©Terry Docherty Guitars 2013
Materials - Quality First and Last:
I believe that the finest instruments begin and end with the quality of the materials used to build them. I never compromise on this because I also believe that no amount of tinkering will put in what wasn’t there to begin with. There seems to me to be little point in producing a well crafted instrument from lower grade materials if it is then found wanting in those fundamental qualities which as players, we all require and whilst I am describing guitars here, the same applies equally to any other form of stringed instrument, be it mandolin, cittern or fiddle.
The finest tonewoods are more often than not, the most beautiful to look at which is a very convenient coincidence for both maker and customer alike. Each maker will produce instruments that are distinctively theirs in appearance as well as sound and I’m no different in this respect but whilst we are all engaged in re-inventing the wheel, there is still lots of scope for the differences in thinking that arise naturally between one maker and the next. It then comes down to the greatest imponderable of them all – individual taste - so lets all be thankful for that.
Listening carefully to the customer is so important and I will generally take notes of our conversation and feed it back to you at the end to ensure that I have understood your needs fully. By such means are misunderstandings avoided and make for a much better relationship between maker and customer.
It is equally important to be honest in return because I understand that when laying out hard-earned cash, your expectations will be high and so the need for realism and objectivity are important in our negotiations. That is why I never make claims for myself that I can’t fulfil in order to gain your business.
You’ll be able to either choose from a range of basic models to which to add your specifications, choice of materials and decoration etc. or you may have something more unique or bespoke in mind. Whichever it is, I’m always up for a challenge. Your playing style and musical tastes will also greatly determine your needs and I will watch and listen to you play and discuss these important considerations with you. You’ll also be able to try out one or two stock models which will give you something tangible on which to base the important decisions to come.
My experience is that most players have certain key requirements in common which in broad terms can be defined as being:
Tonal purity, Volume, Balance and Playability:
These are not listed in any particular order of priority because if you are anything like me, you will simply want “everything” or as much of it as you can possibly lay your hands on but I have always been happy to let others judge my work against these criteria and I’m confident that my instruments won’t disappoint. However, in the event that this should happen, I would much rather make you another instrument than have you go away with something that will never make you happy. I’ve not had to do that for anyone yet, I’m pleased to say.
All my work carries a time-limited guarantee against faulty workmanship as these are factors over which I can exercise control but items such as adjustable truss rods are a different matter. In any event, all fine instruments should be as fully insured as possible and I am always happy to provide a written valuation/appraisal for insurance purposes.
And so, I can guarantee a well crafted instrument of the best available materials incorporating the highest standards of workmanship and after-sales care.
Design and Decoration:
My mantra is “Elegant Simplicity”. I have never been fond of elaborately decorated instruments. It’s just not my thing so, if you want a lot of pearl, it’s probably best to either buy a necklace or avoid me.
I’m much more in accord with the traditions of the classical guitar and violin makers and therefore the beauty of natural substances and the non-use of synthetic materials which, when it comes to bindings and purflings, simply means Wood and nothing else but. I eschew the use of plastic with the exception of those rare instances when it might be the material of choice, namely for bridge pins and bound fingerboards where either its durability or resistance to dirt, respectively, is of primary importance. Beyond that, it’s always wood.
Whatever the instrument, I build carefully and accurately. I love working to an accurate size or measurement, which is just as well because this work is very unforgiving if you err and you seldom get a second chance, so the object always is to get it right first time. It’s also very important that individual components fit together neatly without excessive force or clamping pressure and with as little stress in the materials as possible. Stringed instruments must havestructural integrity but they need to be “loose” and able to move. The challenge always, is to achieve that essential balance between structural integrity and quality of sound which is not generally achieved in “thick”, over-braced instruments where the sole object is to avoid warranty problems and so fine instrument making does not come without some small risk attached. The materials themselves are naturally dynamic so the makers objective is to control that dynamism and produce a sound-box which works as efficiently as possible in translating the potential energy of the vibrating string into speed of travel of sound waves through the diaphragm and the rapid movement of the air inside the box, in order to produce that essential and sometimes elusive quality of“Responsiveness”.
A major contributory factor to this is the “arching” of the tops as well as the backs of instruments, over curved braces of a specific radius. This also produces a stronger and generally more stable instrument with the top wood slightly pre-stressed against movement caused by changes in humidity.
Traditional carved-top versions of mandolins, citterns and bouzoukis also contribute to the wide range of models and types.
Here, in just a few words, you have my entire philosophy and approach to my work. If you like it then come and meet your maker..
The finishing of fine stringed instruments is a “stand-alone” art without which our work has little commercial value. Anyone who has attempted to produce a professional lacquered gloss finish to a guitar will know how difficult it is and how much time, patience and care it takes to do it well. I did take the time and trouble to learn as much about it as possible and suppose I say so myself, I’m not bad at it, but it is not an easy craft to “love” and therefore I took the decision some 15 years ago to have my instruments finished by a professional.
David Wilson was recommended to me by Stefan Sobell who had obviously been through a similar process some years before. I promptly arranged to meet Dave at his workshop in Haltwhistle, Northumberland and knew immediately that I was speaking to someone who loved his craft and was completely confident in his abilities whilst being totally unassuming and with a wry wit to him. I sincerely hope that Dave is around for much longer than me because I wouldn’t dream of working with anyone else. He’s never let me down and when he says it will be done, it is and that kind of reliability is priceless, especially when you have customers champing at the bit. I have never had cause to worry and I’ve never had a customer complain about the finish to my instruments, so why would I ever want to take them elsewhere.
But, life for Dave and his fellow artisans has changed dramatically in the past 2 years because of radical changes in the laws governing health and environmental pollution.
Gone are the days of the pre-cat lacquers that could be sprayed in multiple coats and that were hard enough to sand in half an hour. They were able to do this because of the very nasty substances contained in the hardeners especially, but no more. Much has been made of water-based lacquers as the environmental solution but the truth is that no-one has yet produced a product that actually works well enough or meets the professional standards required by makers and their customers.
However, there are non-water based lacquers which do comply with the new regulations but they behave differently, cannot be sprayed in multiple coats, take much longer to dry and which therefore prolong the finishing process considerably. Dave Wilson has fully adapted to these changes after considerable trial and experimentation and is able to produce consistently, that beautiful, high gloss lustre which brings beautiful woods to life.
The changes described above have been successfully negotiated but at a cost which makers are happy to pay in order to maintain the highest of standards. Of course it is always the customer who ultimately bears the increase in the end but you can rest assured that you are paying the true cost of producing fine work and that standards have been maintained at every stage in the process.
Dave Wilson’s services are much sought after and he finishes the instruments of numerous fine makers which include Stefan Sobell, Ralph Bown and Nigel Forster.
I’m proud to state that he does mine too.