Friday, 29 November 2013

Headstocks - work in progress

I have been making necks recently, and once I get started they seem almost to make themselves. This is satisfying and relatively simple woodwork and ending up with a nice stack of necks is most gratifying. The necks in the picture above are all from cedar although I use good mahogany too. The four headstocks on the right are all faced with some fine kingwood veneer that I picked up a few years back. Kingwood is a true rosewood, but is a rather small tree. I have seen it used for backs and sides of guitars, but it is rarely big enough for 2 piece backs. The veneer I have is saw cut at about 2mm thick, and is lovely for headfacings either  in one pieces or 2 bookmatched halves. The sapwood on 2 of these heads is particularly striking.

This headstock is from Gayle's cedar and walnut guitar, now in Florida. It is from ancient bog oak inlaid with a shard of local English yew. The tuners are Waverly leaf pattern with ebony buttons.

The head above is from a guitar finished earlier this year for a client in China. It is faced in ebony and has an 'ears of wheat' inlay that matched the rosette. I enjoy making this intricate inlay even though the time involved is considerable; it makes the guitar truly unique.The tuners are Gotoh 510's. The picture below is of the same headstock. My client requested that I veneered the back of the head as well as the front which I was very happy to do.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Paul Fischer

Open day at the London College of Furniture 1986.
(from left to right, Lily Mairants, Terry Pamplin, Marian Romanillos, John Mills, Jose Romanillos, Ivor Mairants, Paul Fischer and Herbert Schwarz)

I have recently heard that Paul Fischer has retired from guitar making after a long and successful career as an internationally acclaimed guitar maker. It seems strange to think that Paul, who has been such a force in UK guitar making will no longer be at the workbench, but I hope he may be able to contribute some of his expertise and enthusiasm in other ways.

I first met Paul in the mid 80's when I was an aspiring guitar making student at the London College of Furniture. Paul made several visits to the college and students found it very encouraging to have his support and encouragement. I remember attending a presentation of his research into alternative south American timbers. Paul had made 8 guitars, one with Brazilian rosewood for the back and ribs; the other 7 using timber that Paul had identified as being suitable alternatives. John Mills played on each guitar (from behind a screen) and a panel was asked to pass judgement on the tonal merits of each one. The exercise was a thought provoking one and Paul's careful research and enthusiasm was inspiring.

Paul started making guitars in what now seems like a different age. If you wanted a good guitar, you would have to go to Spain, or at least, go to one of the few dealers who imported Spanish guitars. Paul can be seen as one of the pioneers of modern English guitar making and did much to promote the craft.
Much to my surprise, I find that I have never played one of Paul's guitars, except  for a rather fine David Rubio guitar, stamped 'PF' but I'm sure I will rectify that one day. In the meantime I wish Paul a long and happy retirement.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Long time no blog....

Well, its been a while, but in my defence I have been rather busy....
I am just packing two guitars to go to America and a third guitar (that's the rosette above) has just arrived safely in Beijing. Four weeks ago saw 2 guitars off to Japan. I've run out of packing materials and now I just want to get on with making guitars and enjoying the summer with my family.

Back in May I had Mike in the workshop for four weeks, making his first guitar. These intensive guitar making courses are great fun but hard work for all concerned. Mike had spent his career in an office and wanted to branch out into something more creative and guitar making appealed to him. He started from scratch with no woodworking experience and at the end of the four weeks had a completed playing instrument. I think he could scarcely believe it. I love watching makers string up their first instrument as the thrill and excitement is all too evident.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Congratulations to Adam Larison.

I received an exciting email from Adam Larison this week, telling me that he had just won first prize in the Great Lakes International Guitar Competition in America. Adam is a fine young player and is pictured above just prior to the final round of the competition. As a maker, I am always thrilled to hear my instruments being played so well and it is great to have a gifted player like Adam presenting my guitars on the concert platform. Adam has a fine and accomplished tone and great musicality; I am very proud that he has chosen one of my guitars for his main concert instrument.


Springboard, Brighton and Hove's Performing Arts Festival, recently took place. Started in 1925 under the banner of Brighton Competitive Music Festival, and supported by Brighton Borough Council, it has a long history spanning almost a century. Today the festival is still going strong, having evolved to incorporate drama as well as music, and now involves nearly one thousand local performers. Most of these, but not all, are young people between five and twenty-five. For many years I have awarded a prize in one of the classical guitar classes and was happy to do so again this year.

The competitive element in the Springboard festival is very much in the background; it always strikes me that participation and sharing of the music is far more important. It provides a fantastic focus for a musician to prepare and practise a piece and gives them a supportive platform to perform on in front of a small audience. The adjudicator this year was guitarist and composer Gary Ryan who always gives great feedback to each of the performers - a real bonus for participants. Whenever I have attended the event I have been struck by the great sense of achievement that performers get from the experience. I hope this event continues for many years; I for one will continue to support it.

My own abilities as a musician are somewhat limited and these days I get very little time for playing. Recently however, I have thoroughly enjoyed playing my Rene Lacote copy which I recently finished. With a shorter string length and a quick response it is great fun to play, and I have been working my way through some simple pieces including  Sor, Carcassi and Guiliani. I have recently been on a family break to the West Country and had a lovely room to practise in. The acoustics were crisp and lively, and the peaceful surroundings most conclusive to playing guitar music. This guitar will leave my workshop soon but I am planning on making another which I really hope I'll be able to keep keep. Who knows, if I keep on practising I might even enter Springboard next year!

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Planes, guitars and hurricanes....

One of the most rewarding moments for me, as an instrument maker, comes when I hear one of my guitars being played well by a fine player. As makers, we sometimes become absorbed by the technical aspects of the instruments we build, so it is always good to be reminded that they need to work well in the hands of guitarists. A week or two ago, I was sent a couple of video clips by a fine American guitarist, Adam Larison. They featured a couple of recent performances he had done with a guitar I made for him last year. Watching the clips, I was excited and  thrilled by how Adam made the guitar sound and it made the stresses of the guitar's export all worthwhile.

Sending this guitar out to the US caused me a lot of sleepless nights. There was the small matter of entrusting a valuable guitar to a shipping company. Having spent many hours building the guitar, the thought of it being thrown around an airport shipping depot is painful. However well packaged (and however fully insured) the guitar is, the thought of it being damaged or destroyed is unbearable.

I dispatched the guitar with DHL, a company I have used before and have confidence in. Picked up from my doorstep, it was soon at East Midlands airport awaiting dispatch. Tracking it on the internet I was dismayed to suddenly find its progress had been halted. A quick call to DHL revealed that an HMRC code number needed to be generated. HMRC were extremely helpful and promised to put this in place, but they work and their own pace (... leaving a lot of time to imagine the worst happening to the instrument).

Eventually the consignment was released  and it was a good moment when I saw that it had arrived at the DHL facility in the US. New York was being battered by Hurricane Sandy at the time, so further delays were fully anticipated, however they did not materialise and soon the guitar was in Adam's hands.

Thankfully no harm had come to the guitar, and Adam's performances on it can be viewed here and here. The first clip is of a complete performance at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington. Adam Larison plays at about 11.30 minutes into the video, but please listen to the other performances too, they are well worth hearing.  

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

In the workshop...

As we are well into the second month of 2013, I really thought I should present an update on some the work that is progressing on my workbench. The workshop has been a warm and attractive space to be in, and I have only made the occasional foray out into the cold and wet Sussex countryside. The picture above is of a top I have been strutting this week. This is a strutting pattern that I have been using for about 7 years and although I refine it almost constantly, I am sure that it is the pattern that I will be using for many years to come. It is essentially a reinforced fan strut pattern, but is a little more complicated to make as there is some painstaking fitting of interlocking spruce struts.

Regular readers of this blog will know of my interest in 19th century guitars and this guitar above is a recently finished copy of a guitar by Rene Lacote. I say finished; in fact it is now being polished and the bridge is yet to be made, but I call that finished! I have been able to make a very faithful replica, as I have had the original in the workshop whilst building it. I am going to write a complete post on this lovely little guitar when it is strung, so watch this space.

These 4 guitars have not really featured on this blog before, although as they are all rather pretty they may well merit a photograph or 2 when finished. They are all being polished at the moment and I am getting into quite a rhythm with my polishing. Polishing 5 guitars at once (these 4 plus the Lacote) takes up a reasonable part of the morning but as I have said before, I find it relaxing, even meditative.
And finally, the four bridges below are all matched with the four guitars above. I don't always polish bridges, sometimes preferring to finish them with an oil finish which gives them a soft, satin lustre. These bridges are being polished however and the one furthest from the camera is destined for a drop shouldered cutaway guitar, hence the slightly more contemporary design.