Best of all worlds

In the Fylde workshop I have put together what I consider to be the best of all possible worlds in guitar making. The facilities have been built up over forty years and are the among the very best available to any guitar maker. Methods of work change constantly, adding whatever improves the final product and discarding that which does not. I am lucky to have had a number of excellent people helping over the years, with skills gained in every walk of life, and of course such people do move on, but currently I feel the work situation is the most satisfying that I have ever had. Last but not least, I have unrivalled stocks of timber gathered over many years, chosen from all over the world for their physical and tonal beauty, carefully seasoned and graded for use in the instrument most appropriate for their particular properties.

A tour round the workshop at Fylde is a surprise to anybody with preconceptions. There is no romance of ancient craftsmen working in primitive surroundings amongst a pile of shavings, neither is there a constant buzz of machinery or piles of component parts. I work with two or three craftsmen each at individual benches, with our own rack of hand tools, one instrument in front of each of us, working carefully and moving the work between us in an interweaving pattern of complementary skills. Here and there are single guitars, nearly finished, a few part made mandolins in boxes, several guitar bodies on one bench, and some rough shaped necks on another. Shelves with bent sides and soundboards acclimatising between operations. Mugs of tea are everywhere, packets of biscuits. Drawers of small tools are all mislabelled, but we know where everything is. Small piles of wood that are waiting to be put away. Dust. Vaguely chaotic perhaps, but near the door to the office, a shelf, full of nearly finished, shiny, marvellous musical instruments. I still sometimes look at them and think "we've made those!"

There is a machine area packed with weird and wonderful devices that are used occasionally for a few seconds or minutes. A sophisticated CNC mill that makes only truss rod covers, and a UV booth for curing grain filler, but not for tone critical lacquer. Even more shelves full of jigs and fixtures, brought down to a bench for an hour then returned to gather more dust. On the walls are hundreds of templates and charts of information, there are cupboards and drawers full of tools, a sharpening area with every possible whetstone, grinder and linisher. Under every bench are boxes of clamps and clips, coils of fretwire, drawers full of screws, tuners, nuts and saddles. Benches with deck presses for assembly and wooden moulds and plates to hold many different shapes. Upstairs are about four hundred feet of shelving, stacked with timber accumulated over a lifetime. Its impossible to take it all in during one visit, but you can follow the course of a single instrument, and watch the rough timber take on shape, structure, lacquer, then inlays, frets and strings, all within this one building. I don't know of any other maker who puts so much effort and investment into such a wide variety and small number of instruments.