As posted on this site - I spent yesterday/Saturday at ’The Guitar Show’(poor SEO) which is actually the UK’s most significant guitar show - but still relatively compact and bijoux and with lots to notable absentees. No Fender or Gibson, and strangely no Chapman Guitars either - they seem to have an odd approach to their own domestic market!
In any case there was plenty to see at the show - still nothing really compared to what takes place in Germany or the USA, but enough for a day out. I was up as early as I can be on Saturday and within the venue - New Bingley Hall, just a couple of minutes past 10:00 or as near as I could make it to opening time. And I’d had about enough at around 4 o’clock (6 hours) - so just as well I had a flexible open return ticket for the train - don’t get me started about how abysmal UK train services - ticketing etc. are - I blame Ryanair really for the downward spiral of customer service. In any case this is a decent venue - albeit miles away for Birmingham City Centre / New Street Station, and with nothing else interesting at all in that locale.
So this is a two-parter really - as I am always interested in Guitar Design / Luthiery and pedals of course - which I will cover in a separate post. I made several circuits around the venue - up and down every aisle several times and here follows the account of what captured my attentions and whom I spoke to at the event.
There were a couple of ’trends’ apparent at the show - I saw several headless guitar design - which hitherto have only really been aggressively promoted by Strandberg, Kiesel, Mayones and Ormsby. The first mentioned was being promoted by GuitarGuitar, I may have seen a Mayones or two - but not the other two.
The other probably more significant trend was the increasing use of resins in both guitar top and neck finishes. Mike at Stone Wolf has been pushing this for a few years, and newcomers (for me) Grainger Guitars also has several models with clever combinations of resins and wood dyes.
I have alway been a modernist in my approach - I’m really not one for the ’vintage’ or ’classic’ styles of which there was of course plenty in evidence - I tend to like something which combines ergonomics with technology and creativity and multi-voice capabilities - lost of voicing options and tone-shaping. I’m also big into fuzzes - so I have to have both Volume and Tone pots on all my guitars - there is still a touch of a trend with single pickup guitars with just a volume dial - which really won’t do for me at all!
So these are the 6 that caught my eye - in alphabetical order:
This is the one luthier I was unable to speak to at the show - he seemed to be absent from his stand a lot - which actually looked like the Diezel Amplification stand to me as there was no specific Blackmachine display that I noticed - just various guitars scattered around that stand. I actually bumped into Blackmachine luthier Doug Campbell when at the Grainger Guitars stand chatting to Brothers Darren and Gavin - Doug was complementing them on supplying him some sort of MusicMan style truss-rod adjustment wheel which apparently performed amazingly. I noted a couple of cool headless guitars, as well as a cool black doublecut variety similar to the one pictured above with a skinny headstock along the lines of those seen on Parker Fly and Ormsby Hype style guitars. Doug is a custom only builder and his order book still seems to be pretty full at the moment.
I had a really nice chat with Managing Director James Blackburn who was far more relaxed than when I last saw him at the UK Guitar Show at Olympia. He showed me the brand new Crimson S-Type / Doublecut prototype (Greenish/Aqua guitar in middle above) which was another guitar heading for his now growing private collection. The new Doublecut features the usual 3+3 Crimson headstock along with a slightly asymmetric body - whose extended left-hand horn reminds my somewhat of a cross between Petrucci's Majesty and last year's new Gibson doublecut. Crimson's finishes have come a very long way in the last few years - and both the new S-Type and another of their usual T-style guitars also in a sort of Greeney/Aqua both had beautifully vibrant colours. I need to plan a visit to the Dorset workshop - once the current extension programme is complete.
I had a great chat with newcomer Matt Dennison who was exhibiting at his first show and had two of his guitar models on display alongside another different T-style custom build. His range has 3 models currently - Alpha (S-type), Omega (T-type) and Artemis (Asymmetric LP-type sort of). The guitars look suitably modern and come in fantastic satin finishes. Matt takes on all kinds of custom commissions from his base in Southampton. I will likely pop down and see Matt in Southampton for a proper feature in around six or so months time.
I was really impressed with Brothers Darren and Gavin who appear to be applying some really smart business and manufacturing logic to their luthiery craft. They use significant degrees of CNC machine manufacture and CAD design for their range of 4 models across different lines. Their models are the Apollo (S-type), Attis (LP-type), Cerberus (V-Type/more A-shaped really!) and Hades (E-type). All their shapes have interesting bevels and cutaways, and can come with the most incredibly tops sourced from the USA - which feature a cool mix of resin and dyes combining with the wood grain. All their headstocks are of the sort of PRS style, and I questioned the need for the string-trees / bars that they currently employ on all guitars, not sure they need those with this ergonomic headstock design. Their swirling aqua coloured Apollo - pictured bottom left probably shared 'best top' at the show with Mike at Stone Wolf's Rift Bubblegum - pictured bottom right. I will definitely be arranging a visit to the brother's workshop for a more in-depth feature - at some stage in the future.
I had a great chat with luthier Alan Cringean of AC Guitars / Reiver Guitars - and how he refused to bow down to CNC Machining as it took away too many of the tasks he enjoyed doing. Definitely cut from similar cloth to Ben Crowe of Crimson Guitars - with a real love of those classic and high quality woodworking tools. I started off inquiring about the headless Zebrawood looking type - only to be informed that it was actually a lamination process of a mix of dark and blonde woods - bonded and worked into shape - it looks really cool regardless per middle bottom picture above. It seems much of the guitars coming out of Reiver are of the 'Kompakt' headless model type, while the Zebra-looking sort of T-style one pictured is of the ChubstRR type. There's also a further LP-style 'Reiver' type guitar too, and various further custom shapes. Alan is as artisan as they come - and obviously with a high propensity for attention to detail. AC / Reiver Guitars are based north of the border, and south of Glasgow in Moffat - I will need to arrange a visit in the future for a more in-depth feature on Alan's work.
Luthier Mike Payne totally blew me away at last year's UK Guitar Show at Olympia - with his really modern and beautifully proportioned and crafted guitars. Still my favourite headstock shape to date - a really smart angular modern extrapolation of the MusicMan 4+2 style arrangement. He was also the first I saw to use resins in such a creative manner - immersing both fabrics and woods with different hues of resin for some truly extraordinary builds. At this show. He was featuring a new reverse-headstock unusually natural woods Nova model - while the really beautiful Bubblegum Rift is still somewhat surprisingly still not sold - I would have thought someone would have snapped it up by now! My favourite at the show was the Syrtis - while I am unlikely to ever be a 7-string player. While my favourite shape overall is still is the Faroe model - where I am not surprised that the one from the UK Guitar Show has been snapped up. My current dream guitar is likely some version of the Faroe with a modern Trem-style-bridge (surface mounted possibly) - and I of course really like those transparent coil pickups from Oil City Pickups. A visit to Mike's Northampton workshop is definitely on the cards.
I was heartened to see so many new and young luthiers at the show, and of course wish them every success in their endeavours. There is so much competition in this area now though, that you really have to be very clever if you want to make headway. My sweetspot really for guitar pricing is around £2K, while UK luthiers in the main are more likely around £3-4K. I guess I could stretch to £3K at a push - but that would typically be very much a one-off. I'm not interested in owning one guitar of every type. I still like how the Telecaster, Stratocaster and PAF-loaded Les Paul sound - but I'd really want to combine all those tones in as few guitars as possible - ideally just one or two models, and done in a modern ergonomic style with a MusicMan or PRS style headstock for optimal string-pull, tuning-fidelity and practicality.
I feel most will have to increasingly turn to CNC to shorten processing - so you can essentially make more guitars with less effort - and hopefully pass some savings onto customers, while still making a decent living. I will of course never deny someone a decent wage - it's just a question of how much is practical to spend on a guitar really - for the typical guitar player. I would be lovely if most Brits could afford to buy a locally build guitar, yet for most anything north of £1K can be prohibitively expensive - and hence the success of PRS SE, Epiphone and Squire and the various MIM, MIK and now MII editions!
I hope those who are fortunate enough to have sufficient incomes to afford domestically made guitars - give the local talents and opportunity to compete for those funds. And I really hope more people move on from having to have a classic 1950s/60/s/70s Fender, Gibson or Gretsch!
I have always been a modernist - back when I was a 16 year old looking for my first guitar I went for the more modern Ibanez RG440 Roadstar - and still today I look for more creative interpretations of guitars - which recognise the weaknesses and limitations of the original formats and seek to find better ways and more interesting yet equally elegant shapes for doing things ...