There’s an excellent chance that you’ll find a capo in just about every guitarist’s gig bag. And there’s an even better chance that, when you find one, it will be a Kyser Quick-Change capo. Made in the North Texas towns of Kaufman and Canton, Kyser Musical Products produces about 100,000 capos annually, shipping them to distributors throughout the US, Europe, Asia, and Canada. The company’s mottos are “America’s capo” and “the world’s favorite.”
It all started in 1981, when Milton Kyser, a retired machinist, heard his guitar-playing friend complain about the elastic band capo that was standard at the time. Kyser figured he could create a capo that would be more precise and easier to use. His innovative design, which features a spring-tensioned clamp, became known as the Quick-Change capo.
After 30 years at the helm, Milton recently handed the CEO reins over to his grandniece, Meredith Hamlin, a former oil and gas industry executive. She joined Kyser in June 2012 and became CEO in October that same year. “Milton asked me if I could come and help him out for a little while,” she recalls. “I took a two-week leave of absence from the petroleum industry, which turned into a full-time position—first as general manager and then as CEO and president of the board.” Before oil and gas, Hamlin was a high school Spanish teacher and debate and track coach.
Hamlin says that, because of Milton’s generous and giving nature, he is the “favorite” uncle to his nieces and nephews. But Hamlin, who went to college on a music scholarship (she played drums and harmonica and sang in the traveling choir), has always had a special bond with him. “It wasn’t favoritism,” she’s quick to point out, “just a common bond.”
One of the issues the company faces regularly is pressure to take Kyser’s manufacturing overseas. “I can make a quick buck taking things overseas, but why compromise the integrity of our brand for easy money?” she asks. “One thing that Milton is adamant about is protecting the name and the brand. Part of the Kyser brand is that it is made 100% in Texas. I am proud of this legacy and would not want to do anything to devalue what he has worked so hard for these past 30 years.”
Being one of a few female CEOs in the music industry when she first started, Hamlin says she definitely has had to prove herself. “I have to say that being Milton’s niece is a definite plus,” she admits. “It put me at the head-of-the-line, so to speak. I have been treated with kindness and respect for the most part. There will always be the ‘good-ole-boys club,’ but I feel that I can hang with them.” Her motto as a high school teacher, and now as CEO, was molded by John Wayne’s words of wisdom: “Courage is being scared to death and saddling up anyway.” “I may be shaking in my boots, but I am going to do what it takes to lead Kyser in the right direction,” she affirms.