Meet Your Maker: Hans-Peter Wilfer of Warwick

May 10, 2012
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Welcome to “Meet Your Maker,” a series dedicated to bringing you closer to the individuals behind the instruments that inspire us.

THE NARRATIVE ARC COMMON AMONG many guitar builders usually centers on the conversion of a bedroom, garage, or small office into a modest workroom proudly filled with hand tools that point to the personal touch of the builder. Not so with Warwick. This company’s tale is one of factories, production floors, and machines, of industrial life and state-of-the-art technology and an insatiable quest for mechanized precision. Such is the story of Hans-Peter Wilfer, known to many in the music industry as H.P., a man celebrated for his entrepreneurial spirit, business sense, and vision for refining the bass building process.

A FAMILY AFFAIR

At only six years of age, H.P. began working for his father, Fred Wilfer, founder of the renowned German musical instrument manufacturer Framus. “I was born in the factory,” H.P. jokes. “When I was very young, my father would allow me to try and repair instruments that were damaged, which increased my passion for production and working with my hands.” Captivated by the world of manufacturing, the young Wilfer ended his formal education after middle school and began working full time for his father’s company, until it went bankrupt in 1975. In 1976, however, his mother opened up her own production business, and H.P. went to work for her soon after. “I started out in sales but quickly moved to manufacturing,” he says. On a typical morning, he would get up at 4 AM to spend a few hours in the workshop, switch to sales for the next six hours, then back to production until 10 PM. He loved being on the factory floor, and such a work ethic would soon serve him well in his own endeavors as a business owner and manager.

 
Streamer Stage I
Unfortunately, his mother’s factory also fell upon hard times and closed its doors in 1981, leaving the youngest of the Wilfer family on his own to find work. “This was a very hard time for us,” he recalls. “We had no money, no work, and no plans.” After a year of working in sales for a variety of German companies, H.P. found himself once again longing for instrument manufacturing, so he decided to try his hand at starting and running his own company. Hiring three former employees from his mother’s factory, he opened Warwick on September 13, 1982.

FACTORY FLOORS & HEADLESS BASSES

The beginning was rough. Lacking a clear focus, H.P. and his employees struggled that first year to design and produce a groundbreaking instrument. That changed in 1983 when Warwick designed a bass that combined features of the popular Steinberger and Washburn Bantam headless models. “We made 28 Nobby Meidels that year,” H.P. remembers. “At the music show in Frankfurt that year we sold every one of them—and nothing else.” Convinced that unconventional instruments were the key to their success, they set themselves to designing and building basses that appealed to experienced and open-minded players. “We didn’t see any reason to build Fender copycats, which players could get easily and cheaply from Asia, so we decided to focus only on high-end, innovative instruments.” In the mid ’80s, the Spector NS was tracking well in the U.S., but these basses proved hard to come by in Europe. H.P. saw that problem as a potential solution for the direction of his company and took up the task of designing his own version of this popular, ergonomically friendly instrument. That venture resulted in Warwick’s first widely successful instrument: the Streamer Stage I.

 
Thumb SC
Encouraged by this success, H.P. began looking for ways of improving his company’s efficiency and increasing its productivity. “Growing up, my university was the factory, so I began looking for how to grow our company in a way that would build on what I had learned from my years of working in production.” Additionally, from his father H.P. had learned that good artist relations were essential to building great instruments. “I was not a player. I understood that as a company we needed to work closely with musicians in designing our instruments. We helped them by providing basses, and they helped us by giving us feedback and playing our instruments.” This devotion to players has served him well. Indeed, Warwick’s reputation for treating its artists like family is well established, and many endorsees publically celebrate the generosity of this company.

TAKING THE LONG VIEW

H.P.’s philosophy toward designing and building basses centers on efficiency and utility—two lessons he learned on the factory floor. From their patented Just-A-Nut to their two-piece bridge, Warwick basses allow players to tweak any instrument to fit their particular comfort and style. “I’m always thinking about how we can make a bass easier for the consumer to use,” he says. “We make working gear, and my basses have to work equally well for someone playing in Alaska or South Africa, in India as well as South Carolina.” That commitment, he argues, results in basses that sport user-friendly features, stable necks, and sturdy hardware.

Warwick’s evolution in the last two decades speaks to H.P.’s goal of providing a secure and promising future for his company. “My current business decisions are not driven by the bottom line,” he insists, “but rather the final product.” As a result, he invests all profits right back into new technology that enables Warwick to refine and improve their instruments. For example, they recently bought a $1.4 million machine for their shop in Germany that enables them to cut fret slots with incredible precision, eliminating the need for leveling afterwards. For a shop that only makes 150–170 instruments a month, you can imagine how long it will take to recoup that cost—but H.P. doesn’t sweat it. “I am not worried about making money fast. I am more interested in acquiring machinery that benefits the end quality of the instrument rather than just lowering the production cost.” Committed to this long view in all matters, Warwick has invested not just in high-end machinery over the last few years but in green technology as well, resulting in a prized FSC certification last year.

H.P.’s passion and energy about building basses, expanding his company, and celebrating his customers is contagious, evidenced each year at NAMM by the large crowd of players—professional and amateur—who gather at the Warwick booth to chat energetically with him and each other. And the energy he displayed as a youth shows no sign of waning. To this day, he still heads into work at 4 AM and leaves around 8 at night. With such discipline and dedication, it’s no wonder Warwick has experienced such success. And if H.P. has anything to do with it, they’re not done growing yet.

WARWICK

Builder Hans-Peter Wilfer
Location Markneukirchen, Germany
Price range $2,799–$13,699 (custom); $699–$2,319 (import)
Mission To create instruments unsurpassed in quality and consistency using the most technologically advanced machinery.
Notable players Bootsy Collins, Steve Bailey, Jonas Hellborg, Robert Trujillo
Contact warwickbass.com

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