I make all sorts of fretted instruments. In fact since most people who want a regular six string guitar will go to a shop and buy one it’s often the more unusual things I get asked to make. Since I was first asked to make a tenor guitar there’s been a clear revival of interest, maybe baritone citterns will be next. However one thing I tend to shy clear of is early instruments. I aim for the best in sound and playability, the early music market is very concerned with authenticity and although these things overlap they are not the same. In this case I was approached by someone who wanted a baroque guitar in terms of sound and construction but didn’t like the ornate decoration that is appropriate for the period. He’d already approached a maker of baroque guitars and been told that he couldn’t possibly do that. I don’t have a reputation for authenticity to consider so I took on the job.
David Bateman plays his Baroque Guitar at a meeting of The Scottish Lute and Early Guitar Society
The instrument is loosely based on the Hill Stradivarius in The Ashmolean Museum using drawings by Stephen Barber whose lute making class I attended many years ago. The intrument is unbelievably lightly built – there’s fascinating article about Strad guitars here.
Daylight shines through the front of the guitar is progress
Some time later the guitar developed a wave distortion of the front as the bridge tilted due to string tension. My customer consulted with the experts and was told “they all do that”. I could have prevented that happening but the modification would have been the first step down the road that led to the modern fan braced classical guitar and the instrument would no longer have been correct for the period.
My old friend Will Fly and I got together to try out a recently completed tenor guitar before I shipped it off to its new owner. It’s maple and spruce with Waverley tuners on a slotted headstock and some rather nice vintage inspired fingerboard markers.
Here’s Will playing Josefin’s Waltz by Roger Tallroth, I’m accompanying him on a Martin O28 made in 1900 – a lovely battered old relic.
And then I get a bit of a blues jam. Will is playing a 1917 Gibson L1 archtop.
Tenor guitar tuned C G D A.
Just before I shipped this guitar the new owner emailed me “Be sure to give my regards to Will Fly. Of course, he is the one responsible (via You Tube) for this project. Hopefully he will bless this guitar and stuff a little Blues mojo into it!”. I think we nailed it!
I’d barely heard of the tenor guitar until my old friend Mike, aka Will Fly, asked me to make him one back in 2009. 7 years later it came back for a refret. I think he must like it! It’s always satisfying when an instrument gets well used. I’ve known Mike for something like 40 years, ever since playing with him in The Egbert Souse All Stars, so he hung out in the work shop and we chatted while I worked on his guitar. He recorded the work and the conversation and has now edited it (if that’s the word) into two ridiculously long videos. If you’ve got a couple of hours to waste watching and listening to two old guys ramble on about making mending and playing instruments here you are!
This year at The Blue Shed I have five different steel strung guitars including a 12 string, a parlour guitar and this long scale 6 string. It’s currently strung as a baritone tuned to B. Redwood front, Imbuya back and sides and figured ebony fingerboard. Benjamin scoop semi cutaway.
As well as my guitars the exhibition features:
David Browne: work includes a series of drawing, prints and reliefs inspired by a small hillside town in Italy. www.dmbartist.co.uk
Martin Spencer: contemporary chairs, inspired by a recent commission of Sally Williams Architects, hand made from English hardwoods.
This is a brief audio clip from a forthcoming CD of Greek and Corsican music by Doc Rossi. I conceived this instrument to be tuned with the bottom course a low C, like a cello. Doc tells me that over the years he has had it he has dropped the tuning and for this recording the bottom course was tuned to F. He says “I don’t remember whether I’m using a capo on this song, but it’s tuned F (like first fret on a bass guitar) C G C F, with octaves on all pairs. It has a pickup, but I don’t use it, and it sounds great live, with or without a mic”.
I’ll post details of the completed project as soon as I have them.
My old friend Doc Rossi has posted a Facebook album of photos of a guitar I made over 25 years ago. Recently I visited Doc in Alsace and had the chance to see and play it for the first time in many years. A bit rough round the edges and some evidence that I’d struggled with that cutaway but playing well and sounding better than ever. It also confirmed my feeling that maple is an underestimated tonewood for steel strung guitars. As Doc says it has clarity and richness, makes for a very nicely balanced guitar.
This year I have 2 guitars for sale:
Model ‘O’ parlour guitar in rosewood and bear-claw sitka, extremely light, currently strung with 010 gauge strings
Model ‘G’, cherry and sitka, scoop cutaway, experimental bracing pattern.
As well as my instruments the exhibition includes:
David Browne: work includes a continuing series of sculptures that explore a recurring interest in the sea. Also being exhibited are recent drawings and prints inspired by an overgrown olive grove in Lazio, Italy.
Martin Spencer: hand made chairs exploring the textural contrast of paper and wood.
A video by Kris Pawlowski showing the construction and handover of a long scale 12 string for John Fowler. John is quite the deftest 12 string player I’ve ever heard as you can see in the second half of the video. Then at the end he checks out the pickup before plugging into his looper and having a bit of fun – a wonderfully satisfying moment.
There’s a slightly embarrassing moment – for me, the maker, that is – half way through when I’m trying to explain that a long scale 12 string with medium gauge strings is the kind of thing that can make a luthier nervous! I make light highly responsive guitars, it took a lot of care and attention to get just the right compromise between my usual instruments and the massive tension on an instrument like this
It all turned out well – that high tension produces massive power. This is without doubt the loudest instrument I’ve ever made. And it’s gone to a great player. Kris’s video is just the icing on the cake – a very satisfying project.