FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

You refer to your instruments as “reproductions” – why is that?

Because that it what I strive for them to be.  I am not making “copies” in the sense of buying a drawing and slavishly following the dimensions.  Instead, I try and understand the thought processes behind the original design and follow those processes – and the various original making techniques – as far as I can.  In that sense the instruments may not be dimensionally identical to the original, but are likely to be as close as two instruments to the same design by the original maker.  Of course, in some cases it is impossible to know exactly what methods or design approach were used, but I still endeavour to use techniques which would have been understood by craftsman of the original time.

So, no electric machinery or anything then?

I use electric machinery when it would be silly of me not to – obviously there are things which are different from original workshops.  I don’t have cheap apprentices, so I feel there is nothing wrong with using machines to do the donkey work, but that is all they are used for – all of the finished work is done with hand tools.

Do you do everything yourself?

No, but I do the vast majority of it.  But, like the original makers, I appreciate there are some things better left to the skill of others.  All of the fine decorations (soundboard and lid paintings, chinoiserie etc.) are the work of Sheila Barnes, though I will do any marbling or tortoiseshell decorations.  In addition I will often buy-in hinges, and I have a friend who often turns the legs for the stands.

How do you get the time to make instruments when you are working with the museum collections?

I have pretty much always been carrying out research at the same time as making instruments so there is actually very little change there.  I have always considered instrument making to be an active part of a research program – the practical part in which the theories are put to the test.  Yes time is limited, but the workshop is not any distance away, and so it is easy to do a few hours of an evening and it makes a refreshing change to time spent in front of a computer!  I do pretty much the same number of hours as I have always done.

Are all of the instruments chosen because they are of specific research interest then?

No.  Generally I choose them because I think they are very fine instruments, at least in a design sense - obviously a number of them don't play, so I can't judge what a reproduction might sound like from listening to the original in that case.  But if the design appears good then why not?  There are some instruments I won't make, simply because I don't think it is a particularly good design - which is not to say that other makers might not view them differently.  So, whereas, of course, a number of the offered instruments have been the result of academic research work, not all are, and those ones are not likely to become academic work in the future, they are just good instruments to produce.

Why do you restrict the types of instruments that you offer?

Simply because I think by doing that I can do a better job than I otherwise would.  The instruments I don’t make are also produced by many others, so there is no good reason why anyone would want me to make one.  That said, I have made instruments other than those listed here (in particular Italian instruments) and am very willing to discuss the idea of making different instruments, particularly if the original is especially interesting in some way.

Are all of your instruments built to commission?

They usually are, but occasionally I have such an interest in an instrument that I will build it speculatively.  I have been lucky in getting commissions for some instruments I have really wanted to make, but it doesn’t always happen!

You have made quite a few technical drawings of museum instruments – why?

I think it is a great privilege to be able to work with original instruments in such a manner, and I appreciate that not everyone has the chance or time to do so.  It is important that the information about the original instruments is made available, and, hopefully, people will then start making reproductions of the instruments of which the drawings exist.  It is very time-consuming doing a full museum drawing (workshop drawings are a totally different thing) because everything has to be clear to anyone who uses the plan.  It is always a delight to see instruments that were built from the drawings I have made.

You have drawn quite a few guitars, and you have also done a lot of research on them – have you ever thought about making them?

Actually I have made a few, and the first instrument I ever made was a lute!  It is difficult doing something that will cause commissioned instruments to be delayed, so I don’t get the chance to do them as I might wish, but hopefully more chances will present themselves in future.  I have been collecting the wood required for those instruments for many years with an eye to going further in that direction.  Again, Edinburgh has an excellent collection, and I have had the chance to examine many others over the world.

Ivory?

I don’t use ivory at all – it looks far better on the front end of an elephant.  I still haven’t found a satisfactory substitute though, despite lots of trying.  For keyboards there is generally no problem – bone can be used – it is readily available, is natural, is of the right sizes, is historic and soon.  Where larger (or, more usually, longer) ivory pieces are required (inlays, for example) it is more difficult – holly seems to be the best natural alternative I have found, although the whiteness can be a problem.  I will also (by agreement) use various resins that are available – they may be man-made, but they generally get around many of the problems that might occur with holly or other natural substitutes.