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Born in the U.S.A.

In Toby Keith's tune "Made In America," the country artist sings, "Spend a little more at the store for a tag in the back that says U.S.A."

Americans have taken heed. This sentiment has been resonating with shoppers at not only supermarkets and department stores but also local music product retailers. Sales of U.S.-manufactured instruments have surged over the past few years, and the economic timing couldn't be better.

"In the last three years, we've seen the trend for our American-made products growing faster than the imported products," said Tim Caton, director of marketing communications at Conn-Selmer, a company that manufactures a large number of instruments at its Elkhart, Ind., headquarters.

Anthony Mantova, co-owner of Eureka, Calif.-based Mantova's Two Street Music, pointed out that his customers always appreciate the opportunity to purchase American products.

"We always like to see companies that make the effort," Mantova said. "Plus, products made in America are always in stock, while overseas-built products are often out of stock and have to be backordered."

Gretsch, a company synonymous with vintage Americana, recently released its Brooklyn drum set series, which pays homage to the company's birthplace. The kits feature a classic tone and "302" hoop that's reminiscent of the original double-flanged hoops Gretsch used until the mid 1950s.

"From a buying-trend sense, we definitely see that there is an interest in our American-made products," said John Palmer, product manager for Gretsch Drums. "So the resurgence has been pretty good throughout the economic downturn. We feel like we want to see what we can do locally in the United States and support the economy with the production that's made here."

Job Creation
Palmer's sentiment rings throughout the MI industry. Lately, several companies have closed their overseas manufacturing plants while opening domestic facilities and adding to their U.S. staff.

Gretsch, which manufactures its Custom USA and Brooklyn series kits at the company's plant in Ridgeland, S.C., recently doubled the number of workers at the factory due to high demand for its U.S.-made kits. DW Drums closed its factory in Mexico last year, bringing dozens of jobs back to the States.

"I know that I'd rather use a local vendor than source a job out," said Scott Donnell, director of marketing for DW. "If it's at all conceivable and makes business sense, we'd rather manufacture here at home."

According to Donn Bennett, owner of Donn Bennett Drum Studio in Bellevue, Wash., customers have taken notice of this development and are shopping accordingly.

"There is definitely a sizeable portion of our customers that appreciate the fact that buying American-made goods is good for our economy," Bennett said.

"If they can spend their dollars in a manner that gets them a product they are happy with and helps our economy at the same time, then their overall satisfaction with their purchase is greatly enhanced. It's a two-way win."

Hartley Peavey, founder and CEO of Peavey Electronics, was recently named "Citizen of the Year" by The Meridian Star of Meridian, Miss., for his dedication to his hometown, which included moving production of three of his company's brands — Trace Elliot, Budda and Composite Acoustics — to the city in recent years. Peavey said he believes a product's manufacturing location factors into customers' buying decisions.

"Our customers care about keeping jobs in the U.S.A., and so do we," Peavey said.

Bedell Guitars builds about 2,300 guitars at its Bend, Ore., facility each year. Erika Mohr, marketing and communications manager for Two Old Hippies, Bedell's parent company, said she counts on Bedell adding more U.S. jobs.

"We are strongly motivated to continue to offer prosperous and fulfilling livelihoods for the 45 U.S.-based employees and their families and to grow our American-made line of instruments well into the future in order to employ even more skilled craftsmen," Mohr said.

Quality Control
With U.S.-manufactured products comes an expectation of quality. And during a time when consumers have less expendable income, retailers and suppliers have noticed them paying more for an instrument that could last longer and require fewer repairs.

"Typically, American-made products are focused on quality over quantity," said Ryan Cook, founder of Esoterik Guitars, which manufactures instruments in San Luis Obispo, Calif.

Steve Maxwell, owner of Naperville, Ill.-based Steve Maxwell Drums, mentioned that U.S.-made products do very well in his niche business.

"People like to be able to buy high-quality, U.S.-made products," Maxwell said. "Our customer base really focuses on quality. They are willing to pay a reasonable premium for it."

Quality also comes into play when sustaining a successful rental program, where long-lasting instruments are critical to recouping an investment. That's one reason Tom Meyer of Meyer Music in Kansas City, Mo., said he features American-manufactured Conn-Selmer instruments in his rental pool.

"For us, the beginning instrument is not a throwaway instrument," Meyer said.

"You want those instruments to hold up and feature the best quality long-term within a reasonable price range because you want the students to continue to want to play long-term and at a higher level."

Vintage Charm Factor
The explosion of U.S.-manufactured gear is also driving the demand for everything vintage. Not only are baby boomers reliving the music of their youth but younger musicians have shown interest in artists from the 1960s and '70s.

"Those guys played Gretschs and Ludwigs, so I think the legacy aspect has a lot to do with the spike in U.S.-made products," said Gary Forkum, owner of Fork's Drum Closet in Nashville, Tenn. "I'm still selling John Bonham drum kits."

Likewise, U.S. quality plays perfectly into consumers' lust for everything boutique, rare and specialized.

"From pro audio to guitar stomp boxes and definitely in the drum business, we're seeing musicians gravitating towards handmade, high-quality gear," Donnell said. "In that sense, brand is less important. [Players are] more interested in an underdog brand that makes something unique and offers a more specialized value proposition."

Selling Patriotism
With so many products manufactured overseas, American consumers have shown a thirst for supporting the U.S. economy. "There's obviously a patriotic feeling that goes along with [buying American]," Palmer said. "I think people have looked inside to see how it would help our economy."

Dealers have honed in on that patriotic feeling and used it to their advantage as an advertising tool. Rej Troup of Harrisburg, Pa.-based Dale's Drum Shop said his store created its own "Made in the U.S.A." signs for some of its U.S. drum brands.

"We group the drums together by company as much as possible and usually have one on the floor to try and the rest stacked in close proximity on display," said Troup, whose store has seen great success with such U.S.-manufactured brands as Ludwig, Evans, Vic Firth and DW Drums.

Paul Thomsen, band and orchestra manager for Brooklyn Center, Minn.-based Schmitt Music, noted that his store lists whether instruments are American-made on their tags.

"We use it as a selling feature and benefit," Thomsen said. "I believe that most customers feel buying American would be their first choice if the quality and value are sold properly. Our step-up customers are our target market [for American-made instruments]."

Along with carrying domestically manufactured instruments, Mantova said he also "shops American" first when it comes to accessories.

"We ask, 'What American companies make products, such as strings, straps and cleaners?'" he said. "We are always reading magazines and talking with our customers to see what's new."

Mantova's Two Street Music offers accessories from Lakota Leathers, Smith Mallets, Rim Risers, Curt Mangan Strings and Gorilla Tips, among others.

"The leading accessory sales come from products that are made overseas but assembled in America," Mantova said. "'Assembled in America' is a compromise worth making if you want a strong price point and the satisfaction of supporting American jobs." MI