I took up instrument making (lutherie) in the 1990’s after many years of journalism, making furniture and playing music.
Searching for a way to combine my two passions I came across David Freeman’s Timeless Instrument Making School in Saskatchewan, Canada. After two months at his school making instruments I returned to New Zealand and started building guitars and bouzoukis, as well as playing them on stage in several bands.
Slide instruments were later added to the catalog, a move inspired by the playing of David Lindley and by my father’s home built electric slide guitar dating from 1946. Over the years I have exhibited and played at many art and music festivals around New Zealand as well as the Healdsburg and Newport Guitar Festivals in the United States.After making around two hundred guitars, weissenborn style guitars, bouzoukis, citterns, mandolins and harps I find the allure of turning wood into sound undiminished.
While some parts are made en masse by myself each instrument is assembled one at a time on the workbench overlooking the vegetable garden outside. (I can keep up with the weeding while the glue dries) As parts are bent, shaped, tapped, carved, fitted and glued the instrument gradually takes on a life of its own until the exciting moment when its stringed voice is finally heard for the first time. At that point I can easily find an excuse to sit down in a sunny part of the workshop and play a few tunes, then a few more as the instrument gradually opens up. It’s a nice perk of the job. The other bonus is getting to correspond with so many musicians all over the world. Many of them send me their music, sometimes played on an instrument I have made.
A parallel career as a working musician has also led to a number of musical projects as a solo performer or with the bands Jessie James and the Outlaws, The Dunstan Rangers, Live Bait, Ballyscully, the Laura Collins Band, Capital Gospel Show, and of course Paddy Burgin and the Wooden Box Band. My songs and instrumentals can be found on half a dozen albums and I play regularly in and around Wellington at festivals, folk clubs, bars and other venues. Some of these albums are on my website and film footage can been seen on YouTube by just typing in my name. .
In the early 2000’s David Freeman and I started teaching a shortened version of his guitar making course in Wellington, New Zealand. Every two years we get a dozen students together for three weeks to build their own guitar. So far about seventy people from Belgium England, Australia and New Zealand have completed their own instruments in downtown Wellington. It’s a great way for us to pass on some of what we have learned and keep the craft of lutherie alive.
Gotta go now and get back to scraping, sanding and bending some guitar sides. Thanks for reading this, and please feel free to ask any questions.