One of the things I love about being a traveling musician is the people I get to meet and where I get to meet them. About four years ago, while recording Wayward Troubadour, I started playing this nice, steel resonator that was one of the studio guitars. I would play it, put it down and keep going back to it. It felt and played great. I had brought my own big-name resonator with me to track but I kept going back to that one. We tracked and A-B’d them and the studio guitar was the keeper on all the tracks. It was an unknown name to me – Gold Tone. I couldn’t put it down.
I finished the record, left the guitar in the studio, but never forgot it. Fast forward to the next winter NAMM show. Walking the floors I came across the Gold Tone booth. There were walls and displays of banjos, guitars, short-scale acoustic basses and yes, resonators! I asked myself why am I not up on Gold Tone, what’s their story? During the next couple of days, I kept stopping to play the steel and wood, round-neck resonators and meet the folks in the booth. They were a very friendly, family-run operation. My big-name resonator company is neither.
A month later I called Jack Ramsey, Gold Tone sales rep, and bought a wood, Paul Beard signature model resonator. I took it out on the road with me, played it hard and loved it. Next I bought a steel body resonator and did the same, put it through some wear and tear and it did great!
Gold Tone is based in Titusville, Florida and I told myself the next time I was playing Florida I would stop in and get the Gold Tone back story.
The history is much better than I imagined. It’s a great story of a hard-working, music-loving family that has been building and repairing stringed instruments for decades. Robin and Wayne Rogers, founders and owners of Gold Tone, opened their first music store in Titusville in1977 called, Strings and Things. Both Robin and Wayne were fixtures in the folk music scene and have roots and string music in their blood. Opening a music store seemed like the natural way to fuel their passion. Wayne started taking on repairs and found he not only has a natural ability to repair and build stringed instruments but he also has the ability to do so using innovative methods.
In 1994, while repairing banjos in his backyard shed, Wayne designed and built his first instrument, a travel banjo. This banjo received rave reviews in an instrument newsletter, orders started flooding in, and in 2000 Gold Tone was incorporated.
Fast forward to 2020, Robin and Wayne have developed a very unique family business. The next generation is involved in the hands-on, day to day business of building very good instruments at very affordable prices. Family involved include Wayne, Robin, daughter Amanda, son-in-law Justin, and Robin’s brother Brian. Gold Tone has a saying “love what you play” and when you walk through headquarters, from the luthiers in the shop to Robin in quality control, to Brian in shipping and the whole sales office, it is obvious to see that on the floor it’s “love what you build”. To get to their price point, I would not have been surprised to see Asian-made instruments being shipped out directly in the boxes in which they arrived. This is not the case! Every instrument is finished, and completely set-up and adjusted, in Florida. It is a pretty impressive set up.
When I ordered my resonators, for example, part of the process was to talk to a luthier about my personal preference of string gauge, set-up height, and style of playing so the instrument could be set up for me. I always, always take a new guitar to my set-up and repair guy who is very good, meticulous and knows what I want. (Larry Berwald – Rosewood Guitar Repair, Virginia Beach, VA) So I did what I always do, took these to Larry to do the finish set up, file fret edges, whatever was needed. I was very surprised when he called and said, “what do you want me to do? These guitars are on! Ready to go.” This does not normally happen.
Affordability On Purpose
Wayne explained his model to me. He knows that often a musician needs a different instrument for only a song or two a night. His goal is to provide an excellent instrument at a price the average musician could afford so as to have that different instrument on stage. He has much of the woodwork done overseas and the final set-up work done in their Florida facility. He went after the best of both worlds, lowering basic cost on materials while maintaining high-end fit, finish and the ability to do custom work. He went on to share his excitement about the future of Gold Tone as they develop the Folkternative line, the Zero Glide, Loop To Learn iPhone App, Micro Bass etc… In addition he said, “As the next generation comes into their own, Robin and I are slowly stepping back to let Amanda and Justin take over. After all, it’s time to concentrate on playing more with our own band, Robbin The Bank!”
Personally, I was impressed to find an American family business with 20 skilled employees, creating fine instruments at affordable prices. Well done Wayne and Robin! Well done Gold Tone!
By Mike Aiken