Anda di halaman 1dari 181

NK Forster

Guitars

the blog 2006 - 2013

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

Table of Contents
2006

In Memoriam Keith Forster 1943 2006


nkforsterguitars 8

43

More Rio sets 44


Bending and joining sides

45

Indian Rosewood Model C

Rosettes 47

Arch Top Bouzouki

10

Another new Model no name yet though 48

Model C Cutaway 11

Fun in Cheltenham!

49

Model E 12

12 string goes home

50

Purflings

13

Work in progress: Rio Model B

51

New Model F 14

Work in progress:Rio Model F

52

Model F 15

Experimental Model C

53

Neck/Head Joint 16

Richard selects some timber

55

more Neck/Head joint

17

Russ picks up his Model F

56

yet more Neck/Head joint

18

Model A 19
Neck/Head Joint last part

20

Model J Guitar 21
Burgundy rosette, Indian Rio mix

22

Indian/Rio mix

23

Indian/Rio mix model C complete

24

New Model J 25
Happy Customer picks up his Model A

26

The English Heel 27

2007

2008

Different Dalbergias 58
Yellow Cows 59
Indian Model C for Japan

60

Goodbye Model J 61
Just for Damien 62
Another Model J

63

Fitting a bridge 64
Another experiment 65
Damian picks up his Camatillo Model B

66

Work in progress: Howe Orme and Rio D

67

Images for the new book

68
69


Model ES another new one!

29

How to order an instrument

Indian/Rio mix Model A

30

Work in progress 70

More Indian/Rio mix Model A

31

Panamanian Rosewood 71

More Model A

32

Buying Spruce in Germany

72

Model A continued

33

Bearclaw anyone?

73

Model A Nearly there

34

Work in progress trial run for the

74

Model G adjustable neck

35

Anniversary Model 74

Sunburst Model C

36

Panamanian Model C goes home

75

Model A all done

37

Adjustable neck IndianModel C

76

Indian/Rio mix 12 string Model F

38

Panamanian Rosewood Model C

77

Model A goes to her new home

39

Rio Model D 78

Making a back. Part 1.

40

New interview ! 79

Making a back part 2

41

Latest images for the book

86

Rio sets 42

Ullapool guitar festival

87

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

2011

Work in progress new mandolin

88

Model C in Panamanian Rosewood

89

Panamanian Rosewood Model J

90


2006 Model C cutaway

130

Work in progress Model S

91

Saddles!

131

work in progress guitar bouzouki

92

The journey of an idea I

132

An ideas journey II:a modern flat top guitar

133

An ideas journey:a fine archtop is born

134

A guitar bouzouki for Lisa

136

2009
India trip 2009 94
Model S pictures 95
Guitar Bouzouki 96
Maple Mandolin! 97

An ideas journey V new archtop guitar CHARLIE 137


An ideas journey IV:great jazz guitar playing

138

View from the hammock, Thailand 2011

139

A fine archtop guitar Oscar

140

Just for Duncan 98


FAQ 99

2012

New style Bouzouki

101

Work in progress a C and a S

102

A day at the Newark College guitar making course

142

Mandolinetto

103

Images for a new guitar making book?

143

Stripped down Model C

104

The guitar bouzouki that turned into a Les Paul

144

Work in progress: redwood and

105

Selmer Maccaferri inspired archtop...

146

cocobolo bouzouki 105


Not all guitars are equal!

106

Work in progress: guitar bouzouki

107

2013
India 2013

2010

148

149

STOLEN GUITAR BOUZOUKI

151

Winter 2013, Thailand

Thailand 2010 109

Another Howe Orme inspired guitar:

Japan 2010 110

Tom picks up his Model C Modern

152

intonation 111

Whats the best value handmade acoustic guitars?

153

Japanese Bamboo Art

112

Exclusive! Richard Dawson, and his new album,

Redwood Zouk with new design tailpiece

113

The Glass Trunk 155

Influences 1 Selmer guitar

114

Irish bouzouki? What about Isle of Man bouzouki?

Influences II Hermann Hauser I

116

Interview with Adam Rhodes, Barrule.

160

Influences III Shaker furniture

117

The flat top guitar that isnt a flat top

164

Influences IV Howe Orme Guitars

118

New interview with Guitar Connoisseur magazine

167

Work in progress Cocobolo Model B

119

Two new celtic bouzouki videos!

181

Influences V Stefan Sobell

120

Luthiers BBQ 25th July

121

On the bench new Celtic Mandolin

123

Work in progress:
cocobolo 10 string bouzouki 124
In memoriam: Jennifer Forster

125

1947-2009 125
New A model Mandolin

127

Nov 3, 2010

127

THE BOOK! 128

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

2006
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

nkforsterguitars
Feb 25, 2006

Well, how exciting! I intend to use this space to post pictures of my latest
work an online gallery. There will be pics and articles about construction
and new timber as well. How clever.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

Indian Rosewood Model C


Feb 25, 2006

This is my standard IndianModel CwithEuropean Spruce top and 1908 Cuban Mahogany neck.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

Arch Top Bouzouki


Feb 25, 2006

Here is a nice 8 string arch top Irish bouzouki, that now lives in Scotland.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

10

Model C Cutaway
Mar 3, 2006

This is a tastyModel Ccutaway inIndian rosewood and European spruce and


1908 Cuban mahogany. Nice eh?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

11

Model E
Mar 3, 2006

This is the latest addition to the range Model E. Made from plantation grown
Mahogany and Rosewood. A great no frills guitar with a warm sweet voice.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

12

Purflings
Mar 12, 2006

Purflings Click on the images to enlarge Some of my guitars like my Model D (third picture) really suit traditional Herringbone. This one also has nice
Maple binding.
I really like using rope purfling like a half herringbone. Here are two examples with dyed Birds Eye Maple. One green and one blue. The guitar with the
blue veneers also has double Rosewood bindings. It looks great.
At the top is my new Model F. It has very simple decoration, just blue Birds
Eye with black edges. Minimal and lovely.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

13

New Model F
May 10, 2006

At last! This model is a Spruce and Rosewood version of Model E. Its great,
loud, clear, and Im very happy with it.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

14

Model F
May 10, 2006

More pics of the Model F. Still cant get the hang of this camera. I can see a
eivening class coming on. Just played the guitar again today, and it sounds so
strong. I have changed the composition of the struts and the results are remarkable. The top is heavier than normal, which contradicts current theories,
but the guitar is louder and clearer and richer than any other Ive made. So
much for current thinking.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

15

Neck/Head Joint
Jun 8, 2006

This complicated joint was inspired by my Grandfathers old Selmer guitar


and by some fantastic old reclaimed Cuban Mahogany. The result is an extremly strong solid joint, that is also very attractive. The form follows the
function.
WARNING!! This is not meant as instruction for a amatuer maker. These cutters can cause serious harm. You have been warned!
The pics show the initial simple butt joint, which is then machined
away to form a half round mortise. A matching half round tenon is machined from more Cuban and shaped to fit the female half.
More to come

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

16

more Neck/Head joint


Jun 13, 2006

Complicated this the tenon is split to ensure a perfect fit, then glued in. After
trimming, a slot is routed for the truss rod. Next wings are added to the head.
More to come

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

17

yet more Neck/Head joint


Jun 19, 2006

Nearly there the head veneers are now glued one, one at a time.
The front one first then the head is ticknessed and the back veneer is glued on. After the glue dries, the fingerboard and head template are double taped on and the whole thing is routed to shape.
Sorry the images are not in the correct order this program puts them in
an order I cannot predict. But see if you can work it out for yourself eh?
When youve done that, scroll down to the very bottom picture in the entire
blog. Right to the bottom. This shows what this joint looks like when the neck
is carved and sprayed. Rather nice.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

18

Model A
Jun 25, 2006

English Sycamore, European Spruce, Honduras Mahogany. Loud and balanced. You can buy one if you like.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

19

Neck/Head Joint last part


Jun 28, 2006

Well, that took a while eh? Here are some pics of the neck in different stages
showing the holes being drilled for the machines, and the neck being carved
round from square. This is when that lovely rosewood dart appears on the
back of the neck. Both strong and bonny. This has become something of a
trade mark on my guitars, owners love it, so they all have it now, even if the
head is spliced in the conventional style. It really does add strength to the
neck which can suffer breaks quite easily.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

20

Model J Guitar
Jul 20, 2006

This is the body of my new Model J a DADGAD specific guitar. The body
is a full 17 1/2 wide to cope with those low notes, the scale length is to be
660mm, joining the body at the 12th fret to let that low D ring out without
having to resort to extra heavy strings. The bracing is of my new type, but
altered to cope with this extra wide body. The back and sides are Indian Rosewood, the top is Italian Spruce, the binding is Columbian Rosewood, similar
to Kingwood. Very pretty. Ill let you see it with the neck on next.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

21

Burgundy rosette, Indian Rio mix


Aug 10, 2006

Made for Mr D. Brown, a Scotsman in HongKong. I like it. shall tell you more
soon.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

22

Indian/Rio mix
Aug 15, 2006

Rio sides and a back of Indian Rosewood with a central piece of


Rio. A great compromise of sound, cost and stability. Dont ask me
why the sides should contribute so much to the sound. But they do.
Here are some pictures showing how I line the body the top linings are
kerfed, but the back linings are made from a long strip of ultra light Poplar. See how I mask off the back? This saves a lot of cleaning up later.
When complete, the interior of the body is sprayed to further aid stablity.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

23

Indian/Rio mix model C complete


Aug 16, 2006

Here is the finished article and what a beauty it is too! The sides are fancy figured Rio, the back dark Indian wings with a central stip of dark Rio. The rosette
has a lovely burgundy central band at the request of Mr Brown. Lucky chap.
The sound really does lie between the two timbers, leaning heavily towards
the Rio end of the scale with its deep dark bass and thick treble. But the mid
has the punch you often find in good Indian. A delicious and complex sound.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

24

New Model J
Sep 25, 2006

This one was designed with DADGAD tuning in mind. Long 660mm scale,
extra wide 17 1/2 lower bout to let that low D ring out. The saddle is intonated
for DADGAD and to crown it off, Gotoh 510s the best tuners you can get.
The soundboard is Italian Spruce, the back and sides Indian Rosewood. The super slim neck is flame 1908 vintage Cuban Mahogany. Fingerboard and bridge,
best Ebony. The frets I use now are a Brass alloy. Much harder than Nickel-Silver.
The sound is smooth, full and even, the bass came as a surprise
I expected it to be full, but it also has great warmth and power.
If you are a open tunings kind of player, this may well be the guitar for you.
Get in touch.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

25

Happy Customer picks up his Model A


Nov 19, 2006

What a happy chap! Andy Young ordered his 13frets to the body Sycamore
Model A shortly after we met at the London Guitar show in March this year.
He and his partner Terri came up to Newcastle to pick it up. We had a nice
time chatting and drinking tea, and playing. The three of them are all now
back in Berkshire, and I imagine Terri hasnt seen much of Andy or the guitar
since!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

26

The English Heel


Dec 3, 2006

Here are a few pics showing how I join the neck to the body. This is a wedged
bridal joint, and as far as I know no one else uses this for guitar making. I call
it the English heel.
What I like about it is its remarkable strength and stability and that the neck
extends into the body to around the 18th fret. On the downside, it is difficult
to make, time consuming and pretty difficult to reverse. But then my guitars
dont require neck resets.
A mortise is cut into the body and a corresponding tenon cut into the neck.
Great care needs to be taken to get your angles right, to ensure the neck points
down the middle of the body and the correct distance above the soundboard.
Tricky stuff. The golden rule is MEASURE TWICE, CUT ONCE.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

27

2007
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

28

Model ES another new one!


Jan 3, 2007

Happy New Year! Hope you are all in good health. Starting the year with
a plantation Mahogany and European Spruce model ES, build in the same
mold as the E and F. You can read more about her on the wbsite if you click
on the link. Sound samples on Myspace coming soon!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

29

Indian/Rio mix Model A

Mar 13, 2007

Here are a few shots of a little Indian/Rio mix Model A Im building for a nice
feller from Liverpool called Ken. He and his partner drove up to Newcastle on
a dark rainy day a few weeks back, and we had a nice time sorting out which
model and which timbers to go for.
The pictures show the Indian/Rio back in rough sawn form, the Rio sides
already bent and joined and the channels in the soundboard ready for the
rosette. Next is the rosette in place and the soundhole cut.
The way I work is to prepare as many components as early as possible to allow them to take whatever shape they naturally wish to. When they have sat
around for a few weeks the parts are glued together. This way stress in not
built into the instrument where it is not required. It takes more time, but the
results are worth it.
We will follow this little guitar through the whole process, including the conclusion of my special neck joint the English heel.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

30

More Indian/Rio mix Model A


Apr 2, 2007

The components have been sitting around in the warmth for a few weeks
so its time for the next part of the build the back is glued to the ribs, and
the sides reinforced. The back and sides are sprayed to inhibit moisture. The
soundboard is fitted and glued. The body is then routed to receive the bindings which I make from Rosewood and black and white veneer.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

31

More Model A
Apr 16, 2007

First image the bindings are shaped on the bending iron and are ready to be
glued into the routed channel.
Second and third cutting the purfling miters in the body. The purfling reflects in the highly polished chisel back to show the correct angle to cut. Tricky
this, if you get it wrong, its wrong for good. This is what Professor David Pye
called the workmanship of risk.
Lastly, here is the body after the masking tape has been removed. The bindings are scraped and sealed with glue to prevent the finish sinking into the
purfling. After the glue dries, the surfaces are scraped again.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

32

Model A continued
Apr 19, 2007

The bindings are sealed and scraped, and the neck is attached. Check out the
previous posts on the English Heel to see how I do this. The last part of this
job is securing the neck with tapered birch dowels, altogether four are glued
and hammered into place. Rock solid.
After this the truss rod is fitted and the fretboard is glued in place. This is a
very important stage, not only does the ebony have to be glued on in the correct place and manner with the correct amount of pressure, the humidity and
temperature also have to be right to avoid problems later on. When dry, the
neck is carved, the fingerboard is compound radiused, fretted and polished.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

33

Model A Nearly there


Apr 19, 2007

Here you can see the neck after it has been carved. The job is done by hand
with rasps, files chisels, scrapers and sandpaper. One of the Jobs I like best
is carving the heel I try to do them all a little different from one another, a
different profile or swell. My Grandfather Charlie Ferguson (who taught me
how to play) told me you could always tell the quality of a guitar by how well
the heel was carved, that it should be slender and elegant, and those words
stuck with me.
After this the body is scraped and sanded. The ebony bridge is made, the underneath shaped by hand to conform to the top of the guitar. The upper side
is routed for the wide saddle, the pin holes drilled and the rest of the shaping
is done by hand.
The bridges position is marked on the soundboard and masked off with tape
to be removed after the spayed finish has cured. This way the Ebony is glued
directly to the Spruce.
So the guitar is now off to Dave Wilsons at Haltwistle. We shall see her again
in about a month.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

34

Model G adjustable neck


Apr 22, 2007

Another experimental model this is the prototype of my latest addition tho


the range. The neck of this guitar is attached to the body on two pivot points
and one bolt. The idea comes from Stauffer, the Austrian luthier who trained
C.F. Matin, in the late 1800s. It will bring several new possibilities: The owner will be able to set his/her own action, great if you play slide and standard
style. And if I can get an appropriate case made you will be able to take the
instrument apart and carry it as hand luggage on flights. Great eh?
The body and neck are made from plantation grown timbers Mahogany and
Rosewood. The struts are European Spruce.
Rather than go through the who building process again, here are some of the
highlights!
The guitar is at the sprayers, and well see how successful the experiment is in
a few weeks.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

35

Sunburst Model C
May 3, 2007

Here is a rather nice Sycamore Model C Sunburst. I was so pleased with


the fantastic finishing job Dave Wilson did on this guitar, instead of taking the pics myself, I got someone in who knows what they are doing.
English Sycamore is similar to Maple, the timber is both stable and environmentally sound.
As for the most important issue: the sound is really woody and warm, more
so than any Rosewood guitar. Tonally it falls between the American Rock and
Sugar Maples.
There are some great clips of this guitar being played by a nice chap called
Nick Pride on YouTube, and Ive some footage of Tony McManus and Cklive
Carrol both playing it too, which Im still to upload.
I have plenty of sets of this stuff for those who are interested. It really suits my
work.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

36

Model A all done


May 20, 2007

Well, that took a while! The Indian/Rio mix Model A is all done, and what
a beauty. The sound is rich and smooth as I have come to expect from this
combination of timbers. For a small guitar like this, I think this is probably
better choice than going for full Rio. The Indian Rosewood adds a softness
that might otherwise be missing.
If there is time, Ill get Ian Stephenson to record a sound sample for me.
So, next step is for Ken to come up from Liverpool to collect her, or for me to
pop her in the post. Pity to see such a nice guitar go.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

37

Indian/Rio mix 12 string Model F


May 30, 2007

Well this should be great! The feller who owns the Sycamore Model B pictures
in my website came to me to build him a new 12 string to replace his Koa
Taylor. Now John was under the impression like many people that 12 strings
should be big, but this is the last thing they should be. How many 12 stings
have you played that were difficult to play or distorted or just plain bad guitars? Plenty I bet.
Flat top steel string guitars struggle to cope with the pull of 6 strings without
serious deformation, 12 strings even more so. The answer is in design all the
best 12 strings were smallish guitars -think of those pre war Stellas. The position of the bridge relative to the soundhole and tail block is very important
as is the clinching of the waist, the arching and thicknessing of thew soundboard.
So John is a trusting feller, he told me what he wanted, we settled on the Model F mold (about the size of a Martin 0-18) and Ive done my best to build him
a guitar to last a lifetime and sound and play just how he likes. Like one of
mine!
The guitar comes back from Dave Wilson spray shop in about 3 weeks and Ill
post some more images then.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

38

Model A goes to her new home


Jun 28, 2007

The Model A featured in the last few posts on the blog was picked up today
by her new owners. Ken and Caite came up from Liverpool and very pleased
they seemed too. The little Model A sounds really great and I hope Ken spends
many a happy hour picking away.
Hopefully there will be plenty of sound samples of the guitar in the years to
come as Ken is one of our best record producers, having engineered and produced recordings by Coldplay, Gomez, Feeder, Badly Drawn Boy, and loads
of others. Hes a nice feller too and puts up with me prattling on about whatever comes into me head. What a gent. Both of them!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

39

Making a back. Part 1.


Jun 29, 2007

When I began my apprenticeship this was the first job I was allowed to try
(after being taught how to make a cup of tea the way the boss liked it.) Ive
changed the method from how I was taught this way takes a little longer but
there is less mess to clean up later on in the build and less moisture is introduced during the glue up.
First the joined and thicknessed back is marked out for the struts. A European Spruce cross grained strip is glued to reinforce the purfling joins. The
strips are cut from over sized soundboards.
The back struts are cut from blocks of seasoned quarter sawn Italian Spruce.
They are shaped using a router and a jig. They are then thicknessed and sanded according to how stiff the wood is and which poistion on the back they
take. Over the years I have learned how to find the correct balance between
stiffness and flexibility. The back has to be stiff where I want it to be, and flexible where it needs to be.
When dry the cross grained strips are sanded to a gentle curve using a shaped
sanding block.
Next: Gluing and shaping the struts. Taking humidity into account.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

40

Making a back part 2


Jun 30, 2007

The next stage is to notch the cross grained Spruce reinforcement to take the
Spruce struts. The struts are glued in place using a Go -Bar deck and a former.
The former is shaped to match the curve of the struts. I mask off the back to
prevent glue from squeezing out onto the Rosewood. The glue is left for about
15 mins to go a little rubbery before removing the squeeze out with an old
chisel. By allowing it to go off a little it is easier to clean up without having to
introduce more moisture by cleaning up with a damp rag.
It is my belief that the lower the relative humidity (RH) the better when gluing struts to a top or back. Wood can stand expansion far better than contraction so I usually glue up around the 25%-35% mark. This is far lower than
most makers. 45% is considered the industry norm, but not in my shop. The
heating is on all the time as is the dehumidifier. Luckily my workshop is bone
dry and this part of the world rarely has spells of high humidity. But, when
the RH reaches 40% or more, work grinds to a halt. To glue up after this point
is asking for trouble in the future.
Once the glue has had time to dry the struts are shaped with a sharp chisel
and sanded smooth. The back is then put to one side for several weeks to
allow it to take on whatever shape it wishes. When it is glued to the ribs, the
ribs are cut and shaped to conform to the shape of the back. The back is NOT
pulled to meet the shape of the ribs. This is the exact opposite to how most
steel string guitars are made, and one of the contributing factors to my sound.
This all adds time and complication to the building process, but then I feel the
results are worth the extra effort and care.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

41

Rio sets
Jul 9, 2007

Here are are few Rio backs. First we have a couple of sets stamped Di Georgio
this company is one of the oldest guitar makers in Brazil and were major
importers of the timber in the 1960s. The quality of there timber varies, but
these sets are some of the best Ive ever seen. The one marked out for a dreadnought is fantastic in every way looks, grain, and rings like a bell. It has
wings to make up the width or a central dart could be used.
Below these are a couple of slate Rio sets. The camera has bleached them out
a little, but both sets are classic slate Rio flat, straight, perfectly quarter sawn
and sound like a sheet of metal when tapped.
Last is one of my many orange Rio sets. This stuff comes from the north of the
country and is spectacular stuff. The mass of this stuff is slightly less than that
of the dark slate and will make an excellent guitar.
I shall post some more pictures of some Rio sets later in the week.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

42

In Memoriam Keith Forster 1943 2006


Jul 9, 2007

It is a year tomorrow since my father passed away. He was a truly decent man
and I miss him. Me dad looked after us and when me mam got ill he looked
after her. We have much to thank him for. We were brought up in a house free
from prejudice and me father never passed judgment on the things I did he
allowed me to make my own decisions, my own mistakes and my own way in
life. He preferred to teach by example rather than give advice.
Me dad drove a bus when I was little, but had to give up work to look after
our mam when her multiple sclerosis became advanced. He was interested in
all sorts of things British Motorbikes, cars, and buses, and when we were
at school he used to paint in his spare time. But his real love was music. He
seemed to know pretty much everything about British and American music
of the 50s and 60s. There were always records playing in our house. Always.
Keith Forster died on 10th July 2006 from lung cancer. He was 62.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

43

More Rio sets


Jul 11, 2007

The top set is a Rio scantling this is some of the best timber I have, this stuff
is remarkable in every way. Below is a set of excellent reclaimed Rio. It has a
very clear strong tap tone. At the bottom is a set of Camatillo Rosewood a
Mexican Dalbergia, better than Cocobolo. Lovely wood, and is my favourite
of all the Rio alternatives.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

44

Bending and joining sides


Jul 26, 2007

Many luthiers choose to bend sides in a machine nowadays, but I still prefer
the traditional method a bending iron. This is one of the most enjoyable
jobs in guitar making and is one of the few skills particular to my trade. I love
the smell of the wood and it is pleasant to watch the guitar take shape.My results are equal to bending by machine, and I get a feel for what the timber is
capable of whilst Im working it it lets me know what sort of guitar it wants
to be.
The iron I use is one made by an English violin maker called David Stoddard.
This is the best of all the irons available better shaped and more robust than
the Ibex ones and less dangerous than the old Sydney Evans ones. You can see
it is well coated with resin from working with good Rosewood. Its always a
good sign when on the first bend that dozens of bubbles of thick resin pop out
of the timber and crystallize. This happens with only the best wood. One tip
though always sand the resin off the iron when working with paler woods
like Sycamore or Mahogany.
Next we see a Model B side which has been bent and placed in the mold. Im
planning a short video to post on YouTube to show how I bend sides.
The sides are trimmed to length using a picture framers guillotine and then
joined to the blocks. In this case the neck block is American Black Walnut and
the tailblock is Spruce. After years of experimenting with different woods for
these roles my conclusion is it dont matter much! As long as the neckblock is
rigid, stable and firm. Mahogany and Walnut are my favourites. For the tailblock it should be light and stable Basswood, Spruce and Mahogany are
all suitable.
The sides are glued to the blocks either in or out the mold. Some makes glue
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

45

them all together whilst in the mold this is usually to ensure that the neckblock is glued in at 90 to the center line. As long as your joints are cut accurately and the glue up correct, your blocks will point where they should.
The next stage is cleaning up the sides, fitting the linings then the back.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

46

Rosettes
Aug 3, 2007

Whilst admiring the work and skill of all the great inlay artists out there, when
it comes to decoration,my motto is less is more. To me there is nothing more
pleasing than good Spruce, Rosewood, Ebony and fine vintage Mahogany.
These materials are sufficient luxury. Decoration only detracts from them.
Whilst some would find this approach a little stifling, I enjoy working with
such a limited palette. Rosettes of concentric black and white lines, a row or
two of herringbone, crowsfoot or slant check purfling, with a splash of vibrant
colour. The fun is introducing small variations from the instrument before.
The customer receives a Rosette unique to their instrument and for a while,
my artistic urges are satisfied.
Here are a few recent rosettes. First up we have a small neat double rope and
red rosette for a Model F. The white in the rope is Maple and really catches
the light when the finish is applied. Stunning. I like to mix in dark colours as
it reminds me of smart, dignified old Spanish rosettes of the 1920s and 30s.
Next we have some crowsfoot. It has become hard to get reliable supplies
of this stuff, and is now too brittle to be used on my cutaways. Very pretty
though. And it looks nice here with the mix of blue, black and white.
The last two are of a really nice delicate German purfling, it consists of the
white lines and a gap. It goes really well with heavy black lines. On these two
guitars I have bound the soundholes too.
Rosettes are there to serve a purpose to seal the end grain around the soundhole. The decoration should be simple, yet beautiful.
A guitar that is not pleasant on the eye fails in one of its duties. It is my role as
a luthier to reward every sense of those who care to take a closer look.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

47

Another new Model no name yet


though
Sep 5, 2007

It has taken ages to get round to putting this little feller together. This is an experimental guitar, the neck joint is based on the old Stauffer guitars of the late
1800s the neck is attached to the body with a bolt and rests on two pivots.
The result is you can set your own action. Another useful feature is the access
to the upper frets over the body is greatly improved. But the real bonus is the
guitar is easy to take apart and put back together. Im having a case made so the
body goes in one half, the neck in the other. Small enough to carry onto most
aircraft as hand luggage this could prove to be a real help to many professional musicians. This is not a toy it is a serious, hand made, well designed guitar.
Working with such a limited amount of space brings up some interesting problems
because the guitar is normal 25.4 scale, the length of the head had to be reduced
to fit in the box, this took me towards a Banjo shaped head, and Banjo tuners
which also help get the guitar back in pitch quickly. Funny how things work out.
A Rosewood and Spruce version is due back from Dave Wilson soon, itll be sent off to the States to be recorded by Fishman
for there Aura system. This guitar kitted out with a Fishman Aura
could be what many of you regular air travelers are looking for!
This guitar could do with a catchy name, so far its been Model G, but if any of
you have any suggestions, drop me an email.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

48

Fun in Cheltenham!
Sep 10, 2007

Here is me and the lads On the left is Gareth Pearson, from Wales who
came down to entertain the crowds at the first Cheltenham Acoustic Guitar Show. He was brilliant infact he was so good even Ian Stephenson who came down with me from Newcastle was awe struck! Ians the
feller sitting down with his Rio Model B. Ian did a great job demonstrating for me on both days and he actually talks guitar even more fluently than me! Most people thought he was me and I was his friend!
The organisers are talking about booking Ian to run a Celtic guitar masterclass at next years festival, and so they should- hes superb.
The other picture is me playing(?) a nice lap steel made by A.J.Lucas hes a
great feller who makes all kinds of wonderful instruments. Seem quite happy
dont I ?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

49

12 string goes home


Sep 18, 2007

John came around yesterday to pickup his 12 string Model F. What


a guitar! The guitars has an Italian Sporuce top and Indian/Rio mix
back and sides. The sides and the central strip of the back are Rio,
the outer wings are Indian a great balance of warmth and depth.
I really think this is the ideal size for a 12 string the smaller body and larger bridge mean the guitar will not self destruct like most larger ones do.
Another happy customer!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

50

Work in progress: Rio Model B


Oct 19, 2007

Here is a lovely Indian Rosewood Model B which is nearly ready to go to her


new home in New Jersey. Im so pleased with the way my work is developing
both visually and acoustically. If anyone asked me what is the best combination of features on a guitar this is the one I would probably come up with a
12 fret cutaway. The bridge is in the right spot as far away from the soundhole as I can get it, the neck is shorter and stiffer, and the cutaway gives access
to the upper frets. What do you recon? Fancy one yourself?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

51

Work in progress:Rio Model F


Oct 19, 2007

Here is the Rio/Italian Spruce adjustable neck guitar I told you about. What
a guitar! This design really does work. The sound is as impressive as any of
my conventional instruments. This feller is also fitted with a Fishman Aura
Ellipse the best pickup on the market. What you get is a blend of the undersaddle pickup and the digitally recorded sound of the guitar. The results are
great. Still waiting for the case to arrive. The guitar comes apart so you can
carry the instrument onto a plane as hand luggage. This is a serious instrument for the travelling musician.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

52

Experimental Model C
Nov 2, 2007

Guitar construction is a fascinating puzzle which has continued to hold my


interest for many years now. Instruments are required to sound wonderful,
play beautifully, look stunning and survive many years under considerable
strain under all manner of climatic conditions.

Unlike the violin, the guitar is not designed to last. The design and method
of construction of the violin allows it to be taken apart many times in its long
life, repaired and reassembled. This is much more difficult with a guitar, with
its bound edges and relatively thin and fragile top and back.
The guitar strings are anchored in the middle of the top and so the trouble
begins. The strings are constantly trying to pull the bridge from the top. The
only resistance is formed by a few wooden struts. At the other end of the top,
the neck and fingerboard act as a lever attempting to cave the soundboard in
at the upper bout. So what do we do to prevent this? We cut a large hole between the fretboard and the bridge, directly in line with the pull of the strings!
There are many ways to tackle this design flaw, one of them is to experiment
with the placement of the soundhole, moving it away from under the end
of the fretboard. Structurally this is the last place it should be, once moved,
thought should then be given to the placement of the bridge in relation to
the end of the fingerboard and tailblock. My view is the closer to half way
between these two points the better. This has a beneficial effect on the sound
and stability. The balance sought is between tone, aesthetics, access to the
upper frets, and the stability brought about by distancing the bridge from the
soundhole.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

53

An unexpected and pleasant side effect of putting the soundhole to one side is the
emphasised bass the player experiences. Rather like a soundport.
This experiment has proved to be a big success, this option is available to any of
my customers at no extra charge.
This guitar is for sale at http://www.dreamguitars.com

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

54

Richard selects some timber


Dec 5, 2007

Model A owner Richard drove down from Fort William to select the timber for
his next guitar an Indian and Spruce Model D. Its been ages since anyone ordered a Model D which is a pity as the last one was superb. Anyway, Richard and I
discussed the sound and feel he was after and then we picked out some backs and
soundboards and went through them to find the ones we were happiest with.
The soundboard is quite unusual it is Italian Spruce, very stiff and
light but with a strong pronounced reed and quite a bit of bearclaw figure. The top really rang when tapped and will make a great guitar.
Normally I make these choices my self after discussion with the customer
but it was nice that Richard could come down and be involved in the process.
The guitar wont be ready until around the middle of Spring, when it is Ill
post some pictures.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

55

Russ picks up his Model F


Dec 17, 2007

Russ and and his partner Lynn who live in Scotland came by to pick up
Russs new Indian Rio Model F. Seems quite chuffed with it eh? Russ
plays in dropped tuning CGCGCE low to high so I had to get my thinking cap on to come up with the right combination of specifications to
fit in with this and his wish for a smaller bodied instrument. So we came
up with this 650mm scale guitar, specially intonated for his tuning, and I
braced the top to respond to the low tension from a standard set of 13s.
The guitar sings and we were both delighted with how she turned out.
What a nice feller too.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

56

2008
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

57

Different Dalbergias
Feb 22, 2008

Here are a couple of other Rosewoods to show you. the paler of the two is
Panamanian Rosewood, which looks similar to coarse Indian but has a superb tap and ring. This stuff is also quite light, much more so than Cocobolo or Blackwood. More like Honduras Rosewood. Interesting stuff, and well
worth considering if you cannot pay for Rio.
The other one was sold to me in amongst a batch of old stock Brazilian Rosewood some years ago. I dont know what it is it is just too heavy to be Rio,
and too dark for Cocobolo, but it is most certainly a Dalbergia of some sort.
(Dalbergia is the Latin name for the Rosewood family) It rings like a bell and
resembles good dark old Rio, but it aint. Any suggestions?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

58

Yellow Cows
Mar 2, 2008

Here are a couple of me holiday snaps I promise there wont be any more.
Woke up one morning to find every cow in the city of Mysore, in India was
yellow. And in the evening they were all made to walk on hot coals. Apparently the dye is turmeric and is good for them and the hot coals sorts their
hooves out. Bloody strange country

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

59

Indian Model C for Japan


Mar 5, 2008

This is the first of (hopefully) many guitars to be sold for me in Japan by Dolphin Music of Osaka. The good people there have ordered an Indian Model
C and left the rest to me what perfect customers! So here you all are Italian Spruce, Indian Rosewood, Sri Lankan Ebony and reclaimed 1908 vintage
Cuban Mahogany. The guitar is a 12 fret Model C cutaway to give the best of
both worlds the bridge in the sweet spot of the soundboard and access to
the upper frets. Should be perfect for someone.
Some of you may have noticed I have a new cover for my sofa!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

60

Goodbye Model J
Mar 14, 2008

The new non cutaway Model J who has featured in my recent YouTube clips
was picked up today by her new owner. Jonathan drove up from the south of
England this morning. The two of them seem to be getting on just fine. Hes
a really nice chap and plays very nice fingerstyle in a low C tuning, which the
guitar was set up especially for.
The Model J is by far the hardest guitar in the range to make the 17 1/2 lower bout is really wider than a flat top guitar should be so getting the balance of
thicknessing and bracing right is more difficult. The guitar must sing, allow a
soft feel and live a long life. The wider body makes these factors more difficult
to control. But if I say so myself, the results were great.
I just wish Id had the guitar for a little longer to take some images for me
website.
Must paint over that hole in me wall too.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

61

Just for Damien


Mar 20, 2008

Especially for a chap in Glasgow who has been waiting patiently for his Camatillo Model B. The guitar went off to Dave Wilsons yesterday to be sprayed.
This is a really fine looking guitar Camatillo Rosewood with European
Spruce, a bound soundport and some pretty fancy binding if I say so meself.
The guitar also features my new bridge, which is larger but lighter than the
old one, the idea being to spread the load without adding weight. Hope he
likes it!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

62

Another Model J
Mar 28, 2008

You wait for ages and two come along at the same time this is another top
of the range Rio Model J, a cutaway this time, destined for a chap who already
owns a rather lovely Rio Model C. The guitar is about to have the bridge fitted
and in a day or so will be strung up and left under tension for about 7 weeks.
At that stage I will set the guitar up so it plays as good as it looks. The top is
Caucasian Spruce from Eastern Europe very stiff, and it needs to be for this
wide guitar the Model J is 17 1/2 across. Shes a big lass!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

63

Fitting a bridge
Apr 15, 2008

This is how I do it the bridge with the saddle slot routed but no holes is
clamped in place on to the soundboard and on top of some plastic tape which
is then cut lightly around the bridge with a sharp knife. The bridge at this
point has been fitted to the curve of the soundboard. The reason for the tape
is to mask the spruce so lacquer does not get in between the spruce/ebony
join.
When the guitar returns from the sprayers the bridge is clamped in place
(two 1.5mm drills are used to locate the bridge, the holes being drilled at the
ends of the saddle slot.) Then the lacquer is cut around the bridge using a
new sharp blade. The bridge is taken away and the finish and tape is removed
using chisels and thinners. The area is left to dry and then the fit of the bridge
is checked once more. When it is ready the bridge is glued on with Titebond,
clamped and left over night.
Next Ill show yo how I drill the holes for the strings.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

64

Another experiment
Apr 25, 2008

About 10 years ago I tried a very unsuual and excellent guitar whilst in London, the guitar was an Howe-Orme, built in the 1890s and was one of the first
guitars made with steel strings in mind. So when I was recently reminded of
the guitar in a conversation, I decided to build one to see what it was like.
Now most of you will be familiar with the adjustable neck guitar I have developed, well, it was sitting around the house, not doing much so this week
I cut the top off, and attached a new one, in European Spruce, based on this
Howe-Orme idea. The top photo is a Howe-Orme, the rest are the Forster, see
just how arched the top is?
The guitar goes to Dave Wilsons to be sprayed next week and should be back
in around a month.
if theis experiment goes well Ill build a full size Rosewood version, perhaps
a Model C Ive been considering building a ladder braced guitar for some
time the idea is to make a guitar perfect for noisy sessions something that
will be loud and strong. Ladder braced guitars are often this Selmer guitars
for example.
The plan is to exhibit at this years acoustic guitar show at the Barbican in London this September, and the guitar will hopefully be ready for then.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

65

Damian picks up his Camatillo Model B


May 12, 2008

Damian had waited patiently for his Model B in Camatillo Rosewood and European Spruce, and seemed quite taken aback when he finally got his hands
oner. Hes been playing a Martin for so long I think he got quite a shock at
how responsive his new guitar is. He has a very good technique he plays in a
rather classical style but now he is faced with a much broader palette of colour
with which to paint. The pair of them are back in Glasgow now, and I would
imagine Mrs Lynch wont have seen much of either of them!
Anyway, here are some pictures so you can see the guitar for yourself. It has
my new bridge which has a much larger footprint than my old one, yet the
bridge is much shallower and lighter, apart from the area that supports the
saddle which is normal height.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

66

Work in progress: Howe Orme and Rio D


May 15, 2008

Two instruments have just come back from Dave Wilsons: a handsome
looking Indian/Italian Model D and the Howe-Orme inspired, re-topped
Mahogany adjustable neck guitar. Wow, what a mouthful.
The Howe-Orme one is not a direct copy, but it was certainly my inspiration
(Think Ill call it Howe-Ormish) The barrel domed top looks wonderful, Ill
get it strung up soon and record a sound sample or two. The pictures show me
gluing the bridge this took a long time to fit I can tell you. Once on the body
I took a chisel to it and a little plane to get the weight down. If I had tried to fit
a bridge this thin it would have never stayed still and the temptation to pull it
down would have been there. No, my bridges fit perfectly, without stress and
without pulling.
Ive just glued the bridge on the Model D too, the soundboard is a real stunner there is a bit of light Bearclaw figure in the top, and the Indian is a wonderful dark set, and looks nice against the lighter Rosewood binding.
This is the first Model D for some time and thats a pity as my Dreadnaughts
are so different from the traditional type, much more balanced and clear.
Anyway, Ill ask Ian Stephenson to record it for me in a few weeks so you can
all hear it.
Cant wait to hear them both.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

67

Images for the new book


May 19, 2008

Here are a few images taken by Dave Best of the Hexham Photographic society. Dave is taking the photographs for the book Ive been putting together
about guitar making.
Now there are lots of How to make a guitar books out there already so this
one is more in depth about the design, direction and motivation behind my
work. There should be plenty in there for other makers to argue about (oh
how they love to fall out!) And thanks to Mr Best, there will be some stunning
images, and not just the usual shots we see time and time again.
The book will be ready when it is ready I was hoping for this year some time
but who knows we have a decent selection of images already but Dave and
I want this book to be stunning a bit like me guitars!
Dave is also taking new photographs of the guitars for my website the work
has a different look from a couple of years ago so its time they were all updated. Coming soon.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

68

How to order an instrument


May 26, 2008

Here is how it all works, I send you a price list and you decide what you would
like. We discuss options and you place an order
You send a non returnable deposit of 500, when it clears, you go in the order
book and your price is fixed.
When the instrument is ready I contact you, you send the balance and when
it clears, I send you the instrument or you can come and pick it up if you like.
Simple as that.
You get a limited lifetime warranty from me, which covers my workmanship
until Im too old or frail to be able to cover it. And Im 37, and in good nick!
As I often say The guarantee is for a lifetime mine or yours, whoever goes
first! If you sell the guitar or give it away the warrant expires.
If asked to carry out any repairs, under warranty or not, any transport costs to
and from me are your responsibility. On occasion when the job is a minor one
and the distances large, I will pay for your local repair man to do the work as
long as we are both convinced of the standard of his work. That worker has to
guarantee their own work.
There you all are, terms and conditions, all quite standard really, my intention
is to be fair to customers and I expect them to be fair with me.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

69

Work in progress
Jul 14, 2008

Here are a couple of guitars that should be due back from the sprayers any day
now. The cutaway is a trial run for my anniversary Model, an Indian and rio
mix guitar, 14 frets to the body with an Italian Spruce top. The lower bout has
rather large hips which I like, so I made a wider version, similar dimensions
to my Model C. That one is in Indian and Italian. The first of the two is an
order, the second will be for sale.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

70

Panamanian Rosewood
Jul 24, 2008

Many timbers are touted as Brazilian Rosewood substitutes that simply are
not. This stuff comes closer in sound than any other timber I have come
across. It is a true Dalbergias sp, is very light, and rings like a bell. The one advantage it has over Brazilian is it seems more stable. It is a very even and crisp
wood to work with and I am a big fan. It can look rather unusual as much of
the stocks are reclaimed and can feature all manner of odd marks as a quick
glance will reveal, but there is nothing wrong with a bit of character is there?
If you goto the news page of my website you will see how the colour is enhanced when sprayed.
www.nkforsterguitars.com
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

71

Buying Spruce in Germany


Aug 10, 2008

Have just got back from spending all my money on yet


more timber. This time I visited Germany, Austria and Slovakia in search of
the perfect soundboard and I found them! I ended up spending more than
double the amount I set out to as the stuff I came across was too good to pass
over. I ended up buying around 180 soundboards enough to last me a good
few years.
Anyway, here I am at Gleissners yard at Erlangen, a couple of hours north of
Munich where I bought many fantastic Bearclaw European Spruce tops. The
picture of Stefan Gleissner tickles me I think he was a little worried that he
was being too generous!
He runs the family business now that his father is in semi retirement. Mr
Gleissner senior is in good health but at nearly 72 has decided finally to take
things a little easier. This is a superb yard for Spruce and Maple I also picked
up some excellent sets of old Indian Rosewood there too, as well as wedges
for arch top guitar and Cittern. Stefan tells me around 50% of the wood here
is German, the rest is French, Austrian and Swiss all of it Alpine.
Its good fun selecting tops but you have to be quick about it after a couple
of hours it becomes like counting sheep and your judgment starts to go according to Stefan, if there was an Olympic event of timber selection, Id be in
with a good chance of a medal!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

72

Bearclaw anyone?
Aug 13, 2008

One of the boxes from my wood buying trip has just arrived and this was the
first top in the pile. Not bad eh? Most of the tops have some figure, and quite
a few are like this one. I have to say in 20 years of making guitars Ive never
come across stuff like it.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

73

Work in progress trial run for the


Anniversary Model
Aug 18, 2008

This guitar is an Indian/Rio mix version of my Anniversary Model. The top


is some very striking Italian Spruce with strong reed gathered in the centre.
The guitar is based around my Model B, but shortened to make 14 frets to the
body and the hips are rounder like the new version of the Model C I am
working on. Anyway this guitar will be off to her new home soon. Im sure
the new owner will be very happy with the guitar. I am.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

74

Panamanian Model C goes home


Aug 19, 2008

I made this guitar with the intention of sticking it on the Available now page
of the website, but it never got that far. John was the first person to play her
and the sensible chap bought her!
This is superb timber and combined with the Model C shape, the bass is superb, and the trebles are full the guitar sounds like it is strung with heavy
strings when it aint.
Anyway, here is new owner, John with a look of concentration on his face as
he plays Norwegian wood!
So it is always worth getting in touch to see what instruments I have around.
You might be lucky!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

75

Adjustable neck IndianModel C


Sep 19, 2008

This is a rather smart Indian Rosewood/Italian Spruce Model C complete


with side sound port and an adjustable neck. I wish more folk would order
adjustable necks I like the sparkle it adds to the sound as well as allowing
the player to set their own action with the turn of an Allen key. Sound samples of both these guitars coming soon.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

76

Panamanian Rosewood Model C


Sep 19, 2008

Here is a long scale (660mm) Panamanian Rosewood Model C designed with


a low C tuning in mind. The guitar will be tuned CGCGCD low to high. Pretty eh? And sounds great too. The guitar will be off to its new home in a few
weeks.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

77

Rio Model D
Sep 26, 2008

I first started this guitar some time in 2005, not long after I started up in business for myself I didnt have many orders and I thought a Brazilian Rosewood Model D would be interesting. As it was, orders quickly came in and
I just didnt get round to putting it together. Anyway I found the parts a few
months ago and decided to get it finished Id just completed a superb Indian
Model D and was itching to try out a Rio one.
Many of my ideas about soundboard construction had moved on since making the top so my first job was to remove the old struts, re-thickness it and
start afresh. The rosette and purfling are herringbone and the body binding
is solid Ebony. The back and ribs are very nice Rio which varies from dark
to soft brown with almost black lines. As usual the slim neck is the best 1908
Cuban Mahogany. The soundboard is old German Spruce.
The guitar is strung up and the sound is magnificent my Model D is NOT
a Martin copy you can flatpick on it, but basically this is a Dreadnought
shaped fingerstyle guitar the dimensions are the same as my old Model B,
just the waist is brought out and the result is a softer, fuller bass without compromising the treble.
I just love this guitar and I think anyone who tries her will feel the same.
The guitar will be on display and up for sale at the Ullapool guitar Festival in
mid October.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

78

New interview !
Oct 4, 2008

Terence Tan from http://www.guitarbench.com interviewed me recently, here


is a copy of it.
Nigel Forster | 2008 | Luthier Interview |
Nigel Forster is best known for being Stefan Sobells apprentice from 19871990 and from 1992-2003 but hes recently gone solo and was been steadily
building with his own distinct style and sensibilities. Ive always known Nigel
to focus on quality and sound and his candor is refreshing in todays market!
I was very lucky to catch up with Nigel recently to see how things were coming along.
TT Nigel, thanks for catching up. apprenticing with Stefan must have
been a wonderful experience, could you share with us what it was like?
NF Yes it was, I cannot think of any other maker I would have rather learnt
from.
When I started for Stefan in January 88, Stefan had a good reputation but
his work did not command anything like the amount his work does today (a
Model 1 guitar was 800!) and from the start the atmosphere was one of hard
work. I started at 7.30 and finished at 5.30, five days a week. Stefan was often
there before me and always there for a few hours after. And he was there on
weekends too. He worked 14 hour days, seven days a week for years.
My first duties were cleaning up, making tea and then I went on to sharpening
tools and making backs. Next was bending sides and making necks. For the
first couple of years most of my duties were based around making the bodies and doing the rough work for the necks and tops. And making the tea of
course.
As far as machines we had an Inca bandsaw, an inaccurate planer thicknesser and a router we used for about 2 or three jobs and that was it. No table saw,
no pillar drill, no extraction, nothing. It was a very primitive workshop by
modern standards. Most of the work was done by hand.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

79

This is before guitar making was the big amateur business it is now so we were
pretty isolated as far as building methods went. Stefan was self taught and so
developed many interesting and sometimes odd ways of making, and it was
many years before I knew any different which was good.
It was Stefan who developed the method of joining tops and backs on a sheet
of chipboard using bent nails for pressure I have a video of me doing this on
my YouTube site and people seem to find it hilarious but this is how I have
done it for 20 years, and it works for me.
As I said, the instruments were not expensive, and the work was done by
hand, so the idea was Get it ready, and get it out Doing things right the first
time was very important, as having to redo things could mean the difference
between making money on an instrument or not, so it is a good way to learn.
The current crop of luthiers and their apprentices do not work this way so
much of guitar making has been reduced to wood machining now, and my
belief is that something of the human touch has been lost. A balance between
working efficiently and quietly should be sought. But at the same time I understand that most customers neither know nor care about this.
As the years went by the instruments got better, the waiting list grew, prices
rose and we got all modern Stefan bought dust extraction, a belt linisher
and eventually I bought my own table saw my favourite machine for making. We made a Go-bar deck! By the time I left it was a pretty swish workshop.
We had our own rooms with the machine shop in the middle, and in the last
few years I had a pretty free hand to get on with things, to work on the design
and develop my own ways of the building process. As long as the standard
improved, Stefan was happy to let me experiment.
T- Innovations like your 3 piece, mixed rosewood backs?
NF No, I cant claim that, In 2003, Stefan and I built a guitar for a chap
called Maurice Condie which was a mix of Cocobolo and Rio, and it came out
sounding much more like Rio (another term for Brazilian Rosewood) than
Cocobolo. A couple of years later I had a customer who didnt have the money
for Rio and was also concerned about its stability but still wanted a Rio sound,
so I thought I would try mixing Rio with Indian, the results were great, and I
have made many since it is my commonest timber upgrade and rightly so.
No, most of the experimentation I did was technical stuff, to make the instruments more consistent, to eliminate building mistakes that often occurred
early in the build that had to be compensated for later.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

80

I also spent a lot of time thinking and working on the neck/body joint and the
neck/head joint, both of which I have covered in my blog. And then there was
the most important part the soundboard. Early Sobells were just too stiff,
they were heavily arched, heavily braced and every intersection of braces was
linked.
Some came out sounding good, but they often lacked bass and felt too stiff.
So we spent a lot of time experimenting and discussing the top, changing it to
allow it to resist the pull of the strings and still sing.
But it got to the point where it was time for me to leave, I had too many ideas I
wanted to try, and Stefan and I had spent too much time together. We attempted to set up a partnership where I would gradually take over the business but
it didnt work out. Time to go! Which actually was the best possible thing for
both of us Being in business for myself is great Im doing the best work of
my life just now, the sound of my guitars and Bouzouki still has that clarity
and separation, but with a much fuller and rounder bass, the work is going
well and whilst the aesthetic is still very simple, my guitars have a certain look
about them which sets them apart from much of what is being made.
Some of the changes, like the binding and purfling are give the artist in me
a chance to breathe, but others like the body shapes and the new bridge are
plain old examples of form following function.
Part of my nature is I get bored easily making the same guitar over and over
would drive me mad, experimentation is the thing which has held my interest in guitar making for all these years and continues to do so. You can think
about design all you like but the only way to find out is to build.
TT- When you say, great results with the rio and indian, do you mean mostly
sounds like rio? With these do you have indian rosewood sides too?
NF Yes, sounds much more like Rio than Indian. The sides are Rio, the back
is a narrow central strip of Rio (around 2-3) and outer wings of Indian. I
have no explanation why the sides should have such a profound effect, but
they clearly do.
TT- You mentioned that youve made a lot of discoveries since the first interview
NF The short answer is Im not telling! It is common for makers, amateurs
in particular to share what they know or at least what they think they know,
but this can lead to lots of people making similar guitars. The reason why
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

81

people want my work and are prepared to pay the price I ask is that my work
is not like that of most other makers.
By ignoring what you may read or be told and thinking for yourself it is possible to come up with new ideas and a different sound. a better sound. Sound
is a by product of design one maker I know with an excellent scientific background describes sound as an energy loss to the guitar.
If you consider the architecture of the guitar and the nature and direction of
the forces that act on it, and design accordingly you make a guitar that is unconventional to many but that sounds clearer and fuller than much of what is
on offer. This may sound all wrong surely sound should come first it still
does, but I approach creating a wonderful sound from a different angle one
of creating a logical construction which will liberate the sound from the materials.
So the discoveries I have made in recent years about the soundboard what
it is I want and how I go about getting it shall remain secret. But basically it is
about soundboard shape and thickness.
TT Most folks would like to know a little about the thought and the process
behind your guitars
NF Ok, Ill tell you about a minor discovery and how it came about.
When I worked for Sobell, we built very dry the fire was always on and the
dehumidifier was always running. One of the results of this was the backs
used to deform when they left the workshop in an odd manner the back
would swell except at the waist where the short back strut was. You would get
a sort of rollercoaster effect. Didnt look nice.
So to counter this I suggested slanting the waist bar to lengthen it and made
it shallower, the idea being to make it more flexible, that way the back would
swell uniformly. A little bit more work but it worked. I asked What reason
shall I tell customers, and Stefan laughing said The sound, always the sound!
But we never really bothered to think any reason up if anyone asked, Id
change the subject.
I still do this on my guitar as I too have the fire on and the dehumidifier running all the time, Then a year or two ago I decided to lighten the third back
strut too, to make the whole thing more flexible. The result was one of the
things I have been working towards for some time more bass. So now if anyone asks about the slanted back strut I can honestly say The sound, always
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

82

the sound!!
This is a good example of how I work I follow my intuition, which is informed by the work I have done before, I try to honestly observe what I have
done and I dont waste too much time thinking about clever theories. Guitar
making is a practical subject not just a theoretical one.
To some extent the sound my guitars make is a by-product of the thought I
give to the structure. So I work on the architecture and see what comes out.
TT Apart from the usual construction discoveries, what new models are
you working on Nigel?
NF Well, Ive just finished the trial run for my Anniversary model (pictures
on the blog) And I am very pleased with it. The guitar is roughly OM sized- a
14 fret cutaway version of the Model B. It is a new shape with rather fuller hips
and a higher waist than my Model B and has my new larger, lighter bridge.
The top is Italian Spruce and back and sides are Indian/Rio mix. The sides are
best dark Rio and the back has a central panel of Rio and outer wings of Indian. The colour of the sound is much closer to Rio than Indian so it just shows
you what a contribution the sides make.
Many of the current theoretical models of how guitars work rely on the sides
not being part of the equation the theories go into great detail about how
the top and back work, but introducing the sides into the equation complicates things beyond most folks understanding.
So if you follow this line of thinking it makes sense to laminate sides or stiffen
them with large linings like the walls of a snare drum. -it physically takes the
sides out of the reckoning. However just because an idea makes sense, it does
not mean it is right.
You can produce a decent guitar this way but it is not the only way. I cannot
give you any reason why the sides should contribute so much but I have made
many of these Indian/Rio mix guitars now and it happens every time the
guitar sounds much more like Rio than Indian.
The next step is to build the Anniversary Model, and other than upgrade the
timbers to Rio back and sides and my 1930s German Spruce, Ill pretty much
do everything the same. Only problem is it looks unlikely Ill be able to get
the guitar done this year as Im pretty booked up, so it will have to be my 21st
Anniversary Model rather than my 20th.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

83

TT I heard you were building from Panamanian Rosewood its pretty new
on the scene- how does that compare to Braz or indian?
NF Apparently Panamanian Rosewood is the same as Cocobolo, but believe
me this wood is not like Cocobolo. Visually it is nice but fairly broad grained
and the colour varies from yellow to pink. When sprayed it goes a deeper,
richer shade of whatever it started off as.
The main difference from all the other Rio substitutes is it is light very light
and compares with the best Rio. It rings like Rio when tapped but works a
little like Cocobolo but not as crumbly. When you chisel Cocobolo, it behaves
in a rather odd manner and lumps can fall of even with the sharpest tools.
Panamanian does not do this but it is more awkward than Indian.
Basically in a blind test, if you handed me a good set of Rio and a good set of
Panamanian, the only way I would be able to tell them apart is the smell it
smells more like Camatillo the weight, tap ring and stiffness are very similar.
When you build with it the sound is very rich and full, and adds a fullness to
the bass, more so than the other Rio substitutes but still, not a s much a s Rio.
As far as I am concerned there is a pecking order for back and sides tonewoods, with Rio at the top, Rio/Indian mix next, then Panamanian, Camatillo, and then Honduras and Cocobolo together. But it is always worth remembering that there is nothing wrong with a good set of Indian, and it is more
stable than all the others a significant advantage if ever there was one.
TT- How about your pick of the topwoods? I know Stefan usually only uses
Euro, maybe adirondack?
NF I have become rather obsessed with getting good Spruce in the last
few years and I have LOTS! For most of my guitars I use Italian Spruce, For
Mandolins and Citterns I have a huge stock of very nice light Czech Spruce.
though I have recently bought a lot of Swiss and German stuff for Citterns
too.
For my more expensive guitars there is some very fine grained German and
Swiss, no better sounding than the Italian but it really looks the part, and I
recently bought a lot of good Bearclaw Spruce too from a German dealer, but
my special stuff is German Spruce which was felled in the 1930s. Rather
good as you can imagine.
I do have some Adirondack Spruce for guitars and Mandolin but have never
had time to use it yet. Though I have made a couple of guitars with very fine
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

84

grained Caucasian Spruce (Picea Orientalis) which is very interesting stuff. It


cuts like cheese yet is really rather stiff, and very light.
TT Could you give us a run down of your current line up and wait times??
NF Waiting time is around 8 months. Sometimes less, sometimes more.
Apart from the orders which are all guitars Im working on a new model of
arch top mandolin, and a new design for my Citterns and Bouzouki. I hope to
have them ready by Christmas.
So just now I am building 4 bodies I make four at a time up to the binding
stage then separate them and do one at a time until they are finished. On my
bench just now is a Panamanian Rosewood Model J, a cutaway Panamanian
Rosewood Model C and two Indian Rosewood Model Cs. The Model C is by
far my most popular Model.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

85

Latest images for the book


Oct 6, 2008

Here are a few shots of a recent Model C for you all, taken by Dave Best of the
Hexham Photographic Society. We have amassed about a hundred shots so
far for the book so it shouldnt be too long now!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

86

Ullapool guitar festival


Oct 14, 2008

Well, what a lovely part of the world! Id never been that far north in Scotland before what a stunning place. The festival was really great the
music in the after hours club especially. Ive recorded a bit of stuff for the
YouTube site but my camera seems to not want to transfer things to my computer just now, so it may be a while before I get to share them with you.
Anyway, here are a few pics to give you an idea of what you missed!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

87

Work in progress new mandolin


Oct 16, 2008

Ive been working on this design for some time a mandolin designed with
Celtic music in mind. This model should have the woodiness of a good American mandolin with the sparkle and clarity of a British one.
Anyway, here is the first one before it goes off to the sprayers. The top is Czech
Spruce and the back and sides are American Rock Maple. As usual the neck
is 1908 Cuban Mahogany. Pretty eh?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

88

Model C in Panamanian Rosewood


Dec 8, 2008

I am glad folk are ordering this stuff, I love it. Here is a recently finished Model C in European Spruce and Panamanian Rosewood. The guitar is a 12 fret
cutaway with a soundport what a sensible chap the new owner is. Id be hard
pressed to spec a better guitar myself

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

89

Panamanian Rosewood Model J


Dec 8, 2008

This fine looking specimen will be for sale very soon. Panamanian Rosewood,
Italian Spruce, !908 Cuban Mahogany and Sri Lankan Ebony. The scale is
660mm and the guitar is intonated especially for DADGAD. Comes with a
rather smart white Calton case. Wonderful, if I say so myself.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

90

Work in progress Model S


Dec 16, 2008

This is the prototype for my new no frills model the Model S. My answer
to the credit crunch. Basically it is a stripped down Anniversary model, to
keep the price down without compromising the quality of materials, the construction, the sound or the playability. The final version should be available in
the new year. Quite handsome eh?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

91

work in progress guitar bouzouki


Dec 17, 2008

This is a 16 fret Camatillo Rosewood 8 string guitar bouzouki. The body is


based on the Model S and has the shoulders brought in to make a 16 fret
neck/body join. The guitar is ready for the sprayers you see how I mask the
top off where the bridge goes?
The top has been made in a similar style to a Howe-Orme guitar except it is X
braced notice the barrel shaped curve down the middle of the top? This design lends itself to making very loud instruments perfect for a noisy session.
The zouk should be ready in the new year.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

92

2009
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

93

India trip 2009


Feb 2, 2009

One of the benefits of being self employed is I get on very well with the boss.
And this year I let my self start off with a holiday. I did go and see some timber
dealers but I was not very impressed with the quality of the Rosewood being
offered so bought nothing. In India, the forests are not being managed well
and they are competing to cut down younger and younger trees. Then to get
the width they are cutting off the quarter, so the quality drops even further.
A poor state of affairs. Luckily for you lot I have good stocks of old Indian,
which should last for quite a few years to come.
Anyway, I spent most of the time practicing Yoga in Mysore, south India, I
met some great people and had a very nice time indeed. India is a truly fascinating place and one you get over the shock of the sheer level of chaos of the
place you can begin to enjoy it. I love it. And if you like old British cars and
motorbikes, you will too. Many people still drive modern Indian versions of
the old Morris Oxford (its called an Ambassador over there) and Royal Enfield Bullets are still made there also, as well as the Hillman Minx. Great. Ill
see if I can get one of my pals over there to email me a picture of them.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

94

Model S pictures
Feb 10, 2009

Dave Best the chap who is taking the pictures for my book has just sent me
this image of the new Model S prototype I featured at the back and of last year.
Ill be adding the guitar to the range soon and will be happy to take orders.
Ive decided also to build my Citterns and Bouzouki in a Model S style from
now on. Then if you want to upgrade the spec you can.
The Model S is a stripped down version of the Anniversary Model. The new
Model S is perhaps one of the highest speced no frills guitars around. The
brief I set myself was to Create a more affordable instrument that does not
compromise sound or playability. The Model S boasts Indian Rosewood
back and ribs, an Italian Spruce top, vintage 1908 Cuban Mahogany neck and
Ebony fretboard and bridge.
Stripping away the decoration allows me to lighten the interior linings which
makes for a much lighter and responsive instrument, the bracing has been
modified a little but basically this is the racing version of my standard work
my only fear is that some may no longer order my more expensive models!
Price of the standard Model S is 2200.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

95

Guitar Bouzouki
Mar 30, 2009

Here is a brand spanking new Camatillo Rosewood and Italian Spruce 8 string
Bouzar.
The instrument has a 16 fret to the body join and is made in the simple Model
S style to keep the price down. The fancy Camatillo really adds some depth
to the bottom end. Also the X braced top is formed with a pronounced arch
down the centre, inspired by last years Howe-Orme model.
Ian Stephenson says hell do a sound sample soon, so I shall let you all know
when I have posted it on the MySpace site.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

96

Maple Mandolin!
May 27, 2009

Well Ive been promising to make another mandolin for ages and here it is.
American Rock Maple and Czech Spruce with a 1908 Cuban Mahogany neck.
The idea was to create an instrument with the woodiness in the bass of an
American Mandolin but with the sparkling treble of an English one, and I
must say it has all worked out rather well. This little feller is also rather pleasing to the eye as well as to the ear. The edge of this mandolin is like that of a
violin which looks very smart, as does the oval soundhole.
Better pictures and a sound sample coming soonish.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

97

Just for Duncan


Jun 3, 2009

Ive been promising Duncan some pictures so here they are. This is the top
and back of a Rio Model C. This is pretty much as good as Rio gets a superb
old DiGeorgio set of 1960s Rio to compliment the super fine grained European Spruce top Ive picked out for him.
Duncans top and back have been sitting round for a good few weeks now and
it is their turn next to be put together. Ill take a few more pics as the project
moves along.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

98

FAQ

Jun 28, 2009

I cant find your price list, where is it?


I usually publish my prices once a year, in January on my blog.
The prices can go up in the meantime, so if you wish to know
current prices, email me via the website and Ill send you it.
What happens if I dont like the instrument?
Well, it hasnt happened yet. I make sure I am happy before I sent it out and
that has been good enough for everyone so far. But if you really find you cannot get along with your new instrument I will offer to build you another.
Where can I play one?
My work is sold in the US by Dream Guitars near Asheville NC, and by Dolphin Music in Osaka, Japan. Other than that you are welcome to come and
see me, or if you let me know where you are I may be able to put you in touch
with a customer nearby. My work can be found all over the world!
I cant find your address on the site either. Whats going on?
I dont have my address on cos Ive got work to do and I dont want to be disturbed! I am based in Newcastle upon Tyne in the north east of England. The
workshop is pretty easy to get to, not far from the A1 motorway, or the train
station, and we have an airport too.
Can I call in then?
Yes, but I do ask that you email or call first. I am always happy to talk if you
are seriously considering buying my work, but please understand that when
you call by, work stops, so if you could come early afternoon it would be great
then I can eat my lunch whilst you play.
How long is your waiting list, Ive heard it is a couple of years?
No, it seems to vary between 6-12 months.
Do you do repairs?
Not if I can help it. I dont enjoy doing them.
How many instruments do you make in a year?
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

99

I make around fifteen instruments a year. Sometimes less, sometimes more.


The new Model S style instruments are a little quicker to make so depending
on orders the number may go up a little.
Do you have stock instruments?
I always try to build an instrument for stock in between every few orders so
those who wish to buy and cannot wait can get something, though I never
build what someone is already waiting for. The stock work is either sent to
Dream Guitars, Dolphin Music or appears on my Available now page. Though
it is always worth calling as sometimes instruments get sold before they get to
my website or my dealers, its just a question of calling at the right time.
Would you like an apprentice?
No, sorry, though I do hope to bring out a DVD in the future showing my
way of working which apparently is a little unconventional. Anyway, Im far
too grumpy.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

100

New style Bouzouki


Aug 30, 2009

Ive restyled the range of Bouzouki family instruments in a similar manner to


my Model S guitars. The back and sides are un bound, and the top is bound
with black wood and has simple red black and white purfling. The head veneer is plain black. This all makes for a very smart and slightly cheaper instrument. It also means that you can upgrade to suit your taste and budget.
This is one of a pair of recent instruments Ive made in this style. This feller
is for Dream guitars in North Carolina. It has a few simple upgrades Rosewood head veneers front and back and delicate slant check purfling.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

101

Work in progress a C and a S


Oct 10, 2009

Here are a pair I am on with at the moment the one getting its fretboard
glued on is a 660mm long scale Model S which is being built especially for
C tunings. The other is a Model C, made in the simplified Model S style and
with a Howe Orme arched top a style that Ive been working on for a couple
of years now. Both guitars are in Indian Rosewood and have Italian Spruce
tops. Should be off to the sprayers in a week or so.
And yes, that is a pair of Ukes hanging up on the wall, and yes, they will be
for sale when I get round to stringing them up, and no, I dont want to make
any more!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

102

Mandolinetto
Nov 20, 2009

I made this little feller for the Healdsburg show in August. I was unable to go
for family reasons and the instrument has been on my living room wall ever
since.
The top is one piece Italian Spruce made with a pronounced arch and X
braced. The back is one piece Indian Rosewood. The neck is my usual superb
1908 vintage Cuban Mahogany.
Ive been experimenting a lot with bridges of late, and initially this Mandolinetto had a Ebony bridge with a bone saddle but it sounded a little harsh to
me. I changed to solid Ebony and the sound leaped out as if released from a
cage! The treble thickened and the volume increased. Ive been experimenting with Bouzouki bridges too and am beginning to reach some conclusions
about what works best. Ill write it all up some time.
Ill record or video the little chap soon so you can hear for yourself the result
of the experiment. In the meantime enjoy the pictures.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

103

Stripped down Model C


Dec 17, 2009

This is a new one a stripped down Model C, made in the Model S style but
with a few upgrades Model C head with Rosewood veneers front and back,
Gotoh 510 tuners and a thick Ebony heel cap. All sensible stuff. But the main
difference is the top some of you will be familiar with my experiments over
the last few years with the old Howe Orme design, well this is the first time
Ive used it on a Model C and IT WORKS A TREAT!
This is not just a rehash of that old design it is combined with my ideas
about bracing and construction, so it still sounds like one of mine, just a little
different. This new design also seems to make for a loud instrument. Any way
here are the pictures, if you go to my website and follow the links you can see
Ian Stephenson playing this beauty on YouTube. Enjoy!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

104

Work in progress: redwood and


cocobolo bouzouki
Dec 18, 2009

Here is a bouzouki Ive been on with lately, its Cocobolo and flame figured
Redwood. It should be off to the sprayers in the new year and ready for sale
early summer.
Its one of a few instruments intended for this coming years Montreal Guitar
show, Im not sure if everything is going to be ready in time. Ill know at the
start of January.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

105

Not all guitars are equal!


Dec 30, 2009

Just to prove you get what you pay for, here is a picture of one of my top of
the range guitars, it has the best of everything, the best Spruce and the best
Rio, the best Mahogany and the best Ebony. The customer asked for my old
style bridge, and so that is what he got. One of these will set you back around
7500. Stunning. If I say so myself!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

106

Work in progress: guitar bouzouki


Dec 30, 2009

Here is a very nice guitar bouzouki which is due to go to her new home in the
US. The spec is similar to the last one I made with a few notable changes a
soundport has been added to the side and the neck is adjustable to allow the
new owner to set his own action or even remove the neck for travel. Camatillo
Rosewood and Italian Spruce.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

107

2010
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

108

Thailand 2010
Mar 9, 2010

After spending time in India Ive moved onto Thailand. Im currently in the
south, at Phang Gna Bay. Anyway, enough chit chat, have a look at me pictures.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

109

Japan 2010
May 6, 2010

Japan 2010. Well, Im back in the UK now and


back to work. Japan was amazing, although
the weather seemed rather British. My tan
got washed off. Bah.
It is a truly oustanding place to visit if you
enjoy woodwork and other crafts. I will do
a post soon about the Bamboo crafts if Beppu, a place I visited just to see some of this
amazing work. But in general the standard of
workmanship in Japan puts me to shame.
It is a super clean, super safe country with amazing food and is actually far
better value than most would have you believe. And the food is fantastic.
Anyway, enough chit chat, have a look at me holiday snaps. Not bad for a 60
camera!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

110

intonation
May 13, 2010

Ive been working on temperaments quite a bit whilst Ive been away, looking
at Just intonation, Meantone and Equal temperaments. The long and short of
it is Ive changed how I intonate the guitars and am very pleased with the results. It is a lenghty process involving measuring the value of every note fretted and then calculating the correct position of both the saddle and the zero
fret according to the string gauges used and tuning employed. Complicated.
But going by smile on Ian Stephensons face (my local intonation fusspot) the
work seems to be worth the effort.
Ian now wanted the guitar to be as close to Equal temperament as possible as
in the current crop of bands he is playing with he has to play in a lot of different and sometimes just plain odd keys.
So here are a few pics of the saddle, and of a happy Ian with his much battered
Model B guitar and of the nut of a Jazz archtop Ive just completed (more
about this feller soon) to show you what the end results look like.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

111

Japanese Bamboo Art


May 13, 2010

It was in Bangkok that I went to an exhibition of work by bamboo craftsmen


from Beppu in the south of Japan. I go to quite a few exhibitions and sometimes I get a little jaded. So I went in with little expectation. It turned out to
be the most beautiful and moving collection of work I have ever seen. I stayed
all afternoon, read every word, watched every video and stared at every piece
until my eyes hurt!
These makers have it all incredible imagination coupled with astounding
technique. They seem to be limited by neither. Until a few years ago these
makers only made one or two sculptural pieces a year for local competitions
and scraped a living by making simple wares to be sold locally. Luckily a couple of wealthy US collectors saw the work and began promoting it. Now there
a couple of galleries in the US and in Italy selling the work which goes for as
much as any high end guitar.
These pictures have been taken from the Tai gallery in Santa Fe. If you look
up Japanese Bamboo, Beppu, you will find there are a few recently published
books on the subject. They are stunning.
The exhibition inspired me to take the overnight ferry from Osaka down to
Beppu to visit the Beppu Bamboo Crafts centre. It is a funny old town famous
for its hot springs, but it is where I bought myself a rather nice little bamboo
vase which now has pride of place on my sideboard. Not as spectacular as the
pieces here but still a breathtaking display of taste and skill.
My hope is that somehow this wonderful work somehow infiltrates its way
into mine.
Time will tell.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

112

Redwood Zouk with new design tailpiece


May 22, 2010

This is the Redwood/Cocobolo bouzouki I made at the end of last year with
the intention of showing her off at this years Montreal Guitar show. Im not
able to go (no other instruments ready!) But here she is in all her glory! I
have to admit to being rather pleased with both the sound and the appearance. This is the first time Ive ever worked with Redwood and it really is the
bees knees as far as archtops go. The sound is fabulous loud, full and thick
without being coarse. I hope a few of you have the good sense to order one.
Consider this to be the top of the range from now on.
Also, here is my new design of tailpiece which compliments the oval soundhole. Made from sturdy 3mm thick brass, and rather smart if I say so myself.
In the next week Ill try to get Ian to make a video with her and see if Dave
best can take some good photos for the website.
This instrument will be on show at this years Cheltenham Guitar show.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

113

Influences 1 Selmer guitar


May 28, 2010

This is the first of a few posts about the things (most of which are instruments) which have influenced my work.
This fine old guitar was the property of my late Grandfather, Charlie Ferguson. Charlie was a well respected player in the Tyne Valley and played in bands
for sixty years. For gigs he played electric guitars he was always buying and
selling, but this was the guitar he loved the most and the one he used to take
down to the Accordion Club which was held once a month at the Ex-Service
Mens Club in Hexham, Northumberland. He played what he called Dance
band style guitar, which is the lovely bass note and chord style of players like
Eddie Lang. The closest player I have heard to Charlie was the late Perrie Willie Johnson, the wonderful folk/jazz player from Shetland.
The guitar seems to be a mixture of parts which is not uncommon. When
Selmer decided to get out of the guitar business, many instruments were
made up from parts which were around. The body is narrow suggesting it
is from a tenor guitar- I believe Selmer made these quite early on, whilst the
soundboard has a rare round hole, which may date from their middle period after Selmer and Maccaferri parted company. The Label says 647 which
is a little later but bears the name of Maccaferri on it.
Also it seems the cutaway has been put in afterwards, and very skillfully. You
can see the staggered joins in the purfling if you look carefully and the nose
of the cutaway is a vertical Ebony fillet. My guess is the side was actually cut
and re bent to fit the cutaway shape. Skilled work indeed. According to the
excellent book on these guitars by F. Charle, a chap in London (Rocca?) was
known for doing this sort of work. I used to have a copy of the book but I
loaned it out and never saw it again so my knowledge is a little sketchy. If any
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

114

of you know better please let me know and Ill correct this post.
The way in which this guitar has been a reference point to me over the years
are many. Aesthetics is a personal thing but I believe some makers just have
a good eye, whilst others do not. Maccaferri had a good eye. Whilst I do like
other cutaway shapes, to me this is the most dignified, and is undeniably European. I believe his teacher used a similar one. The decoration is so delicate
and understated, with shallow binding and simple purflings something I try
to do also.
The neck/head joint is a cracking piece of wood machining, and something I
used to emulate when I started as the timber stock I had was too short to joint
the heads in the conventional manner.
But the most impressive thing about this little guitar is the sound. Instant
Django! I have tried many modern copies but nothing comes close. The guitar is extremely loud, and lends itself to percussive playing. The tone is what
one would expect the tone is thick with not so much sustain but with considerable resonance. Perfect for the style of music it was used for.
It is a wonderful piece of craftsmanship, made by men who were skilled cabinetmakers, not trained luthiers, yet despite this it was decades before there
were any steel string guitars being made in Europe that could come close.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

115

Influences II Hermann Hauser I


Jun 6, 2010

Ive never played a Hauser but the sound of his work can be heard on many of
Andrea Segovias recordings. This was my introduction to the man and his
work.
German luthier Hermann Hauser I (1882-1952) is best remembered for the
remarkable instruments he built in the Spanish tradition after 1924. Segovia
encouraged Hauser to copy his 1912 Manuel Ramirez guitar (an instrument
generally believed to have been built by Santos Hernandez the foreman of the
Ramirez shop). Hauser also had access to an 1859 Antonio de Torres which
influenced him also.
Although Hauser began building in the Spanish tradition in 1925, he continued building Vienna models well into the 30s work in what is often referred
to as the Stauffer school. It is this work that interests me the most as it has
more in common with steel string guitar design than the Torres/Ramirez tradition Stauffer trained a certain C.F. Martin who decided to leave Austria
for America and the rest is guitar history.
The influence of Hauser on my work is both aesthetic and structural. Hauser
is another maker who I believe had a good eye. It was one of his 1930s guitars in a museum in Rome that made me want to experiment with an even
more limited visual palette than I was already. Many of my rosettes in the last
few years have featured heavy black lines balanced with delicate purflings,
and Hauser is the main inspiration behind this. Over the years I have tried a
few of these ideas in my work rosettes, bindings, the banjo headstocks and
more recently the round ended bridge, sometimes used by Hauser, and later
by Martin on their Classical guitars. As well as looking rather nice this way of
building has the structural benefit of not creating a pressure point at the end
of the bridge which can cause splitting and deformation.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

116

Influences III Shaker furniture


Jun 19, 2010

I first came across the Shakers and their work whilst doing my degree in Three
Dimensional Design at the University of Northumbria in the 90s.
Shaker furniture is widely admired for its simplicity, superb joinery, quality,
and functionality. Shaker designs were inspired by the ascetic religious beliefs
of the Society. It is the physical embodiment of their faith. Shaker craftsfolk
were rather a pragmatic bunch, form followed function, and beauty was seen
as a function. A mixture of hand and machine work was employed to produce
decorative arts, and objects of everyday life stoves, woodworking tools and
machinery, oval boxes, wooden carriers, buckets, poplar ware, seed boxes,
textile equipment, baskets, brooms, clocks, transportation artifacts, and agricultural and medical equipment.
The form and proportion is similar to classical British and American furniture of the same period but is stripped down to just the essence of what is
required. An approach I am rather keen on myself.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

117

Influences IV Howe Orme Guitars


Jul 8, 2010

I first came across one of these odd guitars in Andys guitar shop in Denmark
St, London around 1998. I thought it was both peculiar and superb all at the
same time. I am very interested in the origins of the steel string guitar and especially in what else was being done around the time the CF Martin Co took
off.
These guitars (along with the work of the Larson bros) were made with steel
stings in mind. The top has a longitudinal arch to add considerable strength
and the neck is adjustable to cope with the seasonal changes and the sinking
or tipping of the top over time. Being ladder braced I would imagine the adjustable neck coming in rather handy.
I the last couple of years Ive been experimenting and developing the design
into something new.
Elias Howe seemed to start producing very fine guitars in the 1890s in Boston,
and possibly in Ottowa and branded under the Orme label. Several patents
were made covering aspects such as the arching of the plates and adjustment
of the neck. Not much is known about the company, how many instruments
were made or even how long it lasted, but one thing for sure is that this really
is a very logical and sensible way to build for steel strings.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

118

Work in progress Cocobolo Model B


Jul 10, 2010

This is one of the guitars Ill be showing off at the Luthiers BBQ, at 16 Everleigh St, Finsbury Park, London on Sunday 25th July. It is hard to say what
Model it is to be honest I made it in the Model S shape, but added a cutaway,
than added all the fancy binding and gave it a Howe-Orme X braced hump
top. But a Cocobolo Model S/B HO is rather a mouthful. I think I need to
come up with something a little more poetic.
The top is a lovely bearclaw Italian Spruce number, the back and sides are
the finest grade quarter sawn Cocobolo, the neck is vintage 1908 Cuban Mahogany. Indian Ebony Bridge and fretboard. The bridge is still in semi rough
state, I doesnt get a final shaping for a couple of weeks I have to decide how
much meat to leave. But I have to say I am quite taken with how she sounds
already.
Im getting more into short scale guitars just now and this one is 24.9 scale
and is a smooth as silk to play. The shorter scale softens the sound a little too.
Its a lovely guitar and should make someone very happy.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

119

Influences V Stefan Sobell


Jul 12, 2010

It would be pretty odd for me to write a series about influences on my work and
not mention Stefan Sobell. I worked for Stefan from leaving school,1988-1990
and 1992 -2003. I had no idea who Stefan was when I went to work for him
and on reflection Id be hard pushed to think of who Id rather have been
trained by. Stefan has a reputation for being the Guitar makers guitar maker
and justly so. He is a non conformist and his work reflects this. Self taught, he
learned by making and did so at a time when there were not online forums or
piles of books available telling him how to do so. As a result his work is different from that of anyone else in construction and design and sound.
It tickles me greatly that folk still have no idea of how Stefan gets the sound he
does form the materials he uses (he has no interest in telling folk why would
he?), mainly because people approach understanding his work from the point
of view of their own accumulated or learned knowledge rather than trying
to imagine how Stefan approaches it. I have on occasion found folk spouting
rubbish on the web about his design and construction methods, and when I
have offered to point them in the right direction, have been told I am wrong!
An opportunity missed.
As I have said in the past, some makers have a good eye and others not. Stefan
has a good eye. He has a decent pair of ears too!
It has been difficult for me to develop my own sound since leaving his workshop, some of the structural changes I wanted to introduce had less audible
effect than I imagined, some more so, but Im glad to say that 7 years on,
neither of us have ceased to improve and develop our work. If anything was
instilled in me from my many years in his employment it was to continue to
experiment, otherwise, what is the point? Add to this his way of dealing with
folk to be straight and fair, to pay folk properly and promptly and to expect
the same treatment in return. Its how he runs his business and its how I run
mine.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

120

Luthiers BBQ 25th July


Jul 16, 2010

In light of the Cheltenham guitar show being cancelled, a few of us have got
together and organised our own. Its on Sunday 25th July, its an informal affair and should be great come along!
The makers present will be:
www.btinternet.com/~steve.sedgwick/
www.instrumentdatabase.com/goodacoustics/
www.petebeerguitars.com/
www.darluthier.com/
www.lucasguitars.co.uk/
www.nkforsterguitars.com
A few of us will entertain you with demos of various apects of lutherie, and
itll be a great chance to get your hands on some first class instruments. Come
and play some tunes.
The address is 16 Everleigh st, Finsbury Park, London N4 3AE
There is free parking in the area on a Sunday and the nearest tube is Finsbury
Park, Wells terrace exit (5 mins)
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

121

Entry is 4 or bring some grub for the BBQ. Doors open at 11, finishes around
6.
If it goes well we shall do them more often with a changing roster of makers.
The pictures are of a Mandolin I will be bringing along with the Cocobolo
Model B and the Redwood Bouzouki from earlier posts.
Spread the word!
Nigel
www.nkforsterguitars.com

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

122

On the bench new Celtic Mandolin


Sep 8, 2010

Oh I do like making Mandolins, Ive made quite a few in the last year or so
and this is the latest edition to the range. It seems some Celtic players just
cant settle for a Mandolin if it isnt shaped like an onion. So this is for them.
The top is Sitka Spruce, the back and sides are fine Quilted American Sugar
Maple, the neck is my 1908 vintage Cuban Mahogany and the fretboard and
Bridge are Sri Lankan Ebony. I tried several bridges before I settled on this
one the hollowed design of Ebony brings out the best both treble and bass.
The treble is bright without being thin, and the bass is full without being
muddy. It should cope well in any session.
Despite the instrument being loud and full,I have to say it does not sound as
different from my A Model (the one shaped like a Shallot) as I thought it
might. But this may be down to the fact that whilst the materials and shape
may be different, the arching, thicknessing and bracing are very similar.
This little feller will be for sale soon.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

123

Work in progress: cocobolo 10 string


bouzouki
Oct 1, 2010

Here are two of the three instruments I started this month. One is a Cocobolo
and figured Redwood 10 string Cittern, the other is a Cocobolo and European Spruce Celtic Mandolin.
Along with the guitar I made eariler this year they will be the last Cocobolo
instruments I make. It is a fine timber but it has not been managed and stocks
are very much depleted. I shall not add to the problem by buying any more.
Add to this the dust from Cocobolo is foul and Ive inhaled enough sawdust.
So, here we are, two of the last three Cocobolo Forster instruments.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

124

In memoriam: Jennifer Forster


1947-2009
Oct 23, 2010

It is a year tomorrow that my mother died. Our mam was strong, hard working, decent, energetic little woman. My brother and I never did without,
thanks to the many sacrifices made by her and my father. She loved having
fun and dancing and was very outgoing. We were fortunate to have such a
good mother.
When younger my mam had something of a fiery temper I often clashed
with her, we were very similar so I guess this was inevitable, but when she
was told in her early 40s that she had Multiple Sclerosis, the fire subsided. The
disease took many years to claim her life, and it amazed all of us, her doctor
included, that she could still keep going, still be so cheerful when the illness
had took away her mobility, her speech, her independence, everything. The
more the illness progressed the more her compassion for others grew. But she
was also very fortunate to be blessed with such a sunny disposition.
Something my father said about her was true Son, your mother is no trouble, shes easy pleased It seems the easiest way to be happy is to be happy
with things as they are, and this is very much how she lived. It was easy to
make her smile and laugh, right up to the end, but if we spent too much time
reminiscing she would stop me, smile warmly and say yes pet, but that was
then, and this is now. In the 20 years it took for MS to end my mothers life,
I never heard her complain once, about anything. When I would see her, her
first questions would be about my welfare, that of the rest of the family and
that of my friends. She was quite free from anger and ill will. How many of us
can claim the same?
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

125

My mothers stoicism greatly affected those of us who spent time with her
my brother, myself and the many carers who allowed her to stay in her own
home when my father passed away. We have all been truly fortunate to have
known her. I miss her a great deal.
Jennifer Carol Forster died October 24 2009. She was 61

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

126

New A model Mandolin


Nov 3, 2010

Here is me latest offering a maple and Czech spruce A model mandolin.


Ive been experimenting with bracing a little and Im really pleased with the
results. I felt my two mandolin models whilst looking different didnt sound
so different, but now I think they do. This A model has a little more of the
American woodiness without compromising that European sparkle. Its not
my wish to go down the path of trying to make a Gibson copy, but of course
the design is not without merit, and Im happy to have a little of that thick
bottom end.
So, this well will be for soon sale, as soon as Ive finished experimenting with
different bridges. As a control I always fit this traditional traditional two
piece bridge, then move onto different combinations of spruce, maple and
ebony bridges. Its a time consuming way to do things but it means each instrument is performing as well as possible.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

127

THE BOOK!
Dec 5, 2010

How exciting! This first edition should be ready for Christmas! The chap designingthe book, Ben Tibbs and I have been working flat out to get this ready
in time for you all. Ben has done a smashing job of designing the layout of the
excellent photos which have been taken over the last three years or so by Dave
Best. The book has lots of pictures of the building process, a series of essays
presenting my thoughts on topics such as sound, construction, longevity and
aesthetics, and is rounded off by some very nice images of the finished goods.
It looks so smart!
The plan is to print an initial short run of 100 numbered and signed copies of
my book about guitar making Between the ideal and the possible It will initially only be available direct from this website. If you are interested in getting
a copy please get in touch and I shall make a little list. Once a Paypal link is
made I shall let you know so you can get your copy first!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

128

2011
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

129

2006 Model C cutaway


Jan 27, 2011

Its not often one of my guitars comes up in the used market, but this one just
has. A fine 2006 Indian rosewood andItalian spruceModel C. The guitar is is
good solid condition its clearly been well played but there are no issues with
her. A transparent scratch plate has been fitted, but there is some pick marks
under the strings. But nothing too serious.
When she arrived here at N K Forster HQ last week I noticed the frets had
been rather harshly levelled, too much so for my liking so she has had a complete refret and set up by yours truly. I also lightened the bridge a little to be
more in line with how I do them now.
The sound is great, if i compare the sound to my current guitars I would say it
is a lot moreSobellthan Forster which is no bad thing and some may even
prefer this. The guitar was made in late 2005 and was just a couple of years
after I left the Sobell workshop. Many of the ideas I had to make a difference
to the sound didnt make as much difference as I had anticipated, so what we
have here is a very clear, loud, powerful sounding guitar that will make you
heard in any noisy session and comes with a pickup so its great for the stage
too.I have to say I only hope the person selling her doesnt decide to come
round and try her out again. He may well change his mind!
The guitar comes with a LR Baggs pickup and a fitted Calton case.
A new guitar with this spec would be 4900, and youd be lucky to get one
before mid 2012, this fine specimen is available now for 3500.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

130

Saddles!
Jan 28, 2011

For a few years now Ive used extra wide bone saddles. They allow for fine
tuning the intonation to get as close as possible to equal temperament. A
traditional 1 piece thin saddle can NEVER give you enough for correct compensation. They also allow the saddle to be adjusted for cold creep. Over the
years, soundboards deform, sink and belly and usually the saddle creeps forward. My guitars arestronger than mostand so deform less but some movement has to occur. The wide saddle allows for corrections to be made without
it involving major surgery.
Another benefit is it allows for the saddle to be taken out and swapped for
another which can be compensated for a sweetened tuning or a dropped tuning likeDADGAD. They can also be swapped for lefties without resorting to
surgery. Clever eh?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

131

The journey of an idea I


Jan 28, 2011

Id always wanted to make a guitar with a totally flat top. We all know that a
flat plate vibrates better than a curved one, but a flat plate has no strength and
the steel string guitar is an instrument that suffers greatly if the soundboard
cannot resist the pull of the strings. This is the basic problem we makers face:
to make in instrument that can both sing and resist the pull of the strings.
It was in India in 2007 that I had a new idea to tackle this little puzzle. I was
in the Jagan Mohan palace in Mysore where they have a collection of stringed
instruments on the top floor. One of the sitar type instruments had a large
gourd attached to the head to amplify the vibrations of the neck. I walked
back to my lodgings, thinking about this instrument. What if you attached
a gourd to either end? Just a neck with an amplifier? In most conventional
fixed bridge instruments the amplifier is under considerable tension. As a luthier I spend my working life trying to balance the opposing demands that
an instrument should withstand the pull of the strings yet still sing. Would
it be possible to have all the strain taken by the neck, and little taken by the
amplifier?
This planted the seed in my mind about a guitar where the body was not under tension but instead sympathetically amplified the vibrations of a neck.
I made a few doodles in my notebook, and here they are: the neck takes all the
strain of the strings which are attached to the neck at the bridge end rather
like a ukelele. The bridge is then attached (Bolted? Glued?) to the flat soundboard which sympathetically amplifies the vibrations of the neck. All the
strain would be taken by the neck which would be easily strong enough to
take it, so the soundboard could be made much much lighter, as its only job
would be to amplify, not resist.
Nice idea, but would it work? Only one thing to do, and Id have to wait until
my return to England to find out
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

132

An ideas journey II:a modern flat top guitar


Jan 28, 2011

A flat top guitar with a totally flat top?


What I love about guitar making is that its a practical subject, not a theoretical one. You can fantasise all day long about what an idea might sound like
but the only way you can find out is to make it.
I made the first prototype in late 2007, from a fine looking set of Mexican
Cocobolo and a fine old German spruce soundboard. The neck was a rather
complicated affair made of mahogany and reinforced left right and centre
with carbon fibre and graphite bars.
My old boss Stefan always drummed into me if you are doing an experimental guitar, make sure its pretty! and this certainly was. The shape I used
was my new Model S shape and Dave Wilson rang up in the middle of the
spray job just to tell me how amazing the guitar looked and everyone who
had walked into his workshop had wanted to know more about it. The guitar
looked utterly modern yet with a nod to the past. Well, things seemed to be
going well, but there was just one small question to be answered
The moment of truth came when she came back from Daves and was ready to
be strung up. How would she sound? Well the answer wasquiet and soft.
There was so much bass! and not much else.
A friend of mine Niall Cain, a fine violin maker, suggested a change in the
transmission. There was a fine bolt pulling the neck and soundboard together,
and Niall suggested taking the bolt out and wedging a little bridge between
the two. So I gave it a try. The guitar got louder but still no great shakes, and
I knew as the soundboard was thin and flat (and therefore weak) it would
slowly sink under the bridge pressure and get quieter still.
Back to the drawing board. But where to go next?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

133

An ideas journey:a fine archtop is born


Jan 28, 2011

An old friend of mine, and an amazing picker, Jose Guillen, had seen the
experimental flat top guitar and said This would make a fine archtop! I
dismissed the idea as this was all about making a guitar with a perfectly flat
top Jose clearly missed the point.
Some months later another chap came round to talk about me building
anarchtop guitarfor him not what I normally do but I do love jazz guitar
and this feller loved my set ups and just liked my work. We talked about what
we could do but I knew I had little interest in building a conventional jazz
archtop. Its all been done before and there are many good makers out there
experimenting with with arching and thicknessing, with soundhole placement and thats what Ive been doing for years with steel stingersno, making another traditional jazzer didnt really do it for me, so the commission
didnt happen.
But then for some reason I got the failed experimental flat top guitar out of
the cupboard.
If you ask many jazz players about the sound they would like they often mention that they want more sustain and less feedback. I got thinking about how
to achieve this by applying this long neck idea to an archtop guitar. The
arched soundboard is self supporting so Nial Cains suggestion about having
a floating bridge could now work. The full length neck would give us the sustain and the lightly made acoustic body would add some broader tonal qualities. Seemed my old pal Jose had been right after all!
Soback to the workshop.
The experimental archtop guitar was built in 2009/2010, it looked amazing,
payed effortlessly and sounded great. But then Im a little biased. Would anyone else feel the same?
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

134

I took the guitar to amazing jazz musician Frank Vignola for an opinion, and
he was very helpful. Wow! It was great to hear the guitar played by such an
amazing player, and it was good to listen to it compared to his own fine guitar,
I have to say I was not disappointed with how my instrument performed. Not
too shabby at all I took in what Frank had to say and got thinking about
how to make a few changes. This led to my current version

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

135

A guitar bouzouki for Lisa


Feb 8, 2011

Here is a recent creation, another of my guitar bouzoukis. This one is a 10


string in Hondurasrosewoodand Italianspruce. The ownerto behas been
very patient, but I think shell be very happy when she arrives at her new
home soon.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

136

An ideas journey V new archtop guitar CHARLIE


Mar 11, 2011

A new archtop guitar is born!

It had seemed like a long time since discovering that Sitar inMysore! Work
started on the latest (and quite possibly final) version of my archtop guitar on
New Years eve, 2010, and continued pretty much around the clock until the
guitar was done I had tickets to go travelling again in mid February so there
was no time to waste.
Id thought a great deal about the advice I was given and how to make these
ideas happen. The new version is slimmer, a little heavier, the neck joint is a
little different, and instead of traditional f holes I went for an oval hole, placed
where the bass f hole would be. The neck, instead of super light Honduras cedar, is fine old reclaimedmahogany. The electrics are all mounted under the
pickguard instead of the soundboard.
Wow! Despite being shallower and heavier the acoustic sound is much fuller
and louder. More sustain, more balance.
This guitar has little in common with my original idea to make aflat top
guitar that does not collapse, but this is what happens when you allow your
imagination to roam. One of the things I love about my trade is that an idea
can go off on a journey of its own. It can take months or years for ideas to percolate, but once they have, they results can seem very obvious! But I had no
inkling walking back from a dusty old Indian museum that a few years later,
this instrument would be the result.
Its been my wish for some time to somehow honour the memory of my late
Grandfather, Charles Ferguson. He was a lovely old feller and a fine guitarist
who played jazz and dance band music. He was very proud that I became a
luthier, and I think he would have loved this guitar. So, I think it appropriate
to name this new model after himso, may I introduce to you all
CHARLIE.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

137

An ideas journey IV:great jazz guitar playing


Mar 11, 2011

Great jazz guitar!


http://goo.gl/3FNN2I

http://goo.gl/uTKB1e

Here is one of my favourite players, Bryan Younger, owner ofThe Guitar Shop,
Old george Yard, Newcastle upon Tyne. You can speak to Bryan on 0044 (0)
1912614056. Good man.
The guitar is my ideas journey archtop, the amp is my Grandfathers old
Polytone MiniBrute 12. Fitted with a linen mounted speaker fromMaughan
Ampsof Wallsend. A fine combination.
The guitar is now fitted with a pair of pickups, wired out of phase, and in the
middle position the sound is really rather special.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

138

View from the hammock, Thailand 2011


Mar 12, 2011

Thailand is a great country: its so laid back, the food is good and the people
are friendly. The sun shines and I get to lay in a hammock for most of the day.
Actually weve had intermittent heavy rain for a few days now so Ive been almost totally hammock bound, which has been no bad thing. Ive had time to
read a book (last time was me last holiday) and Ive been practicing with me
little cheapo Canon camera (A490)
So this is the view from the hammock. Hope you like it.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

139

A fine archtop guitar Oscar


Oct 18, 2011

So, if youve followed the little series The journey of an idea this should seem
like a fairly logical next step to apply the idea to atraditional archtopdesign here is the result Ive called him Oscar, after my favourite Jazz guitar
player,Oscar Moore(who played with Nat Cole in the late 30s and early 40s.)
The guitar has a top notch, aged bearclaw German spruce soundboard, figured rock maple body and a carbon fibre reinforced Monterey cypress neck.
Fretboard and finger rest are Sri Lankan ebony. The guitar has my new long
neck design which gives more sustain and superior access to the upper frets,
as well as having acompensated zero fretto ensure spot on equal temperament all over the neck.
This really is a classy guitar

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

140

2012
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

141

A day at the Newark College guitar making course


Apr 5, 2012

Last week I spent a day as a visiting lecturer atNewark Collegewhere Adrian


and Mal run a guitar making course. Its a two year course where the students
learn about making acoustic guitars by hand. I came and and gave the students a talk in the morning, we covered guitar design.
Every year the students have a guitar race they work in small teams and
build a guitar in 24 hours flat. A great idea! So it seemed a good idea to talk
about how I came up with the Model S design. One thing I noticed about the
previous guitar race guitars was that they were very traditional guitars and
non of the students in the past had given much consideration to simplifying
the design. I love the notion ofstripping a design down to the bare essentials,
so who knows, maybe this years race will have a few new ideas and when faced
with a limited time to build, may concentrate on that which really matters.
Then I talked to the students about the whole business side of things dealing
with people, prices, advertising all the things that non of us want to think
about! But these are things which cant be ignored if we hope to make our
living as luthiers. I hope some of me words struck a chord.
After lunch my time was spent working with the students on their projects, it
was really interesting to dive in, some of the students are very good and it was
fun to introduce them to some of my design ideas which really were new to
them. Quite a few of them bough mebookwhich was nice too.
Towards the end of the day I bent a pair of sides for one of the chaps who
was about to start on a maple guitar. The sides looked like they may be trouble with run out and a flaw or two, but they went well and my reputation
remained intact!!
Yes, it was a really nice day, Adrian (AJ Lucas) and Mal do a fine job. Long
may it all last!
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

142

Images for a new guitar making book?


Apr 27, 2012

Toying with the idea of doing anotherbook the last one has been received
well but I am being asked by some of you to do another which is more of a
how to make a guitar book Now I thought there was enough of those about
already but it seems not to be the case. What do you think? I found a little
program to turn my photos into sketches which should reproduce nicely in
b&w. Mmmmthis could be a lot of work but I really enjoyed putting the last
one together, and I think a book about thecylinder topdesign that I use a lot
these days could prove to be really interesting to the many amateur makers
out there,and one or two professionals too perhaps. Suggestions and requests
welcome email me.nigel@nkforsterguitars.com

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

143

The guitar bouzouki that turned into a


Les Paul Junior
Sep 5, 2012

Quite some time ago I received a commission from a chap in the USA. He
wanted a narrow (12) wide guitar bouzouki, short scale. I dont always take
on every experiment folk suggest, but this design certainly interested me
so we discussed options and possibilities. I had a few attempts to come up
with a shape that I really liked, and eventually we settled on a lovely nipped
waist Parlour sort of shape with a large top bout. Add to this the Howe
Ormecylinder top design an X brace, and the sleek Modern styling and
between us I think weve come up with a lovely variation on myGuitarBouzoukidesign to suit his high strung tuning. The instrument is nearly ready
to go out and its a real little gem, I hope hell be as happy with it as I am.

But one thing leads to anotherthis year Ive been sharing a workshop with
another guitar maker the very talented John Gill ofJXG guitars. John repairs and makes electric guitars, and is a real expert in relic replicas he has
quite a reputation for his Les Paul Junior guitars which command pretty hefty
price tags and are to be found all over the world. Anyway, Ive never made an
electric guitar (after twenty odd years of building acoustics). It would be crazy
to share a workshop with someone like John and not try and learn from the
feller. His depth of knowledge about what makes a good electric guitar is phew w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

144

nomenal, and he advised me every step of the way about timbers, hardware,
finishing, set ups and pickups. But what should I make? That was the question. It dawned on me I really loved the shape of the little guitarbouzouki
and as it turned out it was pretty similar in size to aLes Paul Junior. A new
(old!) guitar was born The OddBall Junior!!! What fun it was to build, the
relecing especially and its GREAT!!!! The pickup is just superb and the
neck position really suits the warm sound I love.
This WILL NOT be added to the range of instruments I make. Its a one off.
for meso there! Think of it as the greatest guitar Gibson never made! Ill
leave making electrics to John.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

145

Selmer Maccaferri inspired archtop: new


Samois video
Sep 26, 2012

http://goo.gl/VIFtUS

Best watched in HD! And play through your hi-fi or listen with headphones
to do it justice.
Ive knownGilesfor years, and hes always been a great player. I was really
glad he came over to demonstrate my latest archtop guitar Samois. The guitar is a new variation on myCharliejazz guitar design. This is my tip of the
hat to the wonderful work ofMario Maccaferri and Selmer.
It features a lovely Bearclaw European spruce soundboard married to acocobolobody. The neck and fretboard are 1 piece solid Indian rosewood. The
pickup is a handmade AlNiCo III Kent Armstrong humbucker and the strings
are DAddario jazz light nickel. Oh the amp is my grandfathers old Polytone
Mini-Brute. Now I know these have gone out of fashion and we did try one
of the popular modern Jazz amps but there was simply no competition. The
Polytone was a little noisy in comparison to the modern amp but tonally so
much warmer. It was good enough forJoe Pass, and its good enough for us!
Ian Stephenson kindly came by to lend his expertise and engineered the session. Hes done a great job as ever.
Thanks also to Chris atBlank studios, Newcastle for doing such a great job
and being so patient.
Find out more at:
http://www.nkforsterguitars.com
http://www.gilesstrong.co.uk
http://blank-studios.com
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

146

2013
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

147

India 2013
Jan 19, 2013

In my usual bid to avoid the British winter Ive ended up in Bodh Gaya, Bihar, north east India. A fascinating place where around 2500 years ago the
Buddha got enlightened. The town, and the food are very international with
pilgrims coming from all over the world.
The main focal point is the Bodhi tree. This magnificent old tree is the grandson of the original, and is almost as popular with squirrels as it is people. It
was under the original tree that the Buddhas awakening happened.
In the town there are many temples covering almost every facet of Buddhism
today- Thai, Burmese, Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese, Korean and more.

Those of you who have been to India will be very aware of how utterly hectic
it is, but Bodh Gaya isa littlecalmer.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

148

Winter 2013, Thailand


Feb 11, 2013

After leaving India (via Calcutta which is a truly magnificent and crazy
place) I arrived in Thailand, to spend a week at Wat Rampoeng, a meditation centre just outside northern city Chiang Mai.
In 2011 I spent a month at Wat Rampoeng where they teach their take on
Vipassana or insight meditation. One of the fascinating things about Thailand is the state religion Theravada Buddhism.
You turn up at a meditation centre, they give you a room, feed you every day
and teach you first how to calm the mind and then how to understand it.
Thats it. Its a truly fascinating process and a very worthwhile way for people
to spend their time.
These places run entirely on donations. They exists because of the generosity
of others. Everything at Wat Rampoeng was paid for by someone who wanted
others to share the benefits they enjoyed from time spent there. Thats a lot of
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

149

generosity!
One thing made me chuckle/gasp: next to the western dorms they were building another new meditation hall, a magnificent teak structure. The workers
were superb, using modern tools but building with traditional joinery. It
seems despite Thailand being a modern country health and safety laws are
a little different from those in Britain. The chap in the picture was trimming
timber with a hand held circular saw whilst balancing on a steeply pitched
polished tile roof. But dont worry he was wearing flip flops and had a nylon
rope tied around his waist for safety!
Back to the centre: the senior monks (and a senior nun a very rare thing in
Thailand) work 7 days a week most of the year round, teaching, listening and
helping. Nuns work all hours, 7 days a week, cooking, cleaning, and generally
keeping the place going. Apart from a few of the kitchen staff, no-one gets
paid, and its open to the public all year around. Its a big place like a village,
and during busy periods is home to around 100 monks and nuns, up to 30
western lay people and maybe a couple of hundred Thai lay people. Pretty
amazing really.
A few decades ago meditation was considered something only a few select
monks might dedicate themselves too, but now many ordinary Thais meditate as well as observing traditional rituals and rites. Meditation centres exist
all over Thailand. Burma too has many so Im told.
If all is good I hope to return again to Wat Rampoeng to spend some more
time. Its an amazing place.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

150

STOLEN GUITAR BOUZOUKI


Feb 25, 2013

One of my customers Adam Rhodes had some of his gear stolen a couple of
nights ago in a little town calledEscrick, near York. Amongst the gear was
hisguitar bouzouki. Please keep an eye out for this instrument, it was made
in around 2010 or 11 and the label reads for Alan Jones the chap whom I
made it for originally. The soundhole is a small ellipse, its quite a distinctive
instrument.
If you see it, please contact the owner Adam on 07885405227 oradam@rhodesyman.com
Adam has a page up describing the other gear stolen:
http://www.barruletrio.com/stolen/

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

151

Another Howe Orme inspired guitar:


Tom picks up his Model C Modern
Apr 14, 2013

Another Howe Orme inspired guitar heads home


Whilst rearranging the blog to be a bit more useful I came across this post
from 2011 that I forgot to publish! Tom was back in touch recently for his
after sales set up and wrote to tell me how over the moon with the guitar he
is. Nice guitar, and a nice feller.
So, here it is.
Tom, was that keen he was at his Model C Modern before he even got his
jacket off! Tom is a good player and has played for years, and it seems now his
search for a guitar that can perform how he wants is over Tom plays in both
standard and DADGAD tunings and this guitar does that in spades. We had
lots of discussions about what he wanted, and going by the smile on his face
he seems pretty happy!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

152

Whats the best value handmade acoustic guitars?


Apr 14, 2013

Let me put this as plainly as I can: the best value handmade acoustic guitars
are the simplest ones.
You might feel that getting a far east guitar that features all the bells and
whistle is the best way to go. Wellit depends on what your priorities are,
but if you think yours are sound, playability and looks, read on.
As I said:the best handmade acoustic guitars are the simple ones.
The chap who ordered this Model C, Tom, had priorities that very much were
in alignment with how I think and theyrepretty simple enough sound,
playability, looks and budget were his guides.
He wanted plenty of bass (Model C) with a richness you can only get from
Rio (the back is Indian rosewood, the sides are Rio rosewood) On top of this
he wanted to be loud so to be heard in noisy sessions (Howe Ormeinspired
X braced soundboard with laminated struts) Next we have a 644mm scale to
allow dropped tunings without being too stiff, and some smart black Gotoh
510 tuners and simple, plain but modern styling.
We end up with a guitar I wouldnt mind keeping for myself.
Well done Tom.
This is the beauty of getting an instrument made for you we begin with what
you want and between us we come up with the best combination of features
that is within your budget. This was the main motivation behind coming up
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

153

with the modern style of guitar building.Originally, this style was called
the Model S style but I ended up with so many variations on the basic design its been renamed.
Modern? Yes, I think so , although many old fashioned instruments have
stripped down decoration too. Look at the old cheaper acoustic guitars from
decent companies like the oldmahogany Martin guitars - theyre lovely
sounding and great looking guitars.
By sticking with themodern style of decorationyou can redirect your funds
towards upgrading thetimbers a really sensible use of your money if sound
is your no. 1 priority.
As I saidwell done Tom!

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

154

Exclusive! Richard Dawson, and his new


album, The Glass Trunk
Apr 24, 2013

For a number of years,Richard Dawsonhas been one of Newcastles best kept


musical secrets, but in the last couple of years, the secret has started to get
out! With featured performances on BBC, and glowing reviews inWire magazine,the rest of the country and now further afield are starting to wake up to
the amazing talent of Tynesider Richard Dawson.
If youre not familiar with Richard, here he is performingWooden Bag, from
hits last album,The Magic Bridgewhich is available for download at Bandcamp.
With three albums already under his belt Richard became involved in a Newcastle Libraries project, spending hours pouring over old newspapers, and
finding inspiration for latest recording The Glass Trunk.

We caught up in a fine Byker establishment JJs cafe, on Heaton rd.


NKF Richard thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. Youve
been on tour the last few weeks promoting you new album, The glass tank. Its
a truly wonderful record, you must be very proud of it!
RD Ta!
NKF This project was suggested by Newcastle libraries can you tell us
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

155

more about it? How did this collection of songs come to be?
RD Id already been thinking about doing a solo vocal album but was well
underway on another guitar and voice album when I was invited to take part
in the half memory project. It was very much a feeling that it was the right
thing to put the album I was working on the back burner to do this album..
My instinct told me that this album already existed, that everything was in the
right place, it was meant to be. Id hit a brick wall with that other album I
think maybe my mind was already on the glass trunk. So you could say it was
a very happy confluence which brought about this album.
NKF The recordings were made inBlank studios, Newcastle, tell me about
the sessions?
RD The album was recorded over three days and mixed on the fourth. The
first day was spent recording the group singing, and the track I sing with sarah, the ghost of a tree. It was a very celebratory day, we had about sixteen to
eighteen people in the studio singing their lungs out, a very happy day. Everyone really went for it, were so very open, lending their personalities and
hearts to the feel of the piece. And it was special to feel it all grow quiet when
everyone had gone home then me and Sarah recorded our song.
The second day I recorded the other five songs. This was definitely the most
challenging day.a lot hung on it. My voice was in good fettle and I felt very
focused, in the main it went well, but there were some dark moments!
The third day was a different kettle of fish altogether, recording the guitar and
harp duets with Rhodri. It was intense in its own way, we recorded about sixty
five to seventy separate one minute segments, moving from very full on and
intense over the course of the day thru to really spacious, like debris flying out
after an explosion and gradually settling down. It was also an intense day for
the level of piss taking.. We set a high bench mark that day.
Throughout the weekend sam, the producer, oversaw things and kept everything nice and calm, felt very much like a duel effort, he lent a real feel to the
proceedings, as opposed to simply capturing the performances.
NKF So the songwriting process is it something you have to be disciplined
about? What qualities help a song to come alive?
RD Yes, patience is crucial in songwriting. The melodic and harmonic elements tend to come very quickly, but writing the words is really difficult. For
this album I had a deadline, a first for me. But I found it most helpful. I apw w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

156

proached the whole thing as you would any job, getting up first thing, working solidly until lunch, an hours break, then a full afternoon. Some days that
days work would yield perhaps one or two lines, sometimes nothing at all.
Others I might get a whole verse done. All of it was good time though, really
painful right in my brain, Im not too smart, slow brain, but always a little bit
of progress.
I didnt feel worried about getting it all done in time, I didnt know exactly
what needed to be done when I begun after all. But like I say, I felt the
album already existed and it was just a case of following everything where
it would lead. I had the same feeling with the album before, I could feel its
aliveness, and just needed to honestly search and uncover it, reveal its shape.
I think its important to be thorough when writing. Every word, every sound
carries a meaning or character or some piece if aliveness, information. how
those sounds and shapes interact with each other, how they sit in the structure of a song, the structure of an album, and how they combine with the
melody, and with the performance, provides the colours, contours and spirit
of the overall painting.
NKF There is a lot less guitar than in your previous albums. What made you
take this direction?
RD The guitar and harp appear twice between each song. I almost see them
as the landscape on which the stories unfold. But there was a definite choice
to just have the voice out on its own, to separate it from the guitar. I hope to
draw attention to the space between the two, on this recording, on the one
before, and on the one after.
NKF So your relationship with guitars has changed over the years?
RD I really started taking the guitar more seriously, as a voice in its own
right, maybe seven years ago.. Before I had been accompanying myself, but
really there was no depth to my playing. Now every note counts. There are an
infinite number of ways to strike a string, and each way carries with it its own
value. So now I practice very hard, its crucial to get the songs the notes, the
words, the chords, what have you really ingrained so you can make those
really quick choices when you play out live.. All of these tiny variables, plus
the room, plus the audience, plus the spirit of the day, plus my mental health,
plus luck, plus whatever can conjure up a unique experience. So I see the guitar as another means of singing, a different side of myself, and a voice for the
characters of the songs also.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

157

NKF Your last album The Magic Bridge is one of my favorite albums beautiful songs and I just get really drawn in by your guitar playing its so different from anything else Ive heard. How did you evolve this really intricate but
really brutal style?
RD Im not really heavy into any guitarists, although I like Atahualpa Yupanqui, Joseph Spence, Henry Makobi, and a lot of other players too. I dont really
know how to explain or even think too much about how my style came about,
or whether its really that distinctive or not.
I can say that Im interested in expressing myself as honestly and clearly as
possible, whether on a guitar, or through singing, or just chatting in the pub
or the street. Still trip up plenty, of course! I do think perhaps it would be
easy for a musician to admire and draw their inspiration from just one or two
sources, I hear that sometimes. I guess people do that in daily life too, perhaps fall under the thrall of one person and maybe suffer a narrowing of their
world view. Not necessarily an unhappy thing. I think focus is a very fine
thing, but so is variety.
Getting back to music, it can be frustrating to hear musicians, particularly
songwriters, who seem to have a very narrow field of experience, listening, I
mean. How can you write interesting songs if all you listen to is songs? Bullshit!
Let me get back to Henry Makobi. If there was some album I could say was
a turning point it would be his collection on harlequin music, a pretty obscure thing, with the shittiest looking cover, recorded in one sitting in a hotel
room.. Hes a postman from Kenya I tried fingerpicking for the first
time, so early twenties maybe, in the same week I got that album. So there is
the starting point.
NKF So its been a busy year for you Richard and youre pretty prolific collage, drawing, radio shows, gigs, recordingwhats next? You going to get the
chance to take some time off?
RD Things arent too busy, Ive had a strange foggy start to the year, a bit of
personal upset which has slowed me down, havent been writing, but practising plenty. But had some really good gigs, and the tour was amazing. Playing
out, playing to new people, meeting folk, getting to travel and sing, is my
dream! So its been eye opening. I hadnt been out of the country as an
adult until a month ago! So Im just gearing up to getting back to proper work
from may onwards, Im working on a play about the life of gertrude bell, with
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

158

my good friend kate, which will be playing at the Edinburgh festival in August, and then Ill be writing the words for the next album, which Im excited
about! Also have some good looking gigs coming up and maybe some more
singing abroad.. Just going to take it as it comes, try be a bit more healthy,
and stay focused on making interesting work.
Richard Dawsons new recording The Glass Trunk is released on 28th April.
For a CD, go to Richards own site:
www.richarddawson.net
To download:
www.richard-dawson.bandcamp.com/music

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

159

Irish bouzouki? What about Isle of Man bouzouki?


Interview with Adam Rhodes, Barrule.
Jun 9, 2013

Irish bouzouki? Well, weve all heard of that, but how about a bit of Manx
bouzouki? Whos waving the flag formusic from the Isle of Man?
Barrule!
Barruleare a musical trio who are doing their bit to place the Isle of man on
the musical map. I recently spoke to Barrules Adam Rhodes (and proud owner of twoNK Forster instruments) about their new album which came out at
the end of last month.

NKF: Adam, thanks for taking the time to talk. Youve recently been on tour
promoting you new eponymous album, Barrule. How long has this project
been in the making?
AR: Thats right, well it all started as an idea that Jamie had a few years ago
for getting the word out about Manx music in general. There are some cracking tunes and musicians over there, something which isnt necessarily known
about across the water and further afield. So we decided to create an album of
purely Manx music, using the trio format, but with guest musicians here and
there. We wanted the album to be all about the music, and to showcase it in
the way it deserves. I think/hope weve accomplished that!
NKF: Tell me about the sessions?
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

160

AR: Well we recorded the album in a fantastic eco studio in Abergavenny,


Wales, run by an extremely talented guitarist called Dylan Fowler. It was set
in a lovely peaceful location surrounded by trees etc, and was a great place
to clear your mind and get creative. Most of the tracks were recorded live,
with the three main instruments playing at the same time, and we then added
various instruments to that, where needed, as we went along. As were a new
band, some tracks were pretty much written whilst in the studio. Although we
obviously had some ideas beforehand, we were lucky to be able to spend some
time working through the ideas and being creative.

NKF: How did this collection of tunes come to be?


AR: We spent quite a lot of time sourcing and arranging the material for the
album in early 2012. As we wanted it to consist purely of music from the Isle
of Man, we spent time looking through the various Manx music books that
are available, and coming up with ideas as to how we could work best with the
melodies, making them interesting and exciting to new ears. Although the
majority of the album consists of traditional Manx material, there are a few
sets comprising of new tunes written by musicians still with us today too! So
theres a great mix of old and new in there.
NKF: So the writing process is it always a collaboration? And how much of
collaboration is about negotiation?
AR: Id say for this album, pretty much everything was written in a collaborative way, yes. We obviously all had different ideas to start with, but wed bring
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

161

the ideas to rehearsals and all chip in with thoughts, positive or negative!
There is a bit of negotiation sometimes, I think this is normal when working
with different ideas from different people, but the end result has to be something that were all keen on thats very important.

NKF: So it must involve a lot of trust and mutual respect?


AR: Absolutely, I think were very lucky in that we all get on with each other
very well, and having played together in different forms over the years, we
have a mutual respect for each others playing. I think it also helps that weve
come from different backgrounds, bringing different ideas and angles to the
set writing Jamie grew up in Wales and has developed his playing throughout the years with his band Mabon, I grew up from a Manx dancing background, playing with my Manx band King Chiaullee and later found myself
living in Edinburgh whist at University so a wee bit of Scottish influence
there, Tom also comes to some extent from the Manx dancing scene, but also
has a strong connection with Irish music, and being 10 years younger than us
other two, brings a fresh outlook to the whole thing I suppose!
NKF: One of the things I love about your playing, is how unflashy it is
its clear to me that the tunes, the music comes first. But this does mean that
some may overlook your role. They dont get it. Does this ever bug you?
AR: Not really no, I dont really do the whole ego thing! With Barrule its
ALL about the tunes, and although we do sometimes have some interesting
arrangement ideas, if they get in the way of the tune in anyway, then we wont
use them. I think my role as the accompanist is to provide a strong and reliable backing to the tunes, marrying up with Jamies accordion left hand to
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

162

provide a full and complete sound. Im a big fan of the less is more style, you
dont have to change chord every bar for example, sometimes holding one
full open-sounding chord throughout a tune passage, or even a whole tune,
sounds great! I could overcomplicate things in order to try and prove I can do
more as a player, but thats not what its about in my opinion the tune is king!
NKF: So its been a busy year for you Adam, whats next? You going to get the
chance to take some time off?
AR: It has indeed! Im very lucky to be involved with two exciting and
hard-working projects, Mabon and Barrule so its rare that I have a week
to myself. Ive recently moved to Glasgow, so itd be nice to spend some more
time up here in-between gigs. For now though Im piling most of my energy
into the Barrule album launch, once thats done then its festival season! Not
sure Ill be having any time off in the foreseeable future
Barrule can be found here:
http://www.barruletrio.com/
https://www.facebook.com/barruletrio
You can buy the album here:
https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/barrule/id658111035?uo=4

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

163

The flat top guitar that isnt a flat top


Jul 31, 2013

When is a flat top guitar not a flat top?


When its a cylinder top.

Really though, Do any guitars have a totallyflat top?


The name flat top guitar is a little misleading. Its a misnomer. It implies that
a guitar soundboard is flat. This usually isnt the case. Most if not all guitars
are made with a domed soundboard. The doming is to help the thin soundboard resist deformation under string tension. As most of us who are into
guitars know, this approach can best be described aspartiallysuccessful.
My flat top guitars have anything but a flat top. Mystandard soundboardshave
a heavily curved shape, which is similar to (but by no means identical) to those
of my old boss and teacher Stefan Sobell. His approach, and mine too is to
make the guitar top stiff where it needs to be, and flexible where it doesnt.
This is in total contrast to how steel string guitars are traditionally made.

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

164

But this year nearly all the instruments Im making this year arewhat I callcylindertops. They could still loosely be called flat top guitars as the music and
the people theyre intended for is the same. How you play a cylinder top is the
same as a flat top. Its just a slightly different approach to making.
Most makers are constantly playing around with soundboard materials, thicknessing and bracing to try and reduce the mass to a minimum, so the top can
sing yet be strong enough to last. It amazes me how few really experiment
with theactual physical shapethe soundboard is placedin. Yet I feel this the
three dimensional shape of the guitar top is the single greatest factor in shaping tone, longevity and projection.
Thats why I spend so much time experimenting with it.
As you probably know (if youve read much of my blog) my cylinder top
design is based on those wonderful oldHowe Orme guitarsfrom the 1890s.
Last year, after years of searching, I managed to get not one, but two Howe
Ormes. Ill write a little more about them in the coming weeks. And Ill see if
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

165

I can get one of the fellers to make a video of one of them.


In the meantime, here is me and an 1890s Howe Orme enjoying a bit of quality time together in the workshop.
Flat top guitars? Mmm, wellkind of

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

166

New interview with Guitar Connoisseur


magazine
Oct 21, 2013

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

167

Luthier speaks out!

Well, not really.


Kelcey Alonzo ofwww.guitarconnoisseur.comfeatured me in the latest online edition of the new, excellent and rather fancy magazine. Its the Innovators edition which is nice.
So, read the article, its good, as are the images, supplied by myself, Dave Best
and Seth Tinsley, and as a bonus Ive included the original q&a between the
writer and I in this post.

NK Forster Guitars speaks with guitarconnoisseur.com

GC: Can you talk us through the process from initial spark of inspiration to create a new model; to the design process; the development of a prototype and the
final completed guitar?
Its great fun coming up with new models and new designs, its quite possibly
my favourite part of the job.
Ideas come wether I like it or not, regardless of the timing being appropriate
or not. Some ideas come about because of circumstances, or ideas arise yet
Ive no clue of what use they may be at the time, and yet other times, solutions
come due to concerted effort, by directing my attention to an issue and examining it from different angles.
The trick is to know when to work with thoughts and ideas and when to put
them to one side for later. Im sure this is a situation familiar to many people,
not just musicians and artists.
An example of circumstances providing inspiration was the economic melt
down of 2007 from it, the Model S was born, which became the basis of my
simple undecorated modern style of building:pragmatism was the driving
force behind it. Around that time I had someone cancel an order just a few
weeks after placing it his financial situation had changed for the worse and
he could no longer commit to the instrument hed ordered. Poor feller. This
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

168

had never happened to me before and it came to me rather quickly to make a


less expensive instrument. The challenge was simple:how could I strip down
the design to just the bare bones without detracting from the sound or playability? So, I had to direct my attention to the whole design to see where the
fat could be cut.
It became a really enjoyable challenge like a kind of puzzleguitar Jenga!
What could be taken away without it the whole thing collapsing, physically or
aesthetically? Quite a lot as it turned out. This is an approach Id encourage all
makers to experiment with its easy to get lost in all the latest ideas, all the
fancy design features which can become a little gimmicky. Sometimes we get
lost in the complicated stuff without having given due attention to the basics.
We assume we understand them yet sometimes this isnt the case. Much of
what we consider a guitar to be, isnt. Its just fluff superfluous.
Other times you just have to put ideas to one side and wait for the right time
my arch top design was an example of an idea that I kept coming back to it
took a few years to get to the current point where the design is pretty settled.
If you check out my blog you can trace the idea from its conception the
design was initially for a guitar with a totally flat top! It took severalincarnations before I came up with Charlie and Oscar and all the other variations.
A friend had suggested the design would suit archtop guitars better than flat
top, but at the time I wasnt listening, it took months before I had the archtop
idea myself!
So the project that began with what would a guitar with a totally flat soundboard sound like? ended up answering a very different question How do
you make an archtop with sustain and broad tonal colour?
Its proving a pretty popular design, yet some really struggle with it as the
cantilevered long neck and wedged floating bridge seems to defy their understanding of engineering. Of course the best thing is for folk to try one out,
then the aaah!! moment comes, and all the doubts go!
Despite this idea being new its not without pre-cursors:one feller noted that
Id re-invented Les Pauls the log and just the other week I saw a picture of a
guitar by a 1960s Italian maker, Wandre, that had a cantilevered neck similar
to my archtops, so Im in good company it seems.
The freedom to experiment:its one of the many benefits to running a one
man shop. With employees it wouldnt be possible, Id be too concerned about
keeping them busy and paying the bills.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

169

GC: You trained under the guidance of luthier Stefan Sobell from the age of
seventeen how valuable was this process in terms of building your own confidence and voice and how much did this working relationship influence your
own work; belief in yourself and ability to take instruction so much so it still
influences you today?
Working for Stefan was a very challenging and worthwhile experience, and
one that continues to influence my present.
Considering what a basic workshop (by todays standards) it was, we made a
lot of fine instruments. Not only did he make good instruments he also knows
how to run a business, and run it well. When Stefan started he was supporting
his young family, and he was the bread winner. He had to get things done,
get them right and get them out the door. And in those days his work wasnt
commanding the sort of money it is now. When I started with him in 1988 I
think a Model 1 guitar was 820 or 880!
As for belief in myself When I opened my own workshop it wasnt as if I
was trying to learn how to make guitars whilst trying to make a living at the
same time I already knew how to make fine guitars, Id been making some
of the most highly regarded instruments in the world. For years. Just no-one
knew. Some folk who used to visit Stefans workshop though I just made the
tea! So it was more more of an issue of letting people know that I was in business,that the quality was the same, just the design and approach was different. It didnt take so long, word got around pretty quick and it didnt take long
for a waiting list to build up.
Taking instruction is an interesting topic there are many ways to learn: a
great bit of advice I heard years ago from a martial arts instructor was If you
have a questionask yourself first before asking me Its very very good advice. And a very effective way to gain a little insight.
Much of what I learned from Stefan I learned through observation and asking questions of myself. Hes a guitar maker, not a guitar making teacher and
whilst hes extremely articulate, much of what he does cant be articulated, it
has to be learned through observation and repetition until it becomes experiential.
That said, its certainly important to ask questions of teachers, the right questions, but that ask yourself first rule should still apply. Sometimes we ask
questions more out of wanting to appear intelligent or interested rather than
out of a genuine curiosity. Thats the wrong motivation for asking question
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

170

more about how we want to be perceived rather than our wish to learn. Sometimes we ask questions because we want to understand everything straight
away, but it simply isnt possible. Thats where repetition comes in handy, its
the repetition that makes certain things become clear in the mind, but then I
suppose thats not an option available to many.
Back to receiving instruction as a young man I didnt like being told what
to do, and this caused a lot of problems between Stefan and I, looking back,
he had a lot on his plate dealing with me. Still, I learned a great deal working
for him but the learning hasnt stopped, thats for sure. Listening and observing really helps. Actually, in recent years Ive earned to listen more, especially
when I hear or read something that I actually dont agree with or like.
One of the difficulties Ive had in talking to other luthiers, amateur in particular, is that many current makers share a vocabulary they share ideas and
many seem to be reaching a sort of consensus about how instruments work. In
my training and in the time I spent with Sobell, we never spoke of nodes and
modes, it wasnt something we concerned ourselves with, instead we spoke of
structure and building in order to resist soundboard deformation. This is still
pretty much how I tend to think about design which can be a challenge for
those who want to learn about how I make. I talk in terms they may struggle
to understand (and I dont just mean my accent!), and of course, my work
has never been data driven which is so popular amongst amateur makers.
The desire for data (amongst amateur makers) is perfectly understandable
but data alone wont make a good guitar or a good guitar maker. It certainly
means very little to customers and players.
Looking back at the first few years of my solo work the Sobell influence is
very clear Id made a number of structural design changes that (at the time)
I considered important but the guitars from the first few years still sound and
look very Sobell to me, which is no bad thing of course, but it took a while
tobuild on that sound which I found a little harsh at times especially in the
hands of players who werent so quick to adapt their right hand playing style
to a different style of building. My intention was to soften things up without
loosing any of that famous Sobell clarity, and seems to be how things have
worked out.
GC: It sounds as though your devotion to yoga, meditation and in the past, Japanese martial arts as well as voluntary work in Asia has become significant
to you outside of your guitar-building work. How much has this enabled you to
develop focus and crucially, how much do you need to retain this clarity for your
luthier work?
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

171

Its been a gradual progression much of that excess energy in my 20s got
channelled into both music and Aikido, but the more skilled you become at
Aikido, the more terrifying it becomes! In the end the fear and of injury grew
larger than my wish to keep practisingits a truly beautiful, elegant and subtle martial art, and very challenging.
Then in my early 30s I found myself in a yoga class. Partly just to get out of
the workshop (this was when I first began building under my own name and
was putting in a lot of hours at the bench) and partly to sort out my aching
back. I still practice, but not so diligently. I practice enough to allow me to sit
in meditation without having to experience too much physical pain. Id rather
spend the time meditating.
Meditation has been part of my life since my mid 20s but it wasnt until 2010
that in Thailand I stumbled upon a type of reflective analytical meditation that
really challenged my patterns of thought, intention and behaviour. Amongst
other things, I began the slow process of looking at my motivation for working. I was shocked at how little thought Id given it. My work had brought a
little bit of pleasure and contentment into the world for sure, but I decided it
was time to do something which was more directly beneficial to people to
give my time and my skills as a volunteer.
Its the perfect time to do it Ive a nice job, no boss, no debt, money in the
bank, and for the first time in years Im pretty free of major responsibility
my daughter is grown up and flown the nest, no employees, nothing a
perfect situation to spend a bit of time helping others. So for the last couple
of years Ive spent the winter time donating my woodwork skills mainly, but
other stuff too. Its nice, working and living in a team, in a different part of the
world, doing something where these skills of mine can make a difference.
What it also means is I get to step back from the canvas which is so valuable.
The internet allows me to still communicate with customers and deal with
inquiries and Ive a great network of friends in the trade who look after the
occasional warranty set up or little repair that might arise.
The first time I headed east for winter I got a little worried that Id loose interest in lutherie, that when Id get back to the workshop Id not want to be there,
but the opposite was the case ideas were pouring out! The main issue was
keeping them in check and not getting too carried away.
Its a way of working that really suits me to miss the wet, cold, dark British
winter, to spend a few weeks practicing yoga and doing voluntary work, travw w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

172

eling a bit and writing. Once back, the ideas pour out, and I limit the work
to the stuff I actually want to do rather than the stuff I have to do. For now, it
really works.
Its a nice position to be in for sure, and one that comes from a feeling that
(on one hand) each instrument could be my last, (and on the other) a certain
confidence that I know how to do this work that the woodwork is so conditioned in me, many aspects are automatic, yet still with the freedom to not
necessarily know what direction the work will take next
GC: Do you have any plans to bring your teaching skills to other parts of the
world? Also, how much has travel and cross-cultural links had a direct impact
upon your work? Do you prefer to work in isolation so as to retain your own
authentic style; or do you like to achieve a multi-faceted style, incorporating elements from other cultures and influences?
In 2012 I got in touch with a project in a north west Thailand town. They were
looking for artists to set up businesses training Burmese refugees oh I was
so excited! I went over to check out the situation but it just wasnt workable
there was some wonderful timber (mainly mahogany) but when I investigated a into the timbers origin, most of it was illegal from Burma itself. As
it turns out timber is one of the biggest financial props of the military regime
there, so that, combined with many other practical and legal issues squashed
that particular dream.
But yes, the idea of making great instruments and actually making a real difference to the lives of the workers, was (and is) one that really appeals to me.
That said, I also enjoy and appreciate working alone. Silence is good. I do get
many requests from folk wanting to work as an apprentice but its unlikely to
happen. That said, in the future I may offer internships like some makers
do. Who knows?
Influences? They can take some time to filter through to my work. When I
visited Japan in 2010 I was bowled over by the craftsmanship and design there
for me it simply is the most inspiring place in the world (aesthetically)but I
cant say that influence has made an appearance in my work yet. But it might,
I love the work of modern Japanese luthiers but developing decoration just
seems to be the wrong direction for me.well see
GC: You have mentioned Italian luthier and classically trained musician, Mario
Maccaferri, as an inspiration to your own work. He has clearly had many setbacks along the way, including an injury which caused him to cease his playing
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

173

for some time. He found ways to continue on with his work, despite these setbacks and became someone who developed innovative new techniques that
future luthiers now model themselves on. How much can you relate to these
hardships and what kind of highs and lows have you been faced with and how
has this contributed to your own sense of style and unique design?
Id never thought about Maccaferri like that before, but youre right. We all
suffer some sort of hardship or other. This is simply one of lifes rules, wether
you like it or not, wether you even acknowledge it or notthings will from
time to time go wrong. Its how we react to these issues that matter. The trick
is not to add suffering to the suffering that is already present! Seems Mr Maccaferri had a decent grasp of that one.
Its hard to say how hardships manifest in our work. Often its how we react
to hardship. In my case its by taking a step back and trying to see things as
they actually are rather than how I would prefer them to be. Trying to work
out what is really going on. Accepting things, trying to understand them and
working with where things are now, not getting lost in how Id prefer them to
be.
The greatest challenge in recent years Ive had to face has been grief, with both
parents passing away, both within a few years of one another and both still
relatively young. But its a very valuable process to go through, to reflect and
value the good qualities of those youve lost and to actually direct your energies to developing the same qualities yourself, thats the best way to honour
someones memory eh?
My parents were very kind, generous, simple people. No pretensions, just
very straightforward, decent working class folk. My brother and I were very
fortunate, and I know many others are not so lucky.
Back to the work:visually there is no distractions, no affectations, no shouting, no demanding, no attention seeking in my instruments. What you see is
what you get. Tools to make music with. You could say that if I have a style,
this is it.
Style can seem a very personal thing. Design can seem a very personal thing.
But its always conditioned by the past and by external things by what
weveseen or experienced before, by the things we like, by the things we dont,
even by the things to which were indifferent.
Whilst my style of making feels very personal to me, if you take a broader
view its actually very British design: compare my work to that of my peers,
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

174

its really plain and functional. Then compare a 40s or 50s British motorbike
to an American one a 70s British hi-fi amp to a Japanese one. Compare
old British woodworking machines to modern European onesits the same
thing over and over the British version is just the bare bones of what needs
to be there not under engineered, far from it just very very simple, very
well designed, very well made products, stripped down to the essentials and
nothing else. Just pure functional design. Form following function. So in that
respect you could say my work is actually quite traditional!
GC: Your book is a photo-essay project which allows people to join you on the
guitar-building journey. How long did this book take to compile and do you
have plans for anything similar perhaps a film documentary in the future?
Dave Best (who did the fantastic photography) came over every few weeks to
the workshop for about two years. During that time I put the essays together.
Then it all went to old school pal Ben Tibbs who designed the layout. The
whole process took about three years but it was worth it! Hopefully the next
one will be a little quicker. I wrote the text this year whilst in India. Every
morning Id write for a couple of hours prior to lunch. It was a very enjoyable
process, trying to remember everything I do every day.
With a bit of luck Ill get the photos taken soon and get the book out before
too long I really enjoy writing and plan to do more this year on my winter
break.
GC: Do you aim to use tried-and-tested woods for certain elements of your guitars; or do you prefer to break the mould and go for timbers that arent necessarily known to be particularly successful for certain features yet, do you believe
in innovation and pushing boundaries?
Im pretty conservative when it comes to materials, I really understand spruce,
redwood, maple, mahogany and rosewood, what there are capable of and
what their limitations are, and I have really good timber stocks, so there simply isnt really any need for me to go looking for more alternatives.
The innovation that interests me is design innovation. Playing with the internal architecture of instruments. My main interest is in experimenting with
the soundboards physical shape itself this subject is virtually ignored by the
majority of makers. For most its a choice between one spherical former or another when deciding on a soundboard shape, and then playing around with
bracing, thicknessing and materials to colour the sound, but this approach
ignores what I feel is the most important factor the actual physical shape
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

175

you put the guitar top into. Thats what makes my work so different I guess. It
means my work isnt so conventional, and that limits my mass-appeal, but
thats ok Im not running a factory!
GC: Where do you source your timber from?
Currently nowhere. I more or less stopped buying timber a few years ago I
have more than enough. More than Ill ever use thats for sure, but thats never
stopped me buying timber in the past!
That said Im certainly not averse to the idea of alternative materials but am
yet to try any serious experimentation.
GC: What is it about the Howe-Orme design of the Bouzouki that appeals to
you?
I use it for guitars as well as guitar bouzoukis. Its such a logical, sensible and
pragmatic design. Perhaps the most logical, sensible and pragmatic guitar design there has ever been. And they sound amazing!
As I mentioned before the actual three dimensional shape of the top is a
crucially important factor that is really overlooked by todays makers. The folk
who came up with the Howe-Orme design thought about it seriously in the
1890s!
Look at how the steel string guitar evolved you realise that the popular responses to all the structural issues that guitars struggle with have only been
partially successful. Guitars still need neck resets because of weak soundboards and non adjustable necks. The Howe Orme design tackles the structural issues in a totally logical and successful manner. My own Howe Orme
guitar is over 100 years old, yet the guitar plays and sound superb. Its one of
the best guitars Ive ever played.
One interesting thing is that despite looking very unusual, the principles behind the Howe Orme design are very similar to the principles behind Sobell
guitars they share a lot of common ground. Blending the two and addingone or two ingredients of my own makes for what I feel to be the best
possible design.
One tricky thing about my version of the design is that it requires a certain
degree of sensitivity and high degree of concentration during the soundboard
thicknessing stage. A regular guitar soundboard is around 3mm thick. My
cylinder top soundboards can be down to 2mm. Thats thin for a steel string.
But because of the shape structure theyre as strong if not stronger than a conw w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

176

ventional soundboard.
When youre working with tops this thin a small change in thickness makes a
huge change in strength. Much more so than the difference between say 3mm
and 2.8mm. So you have to be switched on your attention undivided during
this time. It helps to build a few at a time to compare. To thickness and flex,
thickness and flex, to keep switching between tops to compare, flex and listen.
Its a fascinating process. You could go down the route of measuring, but I
think I do fairly well by paying attention and feeling whats going on.

GC: In todays world of conflicting lifestyles and especially in the economic climate what advice might you offer to anyone who is passionate about a career
in guitar lutherie (or anything less than conventional in fact) and is struggling to keep true to their own intuition? How much have your family influences
as well as other role-models been a positive guidance for you?
The best advice I could offer to someone who wants to make a living in Lutherie is to learn how to repair. There is no shortage of makers out there. Good
makers at that. But there is a chronic shortage of good, reliable repairers.
There is a good living to be made by those who are prepared to put the time
and effort in.
Learn to repair, repair well, charge accordingly then start putting time aside
for building the public love repairers who build. I recently complied a list of
well known luthiers who also used to repair the list was enormous! Plus its
a good way to get known, to get people through your door.
Ill say it again.learn to repair!!!
The other thing is to be mindful of the position you put yourself in or find
yourself in. I consider myself fortunate not to have debt at a time when its
rampant, when its the norm, but that was also a decision. Ive been fairly cautious financially, Ive always lived modestly. I prefer it.
More advice? To quote Somoygi It helps to marry well! so thats where I
went wrong

GC: You offer a wide range of guitar models and the chance to tailor make
your own design. How important to you, is it to get to know your clients and
their preferences? Do you have many loyal customers who come back to you
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

177

time after time?


This year about 2/3 of my work is repeat business instruments for people
who own an NK Forster or two already thats nice, and yes I always listen to
what they might want. They are usually pretty interested in what I have to say
or suggest too.
A few years ago many of my customers came to me because they couldnt
afford a Sobell or didnt want to wait in his list, but this just isnt the case so
much these days. People come to me because they like my work, not just
because of how it sounds or pays but because of how I think about the work
maybe it accords with how they think and feel about things. This is an important dimension for customers finding a maker with whom you fit. For
most makers, our work often is the physical embodiment of the things we
consider important, so the relationship between the maker and the customer
goes beyond just liking the guitars.
GC: The Paper in Oil capacitor features on many of your archtop semi acoustic
models why does this work best for you and your clients?
Last year I worked pretty closely with John Gill of JXG guitars in Newcastle Johns a very good guitar repairer and electric builder he specialises
in relics amazing looking and sounding guitars. John was looking over
one of my archtops which was already wired up and he suggested we try
an PiO capacitor. Im pretty sceptical about that sort of thing but Ive a lot of
respect for John and I love Johns work, so asked him to see what he could
do to improve it. We A/Bd from ceramic to PiO caps and the difference was
astounding. So I quickly bought as many as I could find! It would be hard to
describe the difference, as its like trying to describe a feeling. But the feeling
was undeniable!

GC: Have you been inspired whilst meeting with other luthiers; or on your travels to incorporate new features into your work? Are you constantly trying to
find new ways of improving upon your work? Or are you more of the thinking
that the traditional approaches are more dependable rather than constantly
seeking to get ahead of time and reject the older techniques? Do you believe, as
in all hands-on trades such as the traditional buildingtechniques (lime plastering etc); that with luthery, there are certain techniques that really should be
retained and preserved?

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

178

Ive met a number of makers on my last trip we had a great time! I paid a
visit to Steve Gilchrist, who is quite possibly the best mandolin maker around
today, a very down to earth, articulate and amiable chap. He and I talked shop
all afternoon and a number of things he mentioned really got me thinking.
Likewise Trevor Gore and Gerard Gillet two fantastic gentlemen both of
whom make world class guitars. Trevor and Gerard put together an extremely
thorough book a couple of years back which is fast becoming something of a
bible for amateur makers. Trevor has come up with some of the most convincing lutherie science Ive ever come across, and whilst my brain tends
not to work in that manner, he really got me thinking about things from a
different point of view which is always refreshing.time will tell what effect
our meeting had.
Gerard is heaps of fun, he and I got on like a house on fire, hes a great maker
with an excellent team around him and is a wealth of knowledge and experience, and a very good man to talk to about the history of the Australian Lutherie scene which really is quite fascinating. Superb guitar makers all.
If I have to sum my approach up, these days its a lot more relaxed. There is a
lot more openness in my approach than before. It comes from getting older
perhaps. Yes, Im always playing around with technique and method to try
and produce work in a way which is more consistent or in ways that are less
stressful, but woodwork is woodwork. Its design, playability and most of all
sound, that interest me and my customers the most.
Being taught woodwork by a man who was self taught (Stefan), kind of encouraged me learn traditional woodwork from books and from the old school
technicians when I went to study design at university. As a result Ive have a
pretty good understanding of many different ways of cutting up and sticking
together of bits of wood. I tend not to get too caught up in thinking one way
is any better than another any more. No methods are sacred. Whatever route
you take there are always obstacles to overcome, challenges to engage and
compromises to be made.
This year for instance Ive started joint tops the traditional way with rope and
wedges. Its really fun! And terribly elegant. This was after twenty odd years of
using a sheet of chipboard and a bag of nails (check out my YouTube video if
you dont know what I mean) at the same time Im really determined to keep
on top of the sawdust situation, to make more shavings than sawdust, to tidy
up after every single process, to avoid accumulated mess. This may sound
trivial and irrelevant to a client but to me its all about staying present`.
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

179

Keeping the day steady not getting lost in the ups and downs of the day.
Ending each day in the workshop knowing Ive done my best, that the place is
tidy and ready for me to return the next day to do it all again.
So, Im trying to cultivate a way of working that is generally more methodical
and not so hectic. Thats how I worked for years, but as I said, Im getting a bit
older

w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

180

Two new celtic bouzouki videos!


Nov 28, 2013

Irish jigs on bouzouki and box


http://goo.gl/Aih6Wd

Ian Stephenson and Andy May put together a nice little set of tunes to show
off the redwood bouzouki that came up for sale recently. The tunes are called
ODeas and Hawthorn hedge. Ill ask Andy if he can write the chords down
shall I?

Guitar Bouzouki TV action with Adam Rhodes!


http://goo.gl/JXgHhf

Jamie Smiths Mabon recently appeared on Welsh TV programme Heno


Thats Adam Rhodes playing the once stolen, now returned guitar bouzouki. Adam is getting a new instrument made by me so that one will be up for
sale soon. Get in touch if youre interested!

Enjoy!
w w w. n k f o r s t e r g u i t a r s . c o m

181