by Cori Hilsgen
Famous guitar player/inventor Rob Chapman, who hails from the United Kingdom, was at Riff City Guitar June 12-14.
Riff City Guitar is the first store in America to stock Chapman guitars. Chapman plans to stock his guitars at only a few select stores in America.
Riff City owner, Joe Leach’s son, Will, is a fan of Chapman. While Chapman was at the National Association of Music Merchants show in California displaying his guitars, Will kept texting Leach to check out Chapman’s guitars.
Leach researched the guitars, met Chapman and agreed to be the first distributer in the United States.
“We are very happy to be the first U.S. dealer of Chapman guitars,” Leach said. “Chapman guitars are not only fantastic guitars, but they are very affordable. They have a ‘direct-to-store’ distribution model, which keeps the prices much lower than other brands. They are great electric guitars for almost any type of music.”
To say thank you to Leach for taking the risk of being the first store to carry his guitars, Chapman decided to fly over, meet people and promote his guitars.
Chapman spent his 39th birthday at Riff City. One fan drove seven hours to come to meet him.
“It really humbles me people will travel that far to come and see me,” he said.
Chapman also performed at the Pioneer Place June 14, the evening of his birthday, along with three other bands, 4 Below Zero, Rhythm and Blue Cheese and Seazon of the Fly for a Rob Chapman Birthday Bash. The 4 Below Zero band featured Will Leach on lead guitar. Proceeds from the performance were donated to the School of Rock program.
Joe Leach said he “sat in” for one song at the birthday bash.
Chapman is well known in the music world and is internationally renowned for his YouTube channel.
He worked for labels playing and doing some transcribing work and ended up in lots of different bands and making YouTube videos.
The YouTube videos went really big. All of a sudden, if you were a guitar player, you knew who he was.
“It just blew up,” Chapman said.
His popularity has grown rapidly. He said he has even had people faint when they meet him and shake his hand.
While playing demonstrations in clinics for a guitar company, fans would come up and get his autograph and take photographs with him. The owner of the guitar brand was very confused and asked how people knew who Chapman was because at that time he wasn’t famous yet.
Chapman told him the fans found him through YouTube. The owner understood YouTube was the new media and decided to make Chapman a signature guitar he could design, and they would make a limited number of them.
“I was just blown away, really excited and it was all really sudden,” Chapman said.
The owner asked Chapman to tell him what he wanted for the guitar. Chapman asked his YouTube subscribers what they wanted to see in his signature guitar. Because of that, he said he unwittingly invented a collaborative design by new media.
“The response was phenomenal,” Chapman said. “Customers are not used to being asked what they would like. They are used to here’s a product, buy it.”
The company was inundated with many more orders than expected. Instead of releasing it through their own brand they decided to create Chapman’s own brand – Chapman Guitars. All 500 of that model sold out.
Chapman later formed a friendship with a gentleman who owns a guitar store in England and they partnered. YouTube is the platform to design, promote and market their guitars. The guitars are designed democratically or collaboratively with the people that follow Chapman on YouTube. They help choose the designs, features and specifications of the guitars.
Chapman said his subscribers make great choices. He loves guitars and making them and said he is motivated by making loads of cool prototypes.
“I never went out to make a guitar company, it just kind of happened,” Chapman said. “It’s one of these things I just really enjoy the whole process of. I am always thinking of the next kind of thing to design and try to keep them really affordable.”
Chapman tours with his band Dorje in the United Kingdom. Because touring is very expensive, when Chapman and his band decided to go on tour the first time, they asked YouTube followers to support them by buying a CD or DVD. Through purchases, fans gave them about $30,000.
Chapman is a big fan of doing things himself. He shoots and edits the music videos. They are a self-managed, self-released band. They have their own studio, write their own music and release it through iTunes themselves.
Chapman didn’t plan to be a musician.
“Both of my parents are musicians, but because they were that was the last thing I ever really wanted to do,” Chapman said.
His uncle was also a big guitar player and introduced Chapman to YouTube. On his 16th birthday he got his first guitar, hit one chord and decided that was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. He started out playing about seven or eight hours each day and attended the Guitar Institute of Technology to become a better musician.
“I am famous to guitar players or people in that kind of rock, metal, blues genre,” Chapman said. “My music hasn’t broken mainstream into people’s homes that just like rock music a lot, but anywhere guitars would be, they’ll know who I am.”
Besides his guitars, Chapman also has a signature amplifier.
Chapman now has 170,000 subscribers. He gets 2.2 million views and 6,000 new subscribers on YouTube per month. Chapman believes he possibly has more subscribers than Gibson, Fender or any of the bigger brands or even most of the record labels.
Chapman said he enjoyed visiting Minnesota.
“It’s nice to come somewhere else where people are very friendly,” Chapman said. “I heard about something called ‘Minnesota Nice’ before I came here, but it seems to be that way, doesn’t it? It’s the first time I have really seen America, because although I have been to America six times before, I’ve never really seen genuine American households and been invited into a house, been to a proper cafe and had pie,” Chapman said. “Minnesota to me is the America I wanted to see.
Chapman ate his first piece of pie at Kay’s Kitchen and met the owner, Tanya Finken.
“I had my first pie ever,” Chapman said. “That is the best place I have eaten in America, and she was so nice. It’s that kind of business I like to support.”
Chapman has one brother. He is engaged to Natassja Saliba, who is a vocalist/pianist from Malta. They are working together on a project called Red Tower.
Chapman tours across the United Kingdom and plans to tour in America next year.
Riff City Guitar and Music Co. is a national online and local, music instrument retailer. For more information, visit its website at riffcityguitar.com.
photo by Cori Hilsgen
Renowned guitar player and inventor Rob Chapman recently visited with fans at Riff City Guitar. He flew in from the United Kingdom because Riff City is the first retailer in America to carry the Chapman guitar brand.
photo by Cori Hilsgen
Rob Chapman and his fiancé, Natassja Saliba, recently visited with fans at Riff City Guitar.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.