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Handmade Stringed Instruments for Traditional Music
Cedar Top Standard Bouzouki
I’ve recently finished building a bouzouki for Barra McGrory from Northern Ireland. For many years he’s played one of my Large Body bouzoukis but recently moved it on and ordered a Standard model instead.
We decided that a Cedar top might be a good way to go as it would have a different tonal quality from the Spruce topped LBB. There is also an understanding that a Cedar top instrument will develop it’s full tonal potential sooner than a Spruce topped instrument which can sometimes take a number of years to mature fully.
Now I really like using Cedar. It’s a beautiful wood to work with and planes wonderfully. It’s definitely softer and lighter than the spruce family and owing to its lower density and shorter grain you need to build a top slightly thicker than a corresponding Spruce top. The feathering and graduation will be a wee bit different also.
It also sounds SO good ! Clear and ringing tops and mids with a rich and mellow fruity bass.
This one’s a bit different from the normal instruments I build. Benji Kirkpatrick already has two of my bouzoukis, a Standard and a Large Body, both 650mm scale length and both fitted with a Headway HE4 FEQ pickup. But his inner Jimmy Page got the better of him some months back and ordered a new instrument, this time a solid body electric. He was very clear though that he still wanted an acoustic property to the sound, along with the ability to really crank it up !
So we came up with this. It has a maple body with a beautiful carved flame maple top. It is fitted with two Seymour Duncan pickups, a Vintage Rail at the bridge and a Hot Rail at the fingerboard end. It also has a custom Headway HE4 bridge saddle pickup. The magnetics both have volume and tone controls and have their own separate independent output, while the Headway has a volume control and its own output.
Benji came up a couple of weeks ago accompanied by a rather large amplifier to test it and take it away and by the grin on his face I think he liked it. I went back into the workshop to get on with some work and I could hear Benji hammering away on it for a good couple of hours -
Cedar Top Large Body Bouzouki
Kenny McDonald came by a few weeks ago to collect his new bouzouki. It is a Cedar topped Large Body Bouzouki and opposite is a picture of him playing it for the first time. I think that Cedar is coming back into fashion lately and a good thing too as it can sound amazing. Many of the recent instruments I’ve built have used Cedar and it gives you a rich warm tone with a fantastic clarity and zing to the top end.
Kenny was really happy with the bouzouki:
“It is the finest instrument that I have played Andy, it has a sweet tone with great bottom end and sustain.
What I find really striking is the way it responds to that way it is played. If you bash it on rhythm it just responds instantly and from playing over the sound hole to picking back near the bridge the sound changes so fast and makes it such a great players instrument.
You are one of the best out there Andy. Thanks.”
An instrument turns up in Australia !
I had a really nice email the other day from Vic Belsher, a guitar maker from a small country town in Victoria Australia. He was recently given a guitar / cittern to restore and emailed me to see if I could shed some light on it’s origins. As he described the instrument, it was a 6 string guitar on a Cittern body with a bouzouki bridge and tailpiece. Now, this instrument I made back in 1994 for someone called Alan Buckley who at the time played guitar in a medieval band at Warwick Castle. As they were all dressed in traditional costume you can imagine that a big jumbo guitar didn’t really look the part, so he asked me to build him something that still played and sounded like a guitar but looked a wee bit more authentic.
A few years ago, he emailed me to say that the band was no more and that he was moving to Australia and did I know anyone who needed a guitar that looked like a Cittern. Unfortunately at the time I didn’t so I guess that eventually he sold it to the new owner -
Vic says that the instrument is in perfect structural condition but is showing plenty of play-
It’s always really nice to catch up with old instruments and to find out how they’re getting on. Here are a couple of pictures that Vic has sent through and also one of Alan playing it 20 years ago (unfortunately not in Medieval gear !!).
Now, you’d be right in asking why on earth there is a picture of an elephant on an instrument making website. Well, this is no ordinary elephant, this is Susie and she is one of a number of elephants that is looked after by my latest bouzouki recipient Albert Pamies.
Albert is the elephant keeper at Barcelona Zoo and he asked if there was any way an image of Susie could be incorporated somewhere on his new bouzouki. I loved this idea, and after throwing a few ideas around, we settled on having Susie engraved onto the face of the brass tailpiece. So, this is now with a fine engraver Peta Greenwood in Birmingham at the moment. All being well, I should be receiving it back in a couple of weeks, so I’ll put up some more pics then……
Here are a couple of photos of the finished instrument and also a close up of the amazing engraving that Peta Greenwood did for me. The instrument is a Large Body Bouzouki with a scale length of 620mm and a Sitka Spruce top.
A very early bouzouki
This bouzouki was delivered to me earlier this week needing a bit of an MOT. This one dates from 1987, so one of the very early instruments I built. As you can see it looks very different from the bouzoukis I make these days.
Actually when I had a closer look at it, it needed very little work. It had had a refret about 10 or 12 years ago and there was very little wear. So a tweak on the truss rod, a quick fret polish, a bit of work on the saddle and nut and a new set of strings and it was away to go. And it sounded really good too, very mellow but still with plenty of punch.
An Electric Solid Body Bouzouki
Earlier this year I built this Solid Body Electric bouzouki for a customer. He particularly wanted an SG shape body rather than the more standard teardrop shape. I think that it’s worked out really well. It has a Maple through neck with a Maple body and a beautiful Flame Malple top. Pickups are Seymour Duncan Hot Rails which just sound amazing -
Steve Byrne’s Bouzouki
Steve got in touch recently to ask if he could send his bouzouki down for a long overdue MOT. I remember when he dropped in to see me at the workshop almost exactly 10 yeas ago when he was touring with Malinky. At the time I was building a bouzouki for a client in Spain. When the instrument was very nearly finished, he changed his mind about the width of the fingerboard, so I had to put that instrument aside and start a new one ! So when Steve got in touch about a bouzouki I mentioned that I had this one that was looking for a new home. Well, it all turned out very well and the bouzouki seemed to suit Steve very well, and ten years on it is still going very well. Steve is still delighted with the instrument and after a quick service I sent it back up to Scotland yesterday.
Well, our big news is that we’ve moved. We’ve been down in Somerset for the past 8 or 9 years, but a while ago we decided that we’d like to move back up to Herefordshire. So after a very stressful time selling the old house, (the Brexit vote didn’t help one bit !!) we have finally made it and it’s great being back. There’s a very tired run down house to modernise and drag into the 21st century, a bigger workshop and 8 ½ acres which we don’t really know what to do with!!
Yossi from Israel
I don’t often have finished instruments staying around in the workshop after they’re ready. Usually when they’re finished and ready to go off to their new owner, they’re away! But at the moment I have a finished Cedar / Rosewood SBB which is being collected in a month or two. Then Russ in Bristol sent me his LBB for a service, which I last saw about 8 or 9 years ago.
It was very fortunate then for Yossi when he flew over from Israel wanting to try out a couple of instruments as he was ready to upgrade to something better. I first spoke to Yossi just before Christmas when he mentioned that he’d like to come over.
So after a long flight, an overnight stop in Luton and a long drive to Herefordshire Yossi arrived yesterday, and after a quick cup of tea was straight down to the business of trying the two contrasting instruments out and deciding which would be best suited for his playing style.
Well, after a long play of both instruments, a break for some lunch, then some more playing Yossi decided that an SBB in Cedar and Rosewood would be that way to go. That combination will give you a lovely clarity and definition, a more traditional bouzouki sound, a brilliance in the top register but with that characteristic Cedar warmth and complexity in the tone. We also spent a long time talking about the finer details and specification, scale length, neck dimensions, profile, string separation etc.