Construction

You may have noticed that my instruments are not fussy. Well, that’s how I like them! Simplicity and clean lines are my signature. For me, the most important aspect is functionality, playability and performance. After all, the instrument you buy is the tool of your trade, and so it has to work consistently for you. Every element of the instrument has been thoroughly tested and evaluated, and is the result of a process of continual development and improvement.

Specification

The starting point for any fine musical instrument will always be the raw materials. I use the best and most appropriate materials for your particular brief. I will talk more specifically about the particular choices of woods and their characteristics and why I use them a wee bit later, but listed here is the standard specification for the instruments I make.

Top – European spruce or Western Red Cedar
Back and sides – Indian Rosewood
Neck – Brazilian mahogany or Maple
Fingerboard – Ebony
Bridge – Ebony
Saddle & nut – Bone
Machine heads – gold-plated Gotoh SG 301
Tailpiece – solid brass for ball end strings
Adjustable truss rod

I can also use other woods for soundboards and back / sides. Please see below in the ‘woods’ section for more information.

I use only the finest quarter sawn solid woods for the instrument, and all of the wood I use has been kept at a controlled temperature and humidity level for at least 5 years (around 50% RH @ 70˚f). This stable building environment is important to ensure that your instrument can cope with the natural changes in humidity and temperature and ensures a completely stable instrument when built.

Woods

The woods used in my instruments have been chosen as a result of many years’ experimentation by instrument makers past and present. They are not random choices but are used to provide the specific qualities required of a particular instrument. The woods that we choose for your instrument will be the ones most appropriate for the sound, tone and projection that you are trying to achieve. I buy timber that is quarter sawn with a straight and even grain and it is stacked and seasoned for a number of years in a stable and dry environment before use.

Now, describing the tonal qualities of a particular piece of wood is a very subjective thing, different people hear different things. So below I have listed the most common woods that I use for the soundboards and back / sides and a generalisation of the qualities they can bring to an instrument.

Soundboard

In any acoustic musical instrument, the soundboard is the one component that really has to work hard! It has to be able to support the compression force from the strings and transmit the vibrations from the strings through the bridge into the sound that you hear. Most of the tone and volume is generated from the top. There are three main choices of woods that I use for instrument tops, European Spruce also known as Swiss Pine, Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar. I make most of my instruments with European Spruce due to its overall power, projection and tonal qualities. However, both Sitka Spruce and Cedar have their own particular characteristics, and both should definitely be considered.

European Spruce

Creamy white in colour with a lovely even grain pattern. Great projection and vibrancy with good tonal clarity and balance. There is an even warmth to the tone and it has great sustain.

Sitka Spruce

Darker in colour with a lovely orangey brown hue, straight even grain. Very responsive with a clear open tone and great clarity. Good power and projection and sustain.

Western Red Cedar

Beautiful rich and dark orange colour with very straight even grain. Softer than the other Spruces and less powerful, it has a clear sweet bright tone, rich mids and warm bass.

Back and Sides

The back and sides of a bouzouki with the soundboard complete the body. While the soundboard generates the majority of the tone and voice of the instrument, the back and sides and the back in particular provide the complexity and colour to the tone. The density of the wood used for the back and sides and its ability to reflect the vibrations from the top will have its own influence on the tonal character of the instrument. For my instruments I favour Indian rosewood. It is a dense and resonant wood and imparts a richness and warmth to the tone of the instrument. I also use Maple and Mahogany, two lovely tonewoods which add their own colour and character.

 

Indian Rosewood

Wonderful colours of rich browns and purples with a striking grain pattern. Indian Rosewood is a hard and dense wood and is the ideal wood for the back and sides. Very resonant with great sustain, rich warm tonal colour and clarity with complex overtones.

Brazilian Mahogany

Deep rich reddish brown in colour, Mahogany is a stiff hard and quite open grained wood. Tonally Mahogany is very resonant and has a ring and clarity with a strong midrange and plenty of projection.

Maple

Creamy ivory in colour and often, as seen here, with a lovely figuring and flame. Maple is a dense hard close grained wood making for a bright and loud instrument with a tight clear and focused tone.

Neck, Fingerboard and Bridge

An Irish bouzouki neck is by its nature long and thin. This makes the material choice for this component really important. It has to be light in weight, but also stiff, strong and above all stable. Only a few woods can tick all of these boxes. I find that Brazilian Mahogany is the best wood. Light in weight, very stable and strong it is the ideal wood. It is also dense, really important for a good sustain. Maple although heavier and denser than Mahogany is also a great wood to use.

Fingerboards are made from Ebony, a dense and durable black wood, it is the ideal choice for resisting wear and tear and also adding mass and stiffness to the neck.

The bridge is an incredibly important component in a bouzouki. Its purpose along with the bone saddle is to support the strings at the correct height above the soundboard and also to transfer the vibrations of the strings into the body with no loss of energy. Ebony is the best wood to use.

Finishes

I finish all of my instruments using an Acid Catalyst two pack compliant spray lacquer with a 20% sheen. This is an incredibly tough finish and is ideal for use on acoustic musical instruments. I don’t use grain filler or sanding sealer or any other product to fill or seal the wood as this can have a detrimental effect on the tone. If you would prefer to have a more traditional high gloss finish I can provide this at an extra cost. Please contact me for a full price list.

Pickups

I get asked to fit pickups to most of the instruments I build. Essentially there are two types: Active,which has on-board circuitry requiring a battery, or Passive, which has no circuitry and therefore doesn’t need a battery. I like to use either the Headway HE5 Active under saddle unit or the K&K Mini Pure passive system. Both superb reliable pickups which give a rich authentic reproduction of the instrument.

CITES

It’s a sad fact that some of the woods traditionally used in the construction of musical instruments are now becoming endangered and consequentially their use is being restricted and controlled.

My stocks of wood have been purchased prior to CITES restrictions and can be exported anywhere outside of the EU with the required CITES documentation. However as more woods are being added to the endangered list every year I am now looking into suitable alternatives.

Currently, there is a CITES exemption for instrument makers, so no permit is required.