Digging Deeper on Dan Spitz: Master Guitarist and Watchmaker

Posted on September 17, 2012 by

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This is the Biography of a man who not only left his band when they were still on top, selling millions of Cd’s, countless platinum albums, platinum video’s, platinum movie soundtracks as well as three Grammy nominations for music he co-wrote and co-produced , but who left music in his past and didn’t turn back. He started tearing the stereos out of his cars, removing all music from his house of all forms and nature and gave more than fifty touring and studio guitars away to hang on the walls of the Hard Rock Cafes around the globe.[Dan Spitz Bio]

I first learned about Dan Spitz last week when Kottke posted a link to this article:  Interview: Meet Dan Spitz, Anthrax Guitarist Turned Master Watchmaker.  I found the article fascinating and it  sent me down the rabbit hole.

Dan Spitz’s Story

Dan Spitz picked up the guitar when he was a kid because his older brother had played guitar and bass.  He became obsessed with the guitar and by the time he was in 7th grade his parents bought him his own guitar.  He continued practicing all through high school and after he graduated he tried college for a short while before dropping out and pursuing music full-time. [Wikipedia bio]

It worked out well for him because he was one of the founding members of Anthrax, a popular Heavy Metal band in the early 80’s.  He played with Anthrax for 14 years selling over 15 million records and was nominated for three Grammys for music he wrote or co-produced.

In 1995 he abruptly quit the band.  He ripped all the stereo equipment out of his house and cars.  He stopped creating and playing music.  In his own words, “It was like every time I touched the guitar it burnt my hands.” [20 Questions w Dan Spitz]

He had fallen out of love with the guitar which had been his muse his entire life.  In a period of time that must have been incredibly depressing for him he eventually turned to watchmaking, a profession he was introduced to by his grandfather, Pop-Pop, a watch and jewelry repairman.

But if you are Dan Spitz, you don’t just read a few books about watch-making or take a few classes and call it a day.  In his own words, “I don’t do things to be famous. I do things to be original and achieve a goal un- attainable by the average person, and at a shorter time period than is the norm.”

So Dan dove head first into the complex world of luxury watch mechanics.  He achieved degrees in micro-mechanical and micro-electrical engineering and then enrolled at the Bulova School of Watchmaking.  An average student finishes in 52 months.  He finished in 18.  He leveraged his performance at this school into a full-ride at WOSTEP, the most exclusive and prestigious Swiss watchmaking school in the world.

Now he has been hired as the Master Watchmaker of Complications Specialist for the new luxury brand Leviev to service and repair their watches in North America and to train a team of watchmakers.

He has carved out a completely new career for himself and achieved a level of success similar to what he achieved with Anthrax.  Sure he will never fill a stadium with fans screaming to watch him work on a  “multiple fly-back, jump hour, chrono, perpetual calendar, moon phase, tourbillon” but it sounds like he has achieved an elite status as a watchmaker.

Digging Deeper

When I hear about someone like Dan Spitz I wonder what their secret ingredient for success is.

1) 10,000 Hour Rule

Dan poured thousands of hours into guitar practice before he even joined Anthrax and then he toured for 14 years which would have allowed him to easily accumulate the rest of the hours.

When he quit Anthrax he was financially secure and had the financial means and time to follow another career path.  It sounds like he poured himself and ten years of study into watchmaking. 

So perhaps, he could have focused his energy on any number of domains and reached this expert status because he sticks with projects until he becomes an expert.

“Learning to play a heavy metal guitar is a never-ending skill. It is painful to learn. That’s what’s cool about it. Same for watchmaking– it’s an unending skill to learn. How good do you want to be? Can you go beyond the 50% and become one of the best 1%.”

2) Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

But what makes someone stick with guitar playing or watchmaking for that long?  What keeps them from getting bored or distracted?  In order to accumulate that many hours in one domain you have to say no to so many other passions, hobbies and interests.

Dan acknowledges that he has OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) and that is part of what drives him to keep practicing.  Lucky for Dan his OCD compelled him to play and practice guitar and that lead to a lucrative career with a popular rock band.

OCD can be a debilitating condition and Dan is fortunate that he was able to direct those energies into productive avenues.  First with guitar and then with watch-making.

“I have extreme OCD, I do things either full-on or full-off, and I like to do things that others have not done before. I need that drive and that ambition.”

3) Natural Abilities

So does that mean that if anyone could obsessively focus and practice for the same period of time as Dan they would have similar success?  I touched on this idea before and I think that it is more complicated than that.

Dan is obviously a very smart guy.  Not only was he famous for rapid and complex riffs on the guitar but he went on to become a master watchmaker which involves tackling “complications” that would make your average person’s head explode.

No, this is more than just working hard.  Dan is genuinely smarter than the average person, worked harder than the average person and achieved results way above average.

“My room looked like a small NASA station growing up – tons of stuff. I was always building and taking stuff apart my whole life. I am a problem solver as far as mechanical and electronic things go… a self-taught problem solver.”