Miltimore’s goal: To build a better guitar
The Biggest Loser reality show played a part in Mike Miltimore’s latest project.
And, while it may have been what he and his wife were watching while he chiselled away at a guitar body, he’s hoping it doesn’t forecast his future as he represents the province in a major entrepreneurial competition hosted by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC).
Miltimore is one of eight young business people who made it through to the finals of the BDC’s $100,000 Grand Prize for Innovation competition.
Voting is being done online and ends on June 19. The winner will be announced on June 25.
Miltimore’s project is typical of the face of Lee’s Music — he’s spent three years creating a way to build a better guitar.
Beside the obvious musical benefit, the design refines the labour-intensive process of manufacturing guitars.
In essence, when he goes into production, the process would become a full-production side that would hire more employees, add to the economy and continue to promote the use of Canadian — , in particular, B.C. — wood materials.
“We want to be the guitar manufacturer for the world,” Miltimore said.
Getting there wasn’t easy.
Along the wall at the back of the Battle Street store are some of the prototypes he’s built, some of them while at home watching TV with the family.
Ask him to explain it and Miltimore the businessman becomes Mike the big kid, who will gladly take you downstairs and explain every single step and show you the tools required — many of them designed by him, the store’s luthier, Mike Trelenberg, or production manager, Lee Manson — that, in the end, create the Riversong guitar.
Key to the production is the computer, which is used to design the various parts and run the machinery — including a laser — that will cut them.
Miltimore will explain each step and how the computer allows him to adjust wood joints and planing, angles and tension, all essential elements to the perfect guitar.
Consider the neck, for example.
With the traditionally made guitar, it’s almost impossible to attach the neck to the body at the essential 90-degree angle.
It’s just a fact of wood shapes, textures and the processes used now by most guitar manufacturers, he said.
The neck he’s designed slides into the body of the guitar, attached at the bottom in a way that it can be adjusted with an Allen key.
At the top, it’s attached to a pivot that can also be adjusted with an Allen key — making the set-up process of a guitar a simple, quick process “we can do with the person standing here strumming it while we make the adjustments.
“He can tell us right away if it’s right,” Miltimore said.
The design of the neck has also been redone to allow for the guitar strings to continue straight to the nuts, rather than angling off, something else that affects the sound and can eventually lead to wear on the neck.
Some of the equipment has been homemade, simply because what he needed to put his ideas into something tangible didn’t exist.
Ball joints, for example — he couldn’t find a supplier with the type of joint he needed, so he improvised, thanks to a trip to Michaels, a purchase of earrings and the determination to use that material to create what he knew he wanted.
“The traditional way, you can spend hours and hours doing a lot of the work,” Miltimore said.
His method eliminates a lot of the sanding and clamping and labour-intensive steps that don’t always guarantee a consistent level of quality.
“If you just cut the parts right from the get-go, it’s a lot easier.”
It removes the need for a lot of the braces in a traditional guitara, as well, opening up the body to create more resonating space — and, most important to guitarists, a bigger, richer sound.
Summing up what Miltimore has been working on for three years, the end result is a system that creates better guitars quicker that can be adjusted easily and make better music.
The prize money would go a long way to helping refine the production process that now happens in the basement of the store.
The BDC has been working with Miltimore for some time, helping him take the design through to the stage where he’s applied for a patent.
The bank’s local branch told him about the grant program — and just in time.
The program is open to entrepreneurs ages 35 or younger.
Miltimore got the call on April 28 — the day before he turned 36.
He spent eight hours working on the submission, which required information on the company and its history, the project, its potential, a business plan and what the money would be used for if he won.
No matter what, the Riversong guitar production line is going to happen, Miltimore said.
Lee’s will still build guitars the traditional way for buyers who want them but, while that’s happening, Miltimore hopes he’ll be selling more around the world.
That would be music to his ears.