Mike Mollenhauer has loved all things guitar since he was a boy. But after a brief stretch as a professional musician, he settled into a career that utilized his promotional skills and eventually formed 1to1 Network LLC, an advertising and marketing agency.


Several years ago, however, after a lackluster experience in a large music store, he took a leap of faith and formed Mollenhauer Guitars. After manufacturing an initial batch of 50 guitars, Mollenhauer is carving a niche in the boutique and custom guitar market.


"After having done advertising and marketing for 35 years for scores of clients I had the opportunity to start my own guitar company. I thought wouldn't be nice if I could use the same marketing and advertising strategies. I wondered what would happen. The result is a resounding success."


Not only does he enjoy dealing in musical instruments, but his new company dove-tails into his day job.


"It's been good for me on a couple of levels. I have one of the few marketing agencies that actually owns a business."


He's discovered that even in a slow market, he can sell product as long as he properly shows the product's benefits. "There's always a buyer for that item."


For the first four years sales were made mostly online, but then he started to get phone calls. And with some of his instruments selling for as high as $5,000, he decided to open the showroom.


"It's helpful to have a place where they see it, feel it, touch it."


After setting up a small location in Hesperia, he recently opened his Route 66 Guitar Showroom in Victorville. Last Thursday he and members of the Hesperia and Hispanic chambers of commerce celebrated with a ribbon cutting ceremony.


Mollenhauer Guitars began on a whim after he visited a large retailer with the idea of purchasing a top-of-the-line name-brand guitar for $4,000. But he picked it up and was disappointed.


"It just played horrible. The action wasn't set. The intonation wasn't set."


The salesman said it would take another week and a few hundred dollars to get it ready.


"I was heartbroken because this was my dream guitar."


So a few months later Mollenhauer had an idea: Maybe he could build 50 guitars, keep the ones he wanted and sell the rest.


"I'd get free guitars, and that's what I did," Mollenhauer said. "We sold them all and I got a little bit of a profit."


Then the phone calls came. "You've got any more of these?" the caller would ask.


So he made another 75, then he created another 100 and sold those too.


"I would make each series better than the last one."


He soon realized he couldn't compete with the large music retailers, so he decided that rather than go after the consumer market he would go after higher-end boutique guitar buyer. He made quality his main selling point.


"I want my guitars to be playable as soon as the come off the showroom floor. I want my guitars to be perfect. I think there's a market for that. And there is."


Not surprisingly his guitars come with a 100 percent unconditional guarantee but "so far I haven't had to give any money back."


Along the way he hooked up with local luthier Chris Petersen, who added helped take the product to an even higher level.


"I think he's one of the best in the country."


Mollenhauer, whose has ancestors who were known for their classical music prowess, utilizes social media such as Twitter and Facebook to get the word out. His company also helps raise for the Boys and Girls Club, Mollenhauer said.


So far, Mollenhauer Guitars manufacturers traditional-styled electric guitars. The models include the TeleSnaZzer, New Series 3 LP and Series 3 G35, to name a few.


"We're taking the traditional styles and just making them better."


And several celebrity endorsers, including Paul Kingery of Three Dog Night, David Langley, who has toured with name country acts, and Jeff Cook of the Alabama Band, are playing his instruments.


One thing that draws players to Mollenhauer guitars is the custom artwork on the higher-end, custom instruments. Surfboard artist Drew Brophy has lent his talents on a TeleSnaZzer, and custom bike painter Jesse James Bondo has performed custom paint jobs to order.


Other members of his team include his wife Linda, "guitar girl" Amber McGuire who attends promotional events and photographer Yvon Bourque, who takes photos of Mollenhauer guitars for print projects.


The newest collaboration comes from Daytec, a Hesperia-based company known as one of the largest after-market Harley-Davidson frame builders in the world. Owned by Phil Day, Daytec is currently creating prototypes of pick guards made from stainless steel.


Mollenhauer has created a five-year plan to grow his business. But the most important thing is to continue enjoying what he does.


"It's got to be fun. I want to enjoy this."