|B&G Guitars founders Eliran Barashi, Yotam “Kiki” Goldstein, and Avi Goldfinger show off one of their flagship Little Sister guitars at their factory in greater Tel Aviv.|
Israeli guitar maker taps international demand
for its handbuilt vintage-style electrics
It’s safe to say the Eagles’ Joe Walsh already owned a respectable stock of guitars to choose from, but the lemon-burst electric he played on this year’s North American tour was brand new. A sleek solid-body cutaway model, it was custom-ordered from a team in Israel that’s spent the past four years making 30 guitars a month from scratch—and they do mean “from scratch,” right down to the tooling used to build them. Called B&G Guitars, the company was named for its founders: luthiers Eliran Barashi and Yotam “Kiki” Goldstein, along with artist and entrepreneur Avi Goldfinger, now B&G’s CEO. Their flagship guitar, the Little Sister, has been described as a “magical time machine” borrowing characteristics from vintage models of the 1920s through 1950s without being a takeoff on any one guitar. For the Little Sister and two subsequent models, the edgier Step Sister and the Big Sister bass, the B&G team has developed an extensive menu of build options highlighted by exotic tonewoods and choices of finish, hardware, pickups, neck profiles, and more. Each “Private Build” guitar is made to order at B&G’s shop in Tel Aviv, while a more affordable “Crossroads” edition of the Little Sister brings the same key specs to an off-the-rack version.
“B&G’s aim was to reinvent vintage,” says Goldfinger. “The Little Sister is a modern guitar that looks, sounds, and feels vintage, while not being a copy of any other model.”
B&G’s luthiers say that if the Little Sister is a jewel of guitar craftsmanship, that’s because it was conceived by a jewelry designer, David Weizman. With the initial concept in mind, Weizman brought it to his luthier friends, Barashi and Goldstein, who at the time were building and repairing guitars out of Barashi’s apartment in the Jaffa district of greater Tel Aviv. As luck would have it, that set them directly in the path of future business partner Avi Goldfinger, who’d brought in his own guitar for repairs. Enamored of the Little Sister design and spotting the business potential, Goldfinger suggested the three of them form a company to perfect, build, and market the guitar. The three established B&G Guitars in May of 2014.
In research for the Little Sister, the team obsessively studied originals from the early to middle part of the 20th century before lighting on the right design mix. Drawing much of its look and feel from the small-body parlor guitars of the 1920s—only electrified—the model comes standard with a chambered African mahogany body, solid maple top, and a choice of cutaway or period-correct non-cutaway design. Vintage-style F-holes top off the characteristic Pre-War look. Right out of the gate, players praised the Little Sister for its warmth, playability, and a certain “sweet roughness.” Some, however, went on to suggest sleeker, more modern variations that eventually produced the Step Sister, the model played by Joe Walsh. As the B&G team puts it: “The Step Sister is the mean girl in the family.” Although built on the same elements as the Little Sister, the Step Sister has been tweaked with a shorter body, sleeker neck heel, and a choice of chambered or solid-body design among other adjustments. It all adds up to “a drier character, a sharper attack” that lets rock and fusion solos cut through the band, designers say. The Big Sister bass guitar, along with a “Prototype Amp,” B&G’s take on classic tube amps of the ’50s and ’60s, round out the company’s current selection. For 2019, the company plans to introduce its first acoustic models.
Priced from around $3,400 to $5,000 and up, B&G’s “Private Build” instruments are handcrafted at the Tel Aviv factory with numerous options including exotic tonewoods such as ziricote, reclaimed mahogany, katalox, and pau ferro. Besides letting customers select the types of wood to be used in their guitars, the B&G team gives them the option of choosing an actual piece of wood via digital images of the options in stock. Once the build is underway, customers receive emails providing pictures and updates on the progress of their guitars. At the B&G shop, bodies are cut out one by one on a bandsaw, bridges are milled on-site from solid brass, and every pickup is hand-wound—including the original “Kikbucker” design created by cofounder “Kiki” Goldstein. Goldstein’s father makes many of the tools used in the shop, quite simply because B&G designs are so original that the tooling for them isn’t sold standard. “We have one rule,” says Barashi. “We make everything ourselves.”
For customers seeking an affordable alternative, B&G enlisted a factory in China to build the Little Sister Crossroads edition, likewise featuring choice tonewoods including African mahogany bodies, ebony fingerboards, and solid maple tops. To streamline production and keep the price in check, the Crossroads is offered in only two colors, without custom options, and equipped with Korean-made hardware and electronics—though upgrades to Private Build bridges and pickups are available. At a price tag of $1,450, say the designers, “the Little Sister Crossroads turned out to be everything we expected, and more.”
B&G’s unique position until very recently was that it was an Israeli-designed, mostly Israeli-built line sold entirely abroad. Just this year, the company opened up its first Israeli dealer outside Tel Aviv. Overwhelmingly, though, its guitars are still sold to customers in the United States and Europe, either direct to consumer or through dealers including Chicago Music Exchange, The Music Zoo, Sam Ash, and about two dozen others. It can be a challenging way to run a business: Because none of the raw materials used in B&G guitars are native to Israel, everything has to be imported from points around the world before being processed and re-exported as finished guitars, making for complex logistics. On top of that, the company pays out salaries and company expenses in Israeli shekels while its income arrives in euros and U.S. dollars, putting B&G somewhat at the mercy of international exchange rates. On the flip side, though, a strong presence on the web and social media means borderless access to the minds of guitarists in search of something different—and it would seem that plenty are.
“Our guitars speak for themselves,” says Goldfinger, “Our strategy is to show the instruments, how they are being built, and let them be heard.”