I’m delighted to announce that Taran Guitars has been asked to join The North American Guitar roster of acoustic luthiers.
This adventure has no end point, there was no brief, no requirement for an instrument to do x. I build guitars for players, I listen to their playing and try to understand what it is they are looking for in a guitar, and then work out how to deliver that. Martin has dedicated his life to playing. He has played all over the world on the world’s best instruments. This, as I know now was the beginning of an exploration that pushed everything I thought I knew about making guitars. What if?
I’ve been fortunate enough to know Martin since I was based in Edinburgh more than 8 years ago, introduced by our great friend Ian Brown during a road trip guitar tour. It wasn’t until thirty months ago that this all started though. Martin met up with one of my clients at a gig who showed him his new Tirga Beag in Cocobolo & Adirondack. I got a call from him the next day.
I had recently completed an Ulladale in Belizean Rosewood, the most beautiful wood. One of only two sets reclaimed years ago while raking through stacks of wood stored in an ex-vet’s basement in Edinburgh with Stefan Sobell. This tonewood was just like old school Rio; its straight brown grain shimmered under lacquer and rung like a bell. When I spoke to Martin that day we agreed I’d send it down to him to try before I journeyed south to visit, so that we would have something to discuss after he had played it for a couple of months.
Between Christmas and New Year I got a call, the words spun around my head for days…. “Its great, I love it. Such an exciting start!” My days, a start, a start of what?
Down to Sheffield
The day came and south I went, so nervous I arrived at Edinburgh Waverley an hour early so I didn’t miss the train! Martin welcomed me with great coffee and chat about birds and politics, then rushed off to his studio and came back with the Ulladale. He sat, said nothing and played. In that moment, two things happened; the first, a wave of emotion that one of my musical heroes was seated in front of me playing a piece of my work. The second and this I’ll never forget. I heard all of the extremities of that guitar, the highs, the lows, the good bits and the bad bits, its limits. All this in 4 or 5 bars. Martin thought highly of this guitar, but me being the questioner I am, I pulled it to bits. Every guitar has its own character, but when you hear it laid out in front of you like that you can decide which elements you like. The question is: what would make them better, and how far can they be pushed?
At that time, Martin had just got a 00018 from the 30’s. This instrument blew my mind, you know one of those Martins that is just how it should be from back then? Imported just after it was made so in great condition due to never being dried out. So light with so much power and spit at the start of the note and then this really mature tone ringing behind it! I had never heard anything like it, still haven’t! The Ulladale had spit and we both agreed that this was important in any guitar that might visit Martin. The other thing I liked in the 000 was the fullness behind the note. It meant Martin had the richness when playing softly and then tremendous power when it was needed too; a heady combination. I also listened to him play his Sobells and other guitars including strats, slide guitars, another Martin, a Fylde. I listened and every time came back to similar thoughts on fullness of tone behind that first initial spit of power. I wanted this but I also wanted to hear definition, not metallic, brash, forced definition but a more orchestral sound.
Lets face it, I’m not going to recreate a 30’s Martin and I’m not Stefan Sobell, so where was this going to go!? Head whirring overtime, I headed home, Ulladale in hand.
The Ulladale (now sold) continues to remain a high in my building, it has the separation I like to hear in my work. There is a lot of power with a richness that you can get from high quality rosewood and a super responsive soundboard which in the Ulladale’s case was Adirondack. However, I wanted to hear all of this with even more definition, even more life and fullness.
Back to school
Being a self taught guitar maker I have had to learn what does and doesn’t work. Because of this experimental approach, I have a bank of knowledge that I can draw from when building a certain sound that I have in mind. Whether it be a very light response finger style guitar with lots of overtones and sustain, or a powerful but rich accompaniment instrument with good but not over the top separation.
The sound I had in mind for this project however, I had never tried or achieved. How would I make an instrument with orchestral fullness and definition behind a note with great separation, power and spit?
The answer is in all of the guitars I’ve made and in all of the research in sound I was about to embark on. But back then I felt that I had to start right at the beginning! You might ask, why not just push your current work? Why does it have to be totally different? My answer is you have to move away before you can come back afresh to it. It’s that “can’t see the wood for the trees” analogy.
A month passed before I settled my thoughts on the direction to go. Obviously influenced by the 000, I wanted to build as lightly as possible, stripping everything to its minimum. So, I chose single sides in old mahogany with the same for the back and neck, old spruce - German for a little warmth. I used the Ulladale’s 12th fret soundboard bracing pattern to have a constant. Materials sorted, soundboard/engine sorted; the next thing was to look at the shape.
Years ago, I built for a short time the Tirga Mhor Mk1 which was a larger version of my most popular model, the Tirga Beag. This seemed like the perfect time to revisit the model but all the variables were getting a bit out of hand. I decided to keep the Beag size and extend from the waist to the 12th fret just as Martin & Co did the other way to get the OM way back when. To my mind, shape is more important to the visual and comfort of a guitar rather than sound. Size changes sound though. If I went bigger I’d get more power and more bottom end because the soundboard has a larger vibrating area. While I wanted these things, I was aware from previous experience I’d lose definition, and my fear was that I’d lose the spit too. Two elements were key to moving forward. Increasing the depth of the Tirga Mhor to 120mm from the Tirga Beag’s 115mm. This, along with the increased upper bout size added air to the box but kept the soundboard at a width I felt I could control. At this point, it did feel like I was recreating the wheel, or in this case the 000 piece by piece, but in my mind I had to understand all of the design choices inside out before I was going to move in a direction somewhere close to forward.
The first Tirga Mhor in Mahogany went to Martin in August 17. I was really pleased with it as a start for the model. It was super light and gave us the spit we were looking for. It was really responsive and proved that the 12th fret position worked with the size and depth of the guitar.
I knew that there would be more trips south and felt real excitement in knowing that this guitar was the start. It was tangible and a different guitar to anything I’d made before, and because of the approach to designing it, I knew why it sounded the way it did.
Time to go to Sheffield again
Again Martin played, we had banter but, on this visit I listened harder to the notes. This was perhaps when we started discussing guitars without words. Mad? Guitar making is in its purest form is only opinion. It is my opinion that says, ‘remove that shaving of wood, leave that brace at that height.’ There are no rights, no wrongs. I had built this guitar using the opinions I have, and because of these it sounded the way it did. When Martin played the guitar I could hear whether my thoughts/opinions were well founded or completely off point. Like discussing politics with some one who knows it from every angle. Discussing guitars without words.
When building I thought it was the lightness that would allow the fullness of the note to come out. I wasn’t completely wrong on this one. I’ve used the word ‘fullness’ and I suppose I mean ‘chewable’ or ‘rich’ or ‘rounded’. Basically, I wanted so much that you get lost in the note’s complexities. I felt that in this guitar it was almost like there wasn’t something to give it the fullness I was after. Too little mass in the guitar to shape the back of the note.
I had also reduced my sound board curve and, listening to the guitar, I felt that the separation wasn’t as prominent because of this. I’d done this because in my head, this would increase the spit creating a faster attack, which indeed it did, but I wasn’t willing to lose the separation. Somehow, I had to get both into one sound board?!
The note sang, no doubt about that, it had a kind of hollowness to it, a dry and punchy sound, absolutely perfect if that is what you are looking for. However for myself and Martin, it was just the starting point.
On that visit to Sheffield I also dropped by my great friend James Fagan. He has owned a Malaysian Blackwood Tirga Beag for the last 6 years. His guitar was a real cornerstone on my building and when I saw it again, I was reminded of the steps I had taken back then. It was almost like I had to make this new guitar and his as one.
Leaving that day, I watched the countryside whistle past knowing it might well be some time before I’d be back. If I’m honest, there seemed like an insurmountable task in front of me. It was now September and I had to bury my head in the orders on the bench. I certainly didn’t park the Simpson project, I just needed a moment away to reflect. I had so many ideas that developing them all would take years.
The sense of community
On the 8th of January I received an email from Tania Spalt inviting me to the 2018 Holy Grail guitar show in Berlin. I instantly replied, which isn’t like me! ‘Yes.’
This was a perfect opportunity to do some serious development work on new ideas I had settled on looking at over the winter. I’d also get feedback from the guitar community.
I wanted to show 3 guitars, all with a development that would go to help the Tirga Mhor:
The first, a Tirga Beag DS1 in Malaysian with the next development in soundboard bracing. I knew how a Tirga Beag sounded so how did this change fare? It was the first Dowling Signature guitar. These are very limited edition series of my instruments, built from the finest woods with exclusive detailing that allow me to push developmental ideas and techniques.
Second, a Taran DS2 in Maple to test the beginning of the new back profile and ultimately the new Compression Braces. Again, I knew how this guitar sounded so how did this change affect.
Lastly a Tirga Mhor in Tasmanian Blackwood. The next step on the model was to return to my standard building style to see how it fared. I had bought some Tasmanian Blackwood a year prior to this build. It being dry and ready, I just couldn’t resist using it.
The feedback from people in Berlin inspired me to move forward. I came away from the show with an elevated passion for building and I really felt that I had entered into a new community, a community of builders and players who delight in new ideas and progression.
From all three of the guitars I heard everything I wanted in one Tirga Mhor. It was time to push the developments, put them all together and see what Martin thought.
Time to bring it together
I’d had an idea for a new back profile and bracing for a while. As with everything, it needed to be tested and then tested again! One of the guitars coming to Berlin was a wee Taran in Maple. I used this guitar to test the new back profile. It worked brilliantly. It was difficult to make but worth it as the increased curve made for a the more reflective back that threw the sound out. Here is Michael Watts playing the Maple Taran.
Next on my list were the new compression braces. The principle of the compression braces is to maintain the cylindrical back profile but allow it to vibrate while giving a reflective surface for sound waves.
The benefits are 3 fold:
People always say to me that my guitars are particularly comfortable because of the cylindrical back profile. This characteristic allows you to play a large instrument without it feeling too big. It feels deceptively smaller bodied as the widest part of the lower bout is also the narrowest in depth. As opposed to a rib rest that cuts the edge off, the cylindrical back profile hugs the player and also brings the playing position into a closer and more natural posture.
We could go into the complexities of the vibrations of a guitar here, but let’s imagine sound as a tennis ball. If you throw that ball against a bed sheet on a washing line it will disappear into the sheet and then fall to the ground. If you throw the same ball against a brick wall, it will come back and hit you in the face! In guitar terms, the reflection of sound off this solid surface is vital in order to hear the guitar, both as a player and as an audience. The cylindrical profile of the back makes an extremely reflective surface that throws the vibrations off of the sound board, out of the sound hole, into the ears of the player and far beyond.
Colour of sound
Every piece of wood has its own tonal quality and influences the instrument’s sound differently. This is where the compression braces really start to work their magic. The nature of the compression brace is to have minimal mass on the back of the guitar. This allows the back to vibrate as freely as possible across its entire area. This resonance influences the sound of the guitar, allowing the character of each variety of wood to be maximised; be it rich, earthy, bright or dry.
Happy with the profile, I needed to develop a brace strong enough to hold the shape while having the lightest mass possible. The design of these braces was inspired by the principles of archery. I used a strip of wood or “Bow” under both compression and tension because it is fixed at both ends by a non stretchable material. The theory worked, but as with every part of a guitar it was crucial to get the balance between strength and weight, with knife edge precision.
To double side or triple side?
I’ve been building with double sides for years now when I’m looking for a thicker, less hollow sound. The Triple sides do this but also make the sides even more stiff. I wanted this because the back was a new design and I needed to guarantee no movement in the sides. I also needed that thicker sound so the triple sides were a a win win. After a lot of thought, I used a Closed Cell foam instead of Nomex Honeycomb for the internal layer. I felt that having a whole surface would make it as stiff as the honeycomb but without the air cavity while keeping the monocoque construction. Like a surf board, it relies on the two outside surfaces to give the soft foam its stiffness and rigidity. This side unit was insanely stiff! Once the back was on I could tell this was going to be very different. It rang like a sound board when tapped or when the radio in the shop was on.
Neck material and neck joints
I’d been looking for a wood that sits between light stiff Mahogany and very dense and super stiff Wenge for a while. The more dense the neck wood the more focused the sound. Wenge is amazing at adding power to a guitar because of its stiffness. I wanted this stiffness for the power but I didn’t want to focus the sound too much. I had bought a board of Padauk when on a trip down south and when cutting this for inside sides I was blown away at how stiff it was but it was almost light as Mahogany. Perfect!
This new Tirga Mhor was to have a Cut-away allowing access above the 12th fret neck joint. I wanted a really slimmed down heel to maximise the neck length. Basically, I imagined the heel part of the neck inside the body of the guitar. I also wanted it to be glueless because I love a challenge and it meant any future adjustments would be very easy. The fret board extension allows for a glueless joint because it is dovetailed in, which stops the neck rising up from the pull of the strings. A great process and now standard on all of my guitars.
With the developments since the first Ulladale that went down to Martin on the soundboard design, an untrained eye would notice very little. But while the pattern remains very similar, almost everything else has changed; From brace size and height. Brace taper areas. The curves used. Board thicknesses. Neck angle. The list continues…
For the first Tirga Mhor DS build I wanted to use something special. I’d been sent a few sets of Swiss Bearclaw spruce by my friend/wood provider Stephen Keys. It was perfect for this build. Beautifully figured, stiff and close but not too closely grained.
A run down of this Tirga Mhor.
Back - Master Grade Tasmanian Blackwood with Compression Braces.
Sides - Master Grade Tasmanian Blackwood and Padauk Triple sides.
Soundboard - Master Grade Swiss Spruce.
Rosette - Hot Fade Crail Elm and Wenge.
Bindings - Ebano & Scottish Sycamore purfling.
Front Purfling - Padauk purfling around the soundboard.
Linings - No linings.
Bevel - Hot Fade Flamed Jarah.
Neck - Padauk with Graft and Volute. Glueless neck joint. 2 way Truss and 2 6mm carbon rods.
Fret Board - Ebony bound with Ebano.
Fret Markers - 9Ct Gold dots with 9Ct Gold Circles at 12th fret.
Frets - EVOGold wire with Semi Hemispherical fret ends.
Headstock - Hot fade Flamed Jarah with black veneers under sheaths.
Tuners - Gotoh 510’s in Gold.
Hand Carved Solid Ebony Bridge with Ebony Pins.
t. Hand cut from solid 9 Ct Gold sheet.
It is my 102nd guitar. When I first strung it up it was different, I could hear that.
I sent it off to Sheffield.
Martin called a month later. “I really think you need to hear this, Rory”, were his words.
Seated again in front of Martin I heard the guitar, laid out in full before my ears. Did it sound as I had imagined? It was bloody close!
This adventure has influenced everything about guitar making for me and continues to push my work. I have met so many wonderful builders and players in the last 2 and half years that I would like to thank for all of their support, kind words and advice. Most of all I want to thank Martin for pushing me and always being excited about the guitars I’ve shown him and for questioning my opinions without saying a word! We are still asking, what if?
I had an email from a client in France that bought my 100th instrument a few years ago. It was a Cocobolo Taran with Olive wood detailing. Rod is the most amazing player, here he is with ‘Johsefins Dopvals’ a Waltz. For me, this is the best bit of my work, hearing people play and express freely and beautifully.
Thank you Rod!
Such a pleasure to be featured in the December 2018 issue of The Guitar Magazine! This article focused particularly on the first electric I’ve built of my own design, ‘The Lecky’. It was a real pleasure to talk through the process with Mark. Many thanks to Mark Alexander for the great article and photographs.
Also thanks to Ben and Tim from Bare Knuckle Pickups. They were super helpful and the system we designed sounded amazing and worked perfectly for Lecky.
And not least, thanks to ‘The Guitar Magazine’ for the generous 7 page spread!
2018 was some year! 2019 and 2020 are going to be amazing when I look through the orders I have in place.
I’m currently taking orders for completion in summer 2021. If you would like to receive the latest information on prices for your bespoke instrument please do get in touch.
I’ve recently made a development with the way in which I brace the back of my guitars- which I’ve named “compression braces”.
The principle of the compression braces is to maintain the cylindrical back profile as with all Taran instruments, but allow it to vibrate while giving a reflective surface for sound waves.
Benefits are 3 fold:
People always say to me that my guitars are particularly comfortable because of the cylindrical back profile. This characteristic allows you to play a large instrument and it not feel too big. It feels deceptively smaller bodied as the widest part of the lower bout is also the narrowest in depth. As opposed to rib rest that cuts the edge off, the cylindrical back profile hugs the player and also brings the playing position into a closer and to a more natural posture.
We could go into the complexities of the vibrations of a guitar here however, if you imagine sound as a tennis ball for a moment. If you throw that ball against a bed sheet on a washing line it will disappear into the sheet and then fall to the ground. If you throw the same ball against a brick wall, it will come back and hit you in the face! In guitar terms, the reflection of sound off of this solid surface is vital in order to hear the guitar, as both a player and audience. The cylindrical profile of the back makes an extremely reflective surface that throws the vibrations off of the sound board, out of the sound hole, into the ears of the player and far beyond.
Colour of sound-
Every piece of wood has its own tonal quality and influences the instruments sound differently. This is where the compression braces really start to work their magic. The nature of the compression brace is to have minimal mass on the back of the guitar. This allows the back to vibrate as freely as possible across its entire area. This resonance influences the sound of the guitar, allowing the character of each variety of wood used to be maximised; be it rich, earthy, bright or dry.
These braces have been in my mind for quite a while. There had to be a two tier development on them. It was important to test how the process would work at each stage and see how the changed features would respond on the instrument.
The first thing was to test the increased cylindrical profile of the back to see whether it would work in terms of construction. I also needed to know how the physical shape would affect the projection of the instrument. I tested this on the DS2 which is a maple Taran. This guitar had an incredibly light back, and maintained the cylindrical profile, but did not have the compression braces. I concluded that the projection and power of the instrument improved and was happy to move to the next stage of the development.
Happy with the profile I had to develop a brace strong enough to hold the shape while having the lightest mass possible. The design of these braces was inspired by the principles of archery. A strip of wood or “Bow” under both compression and tension because it is fixed at both ends by a non stretchable material. The theory worked but as with every part of a guitar it was crucial to get the balance between strength and weight on a knife edge.
So happy with this development. As with every ingredient on a recipe it changes the flavour.
Many thanks to everyone asking if I can do repairs on their instruments. I’m afraid that I don’t offer repair work as I’m so busy with building work.
Soundboard: Western Red Cedar
Back and sides: Birds Eye Maple
Fingerboard: Ebano Rocklite, bound in Ebano
Bridge: Ebony with bone saddle
Headstock facing: Macassar Ebony
Neck: Reclaimed Brazilian Mahogany
Bindings: Rippled Mahogany
Tuners: Waverly Gold and Ebony
Mads approached me 2 years ago, visiting the workshop from Denmark with his wife Noémie. Initially he was looking for a more traditional Celtic sounding bouzouki, with a lot of mid cut and a rich sounding instrument. We were going to make this out of Cocobolo and potentially cedar or spruce. However, over the 2 years as we discussed and thought about it, we conclude that his playing style wasn’t predominantly Celtic accompaniment, as he also branched into playing bluegrass and various other styles. Therefore, we decided that we didn’t want something which was in the traditional vein, we wanted something that was a bit more all-round. This influenced the decision to go for maple and cedar. This usually may seem to be a strange combination of woods, however it was perfect for Mads because; the maple gives you a dry, bright punch- which works well with bluegrass but with the sweetness of the cedar it could be played more traditionally. It was really about making something which was more versatile and this is where the choice of materials came in.
Mads went for a slightly longer scale bouzouki. He is a very accurate and incredibly powerful player, hands down one of best bouzouki players I’ve had the pleasure of being in the company of. He wanted it to play tunes as well as accompaniment and therefore we needed to separate the sound within the instrument. This meant that the tuning of the cedar soundboard was a really interesting part of the build. We had to get the balance between separation and power for tunes but also keeping it together for accompaniment with a solid low end. There’s a real danger with Bouzouki’s that they can become very ‘jangly’ and it tends to be that the lighter they are the more jangly they are. However, we needed it to be light because there needed to be a good bottom end response. Mids were also important, however there was a focus on the bottom end response due to Mads’ style of playing. That led to a development in the back profile. The back on any instrument has a huge influence on the bass presence. By increasing the radius of the back and making it really light, it made a more reflective back that was able to vibrate as well. We managed to make it not jangly, but still light and powerful with a lot of bottom end response.
Mads also decided he wanted a V profile in the neck, which is an interesting take on the Bouzouki’s neck profile. This sat very well in the hand and is something which I would definitely consider doing again. For the string spacing we chose 34mm at nut and 44mm at the saddle as this was a good balance between strumming and tune playing position. The fretboard was curved with Evo gold frets to aid playability further. Individual Waverly tuners with gold and ebony buttons helped to keep the balance of the instrument by keeping the weight of the neck down, it also made the aesthetic of the headstock long and suited the whole instrument. All in all, a great build!
One of the big parts of the product was the finish of the instrument. Mads mentioned that his wife Noémie is an award-winning violin maker. Her work is breath takingly good. She works predominantly with maples and spruces in the violin world, so she suggested darkening the maple down to match the colour of the cedar. This was a great idea as there was quite a stark contrast between the white maple and the red cedar. So, after a lot of phone calls with both Neomie and Mads, we decided to use a ground which is a base coat in Violin varnish finishing. Neomie’s grounds are handmade and absolutely beautiful. She makes them by boiling rosin at up to 200 degrees for 100 hours and then add some turpentine when it's cooling down. I used this on the wood after applying a sealer coat. This brought the beautiful grain of the Birdseye maple out. The issue with this process was I don’t usually varnish instruments, I use a melamine lacquer. So, on the application of this, both finishes had to work together, which took meticulous testing. One thing you can find with finishing is that initially it seems to have worked very well. However, external factors such as moisture and UV can massively affect it. Therefore, all the samples had to be put through rigorous testing, putting them through all the extremes; hot, cold, low humidity, high humidity, impact and wood movement. We managed to get a combination which worked really well. Cedar is a very soft wood and therefore the top needed to be protected with lacquer to make it durable. This worked really well and aesthetically made the woods matches much better.
This was an amazing collaborative project between myself, an incredible musician Mads and another instrument maker Noémie.
Many thanks to them both for such a wonderful opportunity.
I had the pleasure of welcoming Michael Watts to the workshop last month. He stayed for 3 days as we discussed the finer points of guitar making and my theories behind what I do for clients all over the world.
Here is his Blog post and videos about the visit.
Luthier Workshop Visit - Taran Guitars (Scotland)
I've known Rory Dowling of Taran Guitars for several years and it was great to get the chance to catch up at this year's Holy Grail Guitar Show (Berlin) where I played some of his latest instruments. I was very impressed indeed! Taran Guitars was set up over a decade ago and while it's a well known and respected brand in Europe, Rory's work is still somewhat under the radar outside the continent and he asked if I might consider filming some demo videos of his guitars. Obviously I was very happy to agree. So I flew up to Scotland and spent a beautiful and inspiring couple of days at the Taran Guitars workshop near Fife.
As it happens we ended up filming a full interview about what goes into the creation of a Taran Guitar, as well as recording a podcast about the history of the company and Rory's ethos, as well as demos of three absolutely stunning guitars! I'd suggest you kick off with the interview which is right here.
The guitars themselves are here in all their glory. First up is this Tirga Beag (pronounced Chigra Begg) which is a "large OM" with a 16" lower bout and an impressive potential for nuance to go with all that power. This guitar is made from Malaysian blackwood and moon-harvested Swiss spruce with a wengé neck. As with previous guitar recordings of mine that you may have seen, these videos were recorded using a matched pair of Gefell M300 small capsule condenser microphones. No EQ, reverb or effects were added. You are hearing as close to the natural sound of the guitar as I was capable of reproducing.
"The Taran" is Rory Dowling's take on a OO model. It's a smaller body, very comfortable to hold and play, and extremely lively. In this case we have a Madagascar rosewood and moon-harvested Swiss spruce instrument. This guitar is extremely responsive with a gorgeous voice perfectly suited to a more traditional approach. So much so in fact that we strung it with non-coated D'Addario strings (as opposed to Elixirs) to bring out all the steel and "snap" typical of that wood combo. I was particularly impressed with the way the instrument handled a capo (an Elliot Elite of course) at the 4th fret.
Finally here is an instrument close to my own heart. An exquisite presentation version of The Taran in flamed maple and moon spruce. Built for exhibition at the Holy Grail Guitar Show 2018, this is a lightly-built fingerstyle guitar with an immediate response and the same depth and "pizzicato cello" tone that I love in good maple guitars. The cutaway gives you access all along the neck and all in all it's a stunner. I know my friend John Thomas of the Fretboard Journal was particularly taken with this instrument describing it as one of his highlights of this year's HGGS.
Finally, I hope you'll enjoy this podcast interview with Rory. This was recorded in the wood room of his workshop, a very special place indeed full of some of the finest tone woods available including some rare British varieties.
I had a fantastic time at the Taran Guitars workshop, many thanks to Rory for the invitation and hospitality. It was my first time in that particular part of Scotland and the countryside is stunning. As Rory himself says, the gorgeous natural surroundings in which he works play an important role in inspiring the creation of his guitars, and it shows.
We begin with a love story, echoing from a century ago in lowland Scotland. In Wind Resistance, Karine Polwart seamlessly weaves the beauty of voice, musicianship, verse and storytelling to bring together a fable that is both wide and deep. At times uniquely personal and humorous, at times historical, at times drawing on science, and with Pippa Murphy as sound designer, she has created a compelling piece of theatre.
With tales and evocations of the geese, the whaups, the skylark, the swallows and the hoolet, Karine brings to the stage the seasons’ turning, and humanity's cycles of birth, love, life and death.
Karine uses her Taran in a number of songs. And the music in Wind Resistance, is of course, stunningly good, as we could expect from an artist who has won 2018’s BBC Folksinger of the Year amongst many other awards. Songs, incantations and melodies are evocatively and perfectly performed with beauty and grace.
The themes of this piece are ecological, societal, social and individual. Like the geese flying in a skein, Karine advocates that we prevail when we work together:
And that’s a very good message!
I saw Wind Resistance at the new refurbished Perth Theatre, a wonderfully intimate space that really suited this profoundly moving and innovative work.
Over the next two months, you can see performances of Wind Resistance in Inverness, Cardiff and Milton Keynes. Full details are on Karine’s website.
And in the autumn, the Karine Polwart Trio is touring with Laws of Motion. I can’t wait!
- By Jennie Murray
I first met Sean when he rented a unit here at Comielaw. A great lad and brilliant Photographer. He has been kind enough to help with this new website and is also responsible for all of the pictures of the new guitars and mandolins too. We wanted to use a none conventional back drop for the photography and had a huge choice of beautiful stone walls here in the old farm. The picture above is from the most recent shoot of a Maple/Swiss Taran, my 99th guitar.
More of Sean's work can be seen here. He also does freelance work for the Telegraph and other publications.
If he isn't taking beautiful pictures you'll find him in a boiler suit fixing old fishing boats, of which he has 2.
Thank you Sean for all of your help!
Well, it was incredible! I'm just back home now after 5 days in Berlin exhibiting at this years Holy Grail show.
Gemma and I arrived on Thursday and instantly fell in love with the city. Really relaxed vib and super friendly and helpful people there. The show consists of 2 main parts; the show its self on the Saturday and Sunday but there is a symposium just for builders on the Thursday and Friday where professionals from all over the industry give talks and do workshops. I attended Pierre Journel of 'The Guitar Channel' workshop on all things marketing. Absolutely fascinating and insightful, hopefully you'll see a lot more of Taran Guitars from now on!
Everyone involved in the show were invited to the Luthiers Dinner on Friday night. Lots of old and new faces, we were lucky enough to sit next to Donal McGreevy and his wife, Kiera and Stefan Sonntag. Great banter and lots of guitar chat as the evening went on. One of the highlights was a standing ovation for Tania Spalt, the chief organiser of the show.
Set up and ready to got on Saturday morning and Jason Kostal stopped by before the doors opened to the public. Having never met him before it was brilliant to have a chat and I was bowled over when one of my guitar-making heroes said that he loved my guitars. A good start!
Over the 2 days that followed I spoke more about guitars than I thought possible and those of you who know me will know that that is a lot of guitar chat... People from all over the world come to the show and I was delighted with all of the positive feedback I received. I rarely had all 3 guitars on the stand as there was always one or two being played in the quiet booths opposite our stand.
One of the best parts of the Holy Grail is the sense of community that there is between builders. I met so many great folk and their guitars over the 3 days and have come away inspired and truly excited about building instruments.
Here are just some of the great people at this years show.
Thats a wrap!
A massive thank you to everyone who made this years show possible and to everyone who took the time to visit us. The biggest thank you to my beautiful wife Gemma for all of her support and for putting up with me over the last 4 months!
The evening before I started my guitar building career in Edinburgh nearly 12 years ago I went to see a performance by a man whose music has been with me for as long as I can remember.
Sat in the Pleasance Folk Club listening to Martin Simpson that night literally started me on my guitar making journey! Never have I been so mesmerised by the presence and sound of a live performance! I didn't know that that kind of musical beauty was possible.
Walking home that night I decided that I was going to make guitars and the next day I started ordering the wood. 4 months later I had built my first 3, 2 of which were orders. 3 months after that I had my first workshop in Edinburgh and as they say the rest is history...
A month ago, one of my wonderful clients took two of his Tarans to one of Martin's gigs for Martin to have a look at. The next day Martin called me and ask if I would like to go down to Sheffield to visit him and talk about guitars.... "that would well be well wow, yes" I spluttered!
On Wednesday this week I had the pleasure of having coffee and talking guitars with Martin Simpson! A fascinating day with lots of ideas and discussions about woods, construction, old and new instruments and as he sat playing one of my latest Cocobolo Tirga Beags I was grinning like a cheshire cat, an emotional one at that!
Thank you Martin for your time and hospitality, hopefully we can do it again soon.
All the very best,
Basically I'm building an Electric and loving it! The body is cambered and it has a Swiss Bearclaw Top/Cap. It also sports the new Headstock Shape which will be offered on all guitars from now on.
I've built Strats before but this is my first 'hollow' body. The lads at Bare Knuckle have been brilliant as always! Its got a 6 way switch that works like a Gear stick, super cool.
The client was in the other day ago to finalise the neck details and its safe to say that he is inching to get his hands on it, could be hard to see this one go!
News from 2009
"I was joined by Stefan Sobell a few weeks ago to look at some boards of reclaimed Honduras Rosewood that were brought to Edinburgh in 1979 from Belize. I bought 5 boards of rosewood and 2 boards of Belizean Mahogany which I may consider using for necks. This was the first rosewood board deep cut into back and side sets. I thought the wood was beautiful before I saw the water marks and the spider webbing. Both rare in Honduras Rosewood. I will be offering these sets as 3 piece backs to utilize this beautiful wood. The sets have a strong ring when tapped, similar to good Rio Rosewood."
Move on 8 years.....
So, I've had this wood on on the shelves for 8 years and wow it did not disappoint!! Here is the first guitar I built with it, an Ulladale and Adirondack cannon. Can you believe this was made from wood used for packing crates?!
- What is Belizean Rosewood? Isn't it Honduras Rosewood?
Perhaps this is Honduras Rosewood... However, it doesn't look like it and I know it came from Belize so I'm choosing to call it Belizean Rosewood.
I built this guitar on spec and was keen to hear what Martin Simpson thought of it. I sent it down to him and then visited a few months later. It's so amazing to sit and listen to him play, I can hear parts of the guitar I would never be able to get out of it. He can push a guitar through all of its capabilities in 10 bars. We both agreed that we liked the low mids and bottom end, loved the thick trebles but it was the 'spit' or fast attack that Martin was really excited about!
Our ongoing discussions have prompted me to design and build a new model.
The Tirga Mhor MKII.....
There’s been a lot of bridge building and carving of late.
The process of carving the bridge is an interesting one and there have been some major developments at Taran Guitars over the years. The outline shape of the bridge is the same on all models, apart from the Tenor, but over time the shapes and contours of the bridge have moved on.
I use ebony for my bridges as I feel it transfers energy more efficiently than rosewoods. I look for a bridge that is strong but light. In the slideshow, you can see the process I use to create the bridge...
Ebony isn't the lightest material but by removing lots of material behind the saddle, I get an increased break angle of the strings over the saddle which gives a better transfer of energy to the soundboard and makes it light. I need the saddle slot area to be strong and I need the strain of the string pull to be transferred directly to the braces inside. The ridges that you can see on each side of the saddle do both of these things brilliantly. Form follows function, a great design philosophy!
One of the most important areas of guitar design in terms of tone and attack is the physical height of the string above the soundboard.
- Higher = more brash/louder
- Lower = more mellow/quieter
With this in mind, I change the neck angles on my bespoke instruments to get the best string height and thus sound for my client’s taste and playing style. In terms of playability, the action (strings from fretboard) is important but not as much as the response of the soundboard. The more responsive the board, the less energy it takes to vibrate it, so the less work the strings have to do and therefore less work for the player, making a supple dynamic action.
Bridge design is a key element of soundboard response and I think about the bridge as being the last brace to go on. In effect, it has to be tuned like all the other braces to get the most out of the guitar.
I’m very proud to present my 100th Instrument! A real mile stone for me and not far away from my 100th Guitar either…
This is the classic 'Taran'. A smaller than Om guitar, perfect for evenings by the fire although equally at home on stage or in the recording studio with excellent balance across a hugely dynamic range. The Master Grade Cocobolo delivers power and clarity with the depth of tone you would expect to find from any exceptional Rosewood.
The Neck is Old reclaimed Brazilian Mahogany and has carbon fibre reinforcement rods as well as a 2 way truss-rod making this Slim C profile neck sing all the way up to the ‘dusty end’ with no wolf notes and no loss of power in the high notes. The polished Rocklite fret board is an incredibly stable and sustainable Ebony like material that is so easy to maintain, with a 44.5mm nut width giving a great balance between comfort and room. The Mitred cutaway gives easy access to those high frets and is visually striking with the grain of the Cocobolo continuing around the cutaway unbroken by bindings.
This guitar's side unit is double sided. Made up of Cocobolo and Scottish Sycamore, the increased stiffness in the sides allows for a thinner and more responsive soundboard getting the most out of the Master Grade Swiss Alpine Spruce top and its bracing of Sitka Spruce. The Taran has its own unique bracing pattern using a mixture of hand carved parabolic and scalloped bracing to balance the guitar's powerful full bass, with thick singing trebles and everything in between.
The rosette of Mosaic Cocobolo is partly ringed with Olive wood from the Greek Island of Crete which I hand selected a number of years ago. This beautifully figured Olive wood is also used for the player's bevel making for a wonderfully comfortable playing experience.
The bridge is solid Ebony from Cameroon and is hand carved to maximise strength and reduce weight. A string spacing for light to medium strings of 59mm break over the careful intonated bone saddle with an increased break angle, heightening even further the response and clarity of this guitar.
With matching Cocobolo veneers for the headstock face and back, the scarfed head of this guitar is virtually indestructible and has Gotoh 510z’s in chrome for the most accurate and stable tuning around. The timeless t. logo is hand cut from solid Sterling silver and then hand inlaid into the Cocobolo. Sterling silver also features in the fret markers with circular 12th fret markers inlayed with Cocobolo centres and with polished Sterling silver dots for all the other major frets. Fret Wire is the highest quality Jesscar wire, hard wearing nickel silver.
The whole guitar is finished in Melamine Lacquer polished to a high gloss. This incredibly durable finish, applied in extremely thin coats, gives a protective finish that doesn’t hinder the guitar's wonderfully responsive soundboard.
HOME IN FRANCE
The 100th is now in the very capable hands of Rod Burrough in France. I get regular updates from Rod about the guitar and how it's developing. Rod's playing is sublime and he has been good enough to share it here in a video. More of Rod's playing is available on his Soundcloud page.
An amazing day last weekend with Matheu Watson and Paul McConville, 2 wonderful clients I have had the pleasure of working with for over 7 years now. There's a couple of instruments between them...
Left to right:
African Blackwood Tirga Beag Fan fret
Indian Rosewood Oreval
Cocobolo Tirga Beag
Indian Rosewood Springwell
Brazilian Rosewood Taran Mhor
Brazilian Mahogany Oreval
Indian Rosewood Archtop Bouzouki
We spent the day recording some of these for the site. Sorry, no… Matheu played beautifully, recorded, mastered and made coffee for Paul and I while we all blethered about projects gone and hills to come.
Thank you to Matheu and Paul and special thanks to Lucy Macrae for her hospitality and guitar chat patience!!
binaural recording=the player perspective
A Binaural recording is the process of using in ear Omni mics to record the perspective of in this case the player. What you are listing to when playing this Binaural recordings is what Matheu heard while he was playing the guitars. It doesn't work if your not listening with good left and right head phones as the mics pick up what he heard in each ear individually and thus has to play it back to you in the same way.
Here is Matheus beautiful playing on these 4 guitars.
Oreval Indian Rosewood/German
Taran Brazilian Rosewood/Italian
Tirga Beag Cocobolo Adirondack
I had the pleasure of Kevin Macleod's company a few week ago. He visited the workshop to try some of the new Springwell Mandolins that, between us, we have been developing over the last two years. Here's a video of him playing 3 Mandolins with differing back and side woods - Indian Rosewood, Scottish Sycamore and Cocobolo. All of these wood are available in the Springwell range. We also had a wee chat about the developments, as always...I'm camera shy! Thank you to Kevin.
I hope you enjoy it!
All the very best,
Just spent the last few days driving around visiting various great folk gathering wood. I do this a few times a year but this trip has been great fun! Stopped in at Stefan Sobells to select a load of sets of Malaysian Blackwood courtesy of Stephen Keys. Good lunch afterwards and great banter as always with Stephe and Stefan.
Arrived home with a very laden car. Italian Spruce, Check. Ebony and Rocklite boards, Check. Mahogany for necks and Cedar for braces, Check. Malaysian Blackwood western sets, Check. Scottish Sycamore with cut dates from 1981, Check...
Thank you everyone for your hospitality.
All the very best,