What do Martin guitars have to do with ROCKING your website?

How to choose between a template and custom WordPress design
With all the web design options available to business owners, making the decision between a prefabricated “templated” website and a unique, custom design can be difficult to wrap your head around. So we wondered… is there another industry out there that offers similar tiered choices that we could use as a metphor? 

Mark, our trusty programmer, who also happens to be an accomplished musician, immediately chimed in, “Martins,” he said.

Martins?” I asked.

“Martin guitars are a great comparison. They have mass-produced designs as well as some of the most beautiful guitars on the planet. But regardless of what model you choose, you’re sure to get a good instrument from a trusted source. I own one myself!”

So, here we go! What follows is an in-depth look at making a decision between templated and custom designs no matter what the product or industry. Hopefully this will bring some valuable insight to your decision-making process for your upcoming website development!

Guitars and Website Production – more alike than they seem

For over 5 generations Martin & Co. has created some of the finest instruments in the world, producing guitars for every skill level and most budgets. Whether you’re a beginner or a famous rock star like Sting or David Crosby, a beautiful Martin guitar is within your reach if you really want one.

  • So what’s the difference between an entry-level design and a top-of-the-line model?
  • Are more expensive instruments (and websites) really make *rocking* your website more likely?
  • Are they worth the added cost?
  • What’s the value of the added skill and craftsmanship that goes into a solution that is truly custom?

These are excellent questions to ask yourself whether you’re in the market for a steel string dreadnought or a business website. As you’ll see below, the old adage You Get What You Pay For holds true for both. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be better off with a $10,000 model! It’s imperative to be clear on what your goals are as well as specific functionality and messaging needs. To help you do this, we offer the pros and cons for each option below.

Templated Guitars

The Backpacker– a lightweight, packable guitar with significant limitations

Though they are recognized as quality instruments, lower-end Martins lack the depth of sound and uniqueness of their high-end custom brothers. Of course, the only effective way to lower price is to cut down the cost of labor and materials used for construction. The way Martin guitars achieves this is by outsourcing their mass-produced designs to a factory in Mexico. Not only is the labor less expensive, laminated high pressure woods are used which don’t yield the resonant and balanced sound that solid “tone woods” do.

Just like our templated WordPress designs, you can trust the quality and functionality of these laminated, cookie-cutter designs, but the Backpacker, which you can listen to in the video review below, lacks the distinctive tone, handling and beauty of a serious guitar. As a matter of fact, one reviewer stated the Backpacker is so lightweight and small it’s just plain awkward and cumbersome.

But this isn’t to say it’s a stupid throwaway guitar–far from it! It all comes down to what your specific needs and goals are.

Backpacker Model – $199

To hear the sound of this mass produced Martin guitar, skip to the 50 second mark.
Now, it’s clear this guy is a good guitarist. He definitely makes this Backpacker sing and has some nice things to say about it. One could argue that a guitar (or a website) is only as good as the person playing it (or writing content for it). But if you hang in there and watch the entire video it’s clear this mass produced guitar has its limitations, mainly because it’s designed to take on hiking trip vs playing on a stage in front of and adoring crowd. This condensed, take with you anywhere design is also difficult to handle due to its propensity to “roll”. He says it has a “decent” sound, but you’ve yet to hear the custom guitar recordings below.

In other words, you get what you pay for. 

Decent, okay, a bit cumbersome and good for what I paid for it considering it’s for taking on a hike are honest descriptions of this guitar. This also happen to be an honest assessment of what you get with a mass-produced, prefabricated website. Neither option is good or bad, we’re simply shining a spotlight on the distinctive benefits and features of both options to help you make the best decision.

Template-Based WordPress Sites

For the cost-conscious, pre-designed WordPress themes seem to have a lot going for them. All you need to do is go online and look at a bunch of demos. Once you find the one you think looks the best, all that’s required is finding a developer to simply drop your content into it and BAM! you’re done!


Yes, taking this route can save you time and money in the short term, but before you commit to any major business decision (which a website is) we recommend investigating beneath the generic veneer of WordPress templates and consider the following:


  1. Goals – conveys basic information.
  2. First Impressions – we can work within the confines of a template to make your site attractive.
  3. Flexibility–enough for your needs now if you only need basic functionality.
  4. Functionality – will you need e-commerce, membership or other capability?
  5. Timeframe – when do you need it? Templated sites are quicker–less time is involved because less is delivered.
  6. Budget – templated sites cost less, but have you weighed the short term savings with potential ROI of a custom website?
  7. Updates and Support–what if your theme is abandoned by the original author? This happens a lot, creating serious security problems that may require starting over with a new design.

What does a Backpacker-equivalent design look like?

Take a look at the site we designed below. On the left, is the out-of-the-box demo version of the template. On the right, is what we delivered to our client. You can see that little has changed in terms of layout between the two, which helps us keep your price down for you.  The logo is inserted, as are new images. We also draw upon decades of design experience, taking great care to select typefaces and colors that skillfully reinforce the company brand and selecting, recommending or shooting the most impactful pictures.

This is a nice site. It’s straight-forward, simple, clean and does the job beautifully for this particular client. Really, it’s all they needed. But it also looks a lot like a lot of other sites out there. So, depending on who your online competition is and the specific audience you are communicating with, this may or may not be the best choice. Just that simple.

PROS & CONS Of Templated Websites


  1. A good way to save money if all you need right now is a simple brochure-style website
  2. Faster implementation in many cases


  1. Difficult (and often impossible) finding a template that exactly meets your needs
  2. Cookie-Cutter look will not help you stand out online
  3. Doesn’t appeal to discerning audiences
  4. Not knowing who the actual developer/designer is
  5. Themes are often abandoned by the developer
  6. Theme Demos are highly misleading, leading to unrealistic expectations
  7. Getting boxed in when you want to make changes–multiple customizations can increase the price up to the point you could have had a custom site for the same amount of money.

Custom Guitars

Build a Guitar that Fits You & Your Style Perfectly

Custom Martin guitars are a sight to behold. If you’re a music lover and appreciate fine craftsmanship, inlays and beautifully balanced tone these instruments, which are made to order, are second to none. We’ve included two videos below that demonstrate the gorgeous sound that solid tone woods produce, but custom Martins go beyond the beautiful sound, creating instruments that meet the specific aesthetic and physical needs of the artist.

For instance, you might walk into your local guitar shop, sit down and play a guitar you absolutely love, but notice it’s just not quite the right size because you’re a pretty big guy. Maybe you love every single thing about it except the neck is hard to deal with because your hands are on the small side. Or, perhaps, your personal brand as a performer is flamboyant and you really need a guitar that makes a bold statement with elaborate wood grain, bold inlays and contrasting elements. With a custom build, you don’t have to settle for a design that doesn’t fit your personality and meet your specific needs. It’s a prestigious item, built from the ground up just for you.

The process Martin has adopted to nail down all the components of the perfect guitar are similar to our custom website services. A representative meets with the musician on the phone or in person to cover a lot of questions to be sure the combination of woods are strong enough to create a guitar that’s not only beautiful, but reliable as well. No request is too big or too small–basically, they’ll make the guitar do cartwheels for you. Their most expensive one was $50,000.

It turns out the reasons for choosing a custom guitar and a custom website are remarkably similar–much depends on first determining your specific goals and needs. Take a look at each list below…

A Custom Guitar is perfect if…

  1. Music is your business.
  2. High quality sound and design matter because it impacts your reputation.
  3. You’ve played long enough to know what you really need and want.
  4. You need a guitar that matches your skill level.
  5. Because you play all the time, having a guitar that is built to fit your body and playing style will make it easier to do your job.
  6. You can afford an outstanding guitar and see it as an investment in your work and yourself that will pay off.
  7. You simply want the best and are willing to pay for it.

If your goal is to give professional performances and are willing to pay for a professional guitar that not only sounds superb, but also fits your body, hand size and playing style, a custom build is a no-brainer. Don’t give it a second thought and enjoy the design process!

A Custom Site is perfect if…

  1. You have an established business.
  2. High quality design really matters–your brand is a reflection of your reputation.
  3. You’ve been business for more than a couple of years, can identify an ideal client and have specific goals you want to meet.
  4. You need a website that accurately mirrors your level of professionalism.
  5. Because you rely on your website as a full-time marketing tool, you need a solution with specific functionality that narrowly targets your best customers.
  6. You can afford an outstanding website and see it as wise investment that, with the proper strategy, will pay for itself.
  7. You simply want the best and are willing to pay for it.

If your goal is to create a first impression that is professional and elegant, and are willing to invest the money and energy required to bring a visual marketing tool to life, then a custom build is worth serious consideration.

Custom Wordpress Sites

The custom web design we provide is often described as elegant, unique, and easy to use. It’s important to understand from the very beginning that for us to achieve unique and beautiful results, we must take the time to understand your business and the specific needs of your audience. How will you speak their language with words and visuals in a way that captivates them?

To answer these questions we go well beyond aesthetics. Yes, the final website is something your visitors will encounter visually, but pretty pictures and elegant typefaces only go so far. Successful design identifies and solves a specific communication problems.

Successful design identifies and solves specific communication problems.

At this moment, you may not think you have a problem with communicating your business to the world–that an off-the-shelf template will do. In truth, it might! But when you stop to consider the average visitor to any website has an attention span of 3-5 seconds to make a decision to stay or to leave, it quickly becomes obvious that clear communication is key. With so little time to help your visitors figure out if you’re the right person for the job, every element on your website should be designed to reinforce who you are, what you do, why you do it and who you do it for. Colors, typefaces, images, calls to action and written copy should speak the unique language of your ideal customer. 


Custom web design for the Taos School of Music in Taos Ski Valley

Custom design for The Taos School of Music with a special music player on the homepage.

At Clearly Presentable we have a unique way of working with our custom design clients, devoting time to defining specific communication problems. We excel at brainstorming with our clients, bringing both big and wild ideas as well as smaller short-term solutions to the table. It’s during these sessions that our clients often have a eureka moment which pushes the design process in stronger or unexpected directions. Sometimes, our clients come away with new business ideas.

We put a lot of focus on those aspects which make you unique. How, precisely, are you DIFFERENT from the rest of your playing field? Who do you most want to work with? What do THEY need? How can we best communicate in a way that RESONATES with them?


To determine if a custom design is right for you, consider the following:

  1. Goals – what do you want the site to accomplish for you?
  2. First Impressions – having a unique, targeted design will differentiate you from your competitors.
  3. Elegance –  is artistry, style and craftsmanship an important part of your business?
  4. Flexibility – custom sites are easier to expand because you’re working closely with a team.
  5. Functionality – your site will be built from the ground up to include specific functionality such as membership, advanced search, reservations or e-commerce.
  6. Timeframe – you understand building a site that accurately reflects your vision and speaks in the voice of your customers takes time and communication.
  7. Budget – custom sites are an investment of both time and money.
  8. Online Tool – custom sites are usually built to function as an online marketing tool, which means you’re committed to blogging, linking to the site from social media outlets, list-building, etc. “Launch it and leave it” doesn’t make sense for this type of solution. If all you need is a simple online brochure, you might want to consider a template.
  9. Updates and Support–because you know your designer personally you have someone there to answer questions and adjust your site when you need it to do cartwheels for you.

The best way to make this decision is to carve out some time to assess where you are with your business. Is it time to play bigger with a modern design that is based on a well thought out brand? Are you a start-up with limited resources but want a real web professional to handle the setup and implementation of a solid theme? With some answers in hand, you’ll be ready for a free consultation with us or with another designer.

Unique internal page design for The Taos School of Music

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