Let’s start this off with an indulgence - lots of guitars for sale. We took a record number of guitars to Ullapool this year. We sold some, took some orders, and brought some home.
Perhaps forty years ago, I began to take notice of this timber when the Fenlands were being ploughed up and drained. At the time I couldn't obtain any of the wood to try out in guitars, but it is now available in small quantities. I've been careful about it because I know how difficult Oak can be, both in stability and in the finishing process.
I've become quite a fan while making this guitar, unlike most Oak, the grain structure doesn't swallow endless amounts of lacquer, and the wood stays just where you put it while bending and bracing.
It looks glorious, having been buried for about 4,000 years, you probably can't see the full effect of the Medullary Rays in the pictures because it is so dark, but you will get just a hint.
The top is fine Italian Spruce with Mosaic purflings. The 44mm neck is laminated from three mahogany sections, with two ebony lines. Pearl Diamonds on the Ebony fingerboard, Gotoh 510 tuners, Ebony bindings with red borders. A dramatic guitar, big sound, very resonant.
We made a very similar guitar for Ullapool last year but sold it before we even got to the festival, so I thought it would be a good idea to make another one, and it raised a lot of interest.
Malaysian Blackwood is a "New" timber to guitar making, there isn't a lot of it available, so it is highly prized, and is gaining a well-deserved reputation. This guitar has a master grade Swiss Pine soundboard, with some strong Bearclaw marking. The 44 mm neck is laminated from three mahogany sections and two Rosewood lines, with red borders. Notched square pearl inlays, Gotoh 510 tuners. Ebony bindings with red borders.
A strong, clear, balanced tone. A customer was playing it today and we both remarked on the tone being "round, with no sharp edges"
For sale at £5,600
Colourful, strongly grained Claro Walnut body, made from a tree grown in the UK, and cut specially for me. The top is fine, even grained Sinker Redwood from California, with a lovely red colouring.
44mm neck, made from Mahogany with a centre lamination of English Walnut and two Rosewood lines. Pearl position markers, Gold Gotoh tuners with black buttons. Rosewood bindings.
In order to keep the price down I have kept this guitar deliberately simple in decoration.
Some of my artist photographs are getting a bit out of date, so Keith had a long photo session with Tristan. On the left is the more conventional "portrait" shot
and then we have him posing for the October page in his new Calendar, just wait till you see June.
Note the lovely banner in the background. The silhouette is Remi Harris. Picture by Adam Bulley, artwork by Mike English.
Tris is fairly sensible about guitars; he traded this one in to buy the fan fret.
It's a Custom Alexander, made in 2010. 44.7 mm neck, 629 mm scale length. Siricote sides, and Siricote back, with an Indian Rosewood centre section. One-piece Mahogany neck, Western Red Cedar top. Headway FEQ pickup. There are a few small dents on the soundboard, but I'd say it's in very good condition.
It would cost about £5,000 to make now.
I'm prepared to discuss the price, but it's important that it finds a good home, with good food, a proper bedroom, not too warm, not too cold, probably a few other guitars of a similar age to play with, and gentle loving parents who won't shout when it stays out late at "sessions".
Jule is an ex professional tennis player, currently a professional guitar player, singer and judging from the after-show party, probably one day, a professional pool player. "Oh - I had a boyfriend who was a drummer", as if that explained it. Probably does actually, but she didn't say that until after the bets were placed.
Jule will shortly be rehearsing with Antonio Forcione, with a view to touring together next year.
Here is a little clip of Antonio just to warn Jule what she is heading for.
I think Will nearly wore his fingers out at Ullapool, he takes part in so many events and puts maximum effort into everything he does. I've told him off, we have to keep him playing for a long time to come.
I'm going to have to find my old turntable so I can play the vinyl. Where did I put the handle to wind it up with? Do I have a new needle ready? Will it sound OK at 78 rpm?
Hooray for Will - he is getting married this coming weekend, we will be there, "mob handed" as they say. Mrs Nearly McNicol has now been initiated into all the silly rituals at Ullapool, mostly involving whisky. We took eight bottles with us, and brought eight bottles back, but they were not the same bottles. Will's fault, and Clive's, and Remi's, and John's, and Jule's, and Dani's, and ...
John premiered his new song at Ullapool, "Burden of the Road" is available here
The "B" side will be released soon, and you might have heard it somewhere else.
John starts his new tour about now, new songs, old songs, and if you haven't seen John before, just songs. I stole that line from John. Don't tell him.
Yes, OK, I’m running out of ideas for headlines.
We sold a lot of albums in Scotland, so when we have time to sort everything out, I think we will be close to making our first charity donation.
I was interviewed recently for the US magazine "Acoustic Guitar", a two-page feature due out in November, largely about the album and the artists. I'm hoping that will trigger a lot more orders
Link to order page.
Toby has at last released his album, and guess which track he is using for publicity?
It's the track I used on the Fylde album. Actually, this is the full version, we had to trim it down to get it onto "Strings that Nimble leap". This is the track that Mark Radcliffe played on the radio "Folk Show".
Album Pre-Order here
I hadn't met Ben until he introduced himself at Ullapool. A really nice guy, fits in well with all the outdoor, healthy types that run up and down Scottish hills in the pouring rain.
Great guitar player, he uses an old Oberon which he bought from Gavin Davenport. I think I'll be giving the guitar a service before long, and I have Ben interested in a new one. It's what I do best.
Bens facebook page
I've been showing pictures of five guitars during construction for some time now, it has been a slow project, having to fit it in between "proper" orders. I should have individual photographs soon.
It's an extension of "The Guitar Experiment", from 2014. The conclusions from that were a little controversial, and although I don't argue with the overall results, it does leave something unanswered from my point of view.
A big part of my job is to talk to customers about choice of timber, and it simply isn't possible for me to say, "it doesn't make any difference ". I am sure, and so are most people I know, makers and players, that the wood choice for the back and sides is an important part of the guitar's tone. My view is that it is a small part, but that small part is very important. When we get to this level of instrument, it's the small parts that make the difference, just like in wine tasting and Hi Fi.
Many years ago, I noticed the confusion when trying to explain tone in terms of words, so that two people cannot agree unless they have the same understanding of the words used. If I were to say, “this one has ‘clarity’”, I've no way of pointing to the "clarity" and saying "there, that's what I mean". That's where the biggest problem occurs. If we can't agree on what words mean, we can't make a proper analysis using those words. There were some parts of the experiment's conclusions that reinforced these thoughts, so I'm trying to explore that a little more.
The original experiment took so long to complete and publish, that the test guitars are long gone and I can't re-examine them, but I did learn some lessons from those tests.
My objective this time is to reassure myself, and Alex and Paul, that we are speaking truthfully when we talk about tone and to gain some better way of discussing it with customers.
Part of that will be to get experienced opinion, particularly from players who have very fine ears, in the same way that whisky or chocolate tasters have a very discerning palate.
Here is a test. If I asked you to play and listen to a number of guitars, then write down a description of the sound of one of them, then pass that description to another person, would they be able to find that guitar from your description alone?
Would that work? I could call it the Bucknall test. Typically, complicated.
At Ullapool, I began to gather player's thoughts. Clive Carroll, Hugh Burns, John Smith, Will McNicol, Jule Malischke, Richard Smith, and many others, all spent a lot of time, playing and listening, telling me what they heard. I had three players write down some quite extended analyses. I hope to get other players and even makers to play and listen, and we shall see if there are any conclusions.
It isn't intended to be a thoroughly scientific test, I don’t have the time, but you would be welcome to visit and play them while I still have them all.
If nothing else, we will have five lovely guitars for sale before very long.
A few words about the guitars. One particular guitar last year had started me on a new path which I think will develop a lot in the coming years. A 12 fret, long scale, cutaway model, nearly an Alchemist, which I made using Will McNicol's music (and Will himself) as the "model". Big sound, very comfortable to hold and play. That is what we have here, in five variations. New features include carbon reinforced necks, and truss rod adjustment from the soundhole, the idea being to reduce any variability in neck settings between guitars and to test out new ways forward in design.
The guitars do vary in decorations, inlays and tuners because I wanted to represent a variety of tastes and price bands. None of that should affect the tone.
This time, I have used Cedar soundboards, all cut from the same billet and with identical grain. I feel that Cedar doesn't vary in its properties as much as Spruce. I have controlled the bridge height to within a tenth of a millimetre on each guitar, and by taking our time, we achieved an excellent consistency in the lacquer process. All structural components are identical. The woods chosen for the bodies are: Brazilian Rosewood, Amazon Rosewood, Vanuatu Blackwood, Claro Walnut and Padauk.
The properties vary from very dense and stiff to very light and flexible. If there is a difference in tone, it should be clear enough. But we thought that last time!
Remi was one of the many stars at Ullapool, and along with his bass player, Tom Moore, gave us a wonderful range of music on electric and acoustic instruments. This picture shows Adam Bulley as well, always enjoying himself.
Below we see him playing solo, what a shame he didn't have this clever shirt with him at Ullapool. Remi is part way through a big tour - watch out for him, it's a superb show.
At the "after show" Ullapool party, Tristan, John and myself were playing the world famous game "Beatles songs with a baking theme". I think Tris started it, and I had the winner for a while with ‘Yeasterday", but then came "Lucy in the sky with Raisins", and we finished with "Norwegian Wood fired Pizza".
Moira and I continued playing on the "Long and Winding Roll" home, and back at the ranch, Paul and Alex took up the theme. Paul had “Bakewell's Silver Hammer", and Alex came up with "Gotta gateau into my life" and then "Chard and Peppers, Home-made, Hearth-Cooked Flan,” at which point the adjudicating committee disqualified him for taking it too seriously.
So - let's put up a challenge. Send in your entries, and the winner will be entitled to buy me a drink. The runner up will be entitled to buy all of us a drink.