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INVICTUS GUITARS UK: VICTIMS OR VILLAINS?
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A few months back my good friend Aaron Marshall (of Intervals fame) told me about a company called Invictus Guitars UK that had found themselves at the center of a growing controversy with regards to their custom guitar builds. Allegedly, they’d been taking orders and building a reputation through some very public band endorsements and attractive imagery, stirring a buzz in the music world and raking in a tidy sum of money from musicians interested in getting their hands on a custom guitar. Unfortunately, by many accounts they seemed to hit somewhat of a snag with regards to actually completing those builds and sending out the finished products, a problem that struck a lot of people as fairly severe.
At first, I made the somewhat sophomoric decision to simply troll their Facebook page posing acerbic questions regarding dissatisfied customers and making admittedly incendiary statements, basically just fanning the flames of something I’d hardly begun to fully understand. But the novelty of that wore of fairly quickly, and I was almost immediately blocked from further posts on their page, and all my witty jabs were instantly removed like so many dubious growths on Invictus’ hairy back.
Undaunted, I proceeded to shit-talk them from the fringe of relevance on the pretense of hearsay alone, until coming to the realization that I’ve actually got a bit of a voice here at The Monolith, and rather than continuing to idly prod at their ribcages with the ten-foot-pole of juvenile Facebook insults, I could actually do some research and take a shot at legitimately investigating the situation from a more professional standpoint.
I make these confessions in the interest of showing my hand. At the outset of my involvement in this situation, I hardly took it seriously, and held blatant biases based on second hand accounts, forming my own opinions and waging attacks without bothering to check my facts. This approach is immature and unfair, and I make no effort to defend that behaviour. Instead, I’ve attempted to make reparations here by gathering as much impartial information from as many diverse sources as possible, in the interest of painting a clearer picture of the company, and the situation they’ve found themselves in.
So with that I give my word to Invictus’ supporters and detractors alike that this will not be under any circumstances be a witch hunt, devised for the sole purpose of slandering a company and their work. On the other side of the coin, I won’t shy away from exposing any ugly facts when I find them verified, nor will I pull any punches when they are warranted. The majority of this piece however, will let my sources speak for themselves, in the interest of delivering the pure, undiluted truth of the matter.
So without further ado, let’s get our spelunking gear on and prepare to rappel into this bottomless chasm. Ladies and gentlemen, this is;
Invictus Guitars UK: Villains or Victims?
Invictus Guitars UK is a custom guitar company, obviously based in the UK, that boasts some very impressive pictures of guitars on their website. So impressive, in fact, that they quickly made a bit of a name for themselves throughout the industry, perking up the ears of aficionados worldwide with their attractive finishes and novel body shapes. As a result, within months of their arrival on the scene, Invictus were inundated with orders from all over the world from established musicians and interested amateurs alike. Sounds awesome, right? Indeed it did – at first.
Everything was going swimmingly until somewhere along the line, some people noticed that instead of the guitars they had ordered, they were instead receiving a lot of excuses and stalling from the folks at Invictus. It was met with goodwill and patience at the beginning, but quickly began to wear thin as customers grew more agitated with time. A problem with production here, a postponed shipping date there, these were things that happened all the time with any business, and a few bumps in the road for a relatively new company is excusable. Most folks are happy to take things as they come and are prepared to deal with a few minor setbacks here and there.
Unfortunately, things only got more complicated from then on. While some got their guitars right away and were thoroughly satisfied with the quality, others still were left in the cold, having already paid for an instrument and being repeatedly told they would have to wait longer, and longer, and longer. One of those people happened to be Billy Anderson of Long Island based band Ever Forthright, who along with fellow band guitarist Nick Llerandi, had ordered instruments from Invictus. Billy took the time to compose the following comprehensive account of their experiences dealing with the company:
Invicdick guitars: A horror story by Ever Forthright
Nick and I were seeking guitar endorsements after releasing the first Ever Forthright CD because we were sick of playing our mediocre Agile guitars. We had offers from companies like Mayones, Halo, Novax, etc. We decided to go with Invictus Guitars UK since they had a few notable artists endorsing the guitars and they had offered us the best deal – pay for the hardware and the rest is free as long as we promote their guitars. It came out to £550 for each of the guitar. This seemed like a great deal…at first.
We had spoken to Garth, the owner, and finalized our specs and details quickly. The guitars were paid for on February 11th, and our turnaround time was expected to be 3-4 months. After a few emails we were told that the builds were supposed to start February 20th, but after a few run around and non-answered emails we were told that the builds started March 5th and that the estimated completion date would be 4 months later, which would be on June 5th.
Around April 22nd Gareth sent us a picture of our neck blanks. We had to pick the one that we wanted…
We were told many times that we were going to receive pictures of our build early on in the process to show the progressions made. After bugging them for months, we finally received a picture of them. Here is the picture from May 23rd captioned “The Ever Forthright builds have begun”.
… three months after the build started I thought we’d have something more than a neck blank laying on top of a piece of wood that had a guitar body shape drawn on it.
Every once and a while we’d have a chat with Gareth about the guitars and such and he’d always send us sob stories and excuses about everything that was happening with his company which caused him to slow down on his work. One time he even had the nerve to shit talk one of his customers because they couldn’t make up their mind about what they had wanted, he told us to “avoid him like the plague”. So professional.
I noticed Lee McKinney from Born of Osiris had posted on their page asking what was up with his guitar because it has been a while since he was supposed to receive his guitar. I sent Lee a message and he told me what his situation was with Invictus. It turned out that he’s been waiting just like us with barely any communication, and whenever he did get a message, it was just chock full of excuses. He was waiting for his guitar to be finished since February with no sign of it being completed anytime soon.
From time to time we’d check their Facebook page to see what was going on, he’d post a few pictures of things, but mostly pictures of this “studio” they were building in their workshop. Clearly they weren’t spending their time and money correctly.
We had planned to use these guitars in a video shoot for “Lost In Our Escape” and had told them what the original shoot date was which was supposed to be in the first two weeks of June. They said that they would do their best to have them done on June 10th, Gareth wrote to us saying the guitars would need at least another 2 days of work to finish so he could send them overnight to us in time for the video. Fortunately the shoot for the video was rescheduled so they had more time to build the guitars.
July 23rd came around and we got another email from Gareth saying that the guitars were ready to be shipped out. The day of the video shoot came around that weekend and we didn’t hear a word from anyone at Invictus Guitars. Nothing. We ended up shooting the video using Ibanez guitars.
On August 3rd we were told again that the guitars “HAVE been assembled, tested, and have either been shipped or packed up for shipping.” Nick was also informed that the guitars would be in our hands on August 17th.
On August 20th Myriad Records had sent an email to Invictus seeing what was going on. The response we got back was that the guitars would not be here on time for our tour with Intervals, which was on September 6th. Also the email contained a few pathetic excuses as to why the guitars weren’t done on time. I mean, not even done anywhere near on time. The excuses were as follows
- “…Our largest ever endorsees (Vildhjarta) launched an attack on us after their guitars were damaged in transit. The fallout caused a member of the band to leave and their manager to be stricken from the record label’s books.“
- “We’ve had customers from Gareth’s previous workplaces attack Invictus Guitars, over disputes they’ve had with products totally unrelated to Gareth at all.”
- “We’re currently in dispute with the band Periphery (whom I’m sure you’re particularly aware of), who continue to unjustifiably attack and belittle our workshop. Both Misha and Adam continue to launch a hate campaign against our products – despite never having tried the guitars in person, and despite our numerous offers for them to at least TRY our guitars before slating them in a public forum.”
- “The organizers of the UK Tech Metal Festival are now refusing to amend our agreement, when we discovered they had cheated us out of thousands of pounds (GBP) to attend the festival. Money was never taken (or requested) by any other attending company…”
- “We have received threats of blackmail from anonymous person(s) demanding large sums of money.”
Ok. So none of those situations really affect why the guitar was soooo fucking late. Vildhjarta and Periphery launched “hate campaigns” against your products? That is quite the hyperbole. Vildhjarta said they were no longer endorsing your guitars and the two members of Periphery had pointed out some flaws they noticed in the pictures on your site. That’s it. By this point we were pretty furious. It’s been nothing but excuses from every angle up until now.
Soon after the tech fest, we saw a few posts online of a few members who tried Invictus guitars and thought they were “Abysmal”. Overall, people said they were terrible guitars. I hoped this wasn’t true.
We eventually came across a luthier’s page who had gotten one of Gareth’s old builds (before it was known as Invictus) and it had pictures of all the shoddy work. It was just incredibly horrid. We had hoped ours wouldn’t come out the same way.
7 months later, September 5th rolls around and we were just about ready to leave for tour when the guitars finally showed up at Nick’s house. Up until this point I tried to force myself to believe all the rumors I had heard were false.
First of all, the guitar was forced into the case it came in because the case was too small. Upon trying to play the guitar, I realized all my fears were true. It was undoubtedly the worst guitar I have ever touched in my life.
Here’s a complete list of what was wrong with this thing. Some pictures too:
- Sloppy job on nut mounting
- Nut popping off
- Sloppy job on headstock joint
- Missing Invictus logo
- Sloppy truss rod hole drilling
- No truss rod cover
- Crooked frets
- Uneven fret wire widths
- Unleveled fret wire heights
- Slanted fret wire
- Fret wire popping out of fret board
- Missing inlays on front of fret board
- Sloppy work where fret board meets body
- Sloppy / uneven inlays on side of fret board
- Guitar finish comes off where you touch the guitar on the body, neck, fret board
- Stripped screws on electronics cavity
- Uneven/sloppy carving job
- Bridge mounted in wrong place for scale length, unable to intonate.
- Bridge needs to be moved back over 1/4”, new holes for strings need to be drilled
- Neck length was built for 28” scale. I asked for 27.5
- Missing burned name in back of headstock
- Bridge base plate was gold colored, spray painted black. Saddles ripped off black paint
- String holes in back not straight.
- Action too high even when saddles at lowest height.
- Didn’t come with wood covered pickups
- Didn’t come with extra set of Invictus pickups
- Multiple styles on string holders used on back of guitar
- High E and low F# too close to edge of fret board, slips off
Seriously, I’d rather rock a daisy rock guitar.
It was clear that the builder didn’t know how to properly make a guitar. To send a guitar out in this shape is pathetic. It was clear why so many artists stopped using these guitars.
I brought this thing on tour and tried to fix it but it was nearly impossible. After I told the owner at Invictus of all the problems, he agreed to pay all the fees to get it fixed up. I brought it to a local luthier who looked at it and instantly saw problems. He thought it may just need a setup and a fret re-dress. When I came back the next day to get the guitar, there was a note that said the guitar was much more work than anticipated, the bridge was not placed properly on the guitar and in addition to how far back he had already moved it, it needed to be moved back another ¼”. Basically new holes for the strings would have to be drilled. I ordered a 27.5” scale, but the guitar was built for something like 28”, but he just put the bridge 27.5” from the nut.
Playing this guitar was extremely uncomfortable and gave me cramps/pains. My Schecter Hellraiser special was much more comfortable. I sold the guitar as close to 1/3 of Invictus’s full price, selling it for their full price of about $3,000 was not fair at all.
We talked to Gareth on September 27th and he agreed to refund us back the money for one of the guitar and pay the bill for the repairs made on the other. We haven’t seen anything since
- Incredible wood selection
- Great general look (from afar)
- Sounded good
- The back of the guitar looked great
- Everything else you could imagine.
Today is Friday December 12th, 2012. Gareth still owes us over $1,200 USD for repair of the first guitar and for the guitar never sent. We’ve tried to be civil about this whole thing but we’re just so incredibly frustrated and pissed off. We just want our money back. I touched base with Lee McKinney yesterday and he still hasn’t heard a peep about his guitar. This is the worst experience dealing with a company ever. Know whom you’re dealing with, go support Strictly 7, Strandberg, Decibel, or a well-known custom guitar company.”
After learning of this, we got in touch with Jaime Gamble, head of Myriad Records, the label to whom Ever Forthright are signed, for more information on the subject. He gave us a very similar recollection of the events:
There was a good team at Invictus which departed around the summer. They were helpful to us in the process of trying to actually figure out what was going on, but the actual blame falls with their luthier, Gareth Dickie.
We knew that Lee from Born of Osiris hadn’t received his guitar when promised, and it was becoming more and more evident in my dialogues with Gareth that the same would happen to us. Another thing that stuck out in my mind was the Vildhjarta situation, and seeing the state of the guitars that Ever Forthright received, it was clear as day why Vildhjarta severed their ties.
Billy sent me the contract that Invictus had sent to them, and their contract is simply put, a joke. It has no legal grounding whatsoever, and after conversations with an old member of Invictus, he had divulged to me that Gareth devised the contract.
I had several conversations with Gareth that were just full of excuses and false promises, it became very tedious very quickly. We threatened legal action against Gareth, which will now proceed due to the monies lost, and to this date we still haven’t received a penny back.
My best advice for anyone seeking a custom guitar, please do your research on the company, go to reputable companies such as Acacia, Strictly 7, Mayones, Halo or whomever you know is a reputable company. There are too many ‘luthiers’ that will cut corners and deliver a product that is beyond unacceptable, such as Invictus.
So far the evidence seems to be mounting against Invictus. These testimonials are painting a pretty incriminating picture, to be sure – but the feedback isn’t all bad. We got in touch with Timfy, guitarist for UK based band Hacktivist, who told quite a different story about the company. His statement is brief, but to the point;
“Fantastic guitars! Well made from quality woods and resources! Those guys know what they are doing and deserve a way bigger rep than they have! I’m also just in stages of planning my second with them!”
This sentiment is, needless to say, completely adverse to those added by Ever Forthright and Myriad Records. How could one company have such remarkably polarized customers? Why were some left so dissatisfied while others seemed downright ecstatic about the products and services rendered by Invictus?
It’s only fair to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that nobody of sound mind would deliberately trifle with the needs and expectations of their customer base, so I think it’s reasonable to assume that Invictus Guitars UK are well intentioned, but for whatever reason are unable to follow through with their order schedule, thus disappointing many expectant musicians who have placed their trust, and a considerable sum of their income, with them.
This alone is not a legitimate reason to call shenanigans on them, as business deals often get delayed, and there are a multitude of factors that could explain why. What is less excusable, however, is how the manufacturer has apparently chosen to handle the completely warranted complaints following aforementioned delays. Judging by what we’ve learned here, they seem to have chosen not to handle them at all, but rather shirk responsibility and offer half-hearted excuses to bide time.
Worse yet, when the orders were received, it has been alleged that in some cases the quality of the finished product left much to be desired. The laundry list of faults and flaws that Billy outlined above is enough to make any gear junkie cringe in horror.
Following the trail in search of more perspective, we were led to a man named George Yiakoumi, who had designed Invictus’ website, when asked to describe his experiences in dealing with the company, George relayed the following:
“Basically the arrangement was that I’d make his website, and he’d make me an axe at low costs (hardware costs)
This was like… I dunno last year? I forget. Anyway, after some time I get interested in finding out where he is on my guitar, and so I tried to message him on Facebook and when I did it turns out that he’s no longer ‘friends’ with me on Facebook…
I think to myself… well, that’s weird. Did he delete me? (Is he avoiding me?)
So I ring the geezer up, “Gareth, how’s it goin’” “alright mate how are you” “I’m good, listen… where are we on my axe?” Apparently he says he’s not started as he’s got a few other guitars on the build from customers who actually paid… I said fair enough, when can I expect it then? He says he doesn’t know, his other luthier has fucked off and left him on his bill.
…and that’s pretty much it, still not heard from him, and to be honest I don’t think I’ll be getting it… and from what I’ve heard by other guitar players the guitar quality isn’t really worth it. anyway… he can have the site it’s not like it took me long, only a week of my life but I won’t be updating it or w/e, I’m out of it all till I hear back from him which will probably be never.”
George was very passive about the situation and added afterwards that he wasn’t even really upset about it. He, as with all of my sources, was adamant about not wanting to throw stones at Invictus, but rather was content to let the truth speak for itself. What the truth seems to be saying is that the problem may not lie with Invictus Guitars on the whole, but rather with luthier Gareth Dickie, whose name has appeared in every negative account and complaint stated so far.
Is this a case of a man who became overwhelmed with orders and was simply exasperated to the point of excuses, or even outright lies? Was Gareth in over his head and simply showing the strain in unfortunate ways? Or was this some sort of deliberate con to pass off shoddy workmanship and bad business dealings as quality instruments crafted by professionals? It seemed that the only place to find answers to those questions was from the man himself: Gareth Dickie.
We reached out to Dickie via email, despite being told by many sources that doing so would be an exercise in futility. Predictably, he did not respond, even though we made it very clear in our message that we simply wanted to offer him a chance to give his side of the story. This article has been in stasis awaiting his reply, and he’s had ample time to send one. It seems rather damning that he would opt to remain silent when given an opening to lay it on the line and share his side of the story, a tactic which undoubtedly does him more harm than good.
While waiting for a response that we had been assured was not coming, Billy Anderson brought it to our attention that Gareth had messaged him out of the blue recently, offering a plethora of excuses to explain away the ugly circumstances that surrounded his dealings with Ever Forthright. Billy agreed to let me publish the statement from Dickie in the interest of shedding a direct light on exactly how he carries himself professionally, and as it appears to be the closest thing to a statement we’ll be getting from Dickie, it will have to suffice to let Gareth speak for himself through the statement as follows:
Sorry for the lack of contact I’m sure you might think I’m just ignoring you. I’ve had a very bad time since Matt left me. I’ve other builds to finish in a similar state etc and it’s had me on the ropes. On top of all that my grand father died on Christmas day with my uncle following a week later.
I’ve also moved house over the festive period and I’m only now sorted with internet etc. I’m attending my grandfathers funeral this weekend.
I’m sorry for everything and I’m sure I can sort something out to make it up to you. If you want my phone no it’s [omitted]. Feel free to call me between 10 and 6 any day.
I hope this is okay.
Okay, sympathy for deceased relatives aside, that entire message was little more than a passive brush-off. It’s obvious that this is a last ditch effort on Gareth’s part to milk as much pity as possible from Billy’s good nature. At this point it seems safe to say that the professional demeanor of Gareth Dickie casts an ugly shadow over the company he represents, and that the satisfaction of his customers is low on his list of priorities.
It’s only sensible to assert that ordering a guitar from Invictus doesn’t seem like a good idea, as from what we’ve seen here the results are a gamble, at best. Rumours in circulation around social networks suggest that the company is already defunct, and that Gareth is grasping at straws as the water rushes in around him. This is no doubt unfortunate for him, but not entirely undeserved.
It’s become clear that at the core of this situation is a man who was unprepared or unable to follow through with commitments he made to his customers, plain and simple. The brief and abrupt nature of the feedback from his supporters is overwhelmingly crushed by the detailed accounts of his failures from dissatisfied parties. Whether accidental or intentional, Invictus Guitars UK have dropped the ball.
It has been promised to The Monolith’s sources that this investigation would be fair and unbiased, and we’ve taken measures to adhere to that as closely as possible. That being said, there is little doubt that Invictus Guitars are at fault for the disservices and failures described by their customers, and in spite of our incessant searching for a way to defend them, nearly every stone we’ve turned has exposed more dirt.
Therefore, we have no other option but to recommend that any potential customers avoid dealing with Invictus completely, as the evidence of their inadequacy as both a business and a manufacturer is nothing short of overwhelming. There may well be legitimate reasons behind the delays in builds and shipping, as well as the flaws and discrepancies of the manufacturing process, but there is no defense for the blatantly flippant attitude taken by Gareth Dickie towards managing the situation and satisfying his customer base.
Moreover, there is no excuse for shady and untrustworthy behaviour in the world of business, especially when so much trust and good faith is placed on the part of the builder. The fact that even while those who speak against him maintain decorum and class in their complaints, Dickie continues to slander and insult anyone who criticizes him without regard for how it makes him appear professionally says everything that needs to be said about the situation, and the company itself.
For now we’ll have to leave it at that, but if you have any more information on the matter or simply want to relay a personal account of dealing with Invictus, be it positive or negative, we encourage you to describe your experience in the comments.
For our part, The Monolith pledges to continue doing everything in our power to be an advocate of consumer awareness and corporate accountability, as well as bolstering an unbiased exchange of ideas, information and expression. With our vigilance, and that of our readers, we can do our part to ensure that companies like this one are assessed fairly and brought to justice where necessary in the interest of you, the consumer.