“One of my favourite things about Chapman is that we’ve been completely self-sufficient”: Matt Hornby of Chapman Guitars

Chapman Guitars’ innovative ‘collaborative design’ approach has seen the UK company become one of the guitar world’s biggest recent success stories. We spoke to Chapman’s co-owner Matt Hornby about the brand’s rise and rise.

Matt Hornby of Chapman Guitars

How did you get into guitar in the first place?

“I played classical piano from when I was six years old, then when I went to high school I wanted to learn guitar, as it was much cooler! I started with a 3/4-size nylon-string acoustic from Argos and a couple of years later, got my first Squier, a 10-watt SoundKing amp and I was away. When I was 18, I got my first ‘proper’ setup – Gibson Les Paul Classic in a Cherry Burst and Marshall AVT150 head with 4×12. I was (and still am) a huge GN’R fan, so as far as I was concerned at the time, there was no other guitar setup!”

When did you first start building or tinkering with guitars/amps/effects?

Chapman Guitars infinity inlay

“Growing up, I helped my dad renovate three different houses and, living in the countryside, me and my friends would always be building something, whether it be an off-road go-kart, trebuchet or a treehouse. I went through school doing well in anything to do with practical problem-solving, eventually studying Aviation Engineering at university and working for an engineering company after that. All the way through, I was playing in bands and hanging out with musicians.

“Since being involved in Chapman Guitars in around 2012, I’ve learned a whole lot about guitar building and it’s been fun to apply the knowledge I’ve learnt elsewhere to music, my real passion. My real satisfaction comes from knowing when we’ve made something as good as it can be. Obviously, this is a lifelong pursuit!”

What was the moment you realised you had a viable business on your hands?

Chapman Guitars white finish

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“When I joined the company, Lee [Anderton] and Rob [Chapman] had done an awesome job in setting up the marketing and supply model. It was really when we took Chapman to NAMM in 2014 and started getting interest from retailers outside the UK and Europe that things started getting really exciting. A part of my role has been building this retailer base. After the full line-up refresh in 2017, things got even more exciting, with some great attention on the company. You can now walk into a guitar shop and buy a Chapman in around 25 countries worldwide – crazy!”

Starting out as a small business is always tough. Did you have any investors or grants to help you establish yourself?

“One of my favourite things about Chapman is that we’ve been completely self-sufficient, with no outside investment. Andertons were amazing in supporting us with administration help in the early years. We’ve reinvested a lot along the way into building the brand and our marketing, all with a long-term view.”

Chapman Guitars two models side by side

At what point did you feel like you ‘nailed’ your branding?

“We refreshed the whole Chapman line-up in 2017 based on feedback from our customers and fans, debuting at Winter NAMM, along with a new website and rebrand. We went through hundreds of logo/colour iterations until we narrowed it down to one that finally clicked. For me, it brought together everything about what we’d done so far, without being a drastic change.”

What’s your proudest moment as a maker to date?

Chapman guitars headstock

“I’ve mentioned it a couple of times already, but announcing a full new line-up, rebrand and website in early 2017 was a huge challenge but really rewarding when we pulled it off. The year ahead of the launch was working very long days, seven-day weeks in the old Chapman office and storage facility – my flat! It’s great to think back to that time and what the challenges were, to where we are now.”

What do you think are the biggest challenges and opportunities for the guitar industry in 2019?

“I’m definitely not the first person to say that the internet has changed everything, particularly with how fast things move. I feel like there’s still real opportunities for collaboration between different companies and with artists in ways that haven’t been explored yet. For me, that’s one of the most exciting parts of the times we’re in.”

So what’s next?

“We have some very cool releases on the horizon – stay tuned! I’m particularly excited about the new Ghost Fret Pro Exotic Wood Special Run we’ve got coming up.”

Find out more at chapmanguitars.co.uk.

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