In South Queensland Martin Pratley is creating unique timbres from native timber.
At his four-person factory in Nerang, on the Gold Coast, they are using Bunya Pine, Queensland Maple Silk and Tasmanian Blackwood to shape their lovingly handcrafted acoustic guitars. They are also pioneering the use of Silver Quandong, a sustainable rainforest hardwood. “It’s similar to mahogany but doesn’t look anything like it – it’s a lovely white, cream white colour,” Pratley says. “It gives out warmer and more articulate tones.”
Guitar making has been a labour of love to Pratley for over 20 years. He spent his youth in the wood shop with his father, a carpenter, before going into industrial design at university. An avid surfer and camper, he pioneered a guitar that packs down by removing the neck and earned a degree of fame for his invention.
He parlayed that into an electric guitar business supplying local rock bands and while on the circuit jamming with acts, stumbled upon another innovation. Favoured by blues musician and buskers, the stomp box allows the guitarist to replicate a drumbeat with a tap of a foot pedal, and Pratley’s version earned a cult following.
(Blues man Ash Grunwald with his signature model Pratley Guitar)
He knows that because his Facebook and Instagram pages tell him.
“(Aria winner) Tash Sultana uses one, and I found out because someone tagged me in their video of her playing; a session musician in the US who plays for Ed Sheeran has posted himself using it; I’ve even been tagged in a post by a Uruguayan busker – God knows where he got one from!” Pratley says.
Pratley’s range of acoustic guitars are embedded in a music ecosystem that communicates via social media. Renowned Australian blues musician Ash Grunwald started using the guitars after his manager commented on a Pratley Guitar Instagram post, and seven-ARIA nominated act The Teskey Brothers are also fans on social media. “I’m hoping they’ll play my guitars at the awards,” Pratley says.
In a world where artists are influencers, it’s money-can’t-buy branding.
“These guitars are $3,000 each, so it’s a big decision for a potential buyer,” Pratley says. “Sometimes it takes a year or five years to get to know the product. You can be as good as you want at making a guitar but if you don’t have the artists its a hard slog. Seeing a post with an artist with it is an essential tool to get the brand out there.”
And as a small business owner with his hands mostly on the tools, Pratley finds the simplicity of social posts a particular time saver. Via his only Shopify e-commerce store, plugins for Facebook and Instagram allow him to send out marketing messages with directly linked to sales campaigns, while he communicates with customers all over the world via Facebook Messenger.
Pratley Guitars are among the nearly 60 per cent of Australian small businesses (SMB) who use Facebook to connect to customers, according to a report commissioned for Facebook by PWC. The report estimated that 8.2 million Australians purchased a product from a SMB after seeing content on the site. It also found that of the 35 per cent of SMBs who export to foreign markets in 2017, 80 per cent had a Facebook page.
There are direct regional benefits, according the report. In regional Australia in 2017, growing small to medium businesses hired 35,000 new employees generating an estimated $4 billion in additional economic value.
It’s good for business, but importantly for Martin Pratley it leaves more time for doing what he loves.
“When you build a guitar it comes to life,” he says. “It could be Ash Grunwald playing blues or some other amazing acoustic guitarist. It just puts the hairs up on the back of your neck.”