If you wanted to support the thesis that a person’s job influences and affects their nature and appearance, Holger Stonjek would provide perfect proof. He is a charming character radiating good vibrations. He manages his company with attention to detail, vision and modesty – and in doing so, he was able to turn it into one of the most popular bass brands in Europe, the world even.
It all started in a converted pigsty
It all started roughly 31 years ago in the pigsty of an old estate near Wolfsburg. Then, Holger Stonjek started to screw on and repair bass guitars together with his friend Gerd Gorzelke. Since the estate and the pigsty belonged to a music teacher, news of the repair shop got about quickly and more and more musicians brought their instruments. “In this way, we’ve learned a lot about the details of basses and guitars.” Roughly two years later, the two free-time bass builders got to do their own shapes and developed their own designs – and surprise, there was a demand and their hobby turned into a business.
“Am Sandberg” was the name of the street in which the first workshop was located
“After some time, the project needed a name,” Holger Stonjek remembers and adds that his own last name was not suitable at all to be a brand name. “Originally being a piano builder, I knew these renowned German piano brands such as Steinweg and Bechstein,” he explains. “Our intention was to find such a well-sounding German name which also works internationally.” For some time he and Gerd were fishing in the dark until Holger became aware that the street, in which their workshop was located, was called “Am Sandberg”. So the brand name Sandberg was found – and an unparalleled success story started. It was interrupted once at the end of the 1990s when electronic music emerged and the temporary lack of young bassists led to a decline in the instrument industry. Then, Gerd Gorzelke left the business and Holger Stonjek became sole manager of Sandberg.
Bassists of Rammstein and Prince as brand ambassadors
In order to perfect bass building and to become more known, Sandberg used its contact to popular bands and bassists early in its history. “These pros know exactly what they need and what the weak spots of other guitars are,” Holger says and mentions the personal relationships, which he and his employees have with many famous bassists, to be a key factor for success. Rammstein bassist Oliver Riedel, Ken Taylor, bassist of Peter Maffay and Bruce Springsteen, or Ida Nelson, long-time bassist of Prince are just a few examples. “Actually, we know all of these famous musicians personally and have become true friends with some of them.” Friendship often seems to be an overused term in the world of business, however, when Holger Stonjek uses this term, it sounds credible.
High share of manual work complemented by state-of-the-art CNC manufacturing
Just as unexcited, reliable and clearly structured as the boss are the processes in his company. The roughly 25 employees – many of them have been inducted personally – appear to be motivated and immerse themselves in their work in an almost meditative manner. The share of manual work in this segment of instrument building is very high. In particular, the final touch of the body, manufacturing the neck and assembling all individual components require a high degree of sensitivity and experience according to Holger Stonjek. Besides that, there are highly precise CNC machines, e.g. for cutting the body and the precise shaping of the neck.
In-house developments in every field
Whether it is the wood, the electronics or the hardware – Sandberg only uses parts they have manufactured, finished or developed themselves. This meticulous, very individual approach – in connection with a fair balance of machine production and manual work – is Sandberg’s recipe of success in Holger Stonjek’s opinion. “In this way, we can offer very good bass guitars at an interesting price-performance ratio,” he explains, seeming pleasantly modest.
“aged” – which means vintage bass guitars
A specialty perfected by Sandberg in recent years is manufacturing new guitars having an old look. “In the beginning, this was a joke for a trade fair,” Holger says, “but then it became quite successful, so that we have continuously improved this finish ever since”. For this segment, Würth screws are prepared in acid baths and vibrating units to make them rust. Because only authentic components may be part of a vintage bass. “When the Würth sales rep saw this for the first time, he almost dropped backwards out of the workshop, because he thought the Würth screws had a quality problem,” Holger laughs, “but I could assure him that we had prepared them to rust”.
The four reasons for Würth
Holger Stonjek does not only trust Würth quality regarding screws. He also uses tools, abrasives, machines and personal protective equipment of the Würth brand. In this way, Germany’s most famous guitar brand has grown for more than 20 years with Würth at its side selling their top bass guitars made in Germany worldwide. Holger Stonjek mentions four reasons for the cooperation with Würth: Quality, availability and price are the first three. However, of the same importance for him is that the cooperation is fun, which is often forgotten. “Working with Würth has always been fun and it just flows – regarding personal interaction, quality and reliability.”