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.
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.
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!
After closing my order book in 2017 to work on orders and do some research and development work, I am happy to say that the book is now open again for orders in 2019.
If you would like to receive a price list for your bespoke instrument please do get in touch.
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.
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?!
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.
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.
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!!
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.
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,
I'm very pleased to announce that all of my bespoke guitars will now come an option of Handmade Tuners by none other than Keith Robson. Keith makes all of his tuners by hand down in England and they are some of the finest tuners in the world.
Available in a variety of different styles, we can tailor a set for your guitar when organising your order.
For more information please do get in touch.
All the very best,