Describing musical instruments in terms of tone and response can be tricky as there is no generally agreed terminology. A few words I’d accept as having common meaning and some can of course be taken from the science of acoustics but in the main, analogy and poetry creep in to our attempts to describe the instruments we play and we may well be left with a confused picture. I therefore attempt to keep my descriptions to words that I think make the most sense whether on the poetic or the scientific side. There is no replacement for the ear of course and so I will add video and sound as much as possible. Or come and visit!
A guitar first and foremost has to feel right to you. I’m not just talking about the neck profile, body size and finish but also the way the strings feel on both hands – the way it responds. It also hand in hand has to sound right to you. Volume is something but not everything. It’s a complex picture of how the notes blend together, how ‘airy’ or ‘solid’ it sounds and its frequency emphasis. Also how it holds together in a strum or how ‘open’ and responsive it is when picked. And the rest…..
My approach to guitars
When I build a guitar I always look to build a player’s guitar. A dynamic guitar. One that feels friendly and exciting and responsive to the touch and one that sounds ‘sweet’, balanced and articulate right the way up the neck. I want the harmonics to ring out on every note but I also want headroom and the potential to dig in. All in I’m looking for versatility. And with some recommendation on tone wood choice and model, I can cater for a wide audience.
My guitars definitely have what some call a modern sound – but not ‘too’ modern – definitely still an acoustic guitar. My shapes are my own but they still pay homage to the classics. For me ‘modern’ means a more airy and harmonically rich tone – one where you can ‘hear the wood’ and with some good sustain too but not to overpower. It also means responsive to a light and heavier touch. Even with my most powerful models like the guitar bouzouki, I still want this to feature. It helps give a percussive quality which I love – a little like a flamenco guitar. It also makes an instrument one that tends to be sensitive to many styles and that doesn’t dictate your playing.
I have built guitars for modern finger style players who require loads of harmonics and an easy feel to more robust models for strum/flat picking but I’m always looking to create guitars that can cope with almost everything. I am however now starting to build some guitars that do fit a certain bill. For example, a model geared specifically for driving folk accompaniment in dropped tunings with power, more headroom and dynamic potential. Always developing…!
I think I can call my instruments hand made. It’s not about the tools and machines – mine are pretty low key in the grand scheme but that’s mostly irrelevant. It’s about the approach. Production or a Bespoke. I make small numbers and so I get more time to select timber, grade it and match it. I get more time with the customer if need be and to think about and execute the project at hand. I make all the wooden components myself other than the internal linings and do my own inlay and finishing. All round I like the flexibility and control it gives me. There are good makers around adopting both approaches, it’s what works for me.
I always make my instruments with longevity in mind as I want my guitars and mandolins to stand up well to the rigours of gigging and touring. I don’t make structural compromises when it comes to voicing and build all my instruments in a humidity controlled environment to mitigate for wood movement in different environments here in the UK and across the world. I select the best materials I can get my hands on, make sure they are seasoned and acclimatised and have the time to check each piece thoroughly before and during construction. I build with common sense measures to mitigate for cracks and distortion. I finish my instruments in a musical instrument specific lacquer designed for the job.
My prices I hope very fairly reflect the standard of my work and my commitment to after sales care as well as the time spent with the customer. I don’t currently sell through shops so when you buy from me there is no middle person up charge. I always want to remain accessible to musicians and want all my customers to feel that they don’t have to keep them in a glass case. ‘Boutique’ guitars you may see on line are named thus because they are sold through boutiques, online or physical and mainly in the US. The double price tag is basically that up charge. A high price may in some cases justify the reputation and experience of a maker but nonetheless it quite often includes that cost.