MENTORS AND FRIENDS.
Making or constructing a guitar is to a person with average woodworking skills not a difficult task. Making a guitar with fantastic sonority and with the Bass ,Midrange and Treble beautifully balanced, which has the ability to project across a concert hall and which to the player is a dream to work with, and practice on , is a whole different story. This was made very clear to me at the 1997 Healdsburg guitar show where I was exhibiting… I was fortunate to be able to try out more than 120 guitars, all looked amazing, ONLY 10% had a good sound and playability. As a guitar Maker and player of many years experience I wish to honour a few people who have helped me to be one of the best in the world.
In my work as an inlay artist / storyteller, I have been well assisted by wonderful artists.
For me getting the story together is not always easy. It’s the story that can be inlaid. Here Tracey Novick has been fantastic. Her deep sensitivity and ability to create a picture out of the box has been an immense help in the last 20 years.
Fiona Almeleh, for opening up my mind to the immense possibilities that exist using a dremel tool, and coloured sand
Sue Beattie….for her work and time in doing the flowers on the romantica.
Matthew Rice (Niow Casimi guitars) who started with me many years ago learning to do repair and guitar making, but his real talent has been in his artistry, conceptualisation skills, and ability to not only draw but engrave and inlay as well.
Who more recently did the elephant on the Africa story guitar.
Guitar Maker extraordinaire.
In late 1999 I received a call from an old friend, and school teacher Saul Chanerring who was a master at the waldorf School in Constantia, Cape town.He said that he had a very talented young student , Matthias Roux who wanted to make a guitar in his gap year. In the waldorf curriculum you get one year free before your final matric to take on a big project. Like rebuild a car. make a guitar. learn to fly a plane etc.
As I had already had little success with apprentices i was a little trepidatious, but said to Saul , sure let me meet him and his parents .They contacted me and came along with some of his work to date.I could see that he had a real talent with wood work ,as well as drawing. His projects were neat ,and very well executed. I was impressed by his earnest ,and geniune desire to make a guitar.
He left little doubt in my mind that he was a worker. this proved to be true on all levels.Matt spent many months in my studio.He was totally committed , and very talented. He completed a great guitar, and after that i offered him a position with Maingard guitars full time.
His attention to detail is amazing. his talent is for real.He has been blessed with great hands, a cheerful outlook on life ,and he was my right hand man for almost 12 years.
He never watched the clock, and was and still is super accurate in all his work. In that time he assembled some 200 guitars , maby more I am not sure. We parted company in 2011 when I went back solo ,and Matt with his friend Matthew Rice (,Also a former apprentice of mine,) started up Casimi guitars.
One look at their web site ,and you know you are looking at the next generation of high end guitar makers. They are already considered some of the best young, and emerging makers on the planet.
I am extremely proud of his accomplishments , and very grateful for the guitars we made together.
In my journey of guitar making starting back in 1972 I have met and been mentored by some wonderful human beings. Before I even began to make guitars way back in the 60’s my mentor was Ron Stabbins, from the UK (Master Cabinet Maker and carver) whose wife Sylvia, was a friend of my mothers, (they went to school together on horseback).
Ron and Sylvia Stabbins lived out in the country, a two hour drive away from where we lived in Durban, Natal, South Africa. We only saw them once or twice a year on a Sunday. Now Ron, had his wood work shop attached to the house, (as I too have always done) and it’s the memory of the the feeling of Ron’s workshop pulling me, that I recall, I could almost not stop myself from walking in there. As a small boy, I remember I would stand there in the middle of his silent workshop… I would then turn slowly around, and around, taking in the stacks of wood piled against the wall, looking at the veneers, the hot glue pot at the end of his bench, the grandfather clocks, chairs and tables complete and incomplete, the planes, chisels, and other tools, the wood shavings swept into the corner (whilst the adults drank tea and talked).
It was a fairy tale feeling I never seemed to get enough of. The smell of the wood (it happens to folk in my workshop and still to me,) the pungent aroma, and mystery places of cedar, teak, and other exotics spoke to me. I think that’s where it all began for me, and I recall dreaming of the possibility of one day working there. That one day arrived 30 years later (one cannot place time restraints on one’s intentions). And I apprenticed to Ron, his only apprentice. What a treat that was, and I could fill many pages on that adventure, suffice to say that Ron’s skill, passion to work, patience and steady hand guide me to this day. He had a way of finishing every job by saying, ” You see, Marc, No magic”
Thank you Ron, my friend, you validated me, you gave me real self worth, you trusted me with precious wood (I now trust others) and equipped me with a real yardstick to measure myself against.
The next event in my journey of guitar making brought me into contact with Richard Hoover and Bruce Ross of Santa Cruz guitar company. The year was 1978, I was returned from trips and studies in Spain Europe and India, and had started to repair guitars in Cape-Town, South Africa.
It soon became apparent to me that there was a lot more to guitar and instrument repairs than meets the eye, and I began to source information on guitar making and repair. Books and such like were very scarce on the subject, and fortunately or as fate would have it, I came across an article in Frets magazine about Santa Cruz guitars and wrote to them, detailing my needs and asking for advice. Richard Hoover replied, (I still have the letter of drawings and explanations) and that was the beginning of a most wonderful friendship and adventure.
On the strength of his letter and encouraging words I, together with my wife Karen and young child Nathan of four flew to Santa Cruz, rented a house and spent one of the most productive years of my life in their apprentice shop program, learning from Richard Hoover and Bruce Ross. I had already made three guitars and was adept at woodwork and basic repairs, they not only taught me an enormous amount, but they helped me to bypass what would have required many years on the bench, by myself, to learn.
Richard was and still is to this day unstinting in his help and support. Nothing was or is too much for him. He is patience personified and a great craftsman, guitar maker, inlay artist and visionary. He has helped me to connect up with agents to sell my work, he has phoned and given testimonials on my behalf, and honestly if not for him, I am not sure how long I would have survived as a guitar maker, and alternative worker, in the socio economic scheme of the current 8 to 5 work syndrome nightmare, facing most breadwinners today. When I am in Santa Cruz it is with him and his lovely wife Beth that I stay. He is still a massive support to me in his first world country, and I am truly blessed to have met him. He is a fine example of a guitar maker and friend.
Thank you Richard, for always going the extra mile.
1985: I have returned from Santa Cruz and have set up a business repairing and making steel string guitars, in Scarborough, Cape Town, South Africa. I am starting to get requests for classical guitars and my first attempts with the help of the Stanley Doubtfire book are fairly adequate, but it is obvious to me that the classical guitar is another beast to achieve a good sound with.
At about this time I was also given a book as a gift, The Fine Guitar by Jose Oribe. I took one look through it and realized that his man, in my judgement set the standard in classical guitars as a maker. On my bench I had previous to this repaired Ramirez, Bernabe, Contreras, Matsuoka, and other classical guitars, but the Oribe called out to me, and from his books and pictures I felt here was the right man to help and guide me to achieve a superb classic concert sound. On a return visit to the USA, I phoned Mr Oribe and he invited me to visit.
I was met at the door by a man almost from a bygone era, a craftsman, musician and gentlemen, with twinkling, bright eyes. I felt like I had come home walking into his spotless studio, talking to him and meeting his wonderful wife, Juanita. He, like Richard Hoover filled my cup to over-flowing, he introduced me to quality tops, backs and sides and gave freely of his contacts, but more importantly he guided me with his advice even from twenty thousand miles away over the phone. A man of passion, no nonsense and a perfectionist in his work. With his help and guidance I was able to produce a quality concert classical guitar within 10 years. To this day I use a variation of his pattern with his blessing, something that took him many years and late nights perfecting. He allowed me to read and discuss with him his copious notes and was never too tired or busy to help me. I am indebted to him for helping me get to a place in my guitar making career that would have taken many years more on my own.
Thank you Jose and Juanita for making me feel so welcome ,and for your continuing Inspiration.
Meeting and enjoying the company of these people in my life has been great. Their open door policy with me, no fear, no secrets, no magic, just dedication and a passion of the work of guitar making has helped me to be a better person and craftsman. I try to pass on what they have taught me, and what I have learnt by hard work and dedication to my craft these past 30 years.
My web page would not be complete without thanking them for helping me when I asked for it.
Ron, Richard and Jose I can honestly say have been a major influence and support in my journey as a guitar maker. No less important however is a list of others whom I wish to acknowledge.
A good friend and neighbour. I spent a year with Brian making a violin in 1984. Brian is a professional and gifted violin maker. I felt and still do that a prerequisite to making guitars is to have made and understand the carving, varnishing, tone techniques, and construction of the violin and Cello family.
In my journey I have also spent time with John Monteleon, some weeks with Jimmy De Aquisto before he died, Jeff Traugott, Kevin Ryan, and many more. I love the fact that each time I meet a different guitar maker, I learn something new. As was once said to me… “If you learn something new every day it is not a day wasted”
THE TRAVELER IS THE JOURNEY
WHAT YOU SEE IS…….
NOT WHAT YOU SEE,
WHO YOU REALLY ARE.
TONY ELLIOTT – Master Photographer.
It was in 1989 that Tony approached me to take pictures of my guitars.
We met at the first major exhibition, that I was hosting, of my work, at the Baxter Concert Theatre in Cape Town South Africa, inspired by my good friend, musician and Graphics Artist Stephen Bromfield.
I had put on 5 shows featuring 9 of my guitars, and was using the top SA Steel String, Classical and Jazz players to showcase them.
When Tony approached me, I had been thinking of bringing out a brochure. The fact that he was a photographer was good. That he was taken with my work even better, and that he wanted to do some creative shots of my guitars for himself, was perfect… We agreed to meet.
That was the beginning of an ongoing wonderful friendship and time together.
He shot all the pictures for that first brochure in Black and White, then came a small colour brochure, then a bigger brochure and so on, shooting for all my advertising shots and my current latest advertising for acoustic Guitar and Fingerstyle magazine, styled by top South African Graphic Artist and Stylist, Ms Tracey Novick. firstname.lastname@example.org
Besides my travel pics (fixed and improved by Tony) most of the pictures on this web are Tony’s.
He has an incredible eye for shot angle, lighting, shadow, clarity, and minute detail, often lost to me. It amazes me how accurate and in focus his pictures are. One needs only to click on a picture and blow it up to see the quality. His web address is www.elliottphotography.co.za
Of course he is also a computer wizard, and after the shot will spend hours removing even the dust particles.
He is the kind of artist who not only dots his i’s and crosses his t’s, but also then takes them into Photoshop for sharpening, and a million other little tricks.
In the 80″s it was a 5″x4″ Sinar camera and black and white prints, then to colour prints and transparencies. Tony has been totally digital, with all it’s advantages, for over 8 years now, starting with a 5″x4″ scan back, and now working with a Nikon D1x.
He is a photographer who has worked the field, from high street weddings and portraits to, industrial, shop windows, catalogues, advertising ,the full gambit. What he has forgotten, I believe most still need to learn.
He was hugely responsible for the design of my web together with Dylan Goodwin my web master and computer doctor.
Nothing is too much trouble for him. He, like me, enjoys perfection in his art, and will go to all lengths, reshoots included, to get the best and right shot.
He has meticulously kept an archive of all my pictures to date and he has digitised those images shot on film. My archive of useful digital pics now stands at 506,and growing…
There is something very rewarding in looking back at one’s work, progress, growth, and visual sense of achievement.
I am totally indebted to Tony for his thoroughness and attention to detail, as well as the sound advice through the years, as my Guitars started to make an impression world wide .
I could not be where I am today without his great pictures contributing to my marketing.
But just in case you think it’s a perfect world, we have had some amazing experiences, from bulbs bursting next to a guitar, to a huge flash lamp nearly destroying an instrument.
This is a true story. We were at the end of a shoot of 3 guitars, the last guitar being a Mermaid Inlayed Head model. Top of the line Brazilian Rosewood back and sides, with all the bells and whistles.
The client was a representative for Chanel perfume in Switzerland, and was flying in especially to pick up his guitar, the next day.
The guitar was at floor level, to get good shots of the head.
Tony was pulling his big camera stand, with affixed camera, out of the way… A thin black sync cable caught the leg of one of the 6 flash lamp stands and we both stood and watched, rooted to where we were standing, as this big lamp went over. It seemed to arch out of the blackness of the ceiling, straight towards the guitar.
From where I was standing I thought that’s it, we’re buggered, it’s going to smash into the front of the instrument. Well… It missed by mere millimetres and with a mighty bang, flying glass, sparks and fizzes destroyed itself on the floor in front of the guitar. Not a mark on the instrument face. Unbelievable.
Further to this, the guitar was strung up to concert pitch, and as we looked at each other across the studio with wide disbelieving eyes, still unable to move, the guitar, still on its stand (a miracle), was droning an open chord sound, generated by the impact of this big lamp crashing in front of it. In the blacked out studio it felt that the Druids had arrived…
Time stood still (it does now as well, when I think about it) for what seemed like hours, and to this day I still cannot believe how close that guitar came to be match wood. Phew! We had a good relieved chuckle.
Thank you Tony, and I look forward to many more laughs, good advice and great photography.
I have been buying tools and parts from StuMac since the early 80’s. They never cease to amaze me, and are constantly bringing out new specialist tools of superb quality, perfectly suited to the various aspects of guitar making and restoration. I use their Sloane and Waverly machine heads exclusively. I thank them for their speedy service, great catalogue, and commitment to Luthiery.
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Chris Herrod , the manager, is an incredibly helpful person. When I have a specific request, he is always willing to go the extra mile. I have for 30 years been buying wood (tops, backs, and sides, neck-wood, finger boards, pearl etc) from them. Their quality and attention to detail is without compromise. Thanks for a comprehensive catalog and great tone wood.
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When Todd Taggart left Luthiers Mercantile he set up Allied Luthiery. Todd has been a good friend of mine since I began working with Santa Cruz guitars. His passion for wood and his joy in dealing with exotic timbers is evident. Todd has always been there with advice and superb wood when I’ve needed it.
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L R BAGGS.
Making a handmade Highend Acoustic guitar requires approximately 80 to 100 hours of labour, it makes sense that should one wish to use a pickup in the instrument that faithfully reproducers the sound. After trying many different systems, I have found the LR Baggs pickup systems to be one of the best for me .
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