The Furch Guitars Story
| Music Trades
Founded in secret behind the Iron Curtain, Czech guitar maker has built an international brand by translating technology into better instruments…
There was a ban on private enterprise in Czechoslovakia when František Furch set up his one-man shop, but that was a risk he was willing to take. It was that, or go without playable guitars. A metalworker by day and a musician by night, František needed a source for high-quality fretted instruments, but they were all but nonexistent in Czechoslovakia and importing them was both complicated and expensive. So in the ’70s he started making his own, using his metalworking skills and an old drum to make his first banjo. As word got around to other musicians, friends began commissioning instruments from him and he turned out several prototype roundback guitars, an in-demand style at the time. That only generated more interest, and by 1981 František had decided to defy the authorities, committing to guitar building as a business and setting up shop in a garage.
While still operating in the shadows, František gained a reputation as a firstrate guitar builder on the Czech music scene, and his instruments became the choice of top musicians throughout the country. With their stylized “F” logo on the headstocks, changed only modestly over the decades, these were the first in a line of Furch musical instruments that would one day be sold on five continents, and no longer in secret.
“Even though the former communist regime prohibited any private entrepreneurial activity,” says Petr Furch, the founder’s son and current CEO of Furch Guitars, “František’s passion for musical innovations and high-quality manufacturing on one hand, and musicians’ demand for custom instruments on the other, proved to be much stronger.”
Everything changed for Furch Guitars when the Velvet Revolution swept the nation in 1989, bringing down communism in Czechoslovakia. Now operating in the open and in need of more space, František moved his company to a former 14th century gristmill in the town of Velké Němčice in the modern-day Czech Republic. He went on to personally design nearly all the machinery, tools, and guitar making jigs needed to outfit the site as a musical instrument factory. A year later, Furch Guitars exhibited for the first time at the Musikmesse fair in Frankfurt, signing on dealers and distributors that took the line into markets around Europe and the world.
Today Furch Guitars are sold in some 32 countries, its largest markets being Germany and the Scandinavian countries as well as France, Great Britain, and Japan. As a guitar maker, it’s known for combining traditional design with a scientific approach to craftsmanship—and that’s due in large part to the influence of Petr Furch, who joined the company in 2006 and succeeded his father as CEO in 2012. After starting his career in Furch’s final setup department, Petr made a study of each stage in the company’s production process. Combining that knowledge with his own area of expertise—state-ofthe-art CNC production technologies— he went on to refine key processes from the R&D phase all the way through the production line. Among the proprietary techniques used in Furch instruments is a precise voicing process used to enhance the tonal properties of each guitar. To further heighten their acoustics— while also providing excellent surface protection for the instrument—Furch guitars are coated in an ultra-thin, extra-resistant UV-cured full-pore high-gloss finish. In another proprietary feature, the guitar maker’s innovative Furch CNR System neck joint has been engineered for superior stability, giving the neck 90% greater resistance to deformations caused by string tension and changes in humidity, as compared to traditional neck designs.
“Furch Guitars takes a very innovative approach to guitar making,” says Petr. “Constant research has helped us to deepen our knowledge of guitar construction—the sound and as well as the reliability of the instrument. We try to go beyond the current limits of guitar making. The results of our research are implemented in our instruments, and the CNR System is an example: The solid and precisely adjustable truss rod is invisibly integrated into the guitar neck and guitar heel.”
For 2018, Furch Guitars translated its latest advances into a revamped portfolio of acoustic guitars. Replacing its longtime flagship, the Millennium Series, Furch hit the market with seven distinct “color” series topped by its high-end “Red” models featuring master grade Sitka spruce soundboards, Indian rosewood backs and sides, and a range of exclusive appointments. Working down from there, Furch offers a wide variety of tonewood combinations and features sets in its Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet series (listed in descending order of price). While each series delivers a unique configuration, the collection has been designed around some common themes. As Petr puts it, “These instruments stand out thanks to their attractive looks, underscored by a host of meticulously crafted details—but also, and more importantly, thanks to a first-class sound, courtesy of a combination of the highest-grade premium tonewoods and high-precision manufacturing.” Besides the seven standardized “color” series, Furch also came out this past year with new customization options under the banner of the Rainbow Series. Offering a menu of 160 features to be mixed and matched, the concept gave Furch players the tools to fine-tune an instrument for every possible need, preference, or aspiration.
Over the past two years, the company reports, worldwide sales of Furch guitars have increased 30%—and the reasons are twofold. First, investments in manufacturing have yielded increased production, says Petr. “Demand was higher than our supply for many years,” he explains. “We’ve invested money in optimization of our production and in automation of the key processes. That has helped us to increase our productivity, reach even higher processing quality, and look for new markets.” Second, more musicians are simply choosing to play a Furch guitar. At home in the Czech Republic, a growing economy means more players have access to guitars in the mid-to-high-end range, defined between about USD $1,000 and $4,500. That same range is a sweet spot for many of Furch’s instruments (although its Blue, Indigo, and Violet Series guitars are all priced around USD $1,000 or less). As Petr says, “The number of customers in the middle and high segment of acoustic guitars is increasing thanks to economic growth as well as better knowledge of instrument quality through high-quality music shops and distributors.”
As for international markets, growing exposure through major e-commerce sellers and social media has helped introduce Furch guitars to a global audience. “We see the future in e-commerce, especially in the middle segment of acoustic guitars,” says Petr. “But we don’t want to create our own e-shop—we want to use the internet to spread the word about our instruments and our philosophy.” As its worldwide profile continues to rise, adds Petr, Furch is also planning for a ramped-up presence in the U.S. this coming year. Although it’s had distribution across North America since at least 2005, taking it to the next level will be one of the company’s goals for 2019.
“We are still full of new ideas and inspirations,” says Petr. “We’ve successfully completed our long-term plans for technological developments in guitar production: This goal was very important for us, and it helped us to grow without compromising the quality of our instruments. A year ago we also started to build our marketing and sales department, and the results are already visible. We want to continue developing production processes, enhancing the acoustic properties and extending the lifespan of our instruments. We’re still working on that, and we’ll never stop.”