Colin North became fascinated by the guitar in his early teens, starting out with small repairs to his own guitars before improving friends’ instruments and rebuilding others. After a long career offshore, he learned how to build his own acoustic guitar on a course in Sweden with an established luthier. Now retired, he builds guitars in his workshop, fulfilling commissions and making around six new instruments each year, which are in high demand from musicians.
‘As a maker, I tend to be obsessive about tiny details other people don’t even seem to notice and will never even see’, Colin admitted, ‘I try to create an instrument that is so easy to play that it becomes “transparent” or unnoticed by the player. Someone trying one of my instruments said that it felt as if it was playing him, rather than him playing the guitar. That’s large part of what I’m aiming to achieve.
‘I rarely have guitars in stock. They seem to either be commissioned or bought very quickly. I work closely with the client as they have input on almost every aspect of the design process. We meet and discuss their music and tunings, their preferred woods, tuners, body style, neck profile and the sound they’re looking for. Normally, my customers know what body shapes and size of guitar they want. I really need to see them playing as the instrument’s action and intonation is tailored to the way the individual plays, their style and technique. Each guitar is different and commissioning one is a very personal process.
‘Once the specification has been agreed, it takes me around eight weeks to make a guitar, starting with selecting the woods for the quality of the cut and appearance. I then lay out all the woods and other parts to see how they work together. The sides are bent using heat and moisture and then shaped in a mould before fitting the neck and tail blocks to hold them together. A strip of wood is glued around the edges to increase gluing area for the back and top. The back and top halves are jointed and braced, then fitted to the sides, before I cut and shape the neck. Then I assemble the two pieces, fit the bridge, nut, saddle and mount the tuning heads. I set up the action and intonation before finishing with a water-based lacquer for looks, protection, and sonic transparency.
‘For soundboards I normally use spruce, and stock Sitka, Lutz, German, and Adirondack plus a few others. All can make a fine guitar. For the back and sides, my favourite woods are East Indian Rosewood, Walnut, Satinwood and Bubinga, but I have also stock Zebrano, Wenge, Cocobolo, Mahogany and Sapele.
The best way to get in touch about a commission is just to give me a call and arrange to come out to my workshop near Inverurie. I’ll also be showing at the North East Open Studios venue at Durn Hill Farm near Portsoy, with the lovely and talented ceramicist Kerstin Gren and other friends. Details of all the exhibitors will be available on www.northeastopenstudios.co.uk once finalised. I will have some of my early guitars, and hopefully some of my recent builds on loan, if the owners can part with them for a week or so.
‘I’m just so lucky to be doing something I love, and to be able to share it with others.’Colin can be contacted on 07739 660345 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org