Brook Tamar 12-string Reviews
“A hand-made 12-string from deepest Devon, featuring exotic woods and exquisite inlay work.”
Martin Booth. Guitarist Magazine Oct 1997
The Tamar 12-string is a custom made guitar that features a wealth of exotic woods and special inlays. After borrowing this special version from its fretful owner I have a very short time to review it before he makes himself ill with worry over the enforced separation.
The Tamar is a beautifully proportioned guitar and it’s easy to see how it can inflict lovesickness. Back and sides are of koa, which is strikingly figured on this example, and the top is sitka spruce. The purflings and rosette are of wood and Brazilian rosewood is used for the binding and bridge.
The end blocks are mahogany and are arranged with grain parallel to the sides. A fairly large, internal mahogany bridge plate should help minimise table distortion around the bridge (a sensible safeguard with 12-string tension) while the table itself is braced with spruce in an interlocking X-pattern.
The back braces are mahogany – high, narrow, exquisitely shaped to a rounded peak and fine-sanded; kerfed linings are as precise and neat as you’ll ever see.
The neck is of Brazilian mahogany, and the gorgeously rich, deep brown colour reminds me of the old Cuban mahogany, once used in quality furniture.
A Brook speciality is its inlay work and you can discuss specific requirements to suit your pocket, preferences and personality… the otter (chasing the fish on the truss rod cover) on this Tamar’s peghead is not only well executed, but is most effective because of the careful choice of materials and grain patterns; spalted beech, rosewood, ebony and abalone have been used.
Headstock size has been kept as small as possible by using the renowned American Waverly tuners and filing back the fixing points. This screw-sharing arrangement is also found with Kluson machineheads on Stratocasters.
This Tamar is strung and set up for the specific requirements of its owner (Fitted with heavy gauge strings) The neck’s setup is within gnat’s whisker of perfection (altering the tuning of 12 strings demands a little give and take) There’s a hint of a V-profile, which gives reasonable depth without making it feel remotely wide or clubby: remember this is a wide-spaced, 12-string fingerboard so neck shaping is crucial to enable comfortable playability. In addition to the remarkably constant depth from 1st to 12th fret, the heel has been deeply sculpted to enable maximum access. This combination gives an optical illusion; the neck appears to get thinner just before the heel. At the other end the V-shaping is allied to a tapering volute, which is a particularly elegant feature.
The stringing and tuning arrangement impart an unusual colour to the sound of the Tamar 12. There’s the typical and pleasant growling ring of under-tuned strings. The owner uses all sort of alternative tunings so with the added choice of picking styles, I imagine he produces a considerable array of voicings and tonalities.
Value for money
The Tamar 12 in its less exotic guise (minus the otters and fish inlays etc) costs between £1700 and £2000 depending on individual spec. You still have the opportunity to personalise your order but, at this price, it represents a very attractive package.
The overall design of this guitar is as classically beautiful as any. I even like the shaping at the end of the headstock (it’s notoriously difficult to make it memorable without plagiarising) and even the logo’s typeface is pleasing.
Brook Guitars join a growing list of world-class, British guitar makers and I recommend you seek out models from their range at Manson’s Guitar shop in Exeter or in Hank’s in Denmark Street, London.
“Tasty Designs, Fab quality – just some of the not-so-minor factors that have put new boys BROOK GUITARS firmly and squarely on the acoustic map.”
Review by Jerry Unwins -‘Guitar’ Magazine. (NB this Tamar was reviewed alongside a Torridge – that review is in the Torridge section but this article contains references to both guitars)
The seeds of Brook Guitars were planted six or seven years ago, when company partners Andy Petherick and Simon Smidmore began working for one of the UK’s best-known and highly respected luthiers, Andy Manson. Prior to this, Simon had built a few instruments in his spare time but his day job was as a builder’s carpenter; Andy had played guitar since a teenager, but his working life was engineering-based.
The stimulus for a change of career directions came as a result of accidental, though serendipitous, crossings of paths. Andy Petherick, then repairing cars, met Andy Manson when he brought his car in to be fixed; around the same time, Simon – who previously didn’t know Petherick beyond casual acquaintance – happened to be working on a house opposite Andy Manson’s home in Devon. The two got chatting and, as Simon recalls, ‘it just went from there.’ How far it’s gone is actually quite a long way, considering the modest span of years. After developing their guitar-making skills under Manson’s tutelage, Simon and Andy set up Brook Guitars in 1995, commencing production of an 11-strong range of acoustics all named after West Country rivers as well as producing A B Manson flat-top instruments under a licensing agreement which gave Andy Manson time to concentrate on one-off, specialist jobs.
Since then, and working out of Manson’s former workshop in Hittisleigh, near Exeter, Simon and Andy have vigorously expanded the business, employing three assistants and currently producing around 100 guitars a year, in addition to instruments they continue to make for Manson and on top of the regular flow of repair work. It may not sound much – but compared to many UK luthiers, who perhaps only have a capacity for 20 or 30 instruments a year, it’s pretty large beer.
Much of Brook’s production is sold direct to end-customers, but they’ve also established an important toe-hold with retailers like Hank’s in London’s Denmark Street, guitar Village in Farnham, Surrey and in the USA, out of Shoreline Acoustic in Santa Barbara, California – a tie-up which resulted in the building of a guitar for Woody Mann, the American picker well known for his tuition videos.
Brook have also recently made acoustics for Tull-ites Ian Anderson and Martin Barre and for singer-songwriters Tim Rose and Pete Berryman. In between times, Andy and Simon hold informal guitar-making courses at their workshop and are supporters of the international SoundWood project to help protect the world’s endangered timber resources. With this in mind they are developing the use of local, naturally harvested hardwoods such as Walnut and Flamed Sycamore, and searching out reclaimed timbers. Woods from such sources feature in both our test instruments.
Brook describe the Tamar as a ‘medium jumbo.’ Our review instrument, like the Torridge, is in standard trim, so the fab rosewood / herringbone-like bindings are part of the deal. Body woods (solid cedar top and flamed walnut back and sides) are clearly high grade pieces of timber. As on the Torridge, finishing and detailing, inside and out, are exemplary.
Broadly speaking the Tamar delivers a more fulsome version of the Torridge’s sound. I wouldn’t say the increase in absolute volume is dramatic – a tribute to the Torridge rather than a criticism of the bigger Tamar – but there’s a sense that you have extra dynamic reserves to dig into, and the projection is more rounded and up-front. There are subtle differences in tonality – hardly surprising given the different body woods and the contribution of the cedar front. The bloom to notes and chords is a degree warmer and more fluid, helping to add some richness to the treble end.
As an overall observation, though, both instruments share a sonic family resemblance, the most appealing aspects being their immediacy of voicing and willingness to perform.
Rarely have I reviewed British-made acoustics that offer less than excellent value for money, and these two Brooks are no exception. Materials and construction are first class, the cosmetics are suggestive of more expensive instruments and the high quality sounds and easy playability speak for themselves.
A flourishing Hats-Off to the Brook Boys then, not just because they’re producing fine instruments, but because they’ve achieved this standard of quality in a relatively short space of time. And the future is bright… They’re producing enough instruments every year to establish and maintain a decent profile among professional players.
Even if Simon Smidmore and Andy Petherick choose never to make more than 100 instruments a year, the momentum already created will ensure that Brook will continue to be a name to be reckoned with: and deservedly so.