Free Standard Shipping On All Guitar Orders

The Remarkable Origin Story of Emerald Guitars 

A Hot Tub Factory. A World Champion. A Guitar Magazine. Love. And Loss…

The remarkable origin story of Emerald Guitars comprises many interlinked parts – remove one, and the world’s leading carbon fiber guitar company would perhaps never have come to pass.

The Origin Story – The Road to 10K

This is the story of how one Irishman went from building Formula 1 powerboats to crafting world-class guitars. 

In 1994, Alistair Hay was studying polymer engineering. But formal education didn’t suit him; chemistry and physics lectures were a bore. Alistair was drawn by the craft of engineering, making things by hand. In his spare time he made children’s outdoor play equipment using fiberglass and steel at his father’s company, Kestrel Toys. Disillusioned at university, he jumped at an opportunity to move to the US on a work experience programme. He set his sights on St. Louis to learn more technologically advanced ways of working with composites and fiberglass.

The Hot Tub Company, The World Champion Racer, and The Guitar Magazine…

Things didn’t quite work out as Alistair hoped; he ended up working at a jacuzzi manufacturer. For Alistair, hot tubs were uninspiring, to say the least. His indifference didn’t go unnoticed, and it wasn’t long before he was fired. The next day, a boat show came to town. Alistair’s interest was piqued; his dad had started making boats after repairing his own sunken boat. That is what led Alistair to first work with fiberglass.


At the boat show, he started conversations. Soon the 20-year old had secured an interview with the owner of Seebold Racing. Fast forward a few days, and he finds himself standing in the office of F1 world champion Bill Seebold Jr. After an intense grilling, Bill offered Alistair a job.

All at once, Alistair was landed into a family at the pinnacle of the sport. Bill Seebold Jr was world champion. His sons, Mike and Tim, were second and third in the world. Alistair was inspired. He went to work. He soaked everything up, learned how to fashion carbon fiber in a world-beating environment.

Bill Seebold winning boat race

Bill Seebold saw something in Alistair Hay. The world champion took the young pretender under his wing. He brought him to lunch every day. They became friends. Bill imparted knowledge, gave sage advice, and perhaps like a piece of carbon fiber he shaped the promising craft worker into a wholly different carbon innovator. Alistair still had plenty to learn, but Bill had lit a spark, which soon would spark a fire…

In St. Louis, Alistair got his hands on an Ovation guitar. He was interested in its fiberglass back. He studied the structure and how it worked. A seed was planted.

Thanksgiving, 1999. Alistair is waiting to board a plane to Virginia. The flight is delayed. He buys a guitar magazine. 40,000 feet in the air, leafing through the pages, he has an idea. A crazy idea. “What if I was to build a guitar with carbon fiber?” He puts the magazine down. And continues on with his life. It was just a little moment. But the seed was set deeper.

Falling In Love, A Devastating Loss…

Eventually, Alistair returned to Ireland. He had a new hunger. He had worked with world champions. He had tasted what it was to be world-class. He vowed to do something very special with his life.

He was working with standard fiberglass in the family toy business, but he longed to work with high tech composites. Frustrated with the lack of opportunity in Ireland, he called Bill, and they hatched a plan for him to return to St. Louis to build race boats. The day that he sent off his US visa application was the day when Alistair met Kim. His life was turned upside down. In the best way possible. Alistair fell in love.

Soon the pair got engaged. Alistair was staying put. His US visa remained unused. He never went to St. Louis. And never worked on another F1 boat. A year later, the couple got married. Not long after, Alistair’s mother passed away suddenly. Turmoil ensued. He searched for contentment, for something to cling to. He needed a hobby, a distraction. That long-planted seed began to sprout. He threw himself into the crazy idea. That year – 1998 – he built his first guitar.

Passion, Inspiration and Opportunity

Working tirelessly on the guitar,  he remembered the words of Bill Seebold, and his path to becoming world champion. Bill believed that everyone had an opportunity to become a world champion. Because everyone has a set of skills. “Your skill set becomes your opportunity. The trick is to discover your skill”, he told Alistair, “to find the pieces of your puzzle”.

Bill’s opportunity came from growing up on a river with a powerboat racer father. He quickly found his passion; he loved driving boats. And he was really good at it – it became his standout skill. Bill Seebold had a unique combination of opportunity, passion and skill that enabled him to become world champion. Then, according to Bill, the question becomes ‘can you dedicate your life to this?’ 
For Alistair, opportunity had presented itself in the form of the family business where he had tools, materials, and a factory space within which to work. He had a specific set of skills; a deep knowledge of composites, and a flair for art and design. Added to that, he had a lifelong passion for guitars. He thought hard about Bill Seebold’s words. With an unwavering dedication, Alistair thought, this guitar idea might just work…

Conversations with Bill

Alistair is eternally grateful for his conversations with Bill Seebold. They shaped his endurance, without which the crazy idea of Emerald Guitars would never have come to fruition.

The Emerald story started in St. Louis, with F1 race boats. There were moments along the way – big and small – without which the story wouldn’t have been written. That guitar magazine played its part. Of course, meeting Kim changed Alistair’s course forever. And the sad passing of his mother gave him an unrelenting drive.

World, Meet Emerald Guitars

Who knew that race boat technology could be used to build guitars?! Alistair is grateful to Bill Seebold for the opportunity he gave, but even more so for the inspiration. And Bill’s influence is evident in the Emerald mission – inspiration is central to the Emerald ethos. It’s not about building guitars. It’s about building guitars that make and inspire music. And that’s why the world has Emerald Guitars.