When did your passion for guitars first start?
I probably first picked a guitar up when I was about eight years old. I never really learned to play it properly so I guess I’ve been a part time player since then. I probably play about 2-3 times a week now, but I’m often working on making guitars till quite late, so I struggle to find the time. When I do get the chance I find it a very relaxing thing to do.
What is your favourite band?
It's Led Zeppelin. I saw them play at the O2 arena a few years ago when they reformed. I also like a lot of world music, blues and rock.
What is your favourite guitar?
The guitar I’d most want to have in my collection would be a Gibson Les Paul from 1959-1960 – classic design, beautiful looks and a great sound. They were the original great design concepts. A Gibson was very much a guitar builder’s guitar.
Why is music important to you?
It’s mood enhancing. You can put a good piece of music on and it changes the way you feel.
How did you get into designing/making guitars?
I first got into the idea of making guitars on a trip to Indonesia. I saw a chap making a Fender Stratocaster copy in Java and I thought it was something I’d love to do. So when I came home I went to work for a joiner and then I met and got really into it and the understanding of what skills and techniques I needed to make guitars.
How long did it take you to produce your first guitar?
Just two years. It wasn’t a great guitar, a lot of mistakes with the structure and the design – I’ve still got it somewhere, probably gathering dust in my shed! I quickly realised that the most important part of making a guitar is having a strong design, drawing everything out and knowing where you’re going before you start making it.
It's not an obvious career choice, is it?
I’ve always been quite an artistic person and I’ve always been into guitar and guitar driven music. But once I decided to do it, it’s something that I really got into and it really excited me.
There’s always been a tradition of guitar building in Britain and I think there are probably more luthiers than there’s ever been. Building guitars to a very high level though is an art and requires a lot of skill and acquired technique
How do you know if you've built a good guitar?
When a guitar’s completed, it’s essential to test it. You need to know the customer is getting a really good product. It’s great when you first plug it in and everything sounds good and it feels right in your hands. My go-to test track will usually be some ham-fisted version of a Led Zeppelin riff. Maybe Black Dog or Rock N’ Roll.
If you could make a guitar for any player alive or dead, who would it be?
It’d probably be someone like Mike Oldfield, Jimmy Page or Django Reinhardt. I’d love to hear Django Reinhardt playing ‘Minor Swing’ on one of my guitars.
Describe the guitar-building process?
The first stage of making a guitar is to meet the customer and get a really good idea of what they want, the sort of sound they want to get out of the guitar, the tone they’re looking for. I typically sit down with the customer and design the guitar out, discussing the kind of components and features they want – the style of pick-ups for example. Some of the things I get asked to do are challenging, so I have to research and find solutions. Then it’s looking at the kind of timbers they want to use and how that will shape the tone.
Once the guitar has been designed properly and you’re sure it’ll work properly, then you’ve got to find the correct timbers for it. The wood’s got to be a certain moisture content before you use it.
The first thing I build is the neck which is the most crucial part of the design as that’s where most of the tone comes from. It has to be very stiff and very stable and fit the body really tightly. The connection between the body and the neck is critical to get the tone actually moving through the guitar.
How does the new guitar reflect Alfa Romeo's brand?
As a concept, the new guitar seeks to mirror the passion, the curves, the sportiness, and the occasionally outrageous designs you get with Alfa Romeo through the grille shape, the use of high quality materials and the sleek body.
We wanted to base the overall design on the Alfa Romeo grille. As a concept it was great, but the challenge was turning that concept into a viable working guitar which was far from straight forward.
Starting with the grille, we drew out each element and then had to work out how each part could be manipulated to become part of the guitar. So for instance, the bars across the grille on an Alfa Romeo informed how we made the pick-ups. Instead of having a bar, we used milled out aluminium to form a pick-up that corresponds to the size of the pick-up but imitates the shape of the grille.
Does it use any special materials?
I also wanted to use materials that were evocative of the brand’s designs, so carbon fibre for the back, an Alfa Red body, aluminium – bringing out all those beautiful qualities that Alfas have.
Have you used any special techniques?
The whole thing is absolutely brand new – the concept, the design, everything. Absolutely every part of the guitar is a new design and concept.
The pick-ups, the tail piece and the bridge are all from high quality solid aluminium billet. The back of the guitar will use carbon fibre Kevlar in a disc shape. There’re a lot of new materials that are rarely used in guitar construction, but that’s what makes this a special project.
Mirroring the grille means it’s quite an open guitar. Normally a guitar would be a solid piece of wood and this is almost like a heavily made acoustic guitar. We have to use woods that impart a bit of weight and tone to it. The back of the guitar is poplar which adds a bit of dynamic to the tone. The front is maple which adds snap and directness and note separation.
The neck, which is the most important part of the guitar, is made from korina and that’s a beautiful balanced wood with a lot of clarity. The top of the neck is a piece of ebony which gives real snap to the tone.
FInally, you already drive an Alfa Romeo so is this the perfect partnership for you?
When I got the call from Alfa to make this guitar, it was a really evocative moment as I’m already an Alfa driver. I’ve got an Alfa MiTo 1.4 Turbo Veloce. It’s a brilliant car, really great to drive, so to be able to design a guitar around a brand that I already buy into was fantastic and this project has been a joy to work on. Hard work certainly, but a pleasure nonetheless.
Click here to discover more about the beautifully made Alfa Romeo Guitar.
17 July 2014