Bad posture might lead to back pain, but for Kalispell house inspector Brent Champion it’s also leading to entrepreneurial opportunity.
Champion has been playing the guitar for decades, but in recent years his playing has begun to improve at a dramatic rate, a change he credits to his new invention: the Guitar Shoe.
The device is made of wood and small, about the size of a toaster. It’s also beautifully made. Before getting into house inspecting once the recession hit a few years ago, Champion was a carpenter, and he makes each guitar shoe himself. Each one is a 50-hour labor of love. His wife and business partner Pamela said he can have a hard time letting go of them afterward.
“He gets quite attached to them,” said Pamela, who helps Brent with the business side of his venture.
The project is a long one because, as Champion puts it, “nothing is square, nothing is plumb, nothing is straight.”
So far, Champion has turned out about 20 of the completed shoes. He has sold one, but is holding most of his inventory to share with potential manufacturers. He hopes to list them for retail before Christmas, but plans to only sell around five.
He is more than capable of making a beautiful, high-end product, but would like to see his invention become standard equipment in the guitar industry, like a pick or capo. To do that, he needs to find a way to make more of them faster and at a lower price point.
“I’d love to see a cheap model to a high-end, so everyone can have access to it,” Champion said. “I really want to get it to kids, I want to get them used to using it.”
The shoe itself is a folding device that rests on the musician’s leg and chair on one end and embraces the grooves of the guitar on the other end. Using it helps keep the guitar from sliding out behind the musician, and also helps the player hold the neck up at an angle that is easier on the wrists and allows for more nimble motion.
“I really think that this is going to keep people more in tune with their instrument,” Champion said. “If they are more comfortable, they are going to play longer. It’s a complicated instrument, and when 30 percent of the challenge is hanging onto it, that is a problem.”
He currently makes shoes to fit two different types of acoustic guitar, the dreadnought and the classical, because they are the most commonly played in America. He said in the future he would like to expand the range and even build custom projects for people with guitars they love, who want a shoe to fit.
It essentially holds the guitar in the position a strap would, but without the downsides a strap presents.
“I hate them, I’ve never wore one hardly ever,” Champion said. “It never quite seems to be at the right height, especially when you sit.”
Champion said he detests wearing straps because they are uncomfortable and difficult to adjust so the guitar will sit just right. He said even many performers sit and play when they are offstage, and taking the pressure of a strap off the shoulders will help everyone.
Ridding a practicing musician of the discomfort associated with practicing allows the guitarist to make sessions longer without any adverse side effects, Champion said.
“I have to tell myself to go do something else because I am just immersed in what I am doing,” Champion said. “This is the only thing you are going to buy for your guitar that will make you play better. You are going to play better because your posture is better.”
Champion also believes the shoe makes the sound quality of his guitar better. Wearing the shoe keeps the back of the guitar a fraction of an inch away from his torso, which lessens the sound dampening effect that often has.
“I can tell the difference now,” Champion said. “When I don’t have the shoe in, I feel like it’s muted or something.”
He said he also has a family member who plays the guitar and sings, and the shoe has been a big help. It allows the musician to sit straighter and sing with their diaphragm in a healthy position.
The tradesman’s voyage into the entrepreneurial sphere has been a whirlwind he couldn’t have weathered without his wife. Together, they have invested about $15,000 and have done the long hours of due diligence and research it takes to earn a U.S. patent.
There are other products on the market with similar uses, but none operates nearly as well as his, Champion asserted.
“It’s the only one in the world that folds, and it’s the only one in the world that doesn’t attach to the guitar,” he added.
Their hope is to find a manufacturer that will take the project on as their own, but in the meantime they have been taking things slow and avoiding taking on loans so they can retain maximum control over their product.
As they waded into things they said they heard far too many stories of people selling their idea to the first prospect that emerged instead of waiting for the right one, and they’d like to ensure the future of the guitar shoe is a bright one. They are attempting to market the product themselves, and recently established a Facebook page where people can learn more about their product and ask the Champions questions directly.
They said they have found Kalispell to be an OK place to try to start a small business, but the size of the music culture puts a cap on the number of people willing to invest serious capital in a high-end accessory such as this one.
The abundance of manufacturing was initially promising, but Champion said the complexity of his project has turned off some potential partners. Many manufacturers are busy enough they haven’t been interested in taking on such a finely tuned product. He is hopeful he will find someone soon so he can spend less time in the shop and more playing his guitar.
“Carpentry’s not my passion, music’s my passion,” Champion said.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.