AMI Musical Instruments GmbH
German Fret Specialist Revives
Sigma Acoustic Brand
In the late 1960s, a few major guitar companies responded to the rise of low-cost producers in Japan with their own foreign-made brands. One of the most successful, launched in 1970, was Sigma Guitars. Amidst a flood of cheap Asian knock-offs, Sigma’s guitars, made initially in Japan and later Korea, stood out for their state-of-the-art design specifications, vigilantly maintained by an American-trained staff, and careful inspection in the U.S. before being shipped to retail stores. Germany’s AMI Musical Instruments GmbH has purchased the brand from C. F. Martin & Co., and today’s Sigma guitars incorporate time-honored design principles and many specs that draw their inspiration from some of the most revered instruments in history.
Günther Lutz, a guitarist since he was 14, opened a music store in Munich in 1979. Thanks in part to his warranty repair work for Martin Guitar, Lutz was granted a Martin dealership three years later. In 1984, he established AMI, a wholesale business distributing banjos and mandolins from Saga, as well as the entire line of Martin guitars. An expert in resonator guitars, Lutz also created the Continental brand, the first company to offer modern-day Tricone metal body resonators. He later trained AXL factory workers in these distinctive instruments’ design and partnered with the company to launch the Johnson brand, which remains registered by AMI throughout the European market. But since last year Lutz has taken particular pride in revitalizing the Sigma line.
AMI’s president, CEO, and general manager, Lutz is quick to point out that today’s Sigma guitars are of superior quality to the acclaimed instruments made 20 and 30 years ago. His experience as a luthier and distributor proved invaluable for understanding and conveying to his manufacturing partner a fully informed recipe for well-made affordable guitars. Also, he worked tirelessly with the factory to faithfully represent the classic instruments the original Sigmas were intended to emulate with everything from major features, such as total weight and fingerboard width, all the way to intangibles such as tone and feel. For example, much attention—and many “near-miss” prototypes—were devoted to refining and lightening the instruments’ bracing.
A number of Sigma guitars bear familiar model names, such as the Sigma DR-28. Cost savings come from use of plywood back and sides compared with premium guitars’ all-solid construction. New Sigma all mahogany guitars answers the current popularity of these affordable models, while another series echoes the Sigmas of yore, where, for example, model DM-1ST designates a dreadnought in mahogany with a solid top. Sigma also offers classical and travel guitar lines, and an all-solid wood line is planned.
AMI’s distribution business briefly handled a full range of instruments, but in recent years it has refocused on guitars, including Martin and Johnson acoustics, A.Hermosa classical guitars, and now the full Sigma line. Its Martin sales trajectory has been especially compelling, rising from a mere 57 units in its first year, 1986, to 4,000 in 2011.
In less than a year AMI has registered the Sigma brand in nearly 50 countries and cultivated 22 Sigma distributors worldwide, though it is still seeking the perfect distributor for the all-important U.S. market. In major markets including Germany, the U.K., Canada, Russia, Italy, Benelux, France, Denmark, Sweden, and Norway, AMI has sold approximately 30,000 Sigma acoustic guitars and basses. Encouragingly, Lutz fields daily inquiries from dealers all over the world seeking to diversify their product selection.
With Sigma, AMI is evoking a legacy that many of today’s younger players may have only heard of, but never experienced. Proclaiming “The legend is alive...” and presenting the company’s classic (Greek letter) Sigma logo—now embellished with “Est. 1970”—the company appeals to consumers seeking both classic instrument designs and leading-edge value. Lutz concludes, “My hope is that we will find distributors soon for other major markets, including the U.S., so that all the guitarists and dealers who send us emails about Sigma guitars have a chance to play one of these fine instruments. That way, Sigma will get re-established worldwide as one of the major acoustic guitar brands.”
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