Please note: due to changes in regulations and constant design developments, we sometimes need to change details such as binding and inlay materials.
I know what you are thinking, surely Roger isn't old enough? I admit I did have to check my birth certificate, and I'm afraid it's true. It's a shock.
We haven't managed to organise a party, but Mike and Sam English have taken on a massive task of recognition and celebration. I'm not going to say much about it at the moment, because it's not at all clear how it's all going to work out. It's ambitious. But I can say this. So far, we have video contributions from Gordon Giltrap, Martin Carthy, Eric Bibb, Megan Henwood and Pete Townshend. A very excellent start. There are a lot more to come.
Other video dates are pencilled in with different grades of pencil to fit in with conflicting schedules and my energy levels. Everyone is very keen and being very helpful. I'll just say that all of the artists I've spoken to are beautiful, talented, generous, wonderful people who will all be rewarded handsomely. Somehow. One day. I promise. Possiby beer will be involved. Probably you buying.
There will be more pictures as the project moves forward.
I took Gordon to "my" pub, just introducing him as "my friend Gordon". After shaking hands with him, the landlady said “you've got guitarist's hands”. Very perceptive people, landladies, but I've no idea how she knew what guitarist's hands feel like, I didn’t dare ask.
I'm trying to think of a collective noun for a group of MBEs. Three of the old guard came together to get a rather sweet picture with our badges. Martin is also holding Norma's medal, which of course is rather grander than any of ours.
A nice little hornpipe from Tris. He has this traditional piece on his Patreon site, with full tab and play along track for you to learn with utmost ease. In fact, we might have a lot of little hornpipes before long.
I doubt we'll be going to California any time soon, but we can dream. The dream would be of the open spaces, the ocean, sun, trees, fresh fruit, being English among a group of bikers riding Triumph motorcycles and speaking almost the same language. Driving on the wrong side of the road, getting stopped for speeding, nearly getting broadsided by a massive wagon just because I looked the wrong way. Boy, are those horns loud!
And the VERY expensive hotel where the bedrooms were deep in luxury, everything was gold, the towels were folded like Swans, but the guests were in dressing gowns and slippers and the cutlery and plates were plastic because the real stuff was all being stolen.
We loved it!
Sir Roger of the Exploding Porridge
Bruce and Marla are good friends of ours from San Francisco. Bruce has quite a collection of Fyldes, here he is playing his Orsino while Marla is playing a Single Malt Touchstone Mandolin. Bruce has found all his Fyldes in the USA, we’ve exported a lot over the years.
He started a recent email with "Dear Sir Roger of the exploding porridge", it's that sort of friendship, but I won't bother explaining what inspired that phrase. Bruce's comment on the song - “absolutely one of the silliest songs I have ever written: the full title is ‘The Ballad of the Self-Loathing Psychiatrist’. For the record, I do not identify with the narrator (at least consciously ...)”
We had a very enjoyable dinner with them when they were over here recently.
When we got home from that evening, I had this picture in my inbox.
Three unusual instruments at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto in California, in the shop for evaluation after the owner passed away. Gryphon just happens to be Bruce and Marla's local music shop and they had no idea about this. I do LOVE a good coincidence. Bruce is a psychiatrist, so we had a very interesting discussion the following day.
The fifteen string is unusual for all sorts of reasons, It's the only instrument we've ever made with a double soundboard. I might expand on this in a forthcoming newsletter, I don't have time now, I'm watching the cricket.
Seeing that photograph made me think it would be nice to show a few more of the unusual instruments we've made over recent years. I get bored easily and I need to keep Alex and Paul on their toes. After 50 years, I'm starting to think it's them keeping me on my toes. And yes, I can see my toes, thank you very much.
Link to photographs of our "unusual instruments" Or click on the Galleries button in the main menu for more images of our instruments.
I'm trying to build up a library of professional players to provide demo videos of each of our standard models, that way I can explain various things to a customer via email. I couldn't find a suitable one of the Alchemist, so I asked Ben. What a good idea that was, this video is excellent. Thanks Ben.
Ben's news - tickets are now available for next year’s Halsway Manor event. CLICK HERE
Then in September Ben is off to Germany and Netherlands and has new material coming soon. benwalkermusic.com
Another splendid looking production from Will. A limited collector’s edition of “The Botanist” on 7-inch Pink Vinyl, played on Will's new Tom Sands guitar.
It’s an honour to be able to support Will in anything he does, it's all rather special. His new guitar is rather nice as well.
This idea came about during discussions with a customer about sound ports in the side of a guitar. I'm not a fan, and I pointed out that there would inevitably be an effect on the natural resonance of the guitar body, the Helmholtz resonance.
Resonance is a vibration at a particular frequency, determined by the details of the “system” involved. In a mechanical system there is always some combination of a spring and a mass. In a guitar the spring is the compressible air inside the body, and the mass is the small amount of air that is being pushed in and out of the soundhole. Because the guitar body itself is a little "springy" and the amount of air being moved is rather undefined, these things are best investigated by experiment rather than mathematics.
That suits my mind set perfectly.
A simple example of what is happening is the traditional “jug”, where blowing across the neck opening sets up a vibration governed entirely by the size of the jug and the size of the hole in the neck. There will only be one natural frequency for each combination of those two factors.
So, what happens if we have an extra soundhole in a guitar? An extra neck on a jug?
It just so happens that I know a man, Paul Wilson, who makes jugs for a living (see March newsletter). He made me a special jug. With two holes. What fun.
Blowing across two holes at once or in quick succession was a little tricky so Paul and I cheated and used an airline. I think the results are clear enough. Two holes cause a higher natural frequency. That may seem a little counter intuitive, but a smaller hole restricts and slows the air movement, causing a significantly lower natural resonance. It's very obvious in bouzoukis, where the range of sizes from different makers varies so much, those with smaller soundholes are rich and mellow, larger soundholes are bright and penetrating.
Anybody requesting or making a guitar with a soundport should stop and think about the consequences.
I'm often asked to say more about little technical things.
This is something which I've been wanting to point out for quite a while. For some years now some guitar makers have been discussing something called "Q".
"Q" is a number relating to a resonating system, electronic or mechanical. It is the ratio between the energy stored in the vibration, compared to the energy being lost. A high Q means the system will have a very specific resonant frequency, if you try to impose a different frequency, it will not respond. Good examples would be a hunting horn, a triangle, the notes on a xylophone, tuning forks, pitch pipes. Devices that will only respond at one frequency.
I've seen some makers claim that Q is a measure of the musical quality of a particular piece of wood, I do wish they wouldn't. Who wants a guitar that only responds properly at one frequency?
In a jug, the energy can only be stored in the vibrating air and is very small. The damping - the energy lost - is high, any response dies away very quickly - a jug has a low "Q".
It's quite easy to impose a different frequency by forceful blowing and adding a second resonance from your mouth.
The video by Marc Bristol shows what's going on. First, the one natural resonance that is set up by blowing across the neck of the jug, then, forcing the jug to respond differently by more forceful "playing".
The acoustic guitar behaves in a similar way. It certainly has a natural resonance which colours every single note played upon it, but the only reason a guitar “works” is because it does NOT have a high Q value, it is intended to respond equally to every note.
I'm pretty sure Biréli doesn't play the same tune in the same way, twice.
I'm hoping to have one of these guitars to show at Ullapool, it is our anniversary after all, It’s 50/50 at the moment whether we'll manage it all by then.
We've had this guitar in for repair after Martin had a horrible accident involving a bus journey and a soft case. We don't do “other makes” repairs for many people. we restrict it to people named Martin or Richard.
Martin tells the story of this music in his introduction. The theme was written and played by Anton Karas on a zither in 1948. I don't know if Martin knows the other part of the story. When Anton came to record this, he needed new strings, and none were available in London. A young engineer named James Howe offered his services and made a whole set from scratch. That experience was the beginning of a business that became known as Rotosound Strings, now run by James' son Jason.
I've only ever been in a Rolls Royce once, when James took me to lunch at his country club. I’ve only been to a country club once, when James Howe took me to lunch in his Rolls Royce. I've only been to lunch once, when James Howe … ouch, what was that for?
The tune is fiendishly difficult by any standards, just look at those stretches, and at one time, Martin would sing at the same time, a song about America and all its little peculiarities.
This is Martin's original “Old Lady”, a 00018 that used to belong to Alexis Korner. I've had this guitar on my bench many times. I've refretted it, had the bridge off, patched the sides, taken the back off twice and completely refinished it with French polish.
I've told this story before, but it's a good one. Late at night in 1971 I was fitting it with Barcus Berry Hot Dots in my garage in Hythe, and I managed to get my arm right inside, elbow included. I was stuck. The guitar would not fit under my pillow and I couldn’t sleep, I was beginning to panic, thinking that I might have to smash the guitar to get my arm out.
When I told Martin the next day, he said “I would have smashed you”. Seems like such a gentle guy, doesn't he?
I did eventually extricate myself using a crisp packet, you can think about that for yourselves. One of the photos above shows me thinking of trying it again, but I didn't have any crisp packets to hand, and my arm is fatter now. So, I didn't.
Me, immortalised by Tony Husband
This is an abridged version of the one-hour BBC TV documentary, which you can buy on DVD if you are quick. I'll just mention that I make a little appearance in the full version Despite that, you should still buy it.
Nic's website and shop will be closing soon. If you don't have his CD's or the DVD of the BBC documentary, don't delay. He is offering to sign them, so if your existing copies are not signed, buy new ones. Now.
Peter's Fylde guitar sold at auction a few weeks ago, of course Remi was given a preview of everything. This guitar is basically an Egyptian, but very much a one off, I don’t know how Peter came to be in possession of it, it wasn't made for him. It sold for £2304.
Peter's brass slide with three plectrums sold for £768. Maybe a lucky birthday present for somebody?
We've never been to the Minack, heard all about it and would love to go, it looks quite glorious, and there is something special about music and theatre outdoors. I think all my favourite artists have played there, but it's such a long way away from us.
More music played outside; the guitar sounds rather nice. I didn't think it could have been recorded in the garden, so I asked Richard how it was done. He did tell me, but swore me to secrecy and added this: "Most people who’ve commented don’t appear to have noticed the lack of a visible microphone.”
He also added that he considered it quite an honour to be included in the newsletter
I think this is lovely. The guitar and voice being so delicate and sympathetic to each other. A great venue and video, it’s all explained in the video notes.
Amy and Alasdair don't have any music released yet but are hoping to record before the end of the year. It looks very promising to me.
This is where all our flowers have gone, feeding a whole family of Roe Deer. They are lawn mowers who don't actually eat the lawn, just everything else. Beautiful though. We have had a meeting and are trying to negotiate a peace treaty. It's not going too well.
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