Published in Small Business
Guitar effects pedals manufactured by Cusack Music in Holland. Guitar effects pedals manufactured by Cusack Music in Holland. COURTESY PHOTO

Cusack Music supplies new market of quarantined guitarists

BY Sunday, August 30, 2020 05:00pm

HOLLAND — Live music stages in West Michigan and across the country have been largely empty over the last six months with the COVID-19 pandemic suspending traditional concerts. 

But that hasn’t stopped many musicians from honing their craft, and Holland-based Cusack Music is staying busy as a result.

“We were already backlogged (before COVID-19) and orders kept coming in,” said owner Jon Cusack, whose business primarily specializes in manufacturing guitar effects pedals. “I think, because a lot of people were staying at home, they were playing more guitar and they started looking for guitar pedals. I think the guitar pedal market actually got a little bit of a bump from it.”

Cusack Music manufactures its own brand of pedals, used by the likes of Anthony Armstrong of the hard rock band RED and Seth Morrison of Christian rock band Skillet. The company also works with roughly 40 different brands to manufacture everything from circuit boards and enclosures to entire pedals.

Cusack Music, which also does business as Cusack Manufacturing, has dabbled in projects outside the realm of audio electronics. In fact, the company’s involvement with a few medical device projects deemed a portion of its operations an essential business during the industry-wide shutdown.

Still, Cusack’s bread and butter is the music industry and — despite the live music hiatus — demand is still high. 

“There are a ton of people in our industry who play in their bedrooms — maybe three quarters of them,” Cusack said. “They will put pedal boards together, jam with their friends and never play a gig. And, some of our market is live music and those guys weren’t gigging. Some of them — especially the touring guys — had to cancel their tours. Instead, they’re going through their gear and thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll make some changes to my rig.’ The shutdown gave people a lot more time to consider their stuff.”

But addressing the influx in orders has not necessarily been easy as Cusack Music trudged through voluntary layoffs during statewide shutdown orders, which saw half of its staff step away.

“We were already on a path to double (in sales) this year from last year,” Cusack said. “(The influx of orders during the pandemic) accelerated that, only we didn’t have the employees. 

“There was a two-month period where I wanted to hire, but because I’m already laying off half my staff, how do you hire in that environment? We tried our best to build (pedals) during that time and once the governor said we were good to go again, then we started hiring more to try to catch up on our backlog.”

Cusack said he hired 10 additional staff members in July and started chipping away at the backlog while turning away new business.

“I’m turning away work right now,” Cusack said. “I’m telling customers that we’re recovering from this shutdown and it’s going to be two months before I can even look at your project.”

Cusack has also personally used his resources and expertise to help with pandemic-related projects. He recently collaborated with the Holland-based manufacturer of dispensing systems GP Reeves Inc., and other local companies, to create a line of hand sanitizer dispensers called Defense Dispense, as MiBiz previously reported. Cusack created the circuit boards for those products.

Cusack also partnered with a local organization called 3DC19, a collective of individuals who honed 3-D printing capabilities to create personal protective equipment like ear savers, face shields and ventilator parts, distributing them for free to people who needed them.

“When I have the opportunity to do something for the greater good, you kind of have to do that, especially if you have the resources,” Cusack said. “With my business, I have a lot of different resources. If I can use those to help people, I will.”

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