Tennessee neurosurgeon tunes up by designing and selling guitars

While looking for a relaxing hobby, he turned to his collection of vintage musical instruments, and "everything took off from there."

By Victoria Stagg Elliott — Posted Oct. 24, 2011

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Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
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Name: Robert Singer, MD

Specialty: Neurosurgery

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

Company: Waterstone Musical Instruments designs, manufactures and sells acoustic and electric guitars, basses and other stringed instruments. They are sold through retailers as well as the company's website (link).

Annual revenue: $175,000.

Why he started the business: Dr. Singer, who also is assistant professor of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt Medical Center, launched the business in 2002. After finishing his board certifications, he looked for a hobby that would give him a break from neurology. He had been in punk bands in high school and owned a large collection of vintage musical instruments, so he started tweaking them with the aim of creating something a little bit different.

"I thought they looked pretty good. I enjoyed playing them, and everything took off from there," he said.

He established a website and started selling guitars as well as four-, eight- and 12-string basses reminiscent of the hollow and semihollow instruments available in the 1950s and 1960s. The company also designs several other string instruments, such as a mandocello, which is like a mandolin but larger. Several well-known musicians play his instruments, including Tom Petersson of Cheap Trick, who helped design Waterstone's 12-string bass guitar, the TP-12.

"I love the creative aspects of the musical instrument business, and it's something that is outside of my real job in neurovascular surgery," Dr. Singer said.

Why he still practices: "I really love neurosurgery. I'm very lucky that I get to do what I love."

Words of wisdom: "Be cautious about getting too big, too soon. Waterstone is growing nicely. It's still very manageable. If it had gotten too big, too fast, without a lot of financial experience, I could have gotten myself into trouble."

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