When I was growing up, we had an old maple tree in our backyard. It’s always there in my memories of being a kid – I’d spend my time playing under its shade and climbing up into its branches, and when I sat up there amongst its leaves I felt safe. In a way, it was my childhood fort or playground or imaginary kingdom, that place where anything was possible and everything seemed comfortable and easy.
That tree and I grew up together. I got older and fell in love with music and the guitar. I travelled to new places, met new people. And as I went out into the world I began to notice that the old maple tree had instilled in me an affinity for all trees; I would always recognise them each as a unique, living thing, as an individual.
When the old maple tree began to die, I found that, rather than some vague love of nature, this connection was something more substantive. The tree had to be cut down, but it continued to have its own essence, something unique and important. I felt that it could live on – so I built a guitar out of it. It was incredible to me that I had grown up listening to this tree rustling in the wind, and twenty years later I was hearing it in a whole new way, as music. It became clear to me – this connection is really the sense that music is already hidden in the trees, in the wood, and that the building of a guitar is the process of freeing it and letting that music be heard by others. And so I became a guitar builder.
When I brought this attitude to handcrafting instruments, I found there were limitless possibilities – each standing tree is a unique living system, and so what it becomes as it changes form must also be unique. When the materials used are treated as such, their own expressiveness is retained, giving rise to the musician’s unique art. The feeling of being connected to an instrument, or of an instrument playing itself, or a piece of music writing itself – these come from an instrument treated as the living thing that it is, allowed to continue being itself.
This process of transformation is how I understand guitar building. The wood just needs to be given a new form, one that allows and encourages people to access and share their music – but it still needs to retain what makes it a singular, living thing. So it must be handled correctly, formed in precisely the right way, keeping its liveliness and individuality. Even through all the effort and the sweat, the cutting and shaping and altering, I want people to know it is still, in a way, the same tree that grew in the forest, just given this new form.
This alchemical aspect of guitar building continues to fascinate me every day; the careful transforming of one into another, producing something totally distinct. It’s what drives me to meticulously craft my instruments, this satisfaction of having remade the material and preserved what makes it unique at the same time, and the pride and pleasure of knowing that its resonances will go on to exist as someone’s music, evoking a whole spectrum of emotions and tonalities.
In a sense, I was right as a kid: that old maple tree really was a space of infinite possibilities. And it’s true that those influences, those affinities with things, do stick with us forever, these trees resonating throughout our whole lives in the instruments we cherish and the music we love. The trick is to remember where it all comes from.
Oh, and in case you were wondering where the guitars got their names from? They were all dogs! :)