Nick Campling – G7TH
Taking a staple of guitar playing, and taking it a step further, is really a matter of thinking. And the best time to think about guitar playing, is when you are actually playing your guitar. It was while playing his acoustic guitar at home, that designer Nick Campling came up with the idea for a highly effective design for the capo – the little gizmo that clips onto a guitar fret and changes the key, without the need to retune the instrument. Nick discussed with MIN’s Andy Hughes, his simple but revolutionary idea, and its design and development.
Where did the idea for G7th originate?
I ran my own design company, and it dawned on me one day that most of my clients were wealthier than I was! It was clear that what I needed to do was design and produce a product for myself, so I started looking for ideas. I was playing my guitar one day, and I looked at the capo I was using, and I thought that since that hasn’t been modified for over twenty-five years, it could certainly be improved.
What was your idea to change the capo design?
I started by looking at the problems associated with capos. Many tend to cause tuning issues, some adversely affect the guitar’s tone, and some are even prone to damaging the guitar’s neck. I wanted a capo that addressed all these concerns, was easy to use one-handed, and looked great too. Once I had the idea, it was a matter of designing a mechanism that would fit the bill.
What’s the first step in producing a product?
First of all, you have to produce a formal design specification and come up with some design options. In the case of the capo, we decided that a wrap spring clutch would give us all the advantages and improvements we needed. We then moved on to prototyping, testing and styling. The process took a while because obviously my paying clients took priority, but in 2004, the company was ready to launch the first Performance Capo.
How did you find out about marketing the Capo once it was ready for distribution?
I was involved in design, so I needed someone based in the music industry. My first point of contact was Noel Sheehan, who used to run Sheehan’s Music Store in Leicester, and my second contact was Iain Wilson who worked for Avalon Guitars, and now runs IBC from Belfast. We established UK distribution through Barnes and Mullins, and we were able to set up a section on their stand at the Frankfurt Music Fair back in 2004. In 2005, we had our own booth at The NAMM Show and then things really started to take off. Iain and Noel had a variety of contacts that were really helpful to us in terms of setting up distribution in various territories around the world.
What about distribution in the U.S.?
Our American distribution came about with a guy called John Pearse. Way back in the late 1950’s John used to present a BBC programme called Hold Down A Chord, and he and Bert Weedon are probably responsible for inspiring most of the guitarists from the 1960s. John was booked to make an appearance at my school, and we became friends. We lost touch when he moved to the States, but we hooked up again at the show in Frankfurt. John started up our initial distribution in the US. Currently, we have distribution with KMC.
Where did manufacturing start?
As a design company we were connected with a number of manufacturing companies. The most important part of the Performance Capo is the wrap spring clutch. We looked for manufacturers of wrap spring clutches because it is a specialised process. We located an American owned company in The Netherlands, who were keen to take on the manufacture of the entire capo, not just the clutch aspect. That’s where it all began.
It appears that the USP for your capo is the ease of use, is that what you aimed for?
Absolutely, and also huge improvements to tuning stability thanks to the clutch. Our latest model, the Performance 3, also includes our Adaptive Radius Technology string pad, which has raised the bar even further. It takes a second to put it on, and a second to take it off again, it couldn’t be any simpler. Interestingly, since we first brought our Performance capo to market there has been an explosion of capos that imitate our design aesthetic, but crucially none of them incorporate our patented technology. Apart from the fact that I believe that our capo works better than other capos on the market, I’m proud of how aesthetically pleasing it is too, which I think is another reason for its popularity.
The visual aspect of the capo is something different from what had been the standard design.
There is an interesting illustration of that visual appeal – I attended a government-funded seminar about international distribution, and the capo was produced and passed around the table and discussed. One lady was late arriving, and was unaware of what the capo was. When it was passed to her, she had a look and handled it, and worked the mechanism for a minute. Then she said “This is really nice … what is it?”. That really underlined the visual attraction of the capo, and that it appealed to someone who didn’t actually know what it was for. We have had some nice comments over the years about the design, someone likened it to ‘a bottle-opener from Porsche’, which I quite like.
Because you have a unique design, and began manufacture when there were not many capo companies around does that mean that you have the lion’s share of the market?
I would not say we have the biggest share of the total capo market per se, but we are a significant player. In terms of premium capos, I would say yes, we do have the lion’s share.
How many staff are involved with your company?
Well, the manufacturing organisation doesn’t belong to us, that is sub-contracted. But in terms of our company, we have myself looking after design, Noel Sheehan who is our MD, Iain Wilson in Belfast, and here I have my son Simon who is our Operations Manager, Tommy Loose who is Customer Service and Artists Relations, and we have Chris who does accounts. If we ever need additional expertise, we have a group of subcontractors we regularly work with. The small setup works well for us and allows us to be very nimble.
You are known for your spoof advertising on YouTube as well.
Yes, for example, if you look up ‘Vocal Capo’ on YouTube you will see what we’ve done on April 1. You have to take a look.
Do you have any famous artists using your capo who are obviously an excellent selling point for you?
We do – Richard Thompson, Bryan Adams, Keith Richards, James Bay, Sam Fender, Katie Melua, there is a long list but those are the ones that come to mind immediately.
Do you have any more designs planned? I would imagine that you have reached the apex of design, there is not a lot you can change or improve on what you already have.
I think we have excellent products now. My brain is always working, and thinking so something may pop up in the future, I don’t know, but I think we are pretty well set up. We have a good range which is well understood and appreciated. It is possible to overdo new product introductions, and people can get tired of that. For me, it means coming up with something that addresses a real need, rather than change for change’s sake.
Have you got any plans to expand the business in 2024?
We currently ship to all major markets in over 50 countries worldwide, but we’re always looking for companies who believe they can help us increase our market share. We will be at The NAMM Show 2024 of course, so who knows what new opportunities will arise there.
Do you have any personal plans for the future?
Well, Noel and I are both reaching an age where we are looking to have a little more time for ourselves away from the business, so we are gradually handing the processes over to Simon, Iain, and Tommy, but we’re not disappearing completely any time soon. That should mean I can spend some more time playing my guitar instead of playing about with capos to put on it!
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