Brook Guitars 'Guitarist' Article March 2016
Below is an article about Brook Guitars in the March 2016 issue of 'Guitarist'
With satisfied customers including Ian Anderson, Martin Barre, Adrian Legg and Woody Mann, Brook Guitars is one of the UK’s premier suppliers of hand-built acoustics – Guitarist ventured into the wilds of Devon to find out more
It seems to be a prerequisite for guitar builders to set up shop as far as they possibly can from civilisation. This is certainly the case with Brook Guitars. When Guitarist came a-calling, we managed to get well and truly lost, even with the benefit of modern-day GPRS navigation. The office sat nav dutifully took us to the designated spot in the wild hills of Devon, telling us happily that we had arrived at our destination, but all we could see for miles were fields dotted with sheep. A phone call to Brook HQ revealed this is a common dilemma for first-time visitors. Apparently, 21st-century technology had delivered us to a narrow lane which used to lead to the workshop, but which had been impassable for quite a few years – we needed to find the other end and then all would be well.
So, with a few choice words sent in the direction of the erring satellite responsible for the misdirection, we retraced our tracks down some of the narrowest, winding single-track lanes known to mankind, eventually checking in with Brook’s Andy Petherick and Simon Smidmore, who kindly offered us some steaming mugs of tea in recompense for our experience.
We took the tour of the workshops, learning along the way that Brook is celebrating its 21st year in business.
Indeed, there is a tallish tree just outside the workshop’s door that we were told was a mere sapling when the company first set up shop, making its own brand of acoustic guitars named after Devon’s rivers.
“People are far more interested in local woods these days – cherry, walnut, yew, sycamore – and other timbers are sourced and cut by us from local wood yards, including bubinga, maple, mahogany and black walnut,” Simon tells us.
This isn’t an exclusive charter by any means, though. Mentioning the decline in use of endangered woods like Brazilian rosewood, Andy comments: “We’ve got a guitar on the rack there that uses Brazilian rosewood, but the guy sourced the back and sides himself and we’ve just built the guitar for him.”
A Hand-made Tale
The craftsmen at Brook are proud of the fact that there is virtually no automation involved in building their instruments. “There’s no CNC – we still rely largely on hand skills,” confirms Simon. Indeed, looking around the two-floored converted cattle shed that forms Brook’s workshop, we saw very little in the way of machinery – and when we did, what we saw was gloriously homespun.
“There’s a machine we use to kerf the linings accurately that Andy built using parts from my mother’s old sewing machine,” Simon tells us with a smile.
Aside from crafting the range of acoustics that includes the Okement, Tavy, Tamar, Taw and Lyn, the boys at Brook are quite happy to take on repair or restoration work. During our visit, we were shown a couple of instruments bound for a local museum, both painstakingly restored to their former glory in the workshop.
Alongside Simon and Andy, there are two further builders at large in the Brook facility, Simon’s son Jack Smidmore, who specialises in inlay work, and Kev Buxton. Simon takes up the story of a recent commission: “Jack recently completed an iris design on a parlour guitar going out to the States that was based upon a watercolour painted by the customer’s mother,” he tells us. This range of skills and a firm commitment to hand-built quality makes Brook one of the forerunners in the UK’s bespoke acoustic guitar marketplace.
The willingness to adapt and adopt where a buyer’s needs are concerned is evident in the enthusiastic comments in online guitar forums everywhere. “We’re just trying to satisfy a need. We keep getting asked for these things and at some point, we’re going to say, ‘Okay, if that’s what you really want, that’s what we’ll make you,’” says Andy, before we bid our farewells and head off once again into the wilds of Devon, hoping that we’ll find our way back to the Guitarist offices without any further misadventure.www.brookguitars.com
01 Various glues: celluloid glue, gel Super Glue and Titebond “We use different glues for different stages of the build: the guitar maker’s favourite – Titebond, an aliphatic resin glue, for most wood-to-wood applications, Super Glue largely for repair work, celluloid cement for the few occasions when we use a celluloid binding material rather than wood. We occasionally use hide glues on restorations.”
02 Bridge-pin reamer and countersink “The bridge-pin reamer cuts the correct taper to take the ebony bridge pins, the other tool from the US is a guide and non-chatter cutter to produce a smooth countersink in the holes for the bridge pins.”
03 Nut spacer, bridge and saddle bone blanks, razor saws and nut files “The nut and saddles are made from these bone blanks. Our customers often have different requirements regarding nut width, fingerboard splay and camber, along with action preferences.”
04 Maple Okement fan fret, making and fitting the bridge “This J-200-sized fan-fret Okement was made largely from flamed maple and ebony, it’s the customer’s third fan-fretted Brook. We’re in the process here of masking the top, drawing out the bridge position, then making up the ebony bridge.”
05 Fret wire, bespoke bridge clamps “Andy hand-makes the many different sizes of bridge clamps required, and he’s also put together a wide variety of intriguing jigs and fixtures.”
06 Andy Petherick Partner in Brook Guitars for over 20 years, engineer, machinist, motorcycle enthusiast. Brook Guitars is known for its willingness to take on repairs that other makers won’t touch, and Andy enjoys these challenges. Along with the engineering skills he brings to the partnership, he concentrates on the spraying and finishing side of things, where his attention to detail excels.
07 Piano-wire cutters “These American Starrett piano-wire cutters are the best in the business. We’ve managed to find three of these over the years. Our favourite pair is 70 years old; nowadays, a pair of these would cost you $300! We favour similar-aged Sheffield-made chisels, the quality of steel is far superior to modern-day tools.”
08 Si Smidmore Partner in Brook Guitars for over 20 years, and guitar player, collector, obsessive for 50 years! After completing a degree course in Fine Art, his building and repairing guitars remained a sparetime occupation until he met and became friends with Andy Manson in the mid-90s. Manson soon afterwards took on Si and Andy when he moved to a larger purpose-built workshop, and encouraged the two men to start up their own business.
09 Fret end file “We pay a great deal of attention to the fretwork and setups… and use this fret file to round the fret ends before chamfering the fingerboard edges.”
10 Scraper for fingerboards “We use these planer blades as scrapers to get rid of any obvious high spots before using a long block with abrasive paper to give the fingerboard an approximate 12-inch radius camber.”/p>
11 Flatting file for frets “This is a simple, good-quality Sandvik fine file mounted on a block to true the frets after fitting.”
12 Guitar cradle “This cradle is based on a fixture by Charles Fox, the American luthier who also designed the famous Fox Side Bender, something you’re likely to see in every small guitar workshop around the world!”
March 2016 Guitarist 141