Bespoke Instrument Commissions
Gallery of Musical Instrument Commissions - Past & Present
OM Guitar from Scottish Sycamore
Handmade Acoustic Guitar, from Scottish Rippled Sycamore, full frontal viewHandmade Acoustic Guitar, from Scottish Rippled Sycamore, back viewHandmade Acoustic Guitar, from Scottish Rippled Sycamore, Diamond Inlay close up
Guitar Commissions allow the buyer to indulge in elaborate designs & unique features such as this acoustic guitar, which includes a whole range of elaborate additions :

Boxwood & Ebony Diamond strip inlay.

Swallows Decoration around the sound hole & inlayed in the Fretboard.

Pointed 'Bird' Bridge.

Spanish Style Heel NB. Not in the structural sense.
Handmade Acoustic Guitar, Swallows Soundhole portrait viewHandmade Acoustic Guitar, Spanish Heal view

The Back & Sides are from seasoned quarter sawn Scottish 'Rippled' Sycamore - quite a rare Tonewood with a beautiful Satin Sheen.

Handmade Acoustic Guitar, Scottish Rippled Sycamore sides view
Cedrela Mahogany is used for the Neck - more typical for Flamenco Guitars. The result is a guitar with a very light feel to it.

Includes the best quality Gotoh™ 510 Tuners available.[& the most expensive]
Handmade Acoustic Guitar, back of Peghead viewHandmade Acoustic Guitar, Peghead viewHandmade Acoustic Guitar from Sycamore, full frontal portrait view
As a Professional Luthier I'm always looking to make new instruments, exploring new designs & experimenting with different Tonewoods. And this is usually encouraged by customers who want to create a unique & exciting musical instrument. And too often manufactured guitars, for example, present the buyer with single choice of traditional dark mahogany back & sides with plain spruce soundboard, & limited features. In contrast Luthiers like me can offer a choice of more striking Tonewoods, unique designs & individually tailored bespoke features. And a Commissioned Bespoke Instrument, as you like it, can take your passion for playing music to a much higher level, or reinvigorate a waning desire to play.

Of course, whatever is requested certain rules & aspects of traditional construction methods must be observed. A tight construction method is essential for the Tone of musical instruments, and the selected Tonewoods impacts the sound - softwoods generally generating a mellow tone & hardwoods a brighter tone.

Viennese Style Deep Body Mandolin
Viennese Style Deep Body Mandolin
A less common style of Mandolin, combining Swiss 'Moon' Spruce, Scottish Rippled Sycamore & Bosnian Flamed Maple. Also a very rigid neck from quarter sawn 'Construction' Maple.
Viennese Style Deep Body Mandolin, side view
A bit naughty for a luthier - the grain of this Sycamore for the ribs runs vertical, soundboard to back. Worth the risk? Behold the natural fire effect.
Viennese Style Deep Body Mandolin, top view
The soundboard is from tightly grained 'Moon' Spruce. This is Tonewood derived from Trees that are only felled during certain phases of the Moon. Such wood is said to exhibit outstanding and unique characteristics. Scientific studies have actually been undertaken, & show that 'Moon' Instruments are less likely to go out of tune.
Viennese Style Deep Body Mandolin, back viewViennese Mandolin, Peghead front viewViennese Style Deep Body Mandolin, Peghead viewViennese Mandolin, Allen Tailpiece view
The resulting combination of the more stable 'Moon Spruce' soundboard, deep body & stiff neck produces a very powerful sounding instrument.

All Tonewoods have different sonic properties. And important for Tonewood is ample seasoning time. Generally wood harbours 50% water content, & this moisture content must be allowed to fall to around 12% before it is used as Tonewood in instruments. Otherwise the potential resonance of the instrument will be 'dampened'. And the problem is worsened once sealed by varnish or oil - certainly the great violin makers would have observed this golden rule.

F4 Style Mandolin in Piano Black
F4 Style Mandolin, finished in Piano Black, top view

Private Commissions provide a selection of alternative, unique finishes not normally found amoungst manufactured mandolins.

In the age of 'Cool' Piano Black is a desireable finish for a bespoke instrument. Also the neck/peghead of this f4 mandolin is cut from a single block of USA Western Maple

F4 Style Mandolin PegheadF4 Style Mandolin Peghead back
F-Style Mandolins can be quite a challenge to build - arched top, arched back & most notably because of the elaborate scroll. Orville H. Gibson - famous for guitars - created the modern mandolin. & the scroll is said to be the result of his obsession with ornamentation.
F4 Style Scroll Mandolin, backF4 Style Scroll Mandolin, Scroll back detail
The owner of this commission calls it his 'Black Beauty'. & the top contrasts strikingly to the violin grade Bosnian Maple of the back.
F4 Style Mandolin, top, portrait viewF4 Style Mandolin, full view backF4 Style Mandolin, finished in Piano Black, Flamed Bosnian Maple back viewF4 Style Mandolin finished in Piano Black, Allen Tailpiece close up

Handmade instruments by a Luthier will feel & play completely different to manufactured models. This is the reason why to choose to have a bespoke instrument commissioned. And is probably the ideal gift - something unique and inspiring.

Martin Style Soprano Ukuleles

Although very popular nowerdays, Ukuleles can be disapointing in terms of quality - particularly 'non-resonating'. Like the ubiquitous pink variety from China, often bought as toys for children. Handmade ukes in contrast are unlikely to be disregarded or discarded (often as mere toys).

<- This ukulele commission is all from Cedrela Mahogany, with a Walnut back. Is in the design of early Martin Ukes - using copies of original Martin plans. ->

Detail: The fretboard in this Ukulele is from Exotic Tonewood - Figured Mexican Katalox. The rounded point is typical of early style Martin Ukes.

The Soundboard is from Cedrela Mahogany. Even when lightly finished, Cedrela Mahogany can be a striking almost luminous orange colour.

Contrary to popular belief, Ukuleles do not need to be made of Koa wood to get the best quality. It just happens that Ukuleles originated in Hawaii - where Koa trees grow in abundance. Cedrela Mahogany has similar tonal properties to American Black Walnut.

Cedrela is widely used in the making of Flamenco Guitars, as it tends to emphasize the midrange tones more than the basses, producing a "brighter" more percusive sound.
The small scale of Soprano Ukuleles means they will never produce a loud natural sound, capable of filling a large room. But the LR Baggs Five.O Uke Pickup System to my mind totally resolves the volume issue, so you can better hear the sweet tone of nylon strings emanating from Cedrela Mahogany. Louder instruments can be made from higher density Tonewoods.
See -> A Bright Uke

Martin Style Acoustic Guitar
Martin Style Acoustic Guitar, Blackheart Sassafras TonewoodMartin Style Acoustic Guitar, Blackheart Sassafras Tonewood soaking

A fine example of a very unique Guitar Commission ->
Aside photo shows most of the parts & Tonewood before construction begins. Back & Sides very striking Blackheart Sassafras - only available by export from Tasmania / Australia. The streaks of colour are created by fungi staining the heartwood of the tree as it grows.

Construction begins by bending the sides. First the Tonewood is soaked in water, & then heat bent into shape & placed in a mould. Binding, Neck & End Blocks are glued into place - all from light weight Cedrela Mahogany.
Martin Style Acoustic Guitar Construction, Blackheart Sassafras Tonewood sides in mould
The back is carefully braced at the position of the upper & lower bout, & a centre strip glued in place. This centre strip must have the grain following the width, to allow the back to flex into an arch when attached to the body.
Martin Style Acoustic Guitar, Blackheart Sassafras Tonewood back & spruce sound board
For this guitar commission Engelmann Spruce was chosen for the Soundboard. It is said to produce a more distinct, mature tone with an enhanced midrange. And as it only grows at high altitude, above 900m, produces a very tight grain. Thus can yield a more responsive guitar.
Careful bracing is essential to derive these sonic properties of Englemann Spruce. First the struts are glued tightly & later scalloped. The bulk of the brace is left in the centre, & tapered to the edge. This provides maximum strength where it's needed - in the centre - while allowing the top to flex at the edges.
Martin Style Acoustic Guitar Construction, scalloping the soundboard
A modern feature to this guitar is the additional sound hole in the upper bout. This acts as a kind of 'stage monitor' allowing players to better hear themselves, as usually most of the sound is projected away from the guitar as its played.
Bespoke Martin Style Acoustic Guitar, with two soundholes
The expanse of the back plate really shows the beauty of this unique Tonewood - Blackheart Sassafras. Guitars are large bulky instruments, with a lot of 'wallpaper' space. So what could be better than these natural streaks of vibrant colour shooting around the back & sides? Also the sound hole rosette is cut from this Blackheart Sassafras.
Martin Style Acoustic Guitar, Blackheart Sassafras Tonewood back
The owner of this commission actually selected most of the Tonewood themselves, including the Purple Heart Peghead Plate. Apart from actually making it, my main input for design considerations was the upper bout side sound hole & the simple 'Domino' style inlay of the MOP fret position marker dots.
Bespoke Martin Style Acoustic Guitar, full view, prior to completion
So the moment of truth arrives - final completion in spring 2017. I know I shouldent be too hasty with setting it up, but I want to hear it. So the LR Baggs Pickup installation is postponed, prior to the final string change for the owner.
Bespoke Martin Style Acoustic Guitar, from Blackheart Sassafras Tonewood, top

Starting prices for commissions, including options. Excluding cases & Shipping Costs.

Concert Acoustic Guitar - £1950

Archtop Mandolin - £1300

Soprano Ukulele - £345

Build times for different instruments vary, & there is usually a waiting list.

Currently there is no waiting list

A privately commissioned acoustic guitar takes up to five weeks to finish.
Archtop scroll Mandolins take three to four weeks.
Soprano Ukuleles take one and a half to two weeks

20٪ Deposit Commencement Fee.

In order to maintain the highest quality, I only allow myself to work on a maximum of two new builds at any one time. ->

Lutherie Courses are also available on request - one-to-one, & in which you get to build your own instrument. Cost is £50 a day, including all materials. This roughly equates to the cost of a commissioned instrument.

Please note: Commissions as gifts for loved ones birthdays, anniversaries or other events take priority.>

Should you be inspired with any ideas you wish to share & discuss, or you just want to make a general enquiry, feel free to phone, email or leave a reply using the form below.

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