Let’s face it, it has been a mixed bag of a year.
Internationally it has been a farce, since the UK did a brain fart and decided to leave the EU. Parts costs from the continent have already gone up, although as an interesting turn, my order book has also gone up a little as well.
I also set up this year as a business (although, I had been building as a hobby since 2012). This is as much for my other job as for this one. But it’s nice to feel ready to be a business.
The rest of the world aside, there have been some great moments this year though, a personal highlight being; we have completed 7 guitars, (we should have completed 8 but, sadly there was an error with the seventh) -I know this may not sound like much, but when you’re building and designing everything (not to mention marketing, selling, admin and all the other hats I must wear!) with little more than hand tools and the odd power tool, this is a great feeling! My target has always been to build 12 guitars a year, but the problem with setting a target is that this tends to cause rushing, so it’s not something I adhere to, too strictly. In truth, I’d like to be able to build much more than this a year (with some levels of batch production and automation, and you know, other people). But I love working with my hands, feeling a guitar come to life and watching as a beautiful bit of wood grain reveals itself. I suspect that even if one day we had near full manufacture automation, I’d still be hiding in a corner, shaving bits of yew and walnut with a seventy-year-old plane.
I digress, but there have been some great moments, as well as a few rubbish ones, in and out of the workshop, I’ve listed a few below in a vague chronological order.
First bass and a New Face
2016 started strong for me (sad news of David Bowie and Lemmy aside). I had left a job that I really enjoyed but was making me miserable and found a job that I don’t greatly enjoy but pays the same for 3 – 4 days a week. I was able to build a guitar in about five weeks, which was pretty staggering. It also had lots of tricky binding, which I chose to do in wenge which is a nightmare to bind with! Feeling confident, I started a new build using a new, updated template for 2016 of our SB3 model. I’d bounced some ideas for this model off on my friend and SB3 owner, Hobs. One day when setting off for the garage after a disappointing morning of other job, I texted Hobs, to see if he wanted to come help me out. He did. Then, he kept coming back, and it was good. So I asked him if he wanted to join me. He did.
We had talked about building a bass guitar for a while and I was
keen to add a new body shape to our repertoire of original shapes, so one day, after a little market research I thought, ‘F#%k it’.
The simple design of the first prototype is based off of the SB3 design but with the top wing reflected, and using only three pieces of wood, for the body, combined with a short scale to give a punchy integrity to the sound and feel of the guitar. To celebrate the new model, we thought, new finish – lets set it on fire!
SB3 2016 shape, Modern and Traditional Models
The model shape has been fairly set since 2012 and the first SB3, but as goes the gradual process of R & D; build a guitar, note some issues, tweak the design, print some new templates, get a request for a guitar with different hardware/scale length/amount of strings tweak, print more templates. This is generally the process of development. We have built up a stock of templates that tweak the design for all sorts of reasons, but the body shape is largely unchanged. We wanted to consolidate the tweaks in to one or two easily modifiable templates, which is what we did with the 2016 body. The 2012 body shape was designed for 27 frets, which meant if we built it for 24 frets, for which there was more demand for, we had to either build the guitar with an extra deep cutaway or redraw the body shape. The extra deep cutaway was quite popular (and still available as a custom) but we decided we would draw in the fretboard, still allowing easy access to the high frets but increasing the material around the heel for a strong joint and integrity of sound, allowing the best possible, natural, degradation of vibration through the body. We made a few changes to the body shape (mostly aesthetic) to give a slightly more traditional shape, we broadened it overall (which helped a little with the weight balance) and gave a s lightly more comfortable ergonomic to the guitar, when combined with a forearm cutaway. The new body still features a tight 25” scale and low action as standard. We kicked off the updated shape with the three standard option guitar builds, a Junior (single pickup) built by Hobs, a modern (twin P-rail with epic switching options- currently on loan) and a Traditional (S/H with scratch plate -Available at Wild Guitars) both built by myself.
The Seventh Guitar
Oh, the dreaded Seventh guitar… This guitar should have been finished and with the customer, but sadly has been put in to stock while I work on the rebuild. This was a custom variation to our 2012 (extra deep cutaway) with the leg rest cut, moved to fit the customer. Sadly owing to a flaw in one of my templates that I didn’t see until too late, the neck joint started a little far in to the body.
This sounds all bad, I realise, but it’s not. The upside is, I get to rebuild the guitar, with the experience gained, from the first, and I have a better guitar for the client and a really-nice guitar for some lucky soul!
The new build is cleaner, with neater cavities, it hasn’t come together as quick as I would like (although I have been urging myself to take more time) but, the new build process has been a vast improvement, I’ve identified several issues with the original build that were going to cause me troubles further down the line, cavities that would have been much easier had I routed them before fitting the top (now done on the new build). Anyway, hopefully a build blog coming soon.
The Viking Funeral in Kielder
This is really just a personal high point, early autumn me, Hobs, Emmie (my partner) and some friends went away to go hiking around Kielder, a dark sky reservation in the north of the UK, nearish Newcastle. This was a magical location, conifers, the milky way and near perfect darkness. The nearby town of Kielder and the surrounding nature reserve have no street lights, barring security lighting. I grew up in the countryside, but I had
never seen stars like this. So many stars, and I’d never seen the milky-way -it’s amazingly bright with the lights turned out.
We had taken a guitar body with us, an early 7 string SB3 Prototype, of which I’d never been happy with the finish. I’d stripped it down and taken the hardware out and roughed it up for good measure, then in true Viking funeral style, on our last night, we stuck it on the fire, Hobs got some great shots of the weekend!
I’d meant to blog this out some more, this was a very personal build, this guitar was built from wood reclaimed from my childhood house, built by my grandad. The section I had bought from the present tenant was the mahogany porch. It was a beautiful bit of Mahogany, comprising a mix of well-seasoned and well looked after long planks, perfect for neck blocks and some body sized boards, the wood was largely undamaged from its long stint as porch, no damp or kinks in the wood!
The first build seemed fitting to be another SB6 prototype, short scale, jazz friendly. I wanted to make this guitar, like the memory of childhood, friendly and fun, and like the house, solidly built, largely unflashy but with moments of pure flair!
The guitar is crafted of mainly 3 blocks of wood; one for the neck through, two for the body wings, with accent fillets of tulip and a bound spalted beech fretboard. Being the grandson of a carpenter and furniture builder, it only seemed fitting to accent this guitar further with some veneers, including a 4 ply headstock cap of fumed and grey stained oak. The guitar is finished with a subtle sonic combination of Seymour Duncan Jazz/59 pickups running through some warm 500k CTS pots and coil-taps.
Guitar available to order.
Overall, this first year (in business) has been a year of experimentation, trial and error and learning lesson in patience (of course, every day is a lesson in patience!). We have made some great contacts and hopefully friends who share our passions for all things guitar! I think the main lessons learnt is one of having patience, to do things the right way and perfect our finishing.
Looking to the new year
For the coming year, we plan on investing in our build process and skilling ourselves up, hopefully upping our speed of build without compromise of quality, or better still, upping our quality as well. At the point of writing, we have been looking at to new shared workshop felicities, including CNC routers, metal working tools, spray booths and laser cutters, complete with skilled staff, available to offer additional training.
We also have a new model planned for this year and a second headless design in the works. The new model will be a little bigger than our standard sized guitars, with greater contact between the upper body wing and the the neck joint. This guitar will be built as a standard scale initially, but will be designed, ultimately as a well balanced guitar, more than suitable to be built as a long scale (extended range) guitar or bass but still smaller and lighter in weight than many similar guitars on the market, with our usual, ergonomic contours.
Investing in the future
This year we have already spent more on marketing our product than last. We have agreements with several shops who sell our guitars, to build relations with them and encourage sales for both parties.
But it doesn’t stop there. Last year we upgraded to this website, part of this logic is so as we can one day add a guitar builder to the site, to give instant quotes and more accurate price guides. But this, new work space and new tools, it all takes funding, so we will be looking at investors, loans and people who can add value to our business in different ways.
I think it’s fair to say that this year, will be different to last, but, hopefully at this point in 2018, we will be able to look back, and see how far we have come. The future is hopeful.