Connection and community – EGB Symposium 2017 – Vienna

It’s been a wonderful weekend at the European Guitar Builders symposium 2017 held in Vienna.
It was quite an experience on many levels.

If you’ve not heard of the EGB before, it was founded 5 years ago by president Michael Spalt, vice president Juha Ruokangas, Frank Diemel, Ulrich Teuffel, Fred Pons, Andreas Neubauer, director Tania Spalt, Emma Elftorp, , Jacques Carbonneaux, and Kora Junger. It was formed as an alliance of professional independent European luthiers, the community is dedicated to sharing knowledge, resources and experience in order to preserve and innovate the art and craft of guitar building in Europe as a vital part of our musical culture.

The EGB community has grown over the years and includes some of the very finest guitar makers anywhere in the world. It’s quite exceptional that within the community it is so focused on sharing and mutual encouragement; the goal being that together we are more than the sum of the parts. I love this philosophy both in this particular sense, but also on a larger social scale.

As an EGB member and Holy Grail Guitar show exhibitor, I have attended previous symposiums and thoroughly enjoyed them. This year was a little different as it was not directly before a Holy Grail show weekend as before. We were able to attend without the added pressure that comes with preparing for exhibiting at a show. I think this brought a more relaxed atmosphere to proceedings and gave us a chance to really spend some quality time with each other and to exchange ideas and information.

One theme running through this years symposium was how to personally and collectively navigate the ups and downs of being a luthier. We are lucky and grateful to be luthiers, but as many of you know it is not always the easiest job in the world for a variety of reasons, as goes for many creative pursuits.
We were joined by Adam Pearson, who you may know as the lead guitarist in Sisters of Mercy or from his time in DKT/MC5. Adam ran insightful workshops that highlighted some developmental psychology strategies to help the community and us as individuals to deal with the challenges facing the modern day craftsman and also strategies for communicating with our clients and really understanding their needs. It was very interesting and I think we all learned a lot from it. It certainly brought us even closer together as a community.

There were also some technical workshops and lectures over the weekend, such as information relating to all the new CITES and Lacey regulations about certain woods, a very comprehensive sanding and finishing lecture from Frank Diemel and Ulrich Teuffel, an introduction into new water borne finishing techniques from Hans Geerdink and a French polishing workshop with Adrian Lucas. All were incredibly interesting and full of useful and practical information.

I’d very much like to thank all those that gave presentations and contributed to the symposium, it was hugely appreciated.

Perhaps the center piece of this years symposium is the community build project.
In a bid to encourage the art of working together the EGB board came up with the concept of the community project which is a number of individual luthiers all working together on a single project. Sounds crazy? It is!

Three musicians have been selected to be the community project clients. They are all very talented young female artists. One for each category of instrument maker. So we have Jacky Bastek for the acoustic community build project, Julia Hofer for the bass community build project and Elena Todorova for the electric community build project. Between five or six luthiers in each group and one mission…. to create the clients dream guitar! This project will reach fruition at the 2018 Holy Grail Guitar Show in Berlin, and will feature performances from each artist using their new community built instruments. There is also a community youth build project featuring some of the EGB’s youngest budding luthiers. They are creating some great designs for instruments suitable for younger players. There will be lots more press about these amazing and unique projects as they unfold and you will be able to follow each of the projects throughout the process. Watch this space – https://www.facebook.com/egbcommunitybuild/ or http://www.europeanguitarbuilders.com/cb-projects/

The overall focus of this years symposium was to acknowledge our purpose as instrument makers, to connect to ourselves, each other and the very essence of the craft. The quest to deliver beauty into the world both through our instruments themselves and the music made with them. To many of us music is the fabric of life. We live in a world dictated by vibration. I like this quote from quantum physicist Michio Kaku – “What is the universe? The universe is a symphony of vibrating strings. We are nothing but melodies .”

So, as I arrive home from Vienna, one thing I can say for certain is there is a fantastic community of people out there who couldn’t be more dedicated to the craft of musical instrument making. The joy, passion and creativity in the community is alive and well and heading in some very exciting directions. Stay tuned.


 

A new golden age of guitar making?

 

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It’s being said that we are now in the midst of a new golden age of guitar making.

I’ve been involved in the guitar industry for 20 years now and during that time I’ve worked within different aspects of the industry. I used to work as a guitar specialist retail manager, a live touring technician and for the last 7 years as a full time professional luthier. I’ve seen a lot of guitars over the years, from entry level all the way up to bespoke hand built one-off masterpieces. And I can honestly say I don’t think there has ever been a better time to be looking to buy a guitar.

From the bottom up, if a Fender Squire or something similar is set up properly with a sensible action and good intonation, (best to buy from a knowledgeable retailer) you can do what you need to do on it. It’s a good platform for people starting out. When I worked in retail, I must have sold hundreds of them to eager kids who were desperate to get rocking. Some of them had already perfected the Pete Townsend windmill strumming before even getting a guitar!

The mid price is also full of good quality stuff for it’s respected price brackets, and if you are tinkerer, often these are good project guitars, suitable for upgrading or tweaking in someway perhaps. It can be fun and informative to play with changing out components. How much difference does a properly made bone nut make compared to a moulded plastic one? Or upgrading the pickups or the pots for example.

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Up until this point we are talking about mass produced factory made guitars. I’m not slighting that in anyway, as I said it serves a purpose and makes learning guitar available to almost anyone. I think the biggest challenges facing the modern guitar-making factories are not so much questions of quality any more, but of sustainability and ethical production. In a world of diminishing resources and on going environmental damage, this is a huge consideration for the musical instrument industry. We will all have to play a part, in where we are sourcing our materials and also in starting to change our perceptions of what woods we expect musical instruments to be made from. More on that later.

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As we reach the high end guitar market the landscape divides into two. On one hand we have the “custom shop” guitars made by the big brands and on the other hand we have a swathe of smaller makers building all manner of instruments.

I am not going to talk bad about the big guys. I’ve played and worked on some great Custom shop guitars from the big few. And they undoubtedly have a certain allure tied up with their history and artist associations. But it’s the smaller makers I particularly refer to when I speak of a new golden age of guitar making. There is a treasure trove of incredible talent out there.

Over the last 3 or 4 years I have got to know many more of my fellow small to medium builders. Both by becoming a member of the European Guitar Builders (EGB) Association and particularly from participating in the Holy Grail Guitar Show organised by the EGB.

If you are not familiar with the Holy Grail Guitar Show, it is a show organised by luthiers to create a perfect platform to showcase the art of the handmade guitar. All the luthiers must be present themselves, so the customer gets to directly interact and meet the makers. Also everybody gets the same exhibition space whether they make 10 guitars a year or 100. The ethos is, it is about promoting the whole community not just the individual.

Photo by Ivee guitars
Photo by Ivee guitars

That first year there were 115 exhibitors from 23 countries, I believe. The sheer quality of work on display was breath-taking. I’ve spent my whole life surrounded by guitars and I have never seen a collection of instruments like it. The variety of different approaches and choices of materials and styles was just incredible.

But also what struck me especially is what an amazing group of people this was to bring together.

The tireless work of the EGB staff to organise something like this for both, us the exhibitors and the public, shows their dedication to the cause. And all the other makers I have met were great people, all so enthusiastic and passionate about what they do. There was a sense of community bubbling excitedly under the surface that first year.

This years third edition of The Holy Grail Guitar Show is what prompted me to want to write something more about the subject of the handmade guitar and the new golden age of guitar-making I spoke of earlier.

This year there were 135 exhibitors I think, from 37 countries. Just at this one show that is 135 people minimum, who live and breathe building guitars. And in reality that’s probably not even scratching the surface. Trust me, this is not an occupation you choose if you just want to make money. It is often really hard for the smaller luthier to make even a simple living despite the quality of their work and the endless hours of dedication. So you can pretty much guarantee that if the person is doing a good quality of work that they are doing it with a huge amount of love involved.

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I recently read a beautiful book called “A Year of Marvellous Ways” by Sarah Winman. In the story, a baker (Wilfred) is teaching his apprentice (Peace) how to bake bread.

“He told her something he had never told anyone: That his secret ingredient was the life he had lived.“ “What do you mean? she said” “Wilfred leant in close and whispered , Everything goes into my bread. Names. Songs. Memories. Every batch comes out different to the next but what we are looking for is not consistency but excellence. You have to risk failure to achieve excellence”

I thought it a poignant paragraph. And it paints a picture of what goes into your luthier-made guitar. A person, a soul, a character. Good days, bad days, real emotions, the old cliché of blood, sweat and tears.

The guitars being lovingly made out there are so much more than just another guitar, they are an expression of creativity and ingenuity but also of human endeavour. It takes a lot of unseen courage for anyone in the creative sphere to try and carve out a living. Every one of them has my admiration.

That’s where the power of the community comes in. Now when us luthiers all get together it feels like maybe we are part of something much bigger than just ourselves. This handmade guitar movement is well underway. The collective creativity and willingness to share knowledge with each other will absolutely no doubt have a positive effect on all our instrument building. We probably are all already building better guitars because of it.

Jens Ritter, Nik Huber, Juha Ruokangas and Uli Tueffel
Jens Ritter, Nik Huber, Juha Ruokangas and Uli Tueffel – A special guitar exchange between friends.

I do feel there is a growing sense in general consumerism that bigger is not always better. In certain markets, people are becoming more conscious of the value of shopping with and supporting independent businesses. And I think this is starting to translate more to the high-end guitar market also.

People are looking further beyond the big brands and are discovering a wealth of absolutely amazing talent out there. You can find someone building almost any style of guitar you can imagine, to a very high quality. Someone who you can interact with, with who you can maybe share your ideas about what you need from your instrument. There has never been a time in history where so many talented people are building such an array of instruments to such a high level. It really is magical.

Photo by Ivee guitars – Gennaro Serra Di Cassano, Seth Baccus, Kaz Goto and Ivan Mulia

As I mentioned earlier, when talking about the challenges facing the guitar factories and the ethical and sustainability considerations, so it is also true of the smaller maker. Certain traditional “tone woods” are not always available or possibly not of the same quality as previously available in years gone by. There are also new regulations coming in this year with regards to the movement of certain woods. So the onus is on us, both the makers and the public to get behind the idea of alternative woods and sustainably sourced and certified woods if using tropical.

One highlight at the Holy Grail show this year was called the local wood challenge. Luthiers were invited to build guitars using only woods local to their location. I unfortunately couldn’t participate this year but I went to the presentation and the results were fantastic. Some really stunning and unique woods crafted into these beautiful instruments. It proved beyond doubt that you can build a great sounding guitar out of a huge variety of woods. It was a great success and a talking point. It will be part of the ongoing shows with even more of the luthiers sure to participate. I know I will be. And lots of great work is being done by the Leonardo guitar research project among others, into the use of non-tropical woods. It feels like it is moving in the right direction, and there are some very motivated people looking to bring it to the fore.

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I think there is a movement happening in the guitar world. To me it feels quite powerful. The sense of community among luthiers is greater than ever and so mutually encouraging and inspiring, it will as I said before only lead to better guitars all round.

With our modern communication systems and social media obsessions it serves to strengthen the connection between makers and players also. It opens up once hidden workshops. Being able to share photos and insights into what goes on during the building process is fascinating and is gaining huge interest from players, collectors and the general public. You can literally follow each step of your bespoke build as it unfolds.

After immersing myself in not only my own guitar building, but seeing what my colleagues are doing also, I urge you to take the time when making your next serious guitar purchase to seek out an artisan or group of artisans. People who’s lives are dedicated to building you the best instruments they possibly can. People who are sharing part of their soul, who will fill your guitar with personality and life.

This truly is a new golden age of guitar-making; we are very lucky to be living, playing and making during it. I feel privileged for one.

Nautilus Hollowbody
Nautilus Hollowbody

The Guitar Magazine – Nautilus review

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The new issue of The Guitar Magazine is out today and includes a very exciting review of a slightly different Nautilus Classic!

I recently met up with The guitar and bass magazine’s editor Chris Vinnicombe in Berlin at the holy grail guitar show, and was pleased to show him the guitars I had built for the show. We agreed it would be nice to do a full magazine review of a Nautilus.
I decided to send him this particular guitar because I was very excited about the tone of using swamp ash for the body wood on this classic, which would usually otherwise be a traditional Honduras Mahogany.
As we know mahogany is becoming scarcer and scarcer, and I have always loved the sound of swamp ash when used as it is most traditionally, in a bolt on guitar with single coils. So I thought lets give it a go with a set neck and a pair of humbuckers. And boy am I glad I did.

Swamp Ash has a very resonant characteristic naturally. It’s usually light weight, and when you tap it or knock it sounds very alive. That’s a pretty good place to start.

In this Nautilus set neck format, the Ash contributes to a very open and airy tone, it brings a fast attack to the notes but also and this caught me a little by surprise I’ll admit, it is also incredibly warm sounding. You can very comfortably go all the way from chiming cleans to thick, creamy lead sounds. Anway I won’t waffle on about it any more! You should read the review and hear what Chris has to say about it……

Thanks to The Guitar and Bass magazine for the support and for the fantastic 9/10 review and a Guitar choice award. I’m honoured.
Well worth picking up a copy or a subscription, it’s a great magazine, full of interesting content about all aspects of these things with strings we all love so much.

I’ll leave you with this quote –
“Seth Baccus’ love for his craft translates into a rare attention to detail, but we’re not talking about soulless perfection: there is a warm heart beating in the Nautilus and it’s a guitar that is as inspiring as it is toneful. It also has one of our favourite necks of the year and despite the undoubtedly bling-y boutique vibe of the rippling flame top and high gloss polyurethane finish, this still feels like a bona fide players guitar and no ornament- musically it opens doors and no mistake.”

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Customer feedback – Nautilus Hollowbody

I recently asked a few of my customers if they wouldn’t mind saying a few words about their Seth Baccus guitar/s. It’s been great to hear peoples experiences and how they are bonding with their instruments.

Here is a little note sent in from Hans Sundstrom in the U.S.A about his Nautilus Hollowbody –

Nautilus Hollowbody
Nautilus Hollowbody

 

I first saw Seth’s guitars at the Holy Grail Guitar show in 2015. I was immediately taken by the quality of the build and the finish details. I saw his gold top and tried it out. The feel was amazing, and how the heel of the neck is carved allowed me to reach the high notes with ease as compared to my Les Paul or even my Strat.

I returned last year and saw the Nautilus Hollowbodies he was introducing. Again I was blown away. There was one I could not put down and kept trying it out. The neck shape, finish and warm tone sold me on the guitar. I must say that the neck shape and playability is by far the best for me personally out of all my guitars, a place previously held by my 1963 Epiphone Casino. I purchased the guitar as I knew I had found one that was a true ‘fit’ for me.

Nautilus Hollowbody
Nautilus Hollowbody

I highly recommend Seth’s guitars as true quality instruments, with high end woods and components crafted to be some of the finest instruments I have seen anywhere in the world. On top if it I found Seth himself to be a pleasure to deal and interact with, and I can tell he loves his craft and his creations.”

Thank you for the kind words Hans! I am glad to hear you found the grail!

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Holy Grail Guitar Show 2016

So 2016 has flown by at warp speed and already it was time for the Holy Grail Guitar show in Berlin. This really is such a fantastic exhibition. Organised by luthiers in order to bring the best out in their fellow luthiers. It is the most amazing collection of quality handmade guitars you will ever see anywhere in the world. This year there were 135 luthiers from 36 countries exhibiting, and I was honoured to be participating again.

I specially built four “holy” guitars for this years show including two of the new Nautilus Standard flat top guitars,a Nautilus Modern with a light weight swamp ash body and a Special Reserve Nautilus Hollowbody. I added a Nautilus classic in 59 burst to complete the display.

Holy Grail 2016

The show was really well attended by the public and was such good fun to be involved in.
One of my personal highlights this year was the Luthiers symposium that we have for the two days before the show. The symposium is a collection of lectures and open panel discussions especially aimed at us luthiers. They are really educational and help us to all share information and ideas with each other, all with the common goal of promoting the art of the handmade guitar. I was invited to be part of one of the panel discussions during the symposium this year. The topic was how to make a living as a luthier. I was joined on the panel by some of the most respected luthiers in the world including – Nik Huber, Jason Kostal, Alan Cringean, Chris Larkin, Nigel Forster and Andy Manson. It was fascinating to hear everybody’s different approaches and stories from along the way on their journey. It was a great experience.

panel

There is lots of really great content about the show on the website – http://www.holygrailguitarshow.com/ and all the social media pages.

I’m already looking forward to the next edition in 2018. It’s such an inspiring experience to see so many people building so many amazing guitars. I honestly believe there has never been a better time in history to buy a guitar than right now, we are certainly living in a golden age of lutherie. As I said before I am honoured to be part of it all, and to be a slave to these things with strings!

photo by Carolyn Amanda photography
photo by Carolyn Amanda photography
Seth and Nik Huber - HGGS 2016
Seth and Nik Huber – HGGS 2016
Seth and Mike Cahen
Seth and Mike Cahen

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Holy Grail Guitar Show 2015 – Berlin

Holy Grail Show 2015

A very busy 2015 was rounded off by exhibiting at the Holy Grail Guitar show in Berlin.

The show is organised by the European Guitar Builders association, with the primary focus on promoting the art of the hand crafted guitar.

It is a very special show, I’ve been lucky enough to exhibit both years it has been running and in all my years in the guitar industry I have never seen such an amazing collection of instruments under one roof.

This year was again a huge success, both collectively for everyone and also personally for me. I had a great time meeting lots of new people and spending some time with my guitar making cohorts. I was also lucky enough to have Bare Knuckle Pickups MD and founder Tim Mills and session and touring player Mike Cahen perform a Seth Baccus Guitars demo concert.

If you didn’t make it this time I highly recommend keeping a slot free for this years show.