Meet Epi's Director of Operations
Scott Aisenbrey, Epiphone's Director of Operations, followed a familiar path on his way to Epiphone. Scott was first lured to Music City USA (from Los Angeles) to play guitar--which he does to this day. Though Scott's original band went their separate ways, Nashville became home. Today, Scott oversees the day-to-day work of building and delivering Epiphone instruments--every instrument in fact- from a raw piece of wood into a finished professional guitar, bass, Dobro, banjo, mandolin, or ukulele, that might one day change the world. And we're not just talking about your Epiphone instrument but Epiphone instruments belonging to Joe Bonamassa, Slash, Frank Iero, Tommy Thayer, Dwight Yoakam, Jack Casady, Tony Iommi, Zakk Wylde, and every other signature artist. All of their personal Epiphones--and yours--are made under Scott's watchful (never sleeping) eye.
As part of our ongoing 140th Anniversary series, Epiphone.com goes behind the scenes into the world of the Director of Operations--a world of planes, trains, & automobiles, nuts & bolts, and wood & wire that combine to make an instrument worthy of the House of Stathopoulo.
Thanks for speaking with us, Scott. Tell us the story of how you got to Epiphone.
I was living in Los Angeles, playing music, and got a gig in Nashville. And so I packed up my stuff and came here. Three weeks later, the band got dropped by the record company but I decided to stay. It was, after all, a wonderful town for music and still is. And after about a year and a half, a friend of mine said: 'You should go talk to Gibson. They're looking for people like you who know guitars.' So, I filled out an application and about two weeks later, I got a job. And I haven't looked back since then!
How long was it before you came to Epiphone?
Basically, I got hired as a customer service representative. I was first assigned to inside- sales and after my third week, I got moved to Epiphone so I could deal exclusively with the Epiphone brand.
What is your job title today?
I'm the Director of Operations. I have responsibility for everything once the guitars are approved for production. From placing production orders all the way through until delivery to the final customer.
How has that changed over the last decade?
When I started, Epiphone wasn't the size we are now. And the systems that we had at that time were minimal at best. So, over the years, my goal--and that of our entire team--has been to make constant improvements. We developed our own systems and worked with factories to enhance their capabilities. Communications and the ability to move product around the world quickly has gotten much better as well. We want to make the best instrument at the best price and bring it to the market as quickly as possible. I've always enjoyed my job here because you always have the ability--and the encouragement--to make improvements. Quite frankly, Epiphone was one of the best marketeers when the brand first started and I think we've carried that tradition forward. There are a lot of innovations that Epi Stathopoulo originally put into the brand. And we try to live up to that tradition today as well. The history of Epiphone is spectacular and I'm happy to be able to contribute to it.
What is a typical day like for the Director of Operations at Epiphone?
I have to remember that even when my work day ends our business is world-wide and keeps going 24/7. We have offices in Asia and in Europe and of course the U.S. and due to the time differences, I'm getting information 'round the clock about production and distribution.
Most of what I see is data based on when product will be completed and ready for shipping as well as any questions the factory may have about specifications. Distribution centers also report back to me when they have received our instruments. I oversee the 24/7 monitoring of everything that's involved in getting Epiphone instruments made and transported.
How long does it take to make an Epiphone instrument?
The whole process of an instrument going on the line and coming off the line is usually three days, sometimes a little bit longer. I should mention that Epiphone has two factories in China that produce all of our premier product. A lot of other brands don't have that.
Were our factories built from the ground up?
The first factory was quite an interesting process because we procured ground in China and built the factory ourselves. We patterned a lot of the design on our Gibson factory. And from that process--building from the ground up--we learned a lot. It was really a wonderful experience. The second factory was originally owned by someone we had done business with for quite a long time. They wanted to get out of the business, so we bought that factory and restructured it to be more consistent with our first factory. The two factories are about an hour and a half from each other.
Is making an Epiphone instrument still a hands-on process?
Absolutely. Certainly we have fantastic machines to cut bodies and necks but once that's done, there's a lot of hands-on work. Many companies have tried to make a fully automated process but I can't see why we would do that at Epiphone. The attention to detail that our workers put into making an Epiphone instrument is tremendous. And I consider our workers as skilled as any in the world. Most importantly, our employees take pride in that process and it shows in the quality of our instruments.
You make regular visits to Epiphone factories. Why are those visits so important?
My visits help build and maintain relationships. That can't be done long distance. Yes, this is a business, but it's a passionate business. When I go around the world and watch our instruments being made, I also get to see and hear our instruments played on a worldwide stage. It's wonderful to see our instruments in the hands of musicians and know where it came from, what went into the building of that instrument, and to know that it's being played and appreciated. We have a huge range of products that we make. I don't know of any other brand that has the breadth that Epiphone does--from entry-level acoustics, to historic archtops, Les Pauls, mandolins and banjos and Dobros, and all at great price points.
How does an Epiphone travel from one side of the world to the other and arrive in flawless condition, ready to play?
A lot goes into that process. We have to pay close attention to the climate changes our instruments will go through during the processes of manufacturing and transit. We have to consider everything from how many instruments we're manufacturing at a time to how long it takes an instrument to arrive at our distribution centers in Nashville and around the world. Over the years, we've found the shortest way to run these routes. And we have quality teams set up in all the areas where our instruments may be shipped so we can go through each instrument before they are sent out to our customers.
How do you improve a process that's now become state of the art?
That's very difficult. As we discussed earlier, we're always looking for a better way of making a guitar. Les Paul is still our inspiration--how he worked in the Epiphone factory in Manhattan at night with the dream of building a new kind of electric guitar. If there is a better way, we at Epiphone want to discover it. We're always improving our instruments, delivery methods, and quality tracking. But in a way, all of those endeavors are easy. Our main job is to get a superb instrument into the hands of our customers so they can make magic. When that happens is when our entire team feels the greatest sense of satisfaction.
Are music retailers around the world still going strong?
In the United States, the neighborhood music store is struggling. Yes. Though online sales continue to grow, the whole experience of going into a music store is still exciting, especially for first time buyers and we value that relationship very much. And that is still the best opportunity to sit down and talk with a dealer, learn about Epiphone, and discover what instrument is best for you. That's a magical moment.
I believe that a big part of my job is to continue Epiphone's history of quality and innovation. We have a great history, great product, and a great worldwide team and they dedicate themselves to that idea everyday. I am a lucky guy, I love guitars and I have the joy of working here at Epiphone making iconic products everyday. PS - I play them too!!