September 2022 - Edition

  • Sad and strange times
  • John James’ Custom Falstaff for sale
  • With a suitcase shaped like that
  • John Smith and Sarah Jarosz
  • Adam Palma
  • Bireli Lagrene
  • Custom Tenor Guitar for Ullapool
  • Ullapool Guitar Festival
  • Touchstone Mandolin for sale
  • Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker Live at The Leadmill
  • The Leadmill
  • Two Special Orders 
  • Quilted Maple Ariel
  • Macassar Ebony Hybrid Tenor 
  • Sam Fender
  • Tristan Seume on Holiday
  • Martin Carthy 
  • Martin Simpson
  • Louis Campbell
  • Anthony Phillips. Cittern and Bouzouki
  • Serial Numbers
  • Daughter Music
  • Elliott Morris 
  • Chris Herring East Wind
  • If Only I had an Axe to grind
  • Joining a back  
  • Big Mac and Me
Sad and strange times

Sad and strange times here in the UK with the loss of the Queen and the change of Prime Minister in the same week.

Whatever our opinions on the monarchy, respect is due for the Queens’ life and the devotion she gave to her role.

We had dinner in our local pub at the weekend. It was opened (by the then) Prince Charles and is called "The Old Crown", which somehow carries some extra meaning now.

None of us know what the future will bring but in the meantime we will just keep on doing what we do ... making instruments and hoping they continue to bring cheer where needed .

John James’ Custom Falstaff for sale

It doesn’t get much more interesting than this, the guitar is a piece of English musical history.

I made it for John in 1977, paired with one I made for Dave Walters. Both are shown in “The Book”. John played this alongside his Oberon for many years and it featured in a lot of his publicity. The history didn’t stop with John, he part exchanged this guitar with me for one of the newer Oberons he has now, and I sold it on to somebody in England, then I heard it had been sold to somebody in Ireland. Earlier this year, I took it in part exchange from a customer in Germany, who had bought it from the USA. Did you follow that? Pity it doesn’t have a passport with visa stamps.

The top is German Spruce, which was just about all I used in the early days, it’s in good condition apart from a few minor marks. The sides, and two outer panels of the back are “Bocote” although I didn’t know what it was at the time. The centre panel is Burr Indian Rosewood - which I’ve never seen or heard of before or since and is very difficult to work with. The neck is laminated from Bocote and Burr Rosewood, with the heavy aluminium reinforcement that I used at the time. It was originally so stiff that I could not get any relief into it and it was difficult to set up, but we’ve now fitted a new Ebony fingerboard and bridge and reset the neck to make all that work just fine. The neck isn’t as big and chunky as many of the early Falstaff’s, but it’s not a modern adjustable style either. It feels and plays very well.

The purflings are unique. Four layers of red and green ABS twisted together over a flame, then sanded flat. The bindings are Walnut. The tuners are the original Schallers, nicely bedded in now after forty plus years and working perfectly. We have even kept the original Lignum Vitae nut- much better than bone.

We’ve refinished the back, sides and neck.

It’s a lovely thing and there can never be another one like it.

I'm asking £5400.00 - SOLD

  • John James' Falstaff For Sale
  • John James Falstaff-DSCF0666

With a suitcase shaped like that

And this might be that guitar. The words show John’s dry sense of humour which was a big part of his show, and his personality. Still is of course.

John's Website

John Smith and Sarah Jarosz

Let’s have a bit of John, it’s always a good idea. 

John's Website

Adam Palma

Adam visited recently for a refret and an extra fret to be added to his guitar, then asked me to make two similar pieces of fingerboard to have added to his other Fyldes in Poland, guitar repair at a distance. Alex and Paul wanted to fly over and fit them.

Then Adam proceeded to demonstrate the modified guitar in the office. We haven’t had many visitors in the last two years, but that sort of thing is thankfully coming back now.

Adam's Website

Biréli Lagrène

It’s very convenient to link this clip to Adam’s as the two guitars are identical. It’s a shame we can’t see much of Biréli’s fingers in this, he does so much with the guitar. This time though, we do get to see him playing fretless bass, then magically morphs back onto acoustic to finish the clip off.

Custom Tenor Guitar for Ullapool

No, it's not a self-assembly kit.  I wanted to publicise this as soon as possible. With a little bit of a following wind, it should be ready for display at Ullapool In October, and when we sell it, the proceeds will go to the festival. 

It will be a Tenor Guitar with Bubinga back and sides, Port Orford Cedar Soundboard, Sycamore and Rosewood neck, I'm expecting it to be "rather nice". There will be more pictures and details when it is complete. 

Ullapool Guitar Festival

Nearly there, I hope Scotland is still where it was three years ago.

Link to Ullapool's Newsletter

Touchstone Mandolin for sale

This mandolin was donated to a charity in Preston and I've offered to sell it on their behalf. A lady took it into the charity shop and said she had bought it but hadn't played it. I've checked my records against the serial number, and it all seems to fit. It’s a shame in one way, but it does benefit a worthwhile cause.

Made in 2007, the mandolin is in perfect playing condition. We've restrung it and polished out a few minor scuffs

New price is £990. It’s for sale at £700 ono, including a soft case. I think I could ask a fair bit more than that, but the charity thing cuts both ways, it’s a chance for someone to get an excellent mandolin at an excellent price. We can provide a hard case for £70 extra if needed

"the name of the charity is ‘Integrate’ who provide ‘Individual Support For Individual People’ , care and training for adult individuals with learning disabilities ... they do this in various ways such as their horticultural project ‘Plants’ at a local park in Ashton Preston – training in life and work skills at their packing and fulfilment service centre – they offer a wood recycling service at ‘The Woodhouse’ which produce a wide selection of recycled products that they manufacture themselves – they have a charity shop in Penwortham run by a mix of staff and volunteers. and on top of all this they run a carer system where those in need are looked after by experienced staff or volunteers ..".


Integrate's website


  • Touchstone Mandolin For Sale
  • madolin1
  • madolin2

Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker Live at The Leadmill

On ITV's "This Morning" recently, "Line of Duty's" Adrian Dunbar explained how he had come across Richard Hawley’s music, and has learnt three of his songs for his new detective drama "Ridley".

And of course, the picture they used was of Richard playing his Black Orleans guitar - seen above with Jarvis Cocker

Richard's Website

The Leadmill

The Leadmill is under threat of closure. Read all about it here and see what you can do to help

The Leadmill's website

Two Special Orders

A lot of our time is devoted to making "one off" custom orders. Here are two of them, both rather sweet.

Quilted Maple Ariel
  • Quilted Maple Ariel
  • Ariel1
  • Ariel2

A Maple Ariel, with a Cedar top, Maple neck and Ebony veneered "Scoop"

Maple has various quirks, particularly when it is strongly figured. “Fiddleback” material is so very fragile in bending and loves to explode with little warning while quilted timber bends like butter but definitely has a mind of its own. “Bending” in this case would be better described as “negotiating” exactly what shape it will agree to become.

Macassar Ebony Hybrid Tenor
  • Macassar Ebony Hybrid Tenor
  • tenor1
  • tenor2

The idea here started as a custom Tenor guitar, but the customer was drawn towards double strings.  Compromise solution- double strings on the top two courses. It works very well indeed, with extra tonal content from the melody strings, and solid background from the lower notes. 

Macassar Ebony back and sides, Spruce top. Yet another delighted customer. I don't know how we do it. 

Yes, I do, we have a lot of experience and make so many different styles of instruments that its usually easy to extrapolate between two (or more) different concepts and learn from all of them Plus, and this is very important, we all enjoy and benefit from the variety.

Sam Fender

I didn’t think I'd ever see Sam play the mandolin live on stage, but this was a much smaller gig than his usual stadium shows, and he obviously felt a bit more connection with his audience. Good to see.

Sam's Website

Tristan Seume on Holiday

I'm not sure what to say - how can Tristan take time off?  I can’t.

Tristan's Website

Martin Carthy

Martin was here a few weeks ago, bringing his two signature 00018s for adjustment. He was a bit befuddled by the double neck Falstaff. (see March 2021 Newsletter) but did manage to smile through the sound holes for me. Peek a boo Martin!

and I found this!

Martin's Website

Martin Simpson

I usually avoid videos with lots of “Preamble”, but if your name is Martin, I'll make an exception.  Why are the Christmas decs still up??

Martin's Website

Louis Campbell

Louis has some videos coming out with fiddle player Owen Spafford. This is the first one, there are two more due before their album comes out on November 4th  

Louis says “The Falstaff is still as incredible as always”

Louis' Facebook Page

Anthony Phillips. Cittern and Bouzouki

Every so often, Anthony’s (Genesis) people get in touch asking for string advice for these two.  An early Cittern and Bouzouki, looking in excellent condition.  Always good to hear about such things

Serial Numbers

My daughter Charlotte is currently entering every instrument we have made since 1973 into a spread sheet so one day soon I might know some actual total numbers. I'll be able to look at the standard designs as well, which will be interesting, as they tend to go through fashions. We have had long spells of making lots of Orsinos, then it was Falstaffs, and the Ariel design seems to have "bursts” of popularity.

Once or twice, one of the standard designs seemed to have lost their popularity, so I dropped them from the price list, only to find another surge of enquiries straight away. You customer people are very strange.

I don’t want to publicise these numbers; I like to answer any enquiries directly and tell the customer as much as I can. When Charlotte has finished this, I'll be able to look up the numbers while I'm in a beach bar somewhere warm.

Daughter Music

Having mentioned older daughter, it's a nice coincidence that John Hobson has posted this, written for younger daughter Sophie just after she was born. Aaaaahhhh.

Charlotte has her own tune of course.

Can somebody please write a tune called “lovely wife”? Oh, hang on:

Of course, I have two stepchildren and soon to be seven grandchildren. This is going to become a long newsletter when I find all those links:

Elliott Morris

What’s happening? Did Elliott plug the wrong guitar in? Fun though isn’t it??

Elliott's Website

Chris Herring East Wind

Chris playing one of his own guitars alongside his Father’s Falstaff for this lively John Renbourn piece. The two instruments make a good compare and contrast conversation. Being ambidextrous must be very useful when Chris is making guitars.

Chris' Webspage

If Only I had an Axe to grind

Keith Beardmore found this on Facebook and secretly delivered it to me. I've always wanted one and now I've got one. Moira tried to put her nose against it, but I said she was being silly. I hope she wasn't trying to make some sort of statement.

Joining a back

Maybe this is the axe I want to grind? It should be interesting to some of you and might even upset a few. Oh dear, what a pity, never mind.

Guitar backs are generally made from one piece of wood, in effect split down the centre and re-joined with the two halves “book matched” to make one, wider piece with matching grain.

But there is more than one way of doing this.  I believe that certain parts of the tree need to be avoided if possible.

I hate to see pale "sapwood" included in the back and sides. Sapwood is the living part of the tree under the bark, it's likely to have insect holes and bark inclusions, and is often a lot less dense than the heartwood. There are a few timbers where the Sapwood is the best part, Maple for instance but In most timbers, Rosewood and Walnut being two good examples, the sapwood does not have any of the qualities that we pay for when buying “tonewood”.

I regard that part of the tree as firewood. 

Here we have one piece of wood, cut and joined in three different ways;

The join here includes a large amount of Sapwood, wasting the higher quality wood from further inside the tree and putting the bad wood in the middle, the most important area. Some people like doing it this way for visual effect, and we do see this a lot nowadays because the available material is smaller than it used to be, but I still hate it.

This time it’s joined down the opposite edge, and avoids the sapwood, but now includes a large amount of “slab" wood from near the centre of the tree, the "Pith". The grain lines converge in an interesting "V", sometimes it’s unavoidable but this can waste the best part of the wood, stiffen the back and even include cracks from the Pith. Not nice.

Or like this, with the wood joined along a straight line cut just under the sapwood, with the grain parallel in the centre of the instrument, cutting away the more suspicious material near the outside edges and keeping all the better parts.   It's the same piece of wood but improves the guitar in so many different ways.

Big Mac and Me

And finally. I’ve always felt comfortable with big horses; they are gentler than small ones and seem to have better communication skills. Here I am with "Big Mac" at Thornton Hall Country Park a few weeks ago, he and I had a lot in common, and no, there weren't any extra strong mints in my pocket.   I am planning to go back soon because there is something I forgot to ask him. I do hope he can help.

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