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UK Guitar Show was held in Birmingham over the weekend of 25-26 February 2012. Whilst not quite as big as other similar events (e.g. the London International Music Show which I last attended in 2009), what was firmly impressed upon me was the number of UK-based luthiers in attendance.
Based in Carmarthenshire, Wales, Jaden Rose Guitars are closest to me geographically, so I'm going to start with them.
Jaden Rose, the man behind the eponymous brand, personally builds each of these beautiful no-nonsense guitars from exotic timbers, usually equipped with his favourite DiMarzio pickups and with natural finishes which not only show off the beauty of the timbers, but also makes sense sonically; Jaden told me he'd experimented with different finishing methods and that he could hear the detrimental effect that paint had on a guitar's tone. Despite this, Jaden will occasionally produce a guitar with a more outlandish finish, if that is what the customer wants, such as this "swirl"-finish guitar, pictured below.
Style-wise, they look as if they could be a shredder's dream. The Rolls Royce of Shredders, perhaps? 7-string and multi-scale models are also available.
JJ Custom Works from JJ Guitars (as pictured above) are certainly very eye-catching instruments, exquisitely crafted and finished and featuring gorgeous flamed and quilted tops. I got my paws on a couple of them and can confirm they feel great and are comfortable players too.
To my mind they out-PRS Paul Reed Smith guitars. AND they are made in the UK.
Flame Guitars (pictured above) are built by David Kennett in Sutton on the outskirts of London. David has been building guitars for over 20 years, and has designed his F1-F5 series of guitars to offer something a little different from the "same old same old" designs we see trotted out time and again elsewhere. Whilst he has his basic models, he still offers a fully customisable service, allowing the customer their own choice of timbers, pickups, hardware, etc.
One particularly interesting area of construction is the way in which the neck is mounted onto the body: the neck is mounted via a tenon as used on set-neck guitar, but is actually bolted from behind and also from inside the body from the neck pickup cavity. This is what David calls a "bolt-in" neck; he told me that he had experimented with traditional bolt-on and glued-in necks, but that his bolt-in system was the one that he found worked the best, and also allows the neck to be detached for servicing the instrument.
Vanquish Guitars are another British-made brand that look like they could give PRS more than a run for their money. Once again we see exotic tonewoods and gorgeous natural hand-rubbed oil and wax finishes, and not a Fender or Gibson clone in sight. Whilst all the elements are customisable, Vanquish Guitars are fitted with a custom-made VQ range of (British-made) Bare Knuckle pickups as standard.
Musitrac microchips installed as standard for peace of mind in case of theft.
Sabre Guitars (pictured above) of Newmarket in Suffolk also had some tasty-looking guitars on display with some quite stunning inlay work and finishes very much in evidence.
Beryl Guitars make some very fine, high quality, versions of certain American designs (pictured above).
John Birch Guitars are still going strong, although alas some of their wilder designs such as the now legendary Superyob guitar were conspicuous by their absence. John Birch himself actually died back in 2000, leaving the business to luthier John Carling who had been working alongside Birch when the company was re-launched in 1993.
Patrick Eggle were also present, although this display (above) looked near identical to one I saw three years ago.
Chickenbone John, including cigar box guitars and diddley bows.
Overwater Basses (pictured above and below).
Stormshadow Guitarworks (above) are a small UK Custom Shop, based in Sheffield, offering custom-built guitars in the Charvel mould with comparable quality and prices to similar USA-made guitars.
John Hornby Skewes, a UK-based distributor, were also present with a stand which included the British-based Vintage brand of high quality but budget priced instruments.
Vintage Icon V6MRHDX (pictured above), the signature guitar of Thomas Blug and obviously inspired by Jimi Hendrix's "sacrificial" Monterey Pop Festival Strat (and arguably better looking than Fender's own re-issue of the same) and the Vintage Gordon Giltrap Signature Series VE2000GG-12 twelve-string (pictured below).
Fret King guitars, which are available in a Green Label and STVDIO (Made in the UK) series and also a more budget conscious Blue Label and Black Label (Made in the Far East) series. Designs obviously owe quite a lot to some of the American classics, but with Wilkinson's own innovations.
Bass Centre were unveiling their new Bass Collection, which included the above bass which at first I thought was a tribute so certain Soviet-era Russian-made instruments, but is, it turns out, a Bill Wyman tribute.
Norman Watt Roy's 1962 Fender Jazz Bass which I featured on this blog only last month. Note also the R***********-like bass standing next to it; I can't imagine a certain company will be too happy about that.
Although UK luthiers and UK brands took centre stage, it wasn't all UK-based gear. We also saw:
Fibernare Guitars of Hungary (above)...
Mayones Guitars and Basses, handmade in Poland (above)...
Ibanez (RGA8-BK eight-string pictured above)...
Vigier basses (and guitars) from France (above)...
PRS (above), who were definitely outclassed by various UK luthiers at the show...
Yamaha, who were displaying several of their new "souped-up" Pacificas (above). Seeing as the Pacifica is often thought to be an entry-level very basic guitar, I couldn't stop the expression "polishing a turd" coming to mind. They are nice enough looking guitars, but perhaps Yamaha should have slapped another name on them.
Piccywood booth, we saw guitars that had been decorated using the art of pyrography (literally, "writing with fire") by artist Chris Martin.
For me, the great thing about the show was seeing so many UK guitar makers together under one roof - and they were only the tip of the iceberg - there are plenty of others who weren't in attendance. All in all it was a very entertaining day out, and I enjoyed meeting and chatting to the various luthiers and stallholders.
G L Wilson
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