Justin Grizzle fell into the music business naturally. “I married the boss’s eldest daughter,” he laughs. Gold Tone Music Group was founded by Wayne and Robyn Rogers, who still operate the company to this day. Justin serves as General Manager, running the company’s day-to-day business, while Wayne focuses on product development, and Robyn serves as vice president.
“She has the final inspection,” says Justin. “She inspects and packs between forty and sixty instruments a day, and her brother, Brian, handles the shipping. We ship out about one thousand instruments a month.” Robyn’s nickname is “Mama Gold Tone.”
The family-run company is in Titusville, Florida. Founded in 1993, Gold Tone’s roots go back long before that. “Both Wayne and Robyn were folk musicians,” says Justin. “They opened a shop called Strings & Things Music Center in 1976.” As the company expanded, they realized they could build instruments. In 1993 Robyn and Wayne began building instruments in a shed in their backyard.
“What was unique about them is they had a strong retail background, and they knew what musicians wanted when they came in,” explains Justin. “Not many people who came in their store could afford banjos, and there was a lack of parts.” Wayne found ways to reduce the cost of entry-level banjos, making them accessible to more people. They created a quality banjo that players could access at a good price.” The Gold Tone TB-100 travel banjo, with its shorter neck and smaller body, was sold via mail order, and the banjo got a great review in a magazine that opened the doors to stores calling, wanting to sell the banjo.
From that backyard shop, Gold Tone has now become a major player in the music industry with several factories overseas. “We design and engineer everything here,” says Justin. “And we still handcraft some instruments here. We do a lot of custom work.” The company also does repair work for musicians around the world. “We have ten guys in our repair shop. They are set up to change hardware, file frets, cut neck angles, and much more. That approach makes us different from a lot of other import companies.” Justin says that all the company’s instrument technicians are gigging musicians.
Wayne Rogers always believed that unique instruments open a musician’s ability to create. One of those musicians is Bela Fleck, who Justin says is a perfect spokesperson for the company.
“He owns several of our banjos, including the Cello, Baritone and Piccolo. The Bluegrass Heart banjo spawned from our OB-3 Twanger, a pre-war style resonator banjo that is a replica of J.D. Crowe’s original RB-3 Banger. It’s something really unique for the modern banjo player.”
The company caters to those who play traditional bluegrass and folkstyle instruments, as well as those who are into what Wayne calls “Folkternative” instruments, many of which are hybrids that combine instruments, including a mandolin-guitar, mandolin-cello, a dojo (five-string dobro style), banjo-bass, resonator bass and more. “They are interesting, real instruments for real musicians,” says Justin. Traditional instruments are still as popular as ever. “Within the last four to five years, with the release of our OB-3 Twanger banjo, we have taken a step into a higher league of players. And now there’s the OB-2 Bowtie, both of which are under the Mastertone name. We are finding ourselves in a new ballgame for expectations of what our instruments can do.”
One of the things Justin likes most about the company is that it is a local, family-based company.
“We have a cool dynamic here. We are all really easygoing. Our customers enjoy the fact that we are personable and open to hearing new ideas. And when you call our company, we actually answer the phone.”
Justin says many of their clients come directly to the store. “When they get here, they are blown away by the number of instruments we have here.” The company is located near the Kennedy Space Center and Orlando, a perfect location for shipping instruments across the country or around the world.
There are other related companies under the Gold Tone umbrella. Earth Tone is the manufacturer of real calf skin drumheads. Woodsong is Gold Tone’s acoustic guitar line. Zero Glide is a patented nut for any stringed instrument. Gold Tone is the distributor for Jose Jimenez classic guitars, another family company located in Madrid. And Loop-2-Learn is a smartphone app that makes learning new songs easier by allowing the user to loop a portion of any YouTube video or video from their camera roll.
“It was built with the intention of learning songs,” Justin says. “It takes the start and end parameters and loops them. Users can even adjust the speed while retaining the pitch.”