December Newsletter

  • Personal Selection Ariel for Sale
  • Jack Rutter. Solsbury Hill
  • Tristan Seume with Andrea Corr
  • Bouzouki for Sale
  • State of play with Guitar Pickups
  • Will McNicol. The Phoenix Cycle
  • David Shevelew. Trooper Cut Down
  • Remi Harris and Tom Moore. “One for Merlin”
  • Chris Difford's new Guitar
  • Chris Herring. Raining Cats and Dogs
  • Gareth Evans. Beat it.
  • Latest Whiskies
  • Henry Olsen. Lady of the Tyne
  • They are coming to take me away haha
Personal Selection Ariel for Sale

This is the first guitar we made to display at The Ullapool Festival this year, and I've held it back for Christmas! I didn't think I was likely to get an order for a guitar made from Birds Eye Maple, which is a shame, because I have some spectacular pieces of wood. So here we are - I've made the choices for you.  

The Personal Selection idea prompts some lovely timber and design combinations, and once I had the Maple in my hands, the other timbers almost selected themselves. On the next shelf along from the Maple in my store were the remaining pieces of the Cello Back that I used for the two Maple mandolins last month (there is one left) and for Martin Simpson's banjo a couple of years ago.  They were just the right size for an Ariel. So that's a white body, and a white neck. What about the soundboard?

I could easily have chosen some very high-quality white Spruce, but I did feel the guitar needed to have just a little colour. Also, the Ariel is small, and Spruce is stiff, I didn't want the guitar to be over bright.  

Maple and Western Red Cedar produces one of my favourite tone combinations – warm, and lively, but it's a rather insipid combination of colours.  Alaskan Yellow Cedar is a creamy white or very subtle yellow, not as stiff as Spruce, and seems to me to be a good "sartorial" choice.

These pieces have the finest grain I have ever seen, you really do need a magnifier to see the individual grain lines. They came from a windfall tree in Alaska, easily a thousand years old, cut and split by hand and carried on a backpack down the mountain slope before a long, complicated and bureaucratic journey to the UK. I've had it a long time and I don't think it would be allowed now because of the latest Phytosanitary regulations. Guitar making is tough.  

Other details - I've kept it simple and dramatic, black and white inlay lines, black Ebony neck lamination, fingerboard and bridge. Neck width 46.5mm

It's a simple guitar but made from some of the best materials available. I would describe the tone as "firm" and "balanced", it's not metallic bright nor woolly warm, just sits nicely in the middle.

For Sale £4,500 - SOLD

  • Personal Selection Ariel for sale
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Jack Rutter. Solsbury Hill

I'm sure somebody can tell me where this was filmed? 

It's an intriguing venue, leather chesterfield, bare brick and industrial lighting, I can't quite read the poster on the door. I need to know!

I've recently become aware of the Irish Bouzouki group on Facebook, it’s a bigger "world" than you might expect and there is quite a mix of opinions and views expressed there. I don't always agree with them of course, you know me by now.

In the comments below Jack's video, I see reference to Jack's "Bouzouki".

It isn't a Bouzouki, it's a Cittern. It has ten strings, not eight. 

It's also fan fretted, but as you can see, Jack has a capo on the ninth fret, where the frets are almost square to the fingerboard, the fingering gets a lot more difficult further up the neck where the angles are more extreme. With the capo in that position, it's almost like playing a ten-string mandolin.

I love this video; it's very well produced and shows Jack's skills very well.  Jack - mail me?  

Jack's Website

Tristan Seume with Andrea Corr

Nobody will mind if I give Tris the top billing, will they? Just don't tell Andrea.

John Smith recommended Tristan for this project. The full list of players is on the video link.

Listen closely to the opening bars.

Here's what Tris told me: "That’s me on various Fyldes. (Some other guy called Ronnie Wood is on electric, by the way…)

John recommended me to the producer who sent me to Sam Lakeman and Cara Dillon’s studio in Frome to lay down the parts during September 2021, it was a big reading thing, with about 20 pages of score.

I think it’s turned out beautifully.

The record label (Warner Music, no less) chose to sit on it for a year as it was finished a bit close to last Christmas for marketing, but the album was finally released today.

It was all done remotely - I didn’t meet any of the other musicians unfortunately.

(Although I did get to eat some of Cara Dillon’s homemade soup, so that’s good.)"

Tristan's Website

Bouzouki for Sale
  • Pre-owned Signature Long Scale Arch Top Bouzouki

I acquired this Signature Long Scale Arch Top bouzouki along with a matching mandolin quite recently, but the mandolin sold before I could advertise it. The bouzouki was made in 2011 and is in excellent condition, there are some small marks in the soundboard which we'll try and remove but we don’t want to go too far.  It has a clear scratch plate, it doesn't spoil the instruments’ appearance and there is always a danger that removing it would leave some trace, so it's still there.

New, this would cost £3950, plus case. I'm going to ask £2,950, including case, which is a real bargain. SOLD

State of play with Guitar Pickups

In my teens, in the dim mists of history, I experimented with amplifying my acoustic guitar by making a contact pickup from the cartridge of a record player. I wired it back into the record player as an amplifier. A little later when I worked in the electronics industry, I bought piezo-electric crystals, then piezo cable and made lots of devices for the same purpose.

I also remember the first "real" acoustic pickups, which didn't sound anything like an acoustic guitar but didn’t feedback, gave the artist much more volume and freedom to move around. It came to the point where that artificial amplified acoustic guitar sound became the norm, and real acoustic tone was hardly ever heard.

Bit by bit, that has all changed. Generally, professional artists have come to need two sources inside the guitar, preferably outputting in stereo so they can be mixed downline as required. There have been several suitable systems available but two of the major manufacturers have now withdrawn from that market, there are too many pitfalls and costs. I've recently been speaking to all of them about what is possible and what is not, and most have been extremely cooperative. I've learnt quite a bit.

But it's always changing, a bit like writing new music, a constant pressure to find something new, move forward or rediscover the best from years ago.

Recently, some artists have moved back to older pickup systems, or even away from internal pickups altogether, audiences have changed over the last three years and microphone amplification now offers more than it ever did. Nothing stays still. If it does, someone will shoot it.

Watch Clive Carroll live and see how his stage sound and presentation has changed.

Clive is about to start his coastal walk again. Keep watch!

Clive's Website

Will McNicol. The Phoenix Cycle

What a lovely tune. There is no mistaking Will's composition and playing style whether it be on steel or nylon strings. It's always delicate, flowing, gentle.

This is a good example of what I was talking about in the section above. Will has top of the range pickups in all his guitars, but when I heard this, I was a bit puzzled, I thought I could hear one channel “clean” but I could also hear some reverb. The pickup in this guitar is a Baggs Anthem, which can only be a mono output so I asked Will if he had a mic in the mix as well. 

Here is what he told me:

"I used 3 mics and no pickup for this recording. A stereo pair of small diaphragm condensers in an XY configuration and a large diaphragm condenser in the centre. Gave a pretty full image of the guitar I thought, and then the chap from the label I'm working with spun some magic at the mastering stage. Lovely job. A splash of reverb across all mics, but not too much.

And if you want more specifics for the microphone nerds, the microphones in questions are: Sontronics STC-1S matched pair and a Sontronics Orpheus." 

So, there we are - that's the way to do it.

It was a little comforting to me, I'm still able to discern those tiny tiny differences in guitar sounds, even though I never hear "Rog, the dishwasher needs emptying"

Will's Website

David Shevelew. Trooper Cut Down

Here we have another approach to amplifying the acoustic guitar.  

David ordered “twins” from me, two “Small Falstaff” guitars in different timber combinations, specially built to accommodate the LR Baggs M1A. and a DPA 4061 mic. He uses a Dtar Solstice Preamp for the guitar and a KMS105 mic for vocals

David has posted other videos about the guitars as well.

One is made using Madagascar Rosewood, Alpine Spruce and Koa bindings. The other is Bog Oak, Alpine Spruce and Snakewood binding. Super.

David's FaceBook page

  • Twin Guitars (1)
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Remi Harris and Tom Moore. “One for Merlin”

We saw Remi and Tom play this at Orton last week. Remi explained that he wrote it after rescuing a fledging Magpie, if you want to hear the rest of that story, you'll need to go and watch Remi.

It's a great show, mostly Gypsy jazz on his signature Fylde, but a lot of electric blues as well. If you like Peter Green, you'll love Remi's next project:

Man of the World Tour, starting in January.

Tour information here

and Remi's main website

Chris Difford's new Guitar

This is number four in a series of guitars we have made for Chris. The usual arrangement is that we meet in a local Curry House for delivery and a chat. This time Chris came to collect it on his way to record the Folk Show in place of Mark Radcliffe.

The guitar is made from exotic Brazilian Rosewood with a dark Cedar Soundboard bordered by Abalone purflings. The neck is laminated from Mahogany, Maple and Ebony, Abalone Diamond fingerboard inlays, Gotoh 510 tuners and a Baggs Anthem pickup system. All ready for Chris's tours with Squeeze and Jools Holland.

Chris' Website

  • Chris Difford

Chris Herring. Raining Cats and Dogs

Chris does such a good job, making his own guitars, and recording using his Father's Falstaff.  

Chris Web Page      

Gareth Evans. Beat it.

Gareth is another regular here. I’ve tried to persuade him to play more in public, but he is happy making his great instructional videos. He is particularly good at keeping a solid bass line going while picking out a difficult melody above it.

Gareth's Goliath Guitar Tutorials

Latest Whiskies

It's been a good year. Some of these whiskies have been award winning “expressions” and I think I've missed a few out. Maybe I've drunk them already. I can't remember.

Henry Olsen. Lady of the Tyne

Henry is a good friend and a lovely person, you can tell by the beard and the twinkle in his eye. He has decided that he will make the MP3 of his album available free of charge, and it can now be downloaded from the website. All you have to do is type in a valid email address and the two files (for side A and B ) become available for download.

At the same time the vinyl version has reduced in price and postage, it is now £19 plus £3.50 p&p and can be bought via PayPal or credit cards.

Link to Henry's Dock Street Website

They are coming to take me away haha

In about 1976, there was a very small, but very excellent cafe on the industrial estate where we had our workshop in Kirkham. It opened at 7 am and closed at 4pm, six days a week, It covered everybodies needs and working hours, plus good, simple food and it was always busy from shortly after it opened to shortly before it closed.  Bit by bit, decisions were made that not enough people came in at 7 am, or 4 pm, (obvious?) so opening hours were reduced to 8 am until 3 pm. Then it was noticed that not many people came in at 8 am or 3 pm, and so it went until it restricted itself out of business. What a shame. I've never forgotten their sausage sandwiches.  

A week or so ago, I was waiting for fish and chips in town, and thought I'd look at the new Vegetarian Takeaway that had replaced our favourite Thai Restaurant. On the door was a sign “Opening Hours 11am till 4pm, Wednesday to Saturday”. Well, I thought, they won't get much business that way, and forgot about it. A week later, I was nearby at midday on a Friday - brilliant idea - I'll go and get a menu from that new place while it's open!

Hi, can I have a menu please? 

It's on the wall over there Sir.

Can I have a menu that I can take away with me for when I order a takeaway?

Sorry sir, our takeaway restaurant doesn't have takeaway menus that you can take away.

So, the takeaway menu from the takeaway has been taken away before I could take one away to order my takeaway. 

Shall I stop now? 

The only conclusion possible is that vegetarian food is no good for energy, common sense or business acumen.

Now, THAT'S going to get me into trouble.

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