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Handmade Stringed Instruments for Traditional Music
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 suggestions 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 had in for an MOT 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 the best 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 colour in the tone. We also spent a long time talking about the finer details and specification, scale length, neck dimensions, profile, string separation etc.
Seanie McGrath’s LBB
Seanie got in touch a while back to talk about me building an LBB. He already has an SBB which he loves, but this commission was to be a special instrument. He wanted to include some woods from his fathers home in West Clare, namely some Yew, Ash, Sycamore and Bog Oak, which he had cut small sections from, dried out and then and sent to me. Now, these aren’t known as ‘tonewoods’ so they were going to be used decoratively around the instrument. So after a wee bit of thought, we decided that the rosette could be from the Bog Oak, the front and back of the headstock could be veneered in Yew with a decorative inlay from Bog Oak and Sycamore and the heel could be from thin strips of all 4 woods.
I really enjoy projects like this, and I really enjoyed building the instrument. Seanie also wanted a LR Baggs Stagepro Element pickup fitted to the bouzouki, Gotoh SGL 510 machine heads and flame maple bindings. And so here are some photos of the finished instrument -
New Workshop !!
Well, my big project for this summer has been the rebuilding of my workshop and I’m very happy to say that it’s finally finished! For the past couple of years since we moved to The Woodhouse I’ve been working from a small corner of the old building just big enough to fit in a workbench, the bandsaw and the dehumidifier!! It had a ceiling height at around 7 feet and no windows either, so before I went completely mad it had to come down.
Demolishing and rebuilding a workshop is quite a scary thing to do if that’s how you make your living, but I’ve got to say that I enjoyed every part of the process, and now that it’s finished and up and running I’ve got to say that it’s just the job!! Plenty of space for all of the kit, plenty of light too and warm and dry.
So, I’m now back working and the first bouzouki from the new shop will be ready in about 5 weeks or so and will be winging its way over to its new owner in Spain very shortly.
Yossi from Israel
Yossi came by a couple of weeks ago to collect his new bouzouki. It’s a Cedar / Rosewood SBB with a scale length of 628mm. When Yossi came over to the UK at the beginning of the year to see me about his bouzouki, he was very clear about many of the other details for the new instrument. Ergonomically he wanted it to match the instrument he’d been playing for many years -
Here’s what Yossi had to say….
“Got my new Tobin bouzouki two weeks ago and I am a happy man -