THE SOUND OF MUSIC

STORY KEITH KEHLBECK | IMAGE MATT CARUSO

COMPANY
Northfield Musical Products

WEBSITE
www.northfieldinstruments.com

LOCATION
130 W. Michigan Avenue, Marshall, MI 49068

COUNTY
Calhoun

LOCAL FOOTPRINT
3,000 square feet

EMPLOYEES
10, in Marshall and Qingdao, China

EXECUTIVE
Adrian Bagale

YEAR FOUNDED
2008

ANNUAL SALES
$500,000

MARKETS
Professional musicians
Festivals
Performances

GLOBAL REACH
United States
China
Japan
… and more

PRODUCT LINES
Mandolins

The Sound of Music
Strumming the modern day American Stradivarius

Walking by a restored historic building in downtown Marshall, Michigan, you just might hear a few mandolin chords coming from behind the closed doors of Northfield Musical Products. Its storefront on W. Michigan Avenue is home to the company’s Marshall headquarters, which features a workshop area and showroom. This is no ordinary music store. Here you will find racks of specialty woods for use when master grade mandolins are commissioned, a full selection of instruments for trying out the various Northfield lines, and lots of charm and history to soak in while sitting in the front room.

Northfield is developing and building mandolins right on site, and if you come by on the right day, you may be able to check out one or more of its latest creations. Why Marshall? “We came back, like most people who come back to Marshall, for family. My wife grew up here, and we like the quality of life in this picturesque little American town,” says Adrian Bagale, founder and owner of Northfield Musical Products. It probably doesn’t hurt that Michigan is home to plentiful hard and soft woods, like the types used for veneer, and that it has accessible tool, lathe, and machinist equipment used in the manufacture of parts.

Michigan also enjoys a rich history with instruments classified as strings. In the late 1800s, Orville Gibson started the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Company in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Gibson was a mandolin player whose Eastern European forbears brought mandolins to America and he had the idea to make mandolins right here in the Midwest. Then, in the 1920s, an acoustical engineer, Lloyd Loar—a composer, player and inventor—designed a mandolin that was more like a violin. Northfield Musical Products was formed in 2008 with the goal of making the best possible mandolins, influenced by Lloyd Loar and the Gibson brands of the 1920s. Its product is essentially the equivalent of a modern day American Stradivarius and is sought out by a multi-national, multi-lingual group of musical enthusiasts.

Northfield may be based in Marshall, but it’s not a local business; it’s global. This international company has employees from Japan, China and the United States. The company staffs two shops—one in Qingdao, China for the primary building of the instruments and this one in Michigan for design, testing, set up, and final detailing. As a result, someone is literally working on a Northfield mandolin nearly 24 hours each day.

Northfield produces several different body shapes at four levels of price points, including the teardrop-shaped one made from scratch in Marshall and called the Model M—M is for Marshall. The Model M is a $2,000 instrument, but other price points can go as high as $6,000 per unit.

One thing that really distinguishes Northfield is its use of technology. Among other approaches, Northfield has worked with hospital radiology departments to put mandolin components through a CT scanner so that it can measure the density of the wood, as you would normally measure bone density. The result is a product that has a reputation for quality and consistency—hallmarks of the Northfield brand.

“Imagine you buy this ‘thing’ for $6,000. You live in Switzerland. You pay us. You’ve never even held that mandolin in your hand. It’s got to show up. It’s got to be awesome. And, it’s got to be like the sound reference that you got off of our website,” observes Bagale.

The proof may, in fact, be “in the pudding.” There are many players using Northfield instruments throughout the country. Some of them are multiple Grammy award winners; some of them are just good pickers who have come across the instruments at festivals and performances. The list of players using Northfield mandolins is growing, as is the affinity for acoustic music, perhaps because it’s accessible in the same ways that microbrews have become. People are attracted to craft and interested in the way things are made.

Quality, not quantity, is definitely the approach taken by Northfield. “We want our company to be known for our quality and consistency. Each instrument is built with an exacting approach. We feel like we’ve developed our instruments to the point that they have a character in tone and aesthetics, and we want to maintain that in each instrument. We aspire to make the best instruments, not the most,” continues Bagale.

By creatively incorporating place, tradition, technology and craft, Northfield is essentially building a better “old world” instrument. It’s just made “new world” here in Southwest Michigan.

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