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Chris Griffiths

Location: St. John's, NL

Award: Award of Distinction

Category: Music

Year: 2003


Invented the patented Griffiths Active Bracing System, a one-piece glass fibre unit that forms the structural frame of all Garrison Guitars. The system produces the most affordable, high quality, solid wood acoustic guitar in the world, an instrument with superior sound and playability that makes beautiful music for professional recording artists and beginning players alike. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Innovation Makes Sweet Music, Revolutionizes Guitar Industry

Newfoundland guitar builder captures $25,000 Manning Award of Distinction

Calgary, AB (September 9, 2003) - The Griffiths Active Bracing System,™ a one-piece glass fibre unit that forms the structural frame of all Garrison Guitars, produces the most affordable, high-quality, solid wood acoustic guitar in the world while enhancing the instrument's sound and playability. Chris Griffiths, of St. John's, Newfoundland, has won the prestigious $25,000 Manning Award of Distinction for his innovation, which has vaulted Canada to centre stage in the global guitar-making industry.

This is the third major national Manning Award won this year by an innovator in Atlantic Canada.

Griffiths, president and chief executive officer of Garrison Guitars, disassembled his first electric guitar when he was 12, fascinated by its inner workings as much as its outward beauty.

Nine years later, on a flight home to Newfoundland from a North American tour of guitar-making factories, he sketched out the idea on an airline's napkin for a revolutionary way of building guitars. Instead of assembling the guitar's internal frame from numerous wooden components — the way it had been done for the last 170 years — he envisioned a top-quality, affordable guitar made all of one piece.

"It took me six minutes to come up with the idea and six years to make it work," Griffiths says.

The reinforcing structural frame of every Garrison Guitar is a single unit made of injection-molded long-glass fibre. This material has sound-reproduction qualities equal to or better than a similar-quality guitar's conventional frame, made of more than 30 individually machined and installed wooden pieces. Complementing the backbone of the Garrison Guitar is the patented Griffiths Integrating Blocking System.™ Made of the same strong, resonating glass fibre, it includes the neck block, which locks into the bracing system, and the end block, which ties the bottom of the guitar together.

The crowning touch — for superb acoustics and visual appeal — is a guitar with top, sides and back made of solid wood, not laminated plywood which is typical of many guitars in this price range.

Garrison Guitars has taken the international guitar market by storm.

The company's entire annual production capacity of 12,000 guitars is pre-sold to authorized Garrison distributors around the world, including Canada, the U.S., UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, Norway, Sweden Denmark, France, Austria, Belgium, Greece, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Ireland and Spain.

In less than a year, Garrison Guitars has captured the spotlight as one the largest acoustic guitar manufacturing facilities in Canada, with projected revenues of $5 million to $6 million this year.

Made exclusively in Atlantic Canada, Garrison guitars are sounding the perfect notes for both the beginning player and the professional recording artist. "They are beautiful on every front — visually, sonically, and conceptually," says Rob Baker of The Tragically Hip.

Griffiths has won the $25,000 Award of Distinction, sponsored by CanWest Global Communications Corp.

Since 1982, the annual Manning Awards program has encouraged and recognized leading Canadian innovators with more than $3 million in prize money. This year's four major winners, who will be honoured at the annual gala dinner Oct. 3 in Halifax, will share a total of $145,000.

For more information about the award-winning Griffiths Active Bracing System,™, please contact Cara Evelly at Garrison Guitars at (709)-745-6677 or email: cara.evelly@garrisonguitars.com.

For more information about the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation, please contact Donald Park, Executive Director, at (403)-645-8288 or e-mail: Don.Park@encana.com

Media Backgrounder

$25,000 Manning Award of Distinction Sponsored by CanWest Global Communications Corp. Chris Griffiths, Griffiths Active Bracing System,™.

For more than 170 years, the world's guitar makers have been building their instruments essentially the same way. Chris Griffiths, a guitar player and bold young entrepreneur from St. John's, Newfoundland, was ready to strike a new chord - and rewrite guitar-making history.

Griffiths started playing guitar at age 12. "I was always a tinkerer and always was taking apart clock radios and anything that I could get away with, to find out how it worked," he says. "I got my first electric guitar for Christmas that year and by Boxing Day had it completely disassembled."

Griffiths fell in love with the instrument - not only with its outward beauty but its inner workings. Giffiths apprenticed at the Galloup Guitar Hospital in Big Rapids, Michigan. At

After high school, Gr18, he started his first company - Griffiths Guitar Works in St. John's.

In 1995, his company experienced delays from suppliers of lower-priced, imported acoustic guitars. Manufacturers weren't producing enough guitars in this price range to meet a growing demand. Griffiths saw an opportunity in the international market.

"But the last thing I wanted to do was be a 'me, too' type of company," he says. "The only reason I was going to start a factory was if I thought I had a sustainable competitive advantage."

With funding from the National Research Council of Canada, Griffiths hired two engineers and he travelled across North America to see how companies mass-produced their acoustic guitars.

On a flight home to Newfoundland from a guitar factory in California, Griffiths turned to one of his engineers, Andy Fisher, and asked why nobody had ever built the acoustic guitar from one piece that integrated the binding, kerfing, bridge plate and all the internal braces.

"It just sort of took off from there," recalls Griffiths, who sketched the idea on an airline napkin.

Griffiths' vision, to mass-produce a high-quality yet affordable guitar from one internal core piece, was a truly radical departure. For almost two centuries, guitar makers had built each instrument using more than 30 individually machined and individually installed wooden components.

Griffiths needed a material that would be at least as strong as the conventional wood frame of a guitar, to counteract the 150 pounds of pressure applied to the top of an acoustic guitar from the tuned strings. But the material also had to resonate like wood. "An acoustic guitar top is a mechanism for pushing air and creating sound waves," he explains. "So we need that top to vibrate as freely as possible in order to generate a good tone."

For seven months, Griffiths and his engineers tested different materials that would have the structural and acoustic qualities of guitars constructed using traditional wood braces. They chose a composite material made of long-glass fibres that could be injected into a custom-made steel mold.

If his idea worked, it would automatically produce a one-unit internal frame having the same traditional bracing pattern used in guitars built with many wooden components. If his vision failed, however, Griffiths would have to throw out the $150,000-mold and start anew.

And the young entrepreneur was already struggling under a mountain of debt.

By 2000, Griffiths had stopped working half-time at his company, Griffiths Guitar Works, to devote all his time and energy to his vision.

Except Griffiths Guitar Works was on the verge of bankruptcy. Griffiths had continually borrowed money against the company, which was then his only source of funding for crucial research and development.

He went to ACF Equity, a venture capital firm in Halifax, and two private investors to convince them to contribute some seed money. "I said, 'Look, if you guys don't put money in now, I'm going to lose my first business and this project is going to die on the vine.'"

Thanks to the commercial potential of his idea, he secured a total of $250,000 in seed capital to make the final payment on his injection molds, prototypes and patent applications.

"I considered quitting a thousand times," Griffiths confides. "Six years is a long time."

Lots of people told him his idea was crazy. But he wanted proof that his concept either was or was not technically possible. "And I never got proof. As many doors as I had slammed in my face, nobody ever gave me real logical evidence to prove that what I was trying to achieve wouldn't work." Griffiths cites David Gill, plant manager of Terra Nova Shoes, as being both a friend and business mentor. He also credits the GENESIS Centre, an incubator established by Memorial University for high-tech companies, for providing help that included an office, consulting and administrative support.

Griffiths produced five prototype guitars with the Griffiths Active Bracing System.™ All received an enthusiastic welcome at the world's largest musical instrument trade show in Los Angeles.

Buoyed by the trade show success, he raised $2.5 million in investment to start a new company, Garrison Guitars, to market his technology "as a more intelligent way to build guitars."

In February 2001, Griffiths walked into an empty 20,000-square-foot factory in St. John's and set up his manufacturing line. By July, he had shipped his first guitars to a distributor in Australia.

Garrison Guitars now has over 60 employees in a state-of-the art manufacturing facility. Its unique internal braces are made in 45 seconds, compared with 2½ hours for the conventional piece-by-piece wood-assembly method. Production has expanded to 12,000 guitars a year.

Griffiths, who has received three U.S. patents for his innovations, has won dozens of awards, including a Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters' Canadian Innovation Award in 2001. Garrison Guitars have been featured in numerous trade magazines and on television's The Discovery Channel. The guitars are played by artists such as Alanis Morisette, The Bare Naked Ladies, Blue Rodeo, Stompin' Tom Connors, The Tragically Hip, Nils Lofgren, Kim Mitchell, Great Big Sea and others.

Griffiths, 30, has balanced his entrepreneurial successes with volunteerism averaging 650 hours a year, for organizations such as the Canadian Youth Business Foundation, Young Entrepreneurs Association, the Music Industry Association, Heart and Stroke Foundation, and Kinsmen Club.

Griffiths continues to innovate. Garrison Guitars has launched a redesigned bracing system that reduces the guitar's overall weight and enhances the sound. Griffiths is also proud that, along with their unique frame, 80 per cent of his guitars feature Newfoundland birch as their primary tone wood. He chose 'Garrison' for his company from Garrison Hill, a prominent old street name in St. John's.

"There's no real reason why this business is in Newfoundland, except for the fact that I'm a passionate Newfoundlander and this is my home," Griffiths notes. "I wanted to prove that you don't need to be in Nashville and California to compete on the global stage."

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

This year, Manning Innovation Awards presents $145,000 in prize money distributed among four leading Canadian innovators, as well as $20,000 among eight Canada-Wide Science Fair winners. Since 1982, the Foundation has awarded over $3 million to recognize Canadian innovators.

Media contacts (photos available):

Cara Evelly, Communications Specialist

Garrison Guitars

Phone: (709)-745-6677

Website: www.garrisonguitars.com

Donald Park, Executive Director

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Phone: (403)-645-8288

Website: www.manningawards.ca