it was not and was not our plan to build 20s replicas. We believe that today, at least in our concept of building the best possible instruments at an affordable price, we can do it far better than was possible back then. Therefore, we also take the liberty of bringing instruments under the 20s reloaded series which simply didn't exist at that time.

How do you approach research for such a series?

As mentioned above, not at all in this case, sometimes one thing simply joins the other and a few models quickly become a series. In other cases, e.g. The AR series, which was actually planned as a series, the first step is to find the basic design and the basic equipment, in this case the rosette & the inlay in the fretboard and of course later the 2-way pickup BR-2P. Sometimes it goes like this, sometimes like this, the idea cannot be conjured up.

What distinguishes guitars and ukuleles from the 1920s and how can this be transferred to modern times?

To be honest, I have analyzed this primarily in a design-oriented and historically based way. I am not a guitar maker or technician, we have other specialists for that. There were already certain styles and fashions, and you can also see the equipment following the economic development. 

We never had the intention of building the 20s guitars as replicas. 

We are all convinced that nowadays we are able to mass-produce guitars that are in no way inferior to those at the time, but which are considerably cheaper, and I would like to emphasize that this is neither at the expense of our partners' workers nor at the expense of sustainability as far as raw materials etc. are concerned. We also did not copy the designs of the time, we just oriented ourselves on them. We never intended to build 20s guitars as replicas. Others can do that better, some have actually been doing it since the last twenties, they don't have to transfer anything, it always stays the same. But we want to build only good, inexpensive guitars using the latest technology - in this case optically based on the 1920s - and otherwise remain true to our line. Ready for the next generation.

What was the biggest difficulty / challenge in the development?

The greatest difficulty is always the beginning, i.e. the idea. As I said, it is rarely the first, often only the tenth after many are rejected. So when the idea is finished, one thing often comes quickly after another. Of course, there are always a few stumbling blocks that make an unexpected adjustment necessary. Whether it is due to the naming, the feasibility of details or even the logistics. But once the plan and the idea are there, there are always ways to implement it.

Which uke and which guitar is your favorite from the series?

My favorites are usually the simple instruments. For the guitars, the X11LS/F-SC is definitely my favorite. The simplest material, laminated spruce for the top and nothing else particularly great, but stable, amazingly good sounding, if not to say excellent for this price range. Through the interplay of choice of materials, technology, experience and know-how, a small masterpiece, optically refined by a pickling technique that has not been very common for guitars so far, which leads to the extraordinary finish that I - conscious of the daring choice of words - have called screwed crimson.

How often can such a design naturally divide our audience

When it comes to ukuleles, it is not a particular model that captures me, but mainly the models with the stylized female head with a feather as headstock inlay. I can hardly explain why, but somehow it fits very well on a ukulele head. How often can such a design naturally divide our audience. I think some will love it, others dismiss it as nonsense. We have always consciously accepted this with our models. In any case, I am confident that the 20s reloaded series will be well received for the most part.   

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