2018 Archive

  • Jack Daniels Guitar for Charity
  • SEAL
  • Snowed in
  • Lewis Rainer, The Girl from the Song
  • Harp Ukulele
  • The Instrument Makers
  • No 9,000
  • Gomez and John Smith
  • Bread and Roses Auction in San Francisco
  • Grow your own Guitar
  • Moira’s medal and my new chair
  • Big Lumps of Rosewood
  • Fylde Mandolin Sinks Nuclear Submarine
  • New Fret Slotting Machine
  • Ullapool Guitar Festival
  • That Radio Show- Shortlisted
  • Celebrities Gather to Celebrate Fylde Mandola
  • Tina the Musical
  • Carved Serendipity
  • Elephant and Piano
  • Rare sighting of Albino Reindeer in Penrith
January: Jack Daniels Guitar for Charity

I have been making “Single Malt” guitars for nearly twenty years. The unusual timber I have been using for the soundboards has nearly gone, and I’m not likely to be able to get any more, but the whisky soaked and aged Oak for the back and sides can come from lots of places, and there is plenty of other timber I can use for the soundboards, so the project is entering a new phase.

About three years ago, I was having a conversation with Richard Hawley along those lines, and he mentioned that he had contacts with the Jack Daniels Company. I had some misgivings about using different wood, but opportunity only knocks once, so after some complications, a very large, very unsuitable box arrived from Tennessee, with just enough wood to make one guitar, and about a hundred bridges.

I decided to make just one guitar for a charity auction. Because I didn't have an "interesting timber" for the soundboard, I used some Sinker Redwood, with a charred sunburst. Nice, isn’t it? It fits with some more of this newsletter as well.

It took a lot of organising, but at the end of last year, the guitar was auctioned at the Scottish Music Awards, and raised several thousand pounds for the Nordoff Robbins Music Therapy charity that will go towards changing the lives of vulnerable and isolated people.

January: Seal

A simple story that covers a lot of ground. Seal was staying with Trevor Horn (“the man who invented the eighties”) in Los Angeles, where he came across one of Pete Townshend’s Ariels. (Pete has five Ariels - he calls them the “perfect songwriting guitar"). Seal emailed me and we discussed possibilities and practicalities, but really, all he wanted was one like Pete’s.

I had a few bad moments when I realised that Seal is left handed and we had made this guitar right handed, but then I saw that Seal plays ”Hendrix style” so I stopped worrying. Then David Mead told me that Trevor’s home had been destroyed in the terrible fires around LA, but Pete tells me the guitar is fine.

Seal has the guitar now, we swapped emails and phone calls. He says “It's exquisite! An absolutely wonderful piece of art.”

I told him I wanted 10% of any royalties from songs written on this guitar. I think that’s fair. Seal hasn't replied yet but I'm sure it will be ok.

March: Snowed in

We are stuck here with a log fire, warm and snug, eating black pudding and bacon sandwiches and drinking beer.

Or at least I am, Moira is eating bananas with yoghurt and drinking red bush tea, but she just has to be kind and clever and pretty, she doesn’t have to shovel snow in a gale.

March: Lewis Rainer, The Girl From the Song

When this happens, it's lovely. A customer told me about the guitar in this Netflix film (thank you).

I contacted Lewis, (Hollyoaks, Casualty, Endeavour, Grange Hill, Dracula, Wasteland, and so many more) and he told me all about it. The Goodfellow used in the film is his own guitar, which Lewis has owned for about 12 years. He is a fan of Nic Jones, Dick Gaughan etc, and the guitar is “still the most precious thing I own”, paid for with the pay check from his first acting job in Grange Hill.

What a good story. Good playing as well, Lewis is thinking of making an album. Go Lewis.

March: Harp Ukulele

“How many clamps can a guitar maker clamp, when a guitar maker’s clamps are all clamped”. Or something.

Don’t worry, each one is light duty and only very lightly tightened.

I have a LOT more clamps that that. I might take a photo of them all one day.

There is a Harp Ukulele in there somewhere.

March: The instrument makers

Maybe six months ago, Kellie While (the lady who organises the Folk Awards), put an idea to me. Would I be interested in recording a radio show in the workshop, alongside two serious players, perhaps Martin Simpson and Richard Hawley? Well, yes.

It turned into quite a day. Kellie, Martin and Richard were there, we had Mark Radcliffe, and John Leonard from the BBC, Charlie and Georgia from 7digital, and Richard’s friendly driver, John. Martin was last to arrive, so as he came through the door, I picked up my big red order book, brought him gently into “shot” and announced in a rather grand voice “Martin Simpson, tonight, this is your life” Well, I thought it was funny, pity the recorder wasn’t turned on.

The day went very well indeed, Kellie was particularly pleased. There will be a series of four shows on Radio 4 starting at 11.30 on Tuesday 8th May, the other three shows being about Melodeon, Harp, and Uillean pipe makers, with appropriate musicians on hand.

Martin and I could talk forever about wood, he has amazing connections in the guitar world and has become rather knowledgeable on what goes on inside a guitar.

“Now Roger, there are four things to remember “- (any minute now, I'm going to hit him)

Only joking, it was all really good fun. Being radio, the pictures will be even better than television, and bashing bits of wood to make them ring (or not) in front of a microphone was a very pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

April: No 9000

We have reached "Fylde" number 9,000. I haven't allocated that number to an instrument yet, we are saving it for something special. Overall production is a lot smaller and slower now that we only supply direct to the customer, but it does mean that I spend more time with each customer, which usually I enjoy. It's similar to the situation in 1971, when I was meeting the players in the folk clubs that I helped to run, then talking and drinking into the early hours. It's much the same now, except perhaps we go to bed a little earlier.

May: Gomez and John Smith

I expect you all know what a “rider” is, but just in case, it's a set of “comforts” to be provided to the artist backstage, set in stone in the contract. Basically, they should be food and drink, but in the good old days, “fruit and flowers” were mentioned a lot.

John had warned me that they had a surprise for me. We emptied three bottles while I was there, but I have to admit they weren't full to start with.

May: Bread and Roses auction in San Francisco

The Alchemist was won at the Bread & Roses Presents charity auction by Chris Gorog, former Chairman & CEO of Napster and former President of U.K. Entertainment company ITC Entertainment Group.

Chris was absolutely thrilled to become the next owner of the Fylde Alchemist and intends to “show it off to friends while playing the hell out of it.” Chris is especially impressed with the “bell-like chiming and resonance of the guitar”, as well as it's “whisky good looks.”

May: Grow your own guitar

We planted 700 native hardwood trees in our “garden” a few years ago. All I have to do now is wait a lifetime or so. Some kindly soul planted this Sycamore a long time before that, but it was getting a bit out of control and endangering our house. Time to become a guitar!

Our native timber is not ideal for guitar making. Even a tree as big as this one doesn't yield wood of good enough size and quality. The timber is often stressed and unstable because of our growing conditions, nearly always wild grained and sometimes it contains barbed wire, shot gun pellets, and even parts of bicycles! (I'm sure I left my bike leaning against this tree fifty years ago).

One small section “quarter sawn”, debarked, waxed and needing about five years to dry.

Our native timber is not ideal for guitar making. Even a tree as big as this one doesn't yield wood of good enough size and quality. The timber is often stressed and unstable because of our growing conditions, nearly always wild grained and sometimes it contains barbed wire, shot gun pellets, and even parts of bicycles! (I'm sure I left my bike leaning against this tree fifty years ago).

This one section is just about all I could salvage from the whole tree, and I'm not sure if it's worth the effort.

It's good to try though, great fun and very satisfying. I've said before that I'm quite happy picking bits of wood up and putting them down again.

See a tree and pick it up, all day long, you'll have a tree. Old English proverb.

July: Moira’s medal and my new chair

I needed a new chair for my office at home. Moira and I visited our local specialist office supplier, I won’t mention the name, but they were very nice people, and very appreciative of all the advice that I gave them while I was testing their products.

The first chair, which advertised rise and fall action, didn't actually rise and fall. The salesman smiled broadly when I pointed that out and offered me another chair that “did rise and fall”. But it didn't, and again, he was very happy to be gently informed. The next chair did rise and fall, but didn't tilt, in fact, it was permanently fixed at such a strange angle that anybody sitting on it would immediately slide off, as the nice man discovered for himself when he didn't quite believe me. Picking himself off the floor, he was so amused that he was having difficulty keeping a straight face, but he did manage to offer me another chair which he was sure would do the job. And, to be fair, it was perfect, other than it cost three million pounds (easy terms available). And it was huge. And ugly. By this time, I had conquered my natural shyness and felt able to tell him my honest opinion, and of course, he was very grateful for my help and I noticed he was chuckling to himself while he looked for other options.

When he did find a working, acceptable, affordable chair, and assembled it specially for me, I felt it only fair to test out the advertised high-quality castor wheels by scooting myself round the large marble floor and introducing myself as “demonstrator for the day” to all the other customers. I do have a sense of humour you see, and I think it's nice to share it.

By this time, all the staff were showing signs of their appreciation, so much so that the manager took Moira to one side and quietly said “we don’t offer medals here madam, but if we did, we'd give you one”

I thought that was very unfair, it was me that did all the work.

Editor's Note ... and you thought you were reading the thoughts of one of the greatest guitar builder's in the world!

August: Big Lumps of Rosewood

I'm on a mission, to get hold of all the unusual timber that is hidden in old joiners' workshops. Or in the workshops of old joiners. I think I have all the apostrophes right. These Rosewood "logs" came from a retired Funeral director, which raises all sorts of questions. It has lots of splits and it's a bit wild, but should yield some interesting timber. I quite often get calls from people who have something to offer me, it sometimes doesn't work out (Rosewood Pianos, for instance, are not actually Rosewood) and I do wonder how much else there is in various places that might or might not ever get used. If you know of anything or anyone, do tell me before you tell anyone else. You might get your name in my newsletter

August: Fylde Mandolin SInks Nuclear Submarine

Another great story from a customer - (proper name withheld just in case, although I am assured it's all ok). "Gerry" is currently an Instructor in the Royal Navy, and was onboard HMS Superb, on a secret "sneaky mission", when someone crashed the submarine into a mountain, under the Red Sea. Oops.

There isn't much to do in your spare time on a submarine, and in those days, the guys had to share bunks - "hot bedding", so anywhere to escape to was a blessing. The aft (back end) of the submarine with the engines and reactor, wasn't very pleasant, so Gerry would spent hours at a time in the cooler “Lyser space” at the pointy end, playing his Touchstone mandolin, and it came in very handy when things went horribly wrong.

"On 26th May 2008 At deep depth, and at maximum revs, whilst dived in the Red Sea, the submarine hit an underwater mountain. And after quite a stressful moment of carrying out safety drills, we had to perform an emergency surface. The angle of the boat was about 40 degrees and, after what seemed an eternity, we surfaced. Whilst everyone was being warned about phoning home and the command were trying to get guidance from the UK, my first thought was go forward, get 3 cans of beer and head to the “lyser shack” with my mandolin until everything settled down"

So that is how, with a little poetic licence, a simple Fylde Mandolin saved hundreds of lives and prevented world war three.

On subsequent patrols in other submarines, Gerry has played his mandolin all around the globe, sometimes on the sea, sometimes under it, without further incident!

"Our mandolin has been through a lot with me, If not for your message I could have made a very big mistake, and got rid of it. As I write this I realise that your handmade mandolin has been a very close companion and has brought me much comfort. Thank you for your skill, which has brought joy to many people. I am only one of them".

September: New Fret Slotting Machine

It will cut any scale, any slot width or depth. Radiused fingerboards, fan frets. It will probably cut flapjack into equal slices. That should stop some fights in the workshop.

It's only taken me about five years to get this far, it's been fun making it, now I suppose I should put some blade and belt guards on it before the elf and safety people see it. Please don't tell them until I've got that done.

October: Ullapool

Do you like the new back stage banner? Thanks To Mike English, Adam Bulley, and Remi Harris. And me.

It was another wonderful festival, despite our usual complications while travelling up.

A few years ago, we couldn't get to our half way B&B because of a landslide. The next year, our Hotel seemed to be run by Basil and Sybil, and a couple of years after that, our Hotel with "Secure Parking" for all the cars and contents, didn't have any semblance of secure parking and we weren't allowed to use the only space that was secure. Last year, the landlady took three hours before admitting that she had let our rooms to someone else, despite being booked and confirmed 6 months previously. She thought all five of us might like to sleep in one bed, nice thought. This year, our stopover was lovely, but we left a good part of our luggage behind. Thank you, Innes, for sorting that out.

But then! We arrived at Ullapool. From there on, nothing but good. Unless you count a bit too much Aqua Vitae, probably my fault for taking eight bottles with me. None came back.

October: That Radio Show - Shortlisted!

You know the one, the radio four thing with me, Martin Simpson and Richard Hawley going on and on about wood.

It seems it has been repeated, I've had lots of mail about it including one from a couple I used to play guitar with in 1970 and who always wondered what had happened to me. Now they know, but I didn't know they own a brewery. I do wish I had kept in touch.

What I haven't explained, is that the programme has been "Shortlisted" for an industry award - the "AIB awards." "The international awards for factual video, audio and interactive productions." Link to the AIB Awards Website

Kellie While did all the hard work.

“It’s quite a prestigious do and mainly features hard-hitting factual and news documentaries and programmes but they do have a category for arts and culture. It’s also mostly for TV but with a few audio categories. Our programme is in the Audio/Arts & Culture category"

If you know who to bribe, please do. (That's from me, not Kellie)

I don't get an invite to the posh dinner though. It's ok, I don't like posh dinners. I like to have Cumberland sausage and mash at "my" pub. The Old Crown in Hesket Newmarket.

I had to squeeze that in somehow, now I get a free pint.

November: Celebrities gather to celebrate Fylde Mandola

Sooty and Sweep, Kylie Minogue, Rowan Atkinson, Penn and Teller, Sandi Toksvig, Cheryl Cole, Dynamo and many others, all supported Bill Bailey on stage at the London Palladium last week while he displayed his Fylde Mandola to an audience that included the Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall.

What an honour, I am so humbled.

By pure coincidence, it was the Prince's Birthday, what are the odds on that?

December: Tina, The Musical

One of our quite frequent trips to London, this time to put youngest daughter on an aeroplane to the colonies. I'm hoping she will discover gold or something,

We met up with Dave Holmes, and Marco Gerace, both guitarists with the show, who took us to the Hospital Club for dinner, it's a venue and dining club for people in the Creative arts. Nice to slum it occasionally.
Then we went back stage to see the set up there. The band is actually on stage throughout the show, which is unusual for a musical, but you can't actually see them all the time.

Then Tina took me by the hand, to rapturous applause.

December: Carved Serendipity

In 1987, my good friends Howard Lees and John Hobson wanted to make an album. I think the name for the album came first, and sparked the carving, but I'm not quite sure. The hand (it's my hand) is carved from ash, not a recognised wood for carving, I'm never one to take the easy option.
When Bireli Lagrene launched his latest CD, I didn't notice the connection at first, but then John Hobson sent me the reverse side of the album, and the connection was immediate. I don't think Bireli's thumb is stuck on with plasticene though.

Will McNicol says the chord is "A demented", he is probably right, but I played it 30 years before Birelii. Adam Palma tells me Bireli knows all the chords. I thought that was Guitar George.

December: Elephant and Piano

Something nice to finish off with.

December: Rare sighting of Albino Reindeer in Penrith

We were getting ready for a major service on the dust extraction system, which ironically, means getting covered in dust. Moira turned up with sets of reindeer antlers and flashing noses, because that's what she does. The team will forgive me eventually.

It's been a busy year, again. Thank you everybody for your support. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

To paraphrase Douglas Adams:

So long, and thanks for all the wood.

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