Alistair Hay, founder of Emerald Guitars, had a traditional rural Irish upbringing in the seaside town of Creeslough in North West Donegal.
Living in a small cottage by a lake with his family, Alistair’s father Bobby ran the family farm which had been handed down through the generations. Even as a young boy, Alistair would help his father, the fourth generation Hay to run the farm, doing various jobs.
“I grew up in that house doing regular farms things helping to look after the animals and various jobs. When you grow up on a farm in rural Ireland you learn that you have to make everything, so there is an innovate side to it. It was an incredible place to grow up in the 1970s, but also a good experience in learning how to make things.”
During this time Alistair’s father made a huge impact on him. “He was a designer and a great maker of everything. What ever he needed, he just would make it. He set up a little workshop for me when I was five or six. I had my own tools and timber and I could just chip away and make things.”
When Alistair was eight years old, his father took a job with an engineering firm as a designer and moved the Hay family to St Johnston in East Donegal where the Emerald Guitars Headquarters are still located today. “The house where I lived from the age of eight is right beside the factory that we are now still working in 32 years later.”
A few years after the Hay family had moved to St Johnston, the firm Alistair’s father had joined began to fail and Bobby decided to set up his own business. “He started his own his own fibre glass and engineering company, first making boats and then getting into making children’s play equipment, building everything from swings, slides to go karts.
As the family business began to grow, it became part of Alistair’s own formative years beginning to work with fibre glass by his early teens. “I really immersed myself in making things and designing which was all thanks to what my father taught me; that was the beginning of it all.”
By his mid teens, while still attending Royal & Prior College in Raphoe, Alistair was taking on his own fibre glass business projects referred to him by his father. After honing his skills in production, the next step for Alistair was to move into the field of engineering and design. “I designed go karts as part of a school project which our business put into production and became our best-selling products for years afterwards.”
After completing his Leaving Certificate studies Alistair went to Athlone Institute of Technology to study Polymer Engineering in 1992. “I can’t remember a single thing I learned, to be honest. It was a lot of technical chemistry and physics, but it was a good experience to learn about high tech polymer.”
In 1994 Alistair had an opportunity to travel to St Louis, Missouri, on an exchange programme, an experience that would set out his path to starting what is now one of the most successful carbon fiber guitar businesses in the world.
Go to ‘Our Story’ for key milestones in Alistair and Emerald Guitars’ history