Tom Bedell: Social Business Mogul
At Conscious Connection, we have great respect for businessmen who have the minds of moguls but the hearts of hippies. Given these standards, Tom Bedell, founder of Bedell Guitars, is one of our ultimate role models.
Tom’s passion for music and business started when he was a young teen in the 1960s. While most of us would have been content receiving a weekly paycheck for giving lessons and selling guitars at a local store, Tom began importing guitars from Japan, re-branding them, and selling them in America. He trained his younger sister to dip decals in water and place them on the headstocks, hired an older friend to do his driving for him, and before long he was selling guitars wholesale in five states. Before Bedell was seventeen, he had opened two retail music stores as well. By his junior year in high school, Bedell Guitars was a $500,000 business.
Tom left his childhood ways behind to attend college and law school. After heading up a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., Tom took the reins of his father’s fishing tackle business. He grew the business into a $500 million multinational before selling it in 2007.
Retirement is not for Everyone
After retiring, Tom and his wife enjoyed a few years of leisure; they went diving, fishing, and toured the world. But as you can imagine, the retirement lifestyle eventually left Tom restless, and he decided to return to his roots in music. Tom and his wife Molly bought the local music store in Aspen, Colorado in 2009, and Tom started sourcing guitars again. Subsequently, Tom acquired a guitar manufacturer in Bend, Oregon, and that move enabled Bedell to combine his passion for sustainability with his love of guitars.
Tom is a man who harks back to the era of the ‘60s with fond memories. As Tom recalls, “It was a really glorious time, and music became our vehicle for sharing, for giving us permission to seek our values.” Perhaps above all, Tom values the Earth. Tom shared, “It just amazes me that the Earth is the birthplace of all life, yet we have this insatiable need to completely devour it. All across the globe, humans are doing everything they can to completely consume this beautiful Earth that is our nurturing place, the soul of who and what we are.”
This passion is the driver that separates Bedell Guitars from the rest of the industry. When Bedell first started creating his own guitars, he believed that it was his number one responsibility to protect the forests as well as the economies of the people that live around and among the forests. Based on this philosophy, Bedell decreed that his company would never knowingly use any clear-cut trees to manufacture instruments.
The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) has a certification program, but Bedell holds its sources to a higher standard. The FSC assures that new growth will replace old growth trees that are cut down; however, when those new trees grow, they don’t re-grow in an old-growth forest, they regrow in a new growth forest. They’re not competing for sunlight and for water, they have wider growth lines and wider structure, so they are ultimately very different trees.
Says Tom, “We are rapidly losing our old growth forests, using the rationalization that if it grows back, it’s okay. However, the position at Bedell is that it’s not okay, and that we do not want to cut down a 600 year old tree.” That’s why all of the trees used to create Bedell Guitars are individually harvested – so that the forestal impact is an absolute minimum.
Bedell Guitars: From Seed to Song
What’s more, Bedell is in the process of fully implementing its Seed to Song program. Currently, Bedell includes a journal with every instrument sold that tells the history of the wood used to produce that instrument. Specifically, the journals discuss the vision behind each guitar as well as the chain of custody of the trees used to create it. Within two years, Bedell’s inventory system will be able to identify and track every piece of wood used in a guitar to each individual tree used to create it. No other guitar manufacturer goes to these great lengths to reassure its customers that the wood to create their guitars has been, without doubt, responsibly sourced.
According to Tom, “At Bedell, we know that a musical instrument becomes one with its player because it’s the vehicle through which that musician expresses his music. The connection to the ‘organic-ness’ of all wood instruments, of wood that grew in nature that then is turned into a musical instrument, is a psychological, beautiful thing. It’s not just some manufactured piece of molded plastic; it’s taking a gift of Mother Nature and then create an instrument that expresses what comes from within us, so there’s a very emotional connection that people have to acoustic instruments.”
Tom continued, “Many of the trees that we use in manufacturing Bedell guitars are fallen trees that are 500 and 600 years old. Let’s look at the story of one of those trees. The seed that started that tree germinated before the concept of the first guitar in Europe was ever built. That tree was growing before Columbus discovered America, and before Darwin theorized the possibility of Evolution. The seed that’s in that tree, that’s in the guitar that we’re building this week has a story of 600 years of fighting its way through this forest, fighting for sunlight, fighting for water, sheltering animals – 600 years that tree lived, and then a big windstorm came along and blew it over. That tree was found lying on the forest floor, and then a National Forest Service permit was obtained to remove it from the forest floor. Every piece of that tree will be tracked so we know which guitar parts came from that tree. So now, when you make music with that guitar, you will know that your guitar is rich with this beautiful history.”
Of course Tom is proud of all of the guitars manufactured by Bedell, but perhaps among his favorites are those in the Homegrown collection. All of the woods in these guitars are grown in America, all of the labor that builds those guitars is rendered by American workers, and all of the electronics are manufactured in America. Two of the guitar lines in this collection, the Bedell Earthsong and the Bedell Blackbird Vegan, are currently available; the Bedell Wildfire, a new elite model which Tom calls a “refined and glorious instrument,” will become available in late June. (You can read more about the Homegrown collection in our upcoming article scheduled for publication in July.)
In addition to the Homegrown collection, Bedell manufactures a diverse line of products. From the Angelica collection inspired by European instruments of the 1700s to guitars modeled after those from the folk rock era, Bedell Guitars crafts instruments that can meet most players’ tastes and preferences. Needless to say, Tom Bedell is not only proud of his guitars’ sustainability, but also their performance. Tom states unhesitatingly that Bedell “builds some of the finest sounding acoustic guitars in the world.”
To Thine own Self be True
When we asked Tom about the secret to his success, he said that the answer is found in knowing yourself and being yourself, being one person in life and in business. He says that work experience is much more rich when it embodies your values and the footprint you wish to leave on the world. Given that definition, Tom Bedell is indeed a very rich man.