A passion for playing guitars at an early age, combined with a love of wood learnt from my father, a bespoke cabinet maker, led me to become a guitar maker.
During the years 1980-83, I studied at the London College of Furniture, under the wonderful Herbert Schwarz. The fact that many of the finest makers and repairers working around the world today were taught by him, or inspired by his and his students’ work, shows the extent of his influence. I believe the modern British guitar making scene would not be so vibrant today without his unique input, though he was too modest to say such a thing.
I had additional tutoring from Tony Smith, and on historical guitars, from Stephen Barber, whose fine work with Sandi Harris can be seen at lutesandguitars.co.uk.
In 1983 I set up my own workshop in Nottingham specializing in 19th century guitars, the only maker specializing in this field at that time.
I have researched, and continue to research and document many instruments from around the world. I have worked on many public and private collections, including those at Edinburgh University, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Paris Conservatoire and the Metropolitan Museum in New York. In 1991 I received a grant by the British Council to study guitars in Russia, and spent many fascinating weeks in Moscow and St Petersburg studying collections and talking to makers there at a time when Russia, or the USSR, was not easily accessible to the rest of the world.
I have worked with many leading guitarists who perform 19th century music. I have written articles and lectured about period guitars, and have acted as a consultant for other makers and collectors interested in this period.
I began to shift my focus to modern guitar making in 1992 with my own concert guitars and started developing my ‘A Series Guitar’ with David Starobin. I have been making Hauser guitars for Julian Bream since 1995, and I have been working closely with John Williams developing systems for amplifying nylon string guitars. Most of my work schedule is now taken up with making my A Series guitars, with occasional work on historical guitars and special commissions.
Part of the Bream Wood Colection
A good stock of top quality timber is vital to any guitar maker. Here at Southwell Guitars I have from starting my career back in 1983 always been careful to build up a fine supply of timber. I have an excellent stock of European spruce, which was substantially added to a few years ago when Julian Bream gave me some 200 fantastic soundboards he had bought in the 1970’s with the help of David Rubio, he had been keeping them in his garage all this time. So I now have a superb stock of mainly German spruce all of which is at least 20 years old.
In addition to this I have a large selection of Brazilian and Indian rosewood, mahogany, maple, ebony and some native fruit woods and other exotic species.
I use traditional hide glues on all my guitars, for the sound quality it produces, for it’s proven longevity and for it’s practical properties in aiding repair work if ever needed.
My choice of varnish is an amber oil varnish that I make myself to an old recipe, which is a smelly and potentially explosive operation! It has a superb warm luster and excellent sound and wear qualities.
Gary making varnish.
The Glue Pot and kettle.
I have had the pleasure of making guitars for many wonderful musicians, including Julian Bream, Pat O’Brien, Leif Christensen and his wife Maria Kammerling, James Kline, Jacob Lindburg, Nigel North, Paul Simon, David Starobin, Sting, David Tanenbaum, Scott Tennant and John Williams, to name just a few of my more well-known clients. Such collaborations produce a fascinating exchange of ideas, which informs all of the guitars I produce.
Restoring a guitar for pop icon Sting.
Varnishing the back of a guitar.
I love guitars. I love listening to them,
playing them and most of all making them.
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