In 1967 I built my first instrument, from necessity.
It was a teardrop shaped body with a long neck and 30” scale. I don’t remember what inspired the long scale, though I remember measuring strings to see how long I could make it. I think I hoped for a more strident sound with a long string.
The body had plywood sides with oak top and back and an African mahogany neck with teak fingerboard. Not traditional, just what happened to be lying around in my Father’s garage.
The thing could deliver a tune though and I played it all over London, Paris, the Cote D’Azur and anywhere else I landed. Then there was a car crash, the guitar’s top smashed in.
I found a piece of walnut faced plywood in a skip, “that looks nice!” and then, “…hmmm…sounds different!”
Well, forty plus years later I’m still wondering, though now I tend to use the traditional luthier’s materials, the classic tonewoods.
Most of the science in my luthiery is that of experience and intuition. I gaze at classic work, in any kind of artefact, and I try to absorb the configurations of nature.
I’ve built many guitars, lutes, mandolins, dulcimers, and a variety of multi necked and multi stringed instruments over the years. I have learnt a lot and been able to pass on some knowledge. My brother Hugh and later the fellows at Brook Guitars started under my guidance. I feel heartened and rewarded at their achievements. One of the things I enjoy most about being a luthier is the willingness to share ideas with other makers. It’s a very supportive community.
In 2010 I relocated to Portugal and have my new workshop up and running. We are really happy to be here. I have always had an affinity for the European way of life and weather !
The conditions here are perfect for guitar making. I feel the space and calm bring out the best of me and inspire good work.
Giving voice to wood, that it may sing, as it has heard the song of birds in it’s branches. In doing this, so also do we reveal, at every cut, every shaving or scraping, a new and unique surface, an aspect unseen and never repeated. There is poetry in the work of the luthier, in the tools he cherishes, in the material taken with reverence from nature, in the process of transformation which occurs within and without.
Well, that’s the romance. As for the practice, my concern is to create musical instruments that will serve as functioning tools in the pursuit of musical performance.
I like to use hand tools for the majority of the work, minimal jigs and fixtures, as I like to be free to spontaneously act with new design features and dimensions. I use hide glue, organic oil finishing material, and French polish. I’m very interested now to be using European, that’s to say relatively “local” material, in preference to tropical and semi tropical woods. In terms of design and structure I rely on the basic premises that we can call “classic”, the tried and trusted methods and principles of generations of luthiers, whilst always with a weather eye for portals of evolution. Many of the measurements and structural systems we use are embedded in our hands and hearts from years of practice and observation of nature. I greatly enjoy the process as a way of life and I relish the beauty that we bring to the world. I am happy to be of service in this way.