So, this past week, Pam, Morgan, and I were able to take a tour of the Original Fuzz offices downtown, and while going in to a place where people are basically going to show off their product can be kind of awkward, we all left pretty impressed. Original Fuzz is a local startup company in Jacksonville that was founded by friends and business partners Zach Lever and Lee McAlilly, before this year’s One Spark event. They were one of four finalists selected by the KYN accelerator program, which grew out of One Spark because of Shad Khan’s generous STACHE Investment Fund, and for the last three months they’ve set up shop in the KYN offices downtown, where they’re being mentored by other business advisors as they continue to develop their own line of guitar accessories.
“That million dollars [from the STACHE Investment Fund], went to fund this [KYN], a little bit of seed funding for us, staff, interns, and office space, so it was a big opportunity for us,” said Lever.
Lever was a lawyer who moonlighted as a guitar teacher, and McAlilly was a web developer, that, you guessed it, also happened to be a guitarist. Lever got tired of lawyer life and decided to do something that would bring him closer to his biggest passion in life, guitar playing, and started coming up with the various products that Original Fuzz features on their website right now. The first thing that Lever pulled together was the Fuzz Bag, Original Fuzz’s version of a photographer’s camera bag, except, obviously, this is for guitarists. Lever took an old gym bag he found at his dad’s house and started fiddling with it, and eventually he came up with a bag that has separate pockets for pedals, picks, cables, and anything else of reasonable size that a guitarist might need. And while yes, there are other bags out there like this, like all of Original Fuzz’s accessories, the Fuzz Bag has a sexless look that makes it universal. And that’s really the beauty of the initial line of products that Original Fuzz sports right now: the fact that everything that they’re putting together is simple enough to be used by just about everyone.
Right now, the highlights of their line are guitar straps that are either “solid” or “Peruvian”, with the main difference being that every one of the Peruvian straps are handwoven in Peru, where the artisans who make the straps are paid living wages and have a safe place to work under fair trade guidelines. The Peruvian straps look beautiful, but the coolest part about them is that because every single one is made by a person and not a machine, Lever and McAlilly tell people that the images on the website should be looked at as an overall template to decide on, instead of exactly what each customer is going to get. The beauty and craftsmanship are always going to be there, but every strap is going to look a little bit unique. And while the Peruvian straps are handwoven in Peru, the rest of their products are made in a variety of places.
“We found a co-op in Mexico for the leather on the straps, the cables are made in Georgia, and the bags are made right here in Jacksonville, in San Marco,” said McAlilly.
Another thing that has to be highlighted about Original Fuzz is that McAlilly obviously used his skills as a web developer to make a usable website. So many times, the main thing that sets apart long-standing corporate giants and brand-new start-up companies in the digital age is the ability of corporations to hire the best developers to at least try and come up with a website that doesn’t suck. Most of the time, they still have bad layouts, but McAlilly cranked out a very bare-bones, yet stylish bedrock that serves to accentuate the products while still making it easy for fellow guitar players to buy what he and Lever are selling. But even if online shopping isn’t your thing, Original Fuzz products are available at Clark’s Music Center, Ronan School of Music, and Guitars United here in town, and various other shops up and down the East Coast, so there’s no excuse not to try out at least one of their products, especially if you live in Jax.