How do you get a Mule out of the basement? According to Matt Eich, founder of Mule Resophonic Guitars, it simply requires “relentless forward stumbling.” Of course, it’s hard to successfully stumble up stairs, yet over the course of three years, that’s just what Eich did. What he stumbled into is a 1,600-square-foot second-story studio in the old Central Warehouse building on North Michigan Avenue in Saginaw. It’s there that Eich—along with his brother, Phil Eich, his father, John Eich, and his longtime friend, Adam Smith—handcrafts steel body resonating guitars.
Though Eich’s journey of taking his business from the basement to a working studio was a three-year trek, the journey’s prologue spans a decade. Upon graduating from Saginaw’s Michigan Lutheran Seminary in 2003, Eich attended the Roberto-Venn School in Phoenix to learn how to make guitars. Why guitars? It’s nothing as romantic as a boy fulfilling his lifelong dream. Eich simply asked himself, “What do I like to do that would take the least amount of school possible?” Having built an electric guitar while in high school, he thought this was a craft he could pursue.
After graduating from Roberto-Venn in 2004, Eich attended Martin Luther College in New Ulm, Minnesota, but quickly realized that traditional schooling wasn’t for him. He dropped out after a semester and attempted to start a guitar-making business in a rented garage, dividing his living quarters and shop with a curtain. This, however, wasn’t sustainable, so in 2005 Eich took a position with Huss & Dalton Guitars in Staunton, Virginia. It was there that Eich coupled his schooling with practical experience to become the artisan he is today. Unfortunately, his craft was put on hold when Eich moved to Chicago in 2007 to help out family. Following five years of working factory jobs, Eich was laid off, so he moved to Bay City in 2012 and founded Mule in his brother Phil’s garage.
Eich crafted four guitars during that first year as the waitlist for orders grew. This prompted him to rent a home in Saginaw where he crafted approximately 30 units per year from his basement in 2013 and 2014, selling guitars to well-known musicians such as Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys and Ben Harper. All the while, Eich continuously experimented with the production process. Because he is the only artisan in the United States who handcrafts steel body resonating guitars, there was no business model to follow, so he made it up as he went along. “I just kept going, kept making the best decisions that I could at the time and wasn’t afraid to fail because each failure taught me something. Through relentless forward stumbling, I accumulated a body of knowledge about how to streamline production and run the business,” says Eich. Now, after moving to the new studio last November, Eich is positioned to produce about 100 guitars per year.
Eich believes that each guitar he crafts comes with a story, part of which is an inscribed label containing the unit number and owner’s name. “They’re the person who paid me to build this guitar, so they’re forever part of it,” says Eich. Just know that if you visit the studio to pick up your handcrafted Mule, you won’t get out without drawing a commemorative “mule” on the shop’s wall. You’ve been warned.
For more information on Mule Resophonic Guitars, visit www.muleresophonic.com, or call 989-760-1037.