The Greenfield G1.2
This is an extraordinary instrument made for me by my Montreal luthier Michael Greenfield. We’ve been friends for years and have talked about a custom guitar for almost all that time. The guitar Michael chose to build me has highly figured Malaysian blackwood back and sides and a fabulous fan fret ebony fingerboard. Though Michael refers to this his DADGAD model I use it also for low C tunings. The longer scale for the lower strings allows the guitar to really ring in those registers.
The guitar was presented to me at the Montreal Guitar Show in 2010 and within a few hours I was on stage with it. It has traveled to Europe a couple of times and has found its way onto a couple of album projects.
The Second Melville TM Custom:
I met Christopher in September 2000 in Brisbane, Australia. He had come along to a concert of mine in the Brisbane Guitar Centre and he brought with him two of his guitars. One was a 000 size but very different to the Kelday guitar I was playing. This guitar had 14 frets to the neck join and a large quantity of beautiful inlay.
The inlay work was very impressive but likely to put the guitar beyond most peoples reach as it is very labour intensive and therefore very expensive. Chris told me that it was really just the presentation model, not for sale and hence he had gone to town with the inlay. You can see the guitar in question on his website.
Both of my Melvilles are 000 size (small body) and have wide fingerboards. This guitar has Brazilian rosewood sides and 3-piece back and a German spruce top. The binding is flamed maple and the fingerboard is ebony. The guitar also has a pearl nut! Chris tells me this is the optimum material in terms of coefficient of friction- I just think it looks fabulous.
The machine heads are gold Gotoh 510s imported from Japan – the smoothest I’ve ever come across.
This new Brazillian guitar is one of the most amazing sounding instruments I’ve ever had the good luck to get my hands on. It has balance and clarity from the open the bottom string (a low C in some of the tunings I use) all the way to the highest frets on the top string. Played fingerstyle it handles dynamics beautifully; I can go from the gentlest ballad to really wail on a fast reel and it goes with me. The sustain of this guitar, as well as the custom string spacing, really lends itself to my playing. The bass response is wonderful, the highs are crisp and clear and the mids present and correct. It handles a flatpick with ease too!
Chris Melville’s neck design makes this a joy to play. The slim profile eases the left hand positioning and the soft cutaway gives total access to the 20th fret. Construction throughout is, as usual, flawless and the restrained ornamentation just adds to the impression of class.
The Melville TM Custom:
This was my main machine from October 2001 till November 2004; a relatively short lifespan for an instrument but given the amount of playing and travelling it’s done over the last three years it deserves a rest. However it’s not for sale and Chris Melville’s not getting it back!
It has cocobolo back and sides, a German Spruce top, flamed maple bindings, ebony fingerboard and a graphite nut. It has a very distinguished ding on the front where the mayor of Nashville bumped into me in the dressing room at the Ryman Auditorium on his way out to the stage to present a framed citation to Les Paul. The sharp corner of that citation left its mark on my guitar!
You can hear this guitar on the Men of Steel album – probably any session I did between the above dates.
Fylde Magician Custom:
In January of 2000 I took delivery of an instrument from Fylde Guitars. I’ve admired the work of Fylde luthier Roger Bucknall for many years – in fact since I heard Gordon Giltrap back in the 70’s. More recently, Archie Fisher has been playing these fine guitars all over the world, when not too busy broadcasting for BBC Scotland. Nic Jones, who is a major influence on many of today’s traditional singers, is also a Fylde user.
After a flurry of emails last year between Roger Bucknall and Simon Wallace at Fylde and myself we settled on a customised Magician with, no surprises here, a wider than standard fingerboard. The body is large and the cutaway gives access to the dusty end! The top is cedar, as are many of the company’s guitars, and the sides and three-piece back are walnut. Bridge and fingerboard are ebony.
One slightly unusual feature of Fylde instruments is the use of a “zero fret”, right after the nut in the strings path. This helps with intonation. The guitar has been fitted with a Headway saddle pickup which drew a great response from the sound engineer when I gave it a live test-drive (see Fylde’s website for more details). It has a very bright, warm sound, which is already improving, and feels really comfortable to play – it even has a strap button so I can play, believe it or not, standing up!
Kelday 0- 12 Fret:
This was my first world class guitar and was my main instrument from 1993 late 2001. It was used on the three solo albums- in fact it’s the only guitar on “Ceol More”- and the album with Alasdair Fraser and has travelled the world with me.
Bill was the first luthier with whom I established a working relationship- he has now built three guitars for me. His attention to detail and care for the wishes of his customers was a revelation to someone used to picking a guitar of the wall in a store.
As well as being one of the finest builders of classical guitars in the UK, Bill, increasingly now, is in demand for his steel-string acoustics. These are mainly what C F Martin would call 00 size – small-bodied guitars where the neck joins at the twelfth rather than the fourteenth fret, though he has also produced some stunning OM size instruments. Each guitar is unique and is built exactly to the customer’s requirements and specifications. Have a look at his website
My instrument has highly figured cocobolo sides and (bookmatched) back, a European spruce top, a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and a mahogany neck. It also has a wider than normal fingerboard, which suits my hands, and a lovely old-fashioned slotted headstock, which doesn’t! Bill also does some tasteful inlay work specific to each guitar – mine has a mother-of-pearl and engraved copper head, though on his guitars these days it’s mostly our beloved Scottish thistle.
It has been played and admired by many of my favourite guitarists – John Renbourn (Bill also does maintenance for John’s Franklin guitar), Martin Simpson, Isaac Guillory, Tony Cuffe, Pierre Bensusan, Stefan Grossman, Archie Fisher, Dick Gaughan, Steve Cooney, Duck Baker, Arty McGlynn, Soig Siberil … and Billy Connolly, who declared it “a thing of great beauty” (we were both at a Duck Baker gig in Glasgow).
In 1996 Bill Kelday made me a Baritone Guitar. It has a longer than average scale length at 720mm and again a wide fingerboard. It has a spruce top, Brazilian rosewood back and sides and an ebony fingerboard. It was designed to play roughly a fifth below standard and I’ve had it tuned to GDGCEA which is essentially drop-D tuning taken down to G, also GDGCDG which is a lot harder to say than DADGAD, though the intervals are the same. I’ve also tried FCFCFG which is the “de profundis” version of Cadd9 or CGCGCD.
The guitar made its recording debut on Kate Rusby’s Hourglass album, on her version of As I Roved Out and it doesn’t seem to present any major difficulties in the studio, despite the very different frequencies it produces. It has also been used on the Linn Records series of The Complete Songs of Robert Burns and the solo CD of Ossian singer Billy Ross.
You can hear it on A Tune for Frankie on the second solo CD and on recent albums by Gordon Duncan and Cathy Ann MacPhee.
The whole essence of this guitar encourages a very measured approach to playing. If you go too fast for it, you will lose the melody in an avalanche of low end noise, but if you take time to learn its responses you can really wail on it. The strings are not for the faint-hearted! I use the D’Addario EXPs on this guitar. They make a set specifically for this type of guitar- EXP23 (they seem to make strings for just about anything- including ouds!). The gauges are .016 to .070- lighter that the gauges I had been using on this guitar but it still manages to get to all the tunings I need.
This guitar has a spruce top and Canadian Birdseye Maple back (3 piece) and sides and a Brazilian rosewood fingerboard and headstock overlay. Bill changed his usual inlay from a thistle to a maple leaf just for this guitar (made as I was moving to Canada) and used a very distinctive, multi- coloured binding throughout. It also has a beautiful old fashioned Martin style “pyramid” bridge.
It is strung with D’Addario Super Light bronze strings (.009 to .045) which, when tuned up, sound as strong as the medium gauge strings I normally use.
Beneteau Custom M. :
Marc Beneteau is a luthier based in St. Thomas Ontario who has been building since 1974.
Marc’s work is truly exceptional. He stands apart from the traditional school of Canadian luthiers and has cut his own path with the sheer elegance and attention to detail each of his instruments displays. I first came across his work through Canadian guitar icon Don Ross whose style of playing makes great demands of his instruments both in tone and stamina. Don always sounds great!
Marc made me an “M” model in Cocobolo and Engelmann Spruce. It has an arm bevel- an idea developed by another Canadian guitar builder Grit Laskin. This feature makes it a really comfortable guitar to play.
Marc also made one of the guitars featured on the Makers Mark CD. I played “The Maids of Mitchelstown” on another wonderful Beneteau guitar
My “M” is still revealing new facets of its personality and I’m really enjoying the journey. Thanks Marc
John Slobod is a young luthier who divides his time between working for Dana Bourgeois in Lewiston Maine and building his own guitars under the Circa name. These are vintage style instruments and are individually made to the highest standard and only available through his website.
My guitar is a 28 style dreadnaught with cocobolo back and sides and a red spruce top (which is not the least bit red!). I’ve been around lots of incredible flatpickers in the last few years- mainly through teaching at Steve Kaufman’s Kamps and wanted a guitar specifically for that style of playing. I feel incredibly lucky to have this guitar and feel sure that John’s instruments are going to be much better known in a couple of years. My “Men of Steel” colleagues Dan Crary and Beppe Gambetta were both blown away by this guitar and I recently heard that my buddy Mark Cosgrove (a national flatpicking champion) is now playing one of John’s instruments.
Based in Sebastian, Florida, Rich Mermer is one of the great luthiers who exhibit at the Chet Atkins festival in Nashville. Over the last five years he’s become a good friend whise work I admire enormously. His guitars often feature offset soundholes, beautiful turquoise inlay and Koa either as the top wood or as binding. He makes some wicked instruments designed for slide playing and his Weissenborn style lap guitars are really sought after. The ‘Sage’ is Rich’s contemporary design for nylon strings. Here’s his description.
The bracing pattern features a modified Torres pattern, with a flying buttress brace below the soundhole. This modification allows the outer tone bars to pass into the upper bought, thus enhancing the transmission of vibrations into the upper bought. The result, a more dynamic instrument. This particular instrument features a master grade cedar top; Brazilian rosewood back and sides; mahogany neck with two graphite support rods; ebony fingerboard and bridge; turquoise rosette and tie block; ‘monitor’ hole on the bass side of the upper bought (for improved projection towards the ‘player’); and high gloss nitro-cellulose lacquer finish.
Avalon is the successor company to the Lowden Guitar Company. The relationship between Irish luthier George Lowden and the company bearing his name is a complex one. His guitars have a great reputation and have been hugely popular in Europe particularly in the traditional and acoustic music scene- as played by Pierre Bensusan (though he now plays a Kevin Ryan guitar), Soïg Sibéril, Paul Brady and Richard Thompson.
For a time they were made in Japan but after a few years the company moved back to Ireland and George’s involvement decreased.
When I first met George, at the Derry Guitar Festival, he was mainly making classical guitars at his own workshop while the factory produced “Lowden” guitars nominally under his supervision. The situation four years later seems to be that most of the folks at Avalon are former Lowden employees and George Lowden is now making Lowden guitars at a different factory.
Steve McIlwraith was for many years in charge of production at Lowden and is now the CEO at Avalon. I met him at the Ards Guitar Festival and we talked about the new nylon string guitars they were making at Avalon. It duly arrived at the start of 2004 and I’ve been playing it at home ever since. I’m looking forward to trying it out in the studio or in an appropriate live situation.
Every home should have a 12 string!
I bought a Larrivee on my first trip to Canada back in early 1995 from Rufus Guitars in Alma, Vancouver- a great store! It was a great guitar- very plain and simple, and can be heard on the two slow airs on my first album. At some stage it developed a mystery illness and Larrivée agreed to replace it. At this stage I didn’t really need another six string guitar (but then again, is it about “need”?) so I asked if they would replace with the equivalent 12 string. They went one better and sent the deluxe rosewood version.