(This review was first published in ‘Guitar’ Magazine Nov 1999)
– Solid Spruce
Mahogany 44mm at nut
Unbound ebony 20 frets Scale length 630mm
This is one of Devon-based Brook’s smallest models, with a profile resembling a Martin 00. The mahogany components come from an old bank counter,
an example of how the workshop uses reclaimed or naturally harvested timbers wherever possible. Wide herringbone binding gracing the front and soundhole rosette looks a treat; finishing is faultless throughout.
Brook favour shallow necks and the Torridge’s is barely 20mm deep along its length. The wide-ish fingerboard tends to accentuate this skinniness, which won’t suit everyone – no worries, alternative profiles and widths are available at no extra cost. Thanks in part to a complex form of compound fingerboard radiusing, the guitar flaunts the slinkiest acoustic set-up you’re ever likely to noodle, yet without any buzzes or loss of tone. A fantastic picker!
Small-body boxes can be brash and/or thin, but the Torridge has a decidedly grown-up timbre… the instrument’s relative openness of voicing and encompassing musicality are impressive considering its moderate size.
we have another shining example of how Brit luthiers can proudly fly the flag against all comers. Materials and construction are first rate, the cosmetic treatment is more than a match for similarly priced American
acoustics, while the high calibre sound and easy playability speak for themselves. This one brooks no argument, right!
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 Uwins -‘Guitar’ Magazine. (NB This guitar was reviewed alongside a Tamar – That review is in the Tamar reviews section but this article refers 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.
Along with the travel-size Bovey and a couple of slot-headstock parlours, the Torridge is one of Brook’s smallest models. This guitar is decked out in standard ‘010’ trim. Body timbers are a solid sitka spruce top… and solid mahogany back and sides – reclaimed timber which once served as a part of a bank counter. The evenly straight-grained, bookmatched back, which is bound with three-ply, rosewood edged purfling, isn’t centre-lined but this relative plainness is more than made up for by the top’s delightful bindings. Bordered by coachlined rosewood… (oblique herringbone) It really does look a whizz. A similar pattern graces the soundhole rosette.
The Torridge’s neck… is one-piece mahogany … while the Gotoh-tunered headstock is smartly veneered in ebony. The 20 fret fingerboard is ebony too, beautifully polished – as are the medium-thin frets – and carries simple mother-of-pearl position dots. Simon and Andy seem to favour shallow, more or less constant-depth necks: this one…starts off at 20mm and is only a shade fuller at the heel turn… I find it all very comfortable but Brook acknowledge that players have different preferences and are happy to offer alternative neck profiles and nut widths at no extra cost.
Another Brook characteristic is an artificial ‘twist’ to the fingerboard. This involves putting a subtle drop on the bass side of the board under the high positions and a similar fall-off on the treble side down near the nut. The idea is to give a much more even feel and action under the strings across the whole board. Judging by both our Brooks the technique is also a friend of slinky actions. These two guitars flaunt about the lowest acoustic setups I’ve come across that haven’t been accompanied by the irritation of buzzing or loss of tone.
Positive tone is something this guitar definitely isn’t short of… the Torridge has a commendably grown-up timbre both in volume and in its sparkling, well articulated delivery. Overall, it puts in a versatile, very likeable performance – especially for picking – Best of all the Torridge has an encompassing musicality to its sound, capable of taking it beyond the niche blues/ragtime applications usually associated with such instruments.
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.