THE REAL STORY OF TTM GUITARS
It all started one summer day in 2006 when I was working on an old Fender Stratocaster. I had been restoring guitars and reselling them for a while, when it hit me. I stared down into the pickup cavities of the guitar, for quite some time, when I said to myself... “self , why am I working so hard on other peoples guitars?” “Why not brand myself?”
I had been selling my reconditioned guitars for a few years under the acronym, TTM. I got the idea one night when I saw a midget playing a “FLYING V” and I realized, that the guitar was actually taller than him... hence, TTM or (TALLER THAN MIDGETS) was born and the website www.ttmguitarsusa.com was created to sell my old Fender's or whatever else I was restoring at the time.
Yes. It was a joke at first. I never knew how serious and out of control things would soon get.
After deciding to brand myself and put all of my creativity into my own brand, I needed a new name... or did I? I gave it much thought as you need to do when starting any business, but for some reason, TTM just kept coming back to me! I slept on it one more night and woke up with a clear and concise vision, that TTM Guitars, would indeed be the name of my newfound guitar company.
At the time, I was living on the east coast working on a few music projects, one of which landed a small deal with SONY. Things were good, however I knew for a fact that if I wanted to blow this thing up full scale, I would need to return to Southern California where all of my roots and music connections were. So I packed up the family, dogs and guitars and headed west!
I landed in Palm Desert, CA., a place I had previously called home. Barely settled into my new digs, I officially launched TTM Guitars. All of the bureaucratic horse-shit had to be handled first. File all necessary documents with the Secretary of State and trademarks with the USPTO. Basically, I was getting the boring legal stuff out of the way, so I could start focusing on designing guitars and marketing my new brand.
Once all the paperwork was completed, it was time to start building my first guitar. Now, I had been a musician my entire life. That story can be seen in the documentary, “iTunes - The Sound of Organized Crime." However, I had never designed a guitar before! After only a few hours of research, I stumbled across quite a revelation. I learned that Leo Fender had NEVER trademarked his famous Stratocaster Body! I was blown away, but not to surprised, as I had frequently seen the “S” style body being used by other guitar manufacturers. I just always assumed they paid a licensing fee… not the case.
So, my initial idea was to build a basic guitar using the “S” style body, but of course I would have to design my own headstock. So I hit Adobe Illustrator and started drawing some ideas. Nothing I was coming up with however, looked very original. Every shape I drew, looked like every other guitar company on the planet. So I wiped the slate clean, and after a few days I came up with what I thought was a very unique and original headstock. The headstock was cut and shaped into what I would refer to as a knife or a sword or spear... it was something, but what? A few buddies of mine that were consulting me on my design, told me to call it the “Lance.” It was a fairly good idea, but my ego was not that overinflated. So after a few more days of contemplation, it hit me... The Guitar would be called, “THE SLAYER!” I loved the name. It fit the styling of the headstock perfectly. I then applied for a trademark using the name “SLAYER SERIES” and was approved by The United States Patent and Trademark Office to use the name “SLAYER” in commerce, for my very first TTM Guitar model.
Things were moving quickly. I was building the guitars, one by one, by myself, from parts and components bought on the internet. Production on the original Slayer Series Guitars was quite slow, but I did it by myself, as fast as I could. I was even printing out my own TTM logos and lacquering them onto the headstock myself on some of the very early models.
As things progressed, I needed help. I petitioned an old friend of mine, James Maciel, to move out to Palm Desert and help me build guitars. Together, we would assemble, package and ship guitars. What once started as a one guitar a month thing, soon turned into a one guitar a day thing. Building 30 guitars a month isn't as easy as it sounds, especially when you consider all of the other factors that go into running a small business.
So there we were, 2 guys, building guitars in a Palm Desert, CA garage. Things were moving quickly and we needed more help!
In the interim, I was reaching out to old buddies of mine that had experienced success in the music industry. My idea was simple. Get in touch with them, send them TTM Guitars and get them to play them on stage as TTM endorsed artists... it worked. I signed more artists faster than any other unknown guitar brand in history.
Soon things would have to expand, so I would need to raise capital to move out of the garage, and into a full fledged working environment. In order to raise capital, I sold TTM franchises to dealers all over the world. The terms were simple. For $5000, a dealer would get 12 TTM Guitars and exclusive distributorship, within their respective region.
I sold a lot of territories, which meant I needed to hire people and build a lot of guitars. We moved into a 4,000 square foot warehouse in Palm Desert, CA and eventually had 8-10 employees at any given time, building guitars at TTM. After closely examining other guitar companies business models, I was able to find high-production facilities in China and Korea, to help facilitate our high volume needs, and get all the parts necessary to build more guitars, at a faster pace. Things were good. I was paying the bills, (barely) and paying the employees, (most of the time) and the business was growing by leaps and bounds... I was doing what I loved.
We had been at the new location for a few months, when it came. A cease and desist letter from lawyers representing the band, “SLAYER.” The letter stated, among other things, that I was to cease and desist ANY and ALL manufacturing of my TTM SLAYER SERIES model. The boys at Slayer, had unleashed their lawyers on me, (and they had a shit-load of lawyers.) They told me if I continued to make and market, my SLAYER SERIES GUITARS, that they would sue me in Federal Court for what they called, confusion in the marketplace.
Now, being the nice, calm demeanor, passive person that I am, I told Slayer and all of their splenetic, butt-dart lawyers to GO FUCK THEMSELVES. Well, needless to say... they really didn't like that very much, so they did indeed sue me in Federal Court.
Now remember when I told you I filed for a trademark at the USPTO and got it? Well, there's this little thing called a "trademark opposition.”
Trademark attorney trolls are constantly on the USPTO website looking for any tiny, little minute detail that they would consider as an infringement on their intellectual property rights. This is exactly what the lawyers for “Slayer Inc.” did. They thought by threatening me and suing me in court, that I would cave into their demands and give them all kinds of money… Um, boy were you wrong.
With the lawsuit in full swing, I had to answer court filings, while running a start-up company that was prospering. At first, I kept the legal issues away from my employees, but eventually it was to hard to cope; with everything going on outside the confines of our company walls.
Slayer's argument was that I had no right to use the word, “SLAYER” on my guitars. My response was, they have a “trademark for live musical performances,” and I have a trademark for “manufacturing guitars,” where's the confusion?
In addition I told them that I had a first amendment right to build guitars and call them Slayer, and I also reminded them that The United States Federal Government told me it was okay… DUMB-SHITS.
During the course of the lawsuit, TTM continued to grow. In fact, we were quite the heroes in the Coachella Valley area and were frequently featured on the morning news. One morning, after going on NBC with Mark Kendall from GREAT WHITE, I received an offer for the company from a wealthy local business owner. He said he had seen Mark and I on the news, and loved our guitars! He said he wouldn't mind owning a company like TTM, and after a few discussions, he made an initial offer of $2,000,000. Now for a startup in its second year, this was exciting, However, there was that little issue of the lawsuit and after full disclosure, his attorney advised him against the purchase. I explained to him that in my opinion, his attorney was being overly protective, but hey, that was his job. I also told him that I thought I would prevail in the case, but needless to say, he rescinded his offer.
That was pretty painful, but I totally understood his position. Thanks Slayer.
As, the case went on and on, I was getting tired. You see, for the first 18 months of the case, I represented myself. I'm fairly certain that Slayer's lawyers were quite surprised that I had managed to hang in there so long! Then, after more legal wrangling than that stupid show on ABC, they filed a motion with the court that compelled me to retain a lawyer. Slayer's lawyers pulled up some old case law, (stare decisis) from 1957 which stated that in this sort of case, the respondent, (or me) would need to retain a real lawyer to continue. The court agreed.
With the “SLAYER V TTM GUITARS” in full swing, there was nothing I could do to shield it from my employees or the world for that matter. The publication, Courthouse News put the case on their front cover. I remember laughing when I saw it! There they were... SLAYER in all of their tattooed glory and then a little picture of me. I remember looking at the cover for quite some time and thinking of a little tale known as “David and Goliath.”
So there we were, TTM Guitars wrapping up its second year of business, and even though there were lots of quality concerns and I was being sued, sales for our second year were approaching $1,000,000.
During the “SLAYER YEARS” I managed to sign many new artists and develop many new models, including; THE DEVASTATOR -
THE ELIMINATOR - THE PREDATOR - THE TERMINATOR - (Arnold, never sued me) ... and of course, continued to market and sell,
Things were getting very, very weird to say the least. We had people from all the major guitar companies, trying to sneak a peak into our facility and get a glimpse of our operation. Some of them even succeeded apparently, posing as potential customers and wearing hidden cameras. Soon there were photographs all over the internet of our warehouse which showed our labeling and confidential, proprietary information about where we bought our products. Now, I have to admit. at first I was fucking LIVID! I was doing everything I could to protect the brand and keep the evil forces away.
You see at the time, there was a certain stigma that went along with buying your materials in China/Korea and assembling them in the United States. I took a lot of heat, and a bunch of shit for that and I really wasn't sure why at the the time. After assessing the situation however it hit me. I was the little guy, blowing up in everyones faces and it just downright pissed them off! Who's this guy crashing our party all the big guitar companies were saying? It seemed like everyone wanted to jump on the bandwagon and fuck with me, just like the boys from Slayer did. I guess it's called, getting kicked when you're down. But things were about to get a whole lot worse for them.
What I did next, in my opinion single handedly changed the industry. I posted a 10 step explanation on my website, which explained exactly how ALL guitar companies operate. You see, even though 95% of everything built by Fender, Gibson, Ibanez, ESP, BC Rich, Washburn, Schector and all the others were built in China/Korea, I was the one being targeted and taking the blame.
I mean, these sons of bitches came at me guns a blazing, so I did what any right minded person would do, I fired back.
I simply explained to the masses, that North American Maple does not grow in China, hence the name. And it's quite simply easier and cheaper to actually ship it there, have it shaped and sent back to America, then doing it all here. Thanks to OSHA, EPA and all other regulatory restrictions, it's just a fact. I posted photos and descriptions on my website about the TRUTH and how most of the guitars consumers buy, touch China in one
way or another.
All hell broke loose.
Shortly thereafter in November, 2009. The DOJ raided the Gibson factory and filed federal charges against them, for illegally importing wood from India and Madagascar. The timing seemed to be more than a coincidence to me, seeing that the world was in a financial frenzy, and there was so much talk in the industry about who gets what from where. My take on the whole Gibson thing is that they were trying to alleviate one step in the production process and kudos to them for trying! Unfortunately, they neglected to pay off the wrong guy in Washington D.C, and it backfired on them.
As 2009 was coming to an end, The Slayer Saga continued through the holidays and in to the new year. I remember not having enough money to give anyone a christmas bonus, so I told everyone... choose any guitar you want and take it home. I felt horrible that I could not do more for everyone there. I had a dedicated crew and they were all pouring their lives into the company. But the simple fact was, I was being drained financially from the lawsuit. It had been going on now for more than 2 years, and the stress and bad publicity was really weighing on me. It seemed that it would never end, then in January 2010, things took a turn in my favor.
Slayer had been pushing to depose me and when I showed up at the deposition in Santa Monica, CA , they seemed perplexed to say the least. It was a rainy day in January when I arrived 12 story building. I was greeted by security who informed me, I was not allowed in the building. Now I was confused. They asked to depose me because they “had the goods on me” and were gonna hold my feet to the fire! But for some odd reason, they were now refusing me entry into the building! Hmmm… I wonder why?
As my lawyer and I stood at the door, it soon became evident what their motives were. They were to going to pay me off and cancel the deposition because they knew they had fucked up. I guess they were betting on me NOT showing up so they could file a motion and tell more lies to the judge. While standing in the rain waiting for an explanation, the “highly skilled” SLAYER lawyers called my cell phone and tried to play nice. The attorney on the other end of the line told me that they would drop the case and pay me $2xxxx to settle. I never laughed so hard in my life. My exact words were, “You fucking sued me and made my life a living hell and now you want to pay me off!?” I continued by saying, “You called me down here for a deposition, now lets get this over with.” The major issue SLAYER was now facing, was that the Judge ordered a what is called a “survey.” In an intellectual properties suit, the plaintiff must prove beyond a reasonable doubt, that the defendant is indeed infringing upon their IP rights. Not only is a survey very expensive, when SLAYER heard what would have had to transpire to push things in their favor, they started back peddling, and they were back peddling hard and fast!
Here's what literally would have had to happen, for SLAYER to continue with the frivolous lawsuit. The survey company would have had to attended a SLAYER concert incognito, and they would have had to witness someone at the concert asking for a SLAYER Series Guitar, at the merchandise booth.
It's that cut and dry, and SLAYER knew at that point, that they were in trouble. No one is the history of any SLAYER CONCERT anywhere, anytime was looking for the guitar at their concert. Anyone that knew about the TTM Slayer Series Guitar, knew of its origin.
After realizing that I was not going to accept their offer, they finally let us in. Then we hit the elevator where we proceeded to go to “OFFICIAL SLAYER HEADQUARTERS” and home of all their brilliant lawyers, the coveted 12th floor. As the deposition began, they had nothing... absolutely nothing. That's the cool thing about the truth. When you don't lie, depositions suck for the opposition. As the clocked ticked closer to the lunch hour, I felt another offer to settle coming up. This time, they bumped their offer to $6xxxxx. They would give me a check, pay all legal fees, and no hard feelings. Again, I didn't know whether to laugh or throw up. My lawyer suggested that we break for lunch, and reconvene in 45 minutes. My comments to them were sharpen their pencils.
As we stepped into the elevator and descended down to Santa Monica Blvd, I told my lawyer, lets end this. I knew when we got back from lunch they would have another offer and I knew what it would be. I just wanted to end the stress, and nonsense that was ruining my business and my life.
After lunch, we arrived back to the conference room 5 minutes early, the lead attorney had a sticky note in his hand with a number on it. He said, “I just spoke to Rick and he approved this amount.” Now after all of the research, all of the motions, all of the answers and everything else that goes into a 2 1/2 year federal case, I had no fucking idea who this Rick guy was. In hindsight, I wish I had because it would have changed my perspective on things. Nevertheless, the number on the sticky note was agreed to. Now do to a non-disclosure agreement, I am not permitted to disclose the amount. I can say this however, Kerry King, the founding member of Slayer, asked if he could pay me in 2 installments. WHAT A JOKE... Oh, and Rick... that was Rick Rubin.
Driving back to Palm Desert was bittersweet. I was glad it was all over, but like other things in the world, I just didn't understand their motives. It turns out they wanted to do some deal with SONY Playstation or some gaming company that involved a guitar called The Slayer. How'd that turn out for you? All you nitwits had to do, was come to me early on and say, “Hey, we were just going to trademark that and you beat us to the punch - can we give you a little incentive to assign it to us?” Instead, your big, fat overinflated egos got in the way and you got fucked. Believe me, I'm a fairly creative guy, I could have come up with another name for the guitar model in 2 seconds. Your band never once entered my mind when I was naming my guitar.
Why would I name a guitar after something I have no interest in whatsoever? ANSWER: I wouldn't.
During the two and a half year debacle that was the Slayer vs TTM Guitars lawsuit; we saw many highs, and many lows.
TTM HIGH-POINTS INCLUDED BUILDING GUITARS FOR THESE ARTISTS.
MICK ABRAHAMS - JETHRO TULL, BLOODWYN PIG (Signature Series Model)
KYLE AHERN - KYLE AHERN
STACEY BLADES - LA GUNS (Signature Series Model)
JIMI CRAIG - MOTOR GUN HOTEL
FRANCESCO DICOSMO - EVANESENCE, THIN LIZZY, MONTROSE (Signature Series Model)
CC DEVILLE - POISON (Signature Series Model)
MARK KENDALL - GREAT WHITE (Signature Series Model)
MILES GOODWYN - APRIL WINE (Signature Series Model)
IAN HATTON - JASON BONHAM
CHRIS HOUCHIN - HOOCHIE COO
MICHAEL LARDIE - GREAT WHITE (Signature Series Model)
ALEX LIFESON - RUSH (Signature Series Model)
STEPHAN LILL - VANDENPLAS (Signature Series Model)
VINCE NEIL MOTLEY CRUE
BOB WELCH - FLEETWOOD MAC
And many more...
OTHER HIGHLIGHTS INCLUDE:
Prog-Rock Virtuoso Stephan Lill plays a TTM Devastator in Vanden Plas “Holes in the Sky” video! TTM Guitars, featured on
THE PRICE IS RIGHT- GUITAR PLAYER MAGAZINE, and countless promotions by various artists at concerts worldwide.
But in the end, it was just too much. After the lawsuit, a lot of people who I believed to be loyal to the brand jumped ship, and I can't blame them... hell, it was rough. I decided to sell the company to an employee that had indeed put a lot of time and effort into the company. He thought he could make a go of it as rough as the waters were. I agreed to stay on as a consultant for 1 year, and even arranged a payment plan for him to finance the balance. But in the end, he defaulted and in 2012, I inherited the TTM name and brand back.
Over the last 5 years, numerous Chinese companies have continued to profit off my hard work, dedication and infamous TTM brand name. These companies offer counterfeit knockoffs, that in no way, represents my quality or integrity. I started TTM Guitars because I love guitars and I love playing them but more importantly, I love watching others enjoy them.
It's time to get back and finish what I started. So after 5 years of serious thought, I once again bring you the guitar brand the “BIG BOYS” love to hate... TTM Guitars.
Yeah, I'm thinking I'm back.
July 4, 2017.
Lance M. Benedict
Founder/Owner - TTM Guitars