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After eleven years of playing in bands as a drummer, I eventually picked up the guitar. It’s an unconventional start for this line of work perhaps, but there’s not much conventional about the life of a guitar builder or the way to become one.
So, playing guitar and because I like to do things to the full – or even go a little over the top – I quickly wanted a full-on, custom-built one. In my search for just the right luthier I came across Andy Mayer from MudSlide Guitars of Reading, California, and after weeks of swapping emails he built me an absolutely beautiful guitar, charging only for the materials. As well as an amazing instrument, I had also gained a good friend, and the process itself triggered a fascination in me for guitar building. Nothing would have made me happier than delving into my newfound interest right away but, unfortunately, that wasn’t possible. Studying and working as a music therapist, there was no time in my life just then for learning to build instruments.
But a few years later I was made redundant, and I took the opportunity to pursue my interest in guitar making. I enrolled in an acoustic guitar building programme at London Metropolitan University, and during the first ten-week course I had the chance to visit String Salon at Barleylands in Basildon, Essex. This visit, as it turns out, was more pivotal than the course itself. It was there that I met Paul Egholm, possibly the most unconventional person I have ever met. We got to talking guitars, and within minutes we were jamming on ‘Apache’ by The Shadows.
Paul was a traditional luthier; he built the most incredible lutes using only hand tools and crazy homemade jigs. He was a brilliant craftsman and an endless font of knowledge, and I knew I could learn a huge amount from him. So I explained my plan to become a builder and left his workshop that day with a part-time job setting up guitars. Not only did this give me a chance to benefit from Paul’s priceless knowledge and experience, but it also put me on the frontline of his workshop, forcing me to learn and apply my craft quickly. I cancelled my place on the acoustic course and trained instead under Paul.
Not long afterwards, the Billericay Guitar Workshop at Barleylands started up and began offering an electric guitar building course taught by the great Bob Johnson of Legra Guitars. Of course, it piqued my interest right away. I enrolled in the very first run of the course and learnt how to build electric guitars. This was an invaluable first step, but I was hungry to develop these skills further and learn as much as possible, and so I volunteered to help Bob run courses on building a variety of different styles of guitar. It was another period of rapid learning and progress, and as my knowledge grew so did my confidence; over time I became Bob’s right-hand-man at Billericay, I started building guitars independently and I set up my own repair business – String Surgeon. Gradually forging a reputation of my own as a luthier, it was thrilling to be on the path to achieving my dream.
Sadly, as I was finding my own way in the world of guitar making, I heard the news that Paul Egholm had passed away. It hit me hard, losing such a good friend and amazing teacher. The workshop wasn’t going to be the same again.
But my love for working on guitars remained. Plans for the future led me to move my life from London to South Yorkshire, where I established my own workshop to build and repair stringed instruments. I re-branded the company to Electric Trees and began a new chapter of my work.
I started initially in my garage, but as anyone who’s transitioned to working from home can tell you, it’s not easy separating your work and home life, and I found myself distracted by this or that. And so I established Electric Trees at the larger premises it occupies today, this bigger shop and workshop space also allowing me to start selling accessories and – very importantly – to start teaching our guitar building and guitar tech courses.
Rewarding and consistently popular, these courses have also allowed us to explore the world of pickup winding in great depth, with the help of Matt Kenworthy and we are proud to now produce our own line called Tree Tone Pickups. Having a MojoTone hand winder and a UKCNC winder means we’re able to offer both hand-scatter winding and precision machine winding in our pickups, something we are incredibly excited about.
As a business, Electric Trees strives to be recognised for building quality guitars and pickups, offering excellent repair work, and providing knowledgeable course instruction. Working on my own guitars still brings me the same joy it did when I first started, but if I can offer someone else the guidance given to me by Paul and Bob, and if I can instil in them that same sense of excitement, then it’ll be a job well done for me.