I’m now building my first Dreadnought guitar (my Model 4 Double-decker) for over a year. Here are pictures of the body ready to receive the soundboard. The inside always looks so nice it almost seems a shame to cover it. The last one I built was 14 frets to the body, this will be twelve. The body size and shape are the same in either case. No pun intended.
For many years Rens appeared regularly on this site; his ‘big personality, small brain’ character made him an irresistible photgrapher’s prop. Rens sadly died last December and has been greatly missed.
Now he has a successor. Ben is a labradoodle – ironic that someone should have given these dignified dogs such a ridiculous name. Ben will grow to be more poodle-like as time goes on, and much bigger than Rens.
[three_fourth]Carol MComb has sent pictures of her early cittern, asking me to date it. The label gives no date but it gives my present Old School workshop address along with my home telephone number at the time, a short lived combination.
I transferred my workshop from my home to the Old School in very late 1979, beginning work there at the start of 1980. In these pre-internet days, the telephone was vital, so I used an extension from my home phone even though this was one and a half miles away. This meant customers could contact me on the number I’d been using for several years.
However, the system didn’t work well. My ability to make and receive calls depended on the correct option at the home phone. When Liz used the phone she pressed the button for a different option, and then had to press the extension option when finished. Time and time again this didn’t happen, leaving me no contact with either home or the outside world. Short of going home myself, my only option was to call home from the nearby call box and ask a completely unrepentant Liz to press the appropriate button.
There was a further problem in that the extension line quality deteriorated drastically, giving more hiss than voice, especially in wet weather. Telephone company engineers were unable to find and fix the problem. For many years after I found myself shouting into telephones because of this.
For the next year the telephone company wanted to quadruple the cost of the extension, so I had a separate phone (with my current 567 number) installed. Thus simultaneously relieving pressure on my throat, wallet and marriage.
Only when engineers checked the line some time later did we find the cause of the poor sound quality. The line had been peppered with shot, piercing the insulation without breaking the wire. Clearly hunters shooting rabbits had found birds sitting on the line an irresistible target.
So all instruments with an Old School Label and a Slaley 338 telephone number were built in 1980 or very early 1981.
After a long break I’m now accepting large bodied octave mandolin and cittern orders again.
Details to follow.
I’ve just been asked about a used Model 1 currently advertised on Craigslist. The photos are genuine and are of the guitar advertised.
But the seller claims to be ‘Ann’ living on Shetland and to be the first owner. In fact the first owner was a Finn who tells me he sold the guitar to a man in Essex who tells me he still has the guitar, is very happy with it, has not advertised it and is not selling it.
In addition, the asking price is very low. Also, the guitar is advertised on the London Craigslist but is supposedly on Shetland, requiring a huge journey including a ferry crossing. Craigslist recommends buying locally to avoid scams. Clearly not possible in this case.
If whoever placed the ad cares to contact me and explain, I’ll pass on any information. In the meantime it’s a case of buyer beware.
I am now re-organising my order book. Having lost some computer information in the past, if you have an instrument on order with me I’d be greatful if you would email me with your details. Thank you in advance.
On another note, spring is arriving and heather is burning on the moors around us. This clears the way for new heather shoots, these are food for grouse and pheasants. These days the fires are kept small so as not to get out of hand as sometimes happened in the past.
Burning heather on Kings Law in the upper Devilswater valley
I’ve been building Martin Simpson and New World model guitars with Wengé necks for a while now with great success. Wengé is stiff, light and resonant and beautiful when laquered. Wengé necked guitars have been amongst the best I’ve built, for example the Blackwood MS model I built for Darrell Scott (see my news item 6 September 2010).
Over the last couple of months I’ve also tried Wengé back and sides on guitars. The first was a New World and was a great success. It went to John Lynch in California who loves it, as did everyone else who saw and played it. The second is a Martin Simpson model which I am still evaluating and is quite as impressive as the New World.
The rich Wengé colour running along the length of the guitar from the back and sides to the neck and head is also very satisfying.
Both guitars have an impressive depth of sound, precise and clear without a hint of boominess. And an excellent bass/treble balance. I love them and am building more of both.
Martin Simpson playing new Wengé MS model
Both Wengé and African Blackwood, another great tonewood, sound a little different to Brazilian rosewood but neither better nor worse. Different woods suit different guitar designs, Wengé suits mine wonderfully.
While in theory it’s possible ship CITES legal Brazilian rosewood (as is mine) to the US, in practice no-one can find out how to do this. However, like African Blackwood, Wengé can be shipped to the US without problems, is fully acceptable under the US Lacey act, and looks and sounds wonderful.
Today Joseph Sobol collected his 12 string large bodied cittern. With polite persistence he eventually pursuaded me to build it from Koa and Port Orford cedar, woods I haven’t used before. The lower four pairs are octave strung.
This combination of woods turned out to be an inspired choice. Although I could play nothing on so many strings, Joseph makes it sound wonderful, like a church organ. He’s a great player (and not just on cittern – he also plays his own beautiful Bach arrangements on steel string guitar).
Here am I with the cittern, photographed by Joseph. I’m not even trying to play it because all those strings look as confusing to me as a railway goods yard.
And if I’m looking puzzled, it’s because I’m wondering, how a man who can play instruments like he does can have such trouble pressing the shutter button on a camera?
For those curious as to how so many photographs could be taken in so short a time, I should point out that the wall clock had stopped. Either that or we took one photograph every twelve hours.
Franck Benoualid has contacted me with what he tells me is a scam warning. This concerns one of my guitars advertised on Craigslist.
See my ‘available now’ page for details
After far too long, I am finally building large bodied citterns and octave mandolins again. Here is Darrell Scott playing his octave mandolin at his Blackfriars gig in Glasgow, a few minutes after taking delivery. Quite astonishing to me that he could take an unfamilar instrument from its case and accompany one of his own songs without a second’s rehearsal or sound-check. And make it sound not just good but also effortless.
Blackfriars in Glasgow is a tiny subterranean venue where you stand to see and hear the act. Tricky to get a picture of Darrell as the stage isn’t raised and there were five rows of tall men standing shoulder to shoulder in front of me. But Glaswegians are friendly and did their best to lean out of the way.
I’m now working on small and large mandolins and plan to be producing them soon. After them will come small bodied citterns.