Féileacán Taistealaí

June/July 2011: Joe, London

 

The handover duly completed Joe settles down to get to know Féileacán Taistealaí and introduces it to his two Brooks:

 


   

 

Here's Joe's first recording - a Mario Avril arrangement of "Scarborough Fair." Next a traditional Scottish tune in standard tuning Capoed at the second fret. Next a video of Joe playing his arrangements of "Calum's Road/Gander in the Pratie Hole" in DADGAD Capoed at the 3rd fret:

 

 

Another recording, a DADGAD arrangement of Joe's of a traditional French tune called "Polka De Prayssac":

 

 

By way of background, I should say that I've never really warmed to mahogany guitars (I'm classing sapele as mahogany in this context). I don't think that's based on snobbery (though I am aware that mahogany has been used by various manufacturers for "budget" guitar ranges over the years) or pre-conceptions of what it might sound like. It's just that, purely on appearance, I've never found it the most attractive wood. To my eyes, spruce and cedar have a pale beauty, and rosewood a dark mystery; whereas mahogany, notwithstanding that fact that it provides many and varied grain patterns, usually just looks a bit "brown and woody" to me. If anyone were going to change that perception, it would be Dave White - I've now seen a few De Faoite guitars, and they all have sumptuous looks. There is something uniquely and delightfully edible about them - think classy Belgian chocolates, none of your high street "Thorntons" here! Féileacán Taistealaí does not disappoint - the aesthetics on this latest Road Trip guitar are subtle and intelligent, combining Sapele with the slightly darker Etimoe for bindings (including a bound fingerboard) and front and back headstock veneers; and this contrast is perfectly highlighted by black/white/black maple purflings plus white side dots on the finger board. To continue the confectionery metaphor, it is the visual equivalent of a huge mouthful of sugar-iced milk chocolate, coffee and caramel!

 

It is lovely - though in truth I'm still not completely sold on Sapele, having seen what can be done certainly no longer likely to dismiss it out of hand. One last point to note on the looks is that the guitar has the trademark De Faoite matt finish - this is growing on me, I think I understand and appreciate it more now - but still on the whole have a preference for gloss. In terms of playability, although as with the Samhain Taistealaí I missed having strap buttons (I play sitting down but still find a strap allows more comfortable playing positions), I found the action, string-spacing, neck profile and scale length combine to make this a superbly playable guitar. It's difficult to describe exactly how all these aspects coincide to promote playability, but the best testimony is that it inspired me to record one tune (an arrangement of Polka De Prayssac) which I haven't attempted to record before: the combination of fretted bass notes with open trebles in the A-part, and a fast sequence of unfamiliar stretches in the B-part, make it a tricky piece (for me at least!), which I would not go anywhere near with an instrument on which I was not completely comfortable. In short, it was a total pleasure to play Feileacan Taistealaí even with the most difficult piece of music.

 

I should mention a couple of practical quibbles on the headstock. First, and least significant, I noticed that the addition of both front and back veneers to the headstock adds quite a bit to the overall thickness, so my Intellitouch tuner is quite a squeeze to attach! Second, the headstock does not widen much at all between the nut and the first tuner, which means on a hanger (I mainly use the Hercules ones which grip the neck) the guitar rests on the tuning pegs - it may or may not be a concern if the weight of the guitar is hanging on the tuners, but practically it's likely to mean the tuning gets put out when one or both buttons gets an eight of a turn under the weight. Finally, I also noticed the nut juts out a fraction on the treble side - easy enough to fix, though I remember Samhain Taistealaí had the same problem so I wonder if that is another De Faoite trademark.

 

So, what does it sound like? I found as with Samhain Taistealaí there is a purity of tone which is quite special. This is apparent on fretted and open strings, with and without capo. The Féileacán T. does not have the volume or sustain of Samhain T. (I found Samhain to be louder than my own instruments, whereas Féileacán seems noticeably quieter) but this may well change over the next few months as the guitar develops. But you can hear each string sing, and sing beautifully. And, unlike Samhain, it has a warmth and (I shall plagiarise Keith's description as I haven't got a better one!) "creaminess" particularly on the trebles, with excellent balance between bass and treble all over the neck - qualities which make it very well suited for recording.

 

In conclusion, maybe I didn't completely fall in love with Féileacán Taistealaí, but I did like it a lot, and it has been hugely rewarding and a privilege to be the first to play it on its Road Trip. I am really looking forward to following its progress and hearing others' opinions.

 

Postscript - I should mention that my Road Trip week was also, unintentionally, highly instructive in terms of learning how guitars are built. A few days after taking custody of Féileacán T., the barometer signed off sick and we had some pretty severe extremes of heat and humidity, followed by a cracking thunderstorm. A guitar-builder who sends his product off on a road trip only two or three days after attaching the strings is tempting fate in a big way - the sensible thing to do is wait for a few weeks and deal with any "settling in" issues before releasing the instrument into the wild. So, sure enough, this guitar responded to the meteorological phenomena with some "bad behaviour" - some buzzing on the Monday night made it pretty much unplayable. A brief email and phone correspondence with Dave quickly isolated some of the buzzing to defective Gotoh tuners, and the rest to some resonance between the neck and soundboard. This allowed me to eliminate the tuner buzzing myself with a few blobs of blutack, and the latter resonance disappeared as soon as the weather returned to normal, so I was able to spend the rest of the week playing and recording. Then at the handover with Mel, Dave came over and Mel and I spent a very educational couple of hours watching him replace the tuners and fettle the neck/soundboard issue - I am still in awe, it is really quite fascinating to watch that sort of expertise at work! Anyway the net effect in terms of my Road Trip experience is quite positive - the buzzing meant I lost an evening of playing, in return for an unexpected first-hand insight into the art of luthiery. Thanks again Dave!

 

July 2011: Mel, London

 

 

 

Anyway, I've had a little bit of time with the Féileacán now and can report that it makes a very sweet sound. I've mainly had it in Open G as I'm learning a Randy Scruggs version of Joni's Both Sides Now. My first impressions of Dave's guitar are that it's really easy to play, in fact easier than my Alchemist. It took a little while to get used to the size as it's quite small but like with the first Traveller, I've found that the notes fall under my fingers very easily and I've hit far fewer bum notes than I do on my other guitars! The neck is perfect for me - so perfect, I've hardly noticed the shape to be honest. I also like the finish of the guitar and my other half was really impressed with its looks when she first saw it. The tone is pretty loud for such a little guitar and definitely a match for my Alchemist. It has a sweet, bright tone and is giving me some ideas of what I might spend some of my redundancy money on should I fix myself up with a shiny new job fairly quickly. It reminds me quite a bit of Fliss's Bascetta, which I played in HB last year and liked very much.

 

July 2011: Steve, St Albans

 

Andrew York's "Squares Suspended" and "in Sorrows Wake" both in standard tuning.

 

August 2011: Keith, Somerset

 

 

Here's Keith's composition "Butterfly" in DADGAD capoed at the second fret (he also played it on Féilecán Iúr) followed by a couple of videos - firstly a piece by Francis Kleynjans, entitled "In Memoriam" and then Keith's own composition "Fumblefinger Rag" both in standard tuning:

 

 

 

Next is Keith's arrangements of Errol Garner's "Misty", Davey Graham's "Angi" and James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes:

 

 

 

 

Finally a tune that Keith wrote for me and FT called "Flutterby":

 

 

Finally, finally, two more videos - Keith's arrangement of the Gallagher & Lyle song "Remember Then" and Al Stewart's "Room of Roots" in open Dm tuning:

 

 

 

Appearance and Construction: This guitar is the sibling of the spruce/yew guitar - dimensionally the same but with sapele top/back/sides. Hence, this is a small (345mm lower bout), 630mm scale, 12 fret to the body slot head guitar, supplied in well fitting Hiscox case with Dave's usual case compartment goodies - microfibre cloth, build photo CD, leaflet with full description of materials used, truss rod allen key and sets of D'Addario strings. Since starting out on its Road Trip this guitar has had some tweaks by Dave - improvements included some fettling of the neck joint, a new nut, slightly more rounded binding edges, two strap buttons, a lacquer finish to the neck instead of the previous oil finish, and a body finish with a slightly more obvious and very appealing sheen to it. All good! The sapele top, back and sides have an interesting and pleasant graining and are matched with some very attractive wood bindings (etimoe) and black/white/black purflings (dyed and plain maple) which prevent the otherwise overall brown appearance from looking too plain. Dave's end cap treatment, continuing the binding/purfling from the sides, is as good looking as ever here. The black/white/black trim extends along the fingerboard edge too, and around the edges of the headstock, including the slots in an extremely attractive manner. There is an egg-shaped soundport, through which the neat internal construction, including carbon fibre stabilising rods can be well seen.The rectangular outline bridge curves elegantly in all directions from the thicker areas for the unslotted ebony pins and the twin bone saddles to its thin edges. The high saddles are well intonated - Dave uses straight saddles with larger offsets than many makers to help achieve this. The mahogany neck and stacked heel look and feel good with their new lacquer finish. The adjustable truss rod is accessed via the soundhole. The neck is bolted on, with no glueing underneath the fingerboard, and hence is quickly and easily removed if/when necessary.The ebony fingerboard has no fret markers on its face, and has etimoe binding and b/w/b purfling to its sides, plus side dot markers. There are18 well-finished frets and a bone nut of 45mm width across the fingerboard. The slotted headstock has etimoe veneers front and back, with more b/w/b detailing around its edges, and around the insides of the string cutouts. Some slight reshaping of these slots now allows all strings an uncomplicated path with no wood contact on the way to their tuners. The Gotoh individual open-geared nickel machine heads are quite dainty, suited the guitar, and worked well - the small ebony buttons felt nice in use too.I tend to like dark looking guitars, and this one is no exception - very elegant too.

 

"Playability and feel: The small body felt light and comfortable on either leg or in the "classical" position. Strapped on with the aid of the new buttons, it felt extremely light indeed. The lacquer-finished neck felt very slick, and was very easy to play in all positions. The nut had nice rounded off edges. A 45mm wide bone nut with good string spacing was also just right for me. Fret were well shaped and finished - very comfortable with no sharp edges, The top binding has been rounded off slightly and causes no fore-arm discomfort in the way that the Yew guitar once did - I believe this too has had the same rounding off treatment. Excellent. The high saddles were comfortable to rest on thanks to the rounded off corners at the outer ends. The 59mm string spacing here is generous and ideally suited to fingerstyle playing. With minimal neck relief, 12th fret action was low, at around 1.5mm bass E and 1mm treble E. This is maybe a little on the low side for hard playing, and even medium playing force tended to produce the occasional rattle on the top two strings when played at the higher frets. After a little experimentation I left the large saddle for the wound strings as it was, but found that a very thin (maybe 0.5mm at most) shim under the treble saddle to raise the action of the B and E strings by around 0.25mm was effective at removing rattles without unduly affecting the delightful easy playability. Still a very low action, which, for a small guitar like this I quite like. I have set up my own Fylde Ariel in a similar way (ie slightly lower than my other guitars) as it encourages me to adopt a light and gentle approach which suits the guitar's responsive nature. My approach to this guitar is similar - it's size and feel encourages this, and the responsiveness gives ample reward to a light touch.

 

Sound: Here I have the usual problem of describing the sound in a meaningful way, but I'll go for saying this guitar has a warm, thick, sweet, syrupy tone - very sustaining; plenty of tonal variation available; warmth, tone, balance and volume well-maintained right up the neck. I very much like the complete absence of any harshness or brashness from this guitar. Almost anywhere on any string the sound has the same character, and is, to my ears, very balanced. Basslines seem very audible, yet are integrated into the overall sound, and there is no marked change in sound if the "bass" line strays onto higher strings or ventures up the neck. Not sure I'm explaining this well, but no frequencies seemed dominant or overpowering in any way. Very, very sweet indeed. Lovely for solo fingerstyle pieces and very satisfying as fingerstyle accompaniment to singing. The Yew Butterfly, with its slightly greater volume and more presence to its tone cuts through better with other instruments, as Glyn and I found with a few minutes experimentation. Foolishly, I never got round to try a plectrum on this guitar, sorry! I had to try DADGAD just to repeat, by way of comparison, the piece I wrote for the Yew guitar .You can hear both recordings earlier in this thread. I very much like both sounds, but prefer, the smoother, sweeter sound from the Sapele guitar. Naturally, this tuning worked well on this guitar, though if it were mine I'd experiment slightly heavier B and top E strings, and maybe a heavier bottom E too. High capo positions were no problem for this guitar, the sound remaining balanced, toneful and tuneful. No tuning adjustments were necessary wherever I placed my Planet Waves NS or Shubb capo. The fairly constant depth of the neck meant that, once the Shubb screw was adjusted at any fret in my usual capo range (1-7), it could then be used at any other fret without having to readjust the screw. The soundport did a good job of perceptibly increasing the volume and enriching the tone to the player when compared to the "sock in port" sound.

 

To conclude: Mmm, nice!! I like everything about this guitar, and, whilst I did enjoy the Yew Butterfly very much, the Sapele version really appealed to me greatly. Each guitar had its own engaging personality, together with easy playability, but the slightly dark elegance of tone and appearance possessed by the Sapele version were just what I enjoy. Dave has willingly gone to great lengths to set up this Double Road Trip, and to even greater lengths to ensure that the inevitable settling in problems with both instruments have been sorted out promptly and effectively. Various other small modifications to the guitars have also been made in response to players comments. I have hugely enjoyed playing both guitars in this Double Road Trip, and continue find it very interesting to hear the opinions and recordings of other participants. Thanks Dave, for everything! Keith.

 

August 2011: Paul, North Wales

 

 

August 2011: Phil, Oldham

 

Here's the guitar with Phil's Brook Torridge and Brunner travel guitar:

 

 

Here's Phil's arrangement of "Here, There and Everywhere" followed by Al Pettaway's arrangement of "Rise up my Love". Next are three DADGAD pieces -  Phil's own composition "For Kiera", Dennis Turbide's "Samuel" and Mark Thomson's "Sweetheart Abbey"- followed by "Piano Movers Rag" in standard tuning. Finally Phil's own composition "Lucy's Tune" .

 

August/September 2011: Leo, Eccles

 

I love the look of this instrument. For me the Sapele looks striking and warm. I was also taken (and I didn't expect to be) by the slotted headstock. She was, however (there's always a however, isn't there?) just too small for me. I felt that, playing her while sitting down, I just engulfed her. My daughter loved the smaller body shape (she has a dreadnought but spends most of her time playing my Moon 0003). If I was to be ultra picky I would also say that, with the tuning gears and frets being silver, I would imagine that the strap buttons would have looked better if they had been silver, too (rather than gold). But that's just me! I loved her sound although I found top E to be quite strident - that is more likely to be my playing than the guitar - although nobody who listened to me playing mentioned it. She looks tiny next to Sybil as you can see from the photo. When I get the yew version, I reckon it could be a 'Mother and Daughter' photo!

 

So ... a recording ... I mentioned before that I love Kate Rusby's version of 'You Belong To Me' and it seemed exactly the sort of song that this guitar was made for ... slow, unhurried and slightly wistful. So, that's what I've gone for. PLEASE NOTE I'm rubbish at this recording lark so you just get 'as is' - my apologies (and I was in a hurry so couldn't do a third take to cover up the horrible fluff at the end of verse 3 (I think it was). You also get the setting up noises. I'm nowt if not consistent! "You Belong to Me".

 

September 2011: Jonathon, Driffield

 

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Here's Jonathan's composition "Móran Taing" in E G Bb E Bb E (capo II).

 

Fit and finsh: The "finishing" on Dave's guitars has been contentious I suppose, but it's really grown on me. I "get it" now. I couldn't tell you if the guitar had a single flaw in the finish because i didn't look. Not once. Dave, and his guitars are about playability, sound and the "feel" (and when you "feel" that bass response in your chest in such a small guitar at doesn't half warm the cockles I can tell you! The neck is wonderful. As I said, I'm not a guitarist but it's one of the instruments I play, but I can tell when a neck is easy to get to grips with and this fitted my grip wonderfully. The body design is very elegant too, and with the Wood used, made it look and feel very classy. If I could change one thing slightly about the design, I would perhaps ask for a bit more of a shoulder to the headstock (for both aesthetic and guitar stand fit reasons).

 

Sound: Post string and technique change, it really is a sweet sounding guitar. I had Sapele down as a mellow, darker sounding wood, but Dave has somehow wrung out every bit of treble he could muster. I can only imagine that with age, the mids will mature and add more depth. The Bass sound is hard to comment on for me. Dave has said that he thinks he might have set it up overly low, but I think he will only want to pay attention to the Low E string when he gets his hands on it again. The Bass sound from the guitar isn't prevalent to the ear, but by George, you can feel it! So when Dave has tweaked it, and when it's lived a bit more, I think this guitar is going to have the lot! As an aside, I think I may have found a sweet spot (certainly for me) when capo-ing at the 2nd fret. I'd be interested to hear what future hosts think.

 

Many thanks Dave! You're a gent, and a really good maker of wooden things that enable us to make pleasing sounds.

 

September 2011: Lynn, Boston.

 

September 2011: Mark, Dumfries and Galloway

 

Looks: This really was a beautiful looking instrument, there is something innately attractive about small bodied guitars, and add that to the looks of the wood itself makes it a lovely package. Everyone I showed it too produced involuntary oohs and ahs, so its attractive to a range of players, no doubt.

 

F&F: Fit & finish was very good I have to say, not really much that stood out at all from a negative perspective, so great work!

 

Playability: As you would expect from one of Dave's the playability was top notch, but again, like my time with the Yew version, I struggled with the short scale, there is just not enough tension in the strings to suit my playing style, especially the wound strings, and only having it for 5 days, I didn't get time to try Mediums on it, doing so may have suited me far better.

 

Sound: I have a particular sound that I go for in a guitar, one which suits my playing style, which is a result of a number of different factors, recent experiences have shown me that in large part the main factors are string tension and wood combinations. I love the sound of spruce / rosewood guitars for the depth and the sparkle they can give, as well as some underlying warmth in particularly fine examples (e.g the original Traveller). This instrument sounded completely different, it didn't sound bad, in fact it actually sounded very pretty, but I did find it challenging in some ways and engaging in others. The challenge was to try and put any attack or dynamics into it, I failed miserably on that score, where normally it comes naturally. The engaging aspect was that it sounds lovely played gently on the right tunes, it didn't have a pronounced string seperation which is great for some pieces, where things can just melt together.

 

So in conclusion, a lovely guitar, but one I found limiting, it doesn't do it all, but then why should it? The things it could do, it did very well, but just not enough for me to drop my normal preferences. Thanks to Dave for putting it out there, my time with it was short, and I think an extra few days with Medium strings may have refined my opinions, but there you go.... Sapele, Sapele1, Sapele2.

 

October 2011: Martin, Hamilton

 

Here are two recordings first "Wild Mountainside" followed by Martin's own song "Transformation".

 

October 2011: Andy, Iverurie

 

There is no escaping it; I'm a contrary bugger. If everyone says something is true you can bet I'll want to argue. One feature of this second road trip is that people who know a lot more about guitars than me have consistently agreed that the sapelle "FT" is the better of the two guitars. So, of course, I'm going to say that I prefer the blonde "FI". Sometimes I'm so predictable that I bore myself . But I guess you have to call it as you see it and the simple fact is that I did. So, let's get straight on with the review and I'll try to explain why.

 

1. Looks and Fit/Finish : Dave has a good eye for aesthetics and there are some nice touches here, but it is hard to get away from the fact that it is unremittingly dark brown with more than a hint of a seventies sideboard about it. Of course this is a very personal thing. I know some people didn't like the blonde with her orange highlights, but I prefer that to the sea of brown on offer here. I wont go on too much about fit and finish as I did that to death with FI, but generally I was pretty happy with FT. There are a few minor blemishes, but nothing that would bother me and I expect the hand rubbed finish will only improve with age. So, full marks there.

 

2. Feel : I really like these small 12 fretters and unsurprisingly there was nothing to choose between the two in terms of the general body shape, which I found very comfortable. The neck is a bit different though. FI (like the first road trip guitar) had a very distinctive shape (quite flat at the back) which I quite liked. This one feels like a more "normal" C section (although I'm no expert on these things), which I also found to be fine.

 

3. Sound : There is no doubt that FT sounds sweeter and more refined than FI but not as distinctive to my ears. When Martin handed her over he said that he thought I'd prefer FT as I love my Fylde Ariel and she was more like that. He's right, but I think that's the nub of the problem. She's a bit like my Ariel but she's not my Ariel. FI, on the other hand was nothing like the Ariel and not much like anything else I've ever played (apart from the first road trip guitar) and I really enjoyed having something different. With FI there was this strong bass that thumps you in the chest and I just didn't get that with FT. I dare say that means FT is more balanced and better, but she just didn't make me smile in the same way. Don't get me wrong FT is a lovely guitar. Well put together, beautifully easy to play (like all Dave's guitars) and sweet sounding. But, for me, she was just a bit too conventional, with nothing to really set her apart from a mass of other well made sweet sounding guitars out there. At the risk of being horribly sexist; if these were young ladies FT would be the one you'd take home to meet the family, but if it's a good time you are after then give me the trashy blonde any time, which I guess just goes to show that you can take the boy out of Essex but...

 

Convention dictates that I subject you to some more of my ham fisted playing. I'm afraid it's particularly bad this time as I took few days off this week to do all those outside cleanup and painting jobs that need doing before winter hits. I'm a soft southern desk jockey so after a few days of manual labour my hands were stiff and sore. Not exactly conducive to accurate or sensitive playing. But if you are up for a challenge you are welcome to listen to this: "FT"

 

October 2011: Paul, Wimborne

 

I've had the Sapele Butterfly for nearly a week now. It's just delightful, as far as I'm concerned. AndyW, if you remember, in his review: said he preferred the Yew butterfly, likening it to a wanton blonde Essex girl (other hair colours, regions and genders also available). I have to say, my taste must obviously not encompass wantonness, because I just love the sophisticated completeness of this Brunette. (I apologise to all readers for my profligate use of "ss" in the previous sentence). I have recorded very little as yet, but I have found little bits of time to spend with the guitar, and it seems as close to an allrounder as I can imagine. I'm going to try to get some recording done tonight, and as soon as I top and tail it all, I'll put it up for all to hear. I'll also post a proper review and I will try to limit the double s'es and I promise - no comparisons with obsolete furniture.

 

November 2011: Ian, Southampton

 

 

November 2011: Rob, Southampton.

 

I was very impressed when I took this one out of the case. First impressions are significant I think, and If I picked this little lass up in a shop she would certainly talk to me, and would get some quality playing time. I think the satin finish suits the darker woods much more effectively. Fit and finish seems to be of a lot higher standard than the yew version. Finally, the sound is far more up my street- very attractive. It certainly shares the same family resemblance to the yew traveller sonically- a very intimate sound, but unlike the yew I find it more harmonically homogenous and sweeter. First up one of my own compositions, and an unusually percussive approach (for me at least!) "The Road to Easterbrook":

 

 

Then a slightly more laid back piece, hopefully showing off this guitar's singing qualities - Simon Fox's "The Fisherman" in DADGAD Capo 3:

 

 

OK, a couple more recordings. I slapped on a set of custom Newtone strings I had lurking about (forgotten how good these can be) and put her first of all in DGDGCD tuning. I played a couple of tunes from David Surrette's excellent book, both of them Breton:

 

 

Next up, I decided to venture into a very unfamiliar tuning for me- open G, and played a rather lovely piece from Rob MacKillop's lovely Scottish guitar book, 'Ask my Father':

 

 

A little stiff in places I know, but this guitar has made me want to explore this tuning a little more, so what more could you ask of an instrument. Ok, having said I wouldn't post any more videos on this guitar, especially after my poor attempt at Ask my Father, I couldn't help myself, and so have possibly opened up myself to be shot down here, but here is my arrangement of She Moves Through the Fair. I know I have posted this quite recently, with mixed success (!) but I wanted to see if she could do CGCGCD. I'll let you be the judge of whether it works. Yes I know there needs to be more variation, and that middle guitar solo in the very weird timing is a matter of taste- but I'm working on it! Even if you listen to just the first minute I think you will be pleasantly surprised:

 

 

This is the third guitar of Dave White's that I have had the pleasure of reviewing, and I will nail my colours to the wall at the outset by saying that I will be very sorry to see her leave so soon. Its seems like having just got to know her and how to unlock the music in her that she now has to go and weave her magic on the very talented Leon on the next stop of her tour. Many people will know that I struggled a little with the yew and spruce Traveller. The reasons for this may or may not have anything to do with her construction and setup. Sometimes guitars just don't gel. If we fell in love with every guitar we ever picked up in a shop we would all be very much the poorer (though there might be fewer guitar shops going out of business!)

 

My initial reaction when Féileacán was taken out of the case was one of delight, and, if truth be told , a sense of relief- I immediately realised that this was going to be a very positive encounter. That evening I recorded a whole serious of pieces from my memorised Dadgad repertoire. Unfortunately in my haste I forgot to check that the Zoom H4n I was using was selected as the input in iMovie. An hour later, having recorded what I thought were some very good performances, I realised my mistake and my heart sank. No matter, I tried again the next evening, all be it after a long and hard day at work, and although the performance was not as good, I did manage to record The Fisherman again, and my own composition, The Road to Easterbrook, both of which were posted on the forum. Although I messed up the first recordings, I was very pleased that FT was able to inspire my playing so well.

 

Over the next few evenings I continued to explore other tunings, some less familiar to me. A new set of Newtone strings with heavy bottoms gave FT a new sparkle, I having all but killed the D'Addarios that Ian had very kindly put on before handing over the guitar. I have a lovely friend called Dave Smith, who shares a passion with me for a certain other fine make of acoustic guitar. Dave is certainly a great player, and owner of many very nice guitars, all of them in different tunings. What I find fascinating about his approach is that he experiments with each guitar to find the tuning in which they truly sing. Amongst the guitars he owns, was my first ever guitar that I commissioned but was never able to get to sing in the tunings I was using at the time. However, it now resides rather gloriously in standard tuning but C to C ! Who'd have thought it. All of which is by way of saying that I believe guitars have a certain voice that one needs to find. We all have natural voices- why shouldn't guitars? I thought FT sounded very much at home in the G variant tunings that I tried, and as a result I was able to record a couple of lovely Breton tunes, and an excellent open G tuned lute piece from the Scottish Guitar book by Rob MacKillop. So inspired was I that I have made a note to myself to continue to explore these tunings in the future. I know some guitars seem to be able to do it all (and of course makes owning one guitar quite possible) and not everybody has the luxury of having a different guitar for each tuning. However, it may just be that all of us would hold on to guitars for longer rather than sell them if we only began to explore their voices a little more.

 

On my last evening with FT I decided to try my current 'standard' tuning- CGCGCD. I have now sketched out a few arrangements of traditional tunes in this tuning, and I feel it has a lot to offer, with all the advantages of dadgad, with very few of the disadvantages. I tried an arrangement that currently exists solely in my head- 'She Moves Through The Fair'. I just can't face having to notate the rather 'avante garde' guitar solo in the middle, and so the arrangement is slowly beginning to evolve and take shape. Despite being one of the lowest tunings I would dare try on such a short scale guitar it certainly didn't disgrace itself. Indeed, in the recording I did you can really hear all the natural harmonics and overtones ringing on in the body of the guitar. The low 6th string didn't seem too flappy, although it was a reinforced 56 gauge string.

 

I will now go on to talk about the actual construction and finish of the instrument. Let me start by saying that I have never been a fan of Dave's 'natural' finishes. That is purely personal taste. However, my opinion may well have changed by the superbly organic looks of this little lass. The oiled finish looks less obvious on the sapele, and actually suits it better in my opinion than a gloss finish would. Every (well most) things about this guitar look classy. There are no issues with the headstock like there was with the yew version, the woods don't look quite as stark as the white spruce/ yew combination, and overall I think this looks extremely attractive. It certainly provoked a nice comment from a youtube user on my 'Breton Tunes' video. The neck seems about right- not too sticky, not too thick. I love the contrasting wood of the bridge. It would have been quite difficult to find something that provides the right amount of contrast with the sapele without looking silly. Ebony wouldn't have worked I think (my wife is forever saying that you should never wear black and brown together- I wonder if its the same for guitars?) The stripey Kingwood looks lovely. I like the fact that the sapele itself is recylced as well. It fits in with my current thinking that luthiers should try to use more native woods, or at least to recycle more exotic timbres to cut down on the air miles.

 

It would seem churlish to mention minor 'issues' if issues they be. I would say the sound port looks a little 'rough' and I have actually come round to thinking that I would not want a sound port on any guitar I might commission. The only other issue for me are the tuners. Apart from the fact that the A string tuner has worked itself loose, I did find them to be a little hit and miss in use. Several times I found myself having to retune the guitar after playing a piece, even though I do make sure strings are thoroughly stretched in. I would want a tuner with a higher ratio as well- I found it a little more difficult to get a string exactly in tune. I think this guitar deserves some nicer tuners than these gotohs- maybe some waverlys?

 

Overall then I have very much enjoyed my time with FT. Of the three Dave White guitars I have played she is the one that looks the nicest. I still struggle with the (lack of) physical size of her, but other than that playability is excellent. Sound wise she is in no way in the same league as the original Traveller from last year (Mark Thomson you lucky fellow!) but she has a sweet voice, somewhat lacking a little in bass, but she more than makes up for that with a singing, fruity tone. She also responds well to a more percussive attack with the right hand, and she seems to have plenty of headroom. She inspired throughout her time with me, and thats all you can ask of an instrument. Whoever ends up owning this one will be a very happy chap/ chappess indeed.

 

November 2011: Leon, Portsmouth,

 

Initial thoughts - this is a lovely little guitar with a suprisingly complex tone (complex in a positive musical sense) - I'll get going on this through the week.

 

It is lovely to play, very responsive and smooth with a very balanced and complex tone that will only expand over time ... it doesn't sound like a small guitar. The title of the piece reflects the lack of a Work Life balance I have at the moment ... hence the rugged unshaven chin :-) ... roll on Christmas. This piece falls into three distinct sections and the guitar inspires quite a jazzy way of playing:

 

 

Here's my review of Dave White's twin guitars the Yew and Spruce Féileacán Iúr and his Sapele Féileacán Taistealaí

 

I am aware that there have already been lots of reviews of these two guitars and I will try to add to these rather than repeat too much, so I'll try to be as personal and subjective as possible. First impressions of both these guitars were their appealing size and compactness, particularly appreciated and admired by my wife and two girls who all really took to them, particularly FI. Both guitars were extremely playable and neither sounded boxy or small in scale, although the Yew Traveller took a little time to wake up ... more of which later. What I really love about Dave's guitars is that they are definitely unique, not something you would find in any shop, and built for sound and playability and for those of you who have taken part in this project and not had chance to meet Dave, you would find this to be very illuminating as his reasons for making in such a way and his knowledge of lutherie and the history of guitars is very interesting and refreshing. Contrary to what may appear to be unorthodox instruments in what is (necessarily) a conservative art form where innovation tends to be incremental, Dave seems to be as inspired by a great awareness of some of the earlier European guitars before the American steel string innovations by Martin and Gibson. Going back to Dave's original reason for putting these twin guitars out they were something of an experiment in tone woods to entice, challenge and encourage debate and response across our guitar community - feedback is the essence of this. This has also inspired an equally interesting guitar from Rory Dowling to finally descend on us Southerners, so we are definitely in the zone right now!!

 

FI was very interesting and in Dave's words a little "schizophrenic" in its nature. I experienced this in a relatively gentle way. When I first picked her up from Mel, FI was very nice to play but didn't really get me going like the first Traveller did (Samhain). I still enjoyed playing this through the week but felt particularly in the trebles a certain hardness in the strings - does this occur when treble frequencies feedback from the guitar body back to the strings and cancel each other out? I'm no luthier but this is how it feels as if a wave bounces of a seawall and deadens the next incoming wave ... I've noticed this on some ouds where it can be really pronounced. So the day I was due to go over to see Ian to hand it over to him, FI wakes up from her slumber and really blossomed. Very bubbly and feisty tone and feel making playing feel bouncy and funky under the fingers - a very appealing quality and coupled with the relative smallness of the guitar felt quite extrovert. This was borne out at Ian's where we played it between us along with his Sobells a Collings and a Bown and both agreed it held its own ... Ian really started to get stuck in and I think its responsive sweet but feisty tone and good headroom drew him in.

 

The Sapele FT was quite different which I gradually led me to discover a slightly warmer tone and the suggestion of a mysterious complex tone that would reveal over time (more than a week). Nicely balanced across all strings with no obvious dead areas but with a definite sweet treble at around the 7th and 9th frets. Both these guitars I had in standard tuning but tuned down one or two semitones (I did this without a tuner to just allow the tone to find their ground). Dave reckoned the bass response was a little low but I felt it was actually quite attractive, kind of restrained but not muffled, and it did sustain in a way that grounded the mids and trebles without pinning them down completely.I liked this guitar, it felt quite jazzy, and my nails after three weeks in my workshop are pretty small so my tone is less sharp and naturally warmer. Very easy to play and responsive and those sweet trebles making me want to soar up the fretboard whenever I could.

 

There were a couple of small details I would like to have seen which are technically cosmetic but do have an effect on my sense and feel of a guitar - it is a bit like the way food can taste differently when well presented.I would love to see a little extra attention (very minimal) around the side port, it seemed to be not quite finished compared with the rest of the guitar (on both), and the soundboard finish on FI looked a little uneven and skimpy when I caught a glimpse of it in the light. There was also a tiny gap between the heel and body of Yew FI which looked slightly out of place - this was not so on Sapele FT so isn't a question of the type of joint which Dave has good reasons for adopting. I also felt from my own aesthetic sense of proportion that the depth of the binding from the soundboard down the sides seemed too much. This depth seems to be a feature of some of the early "Romantic" guitars such as Panormos and Lacotes and offers a proportion that emphasises their compactness which can be very beautiful and seems to achieve its effect when done finely and lightly.

 

To sum up, I have really enjoyed both road trips, and this was a real treat. I am definitely on Dave's side, even more so having met him a couple of times now. I love to see people pursuing and perfecting their passion for an art ... especially when they are happy for me to be a Guinea Pig. Dave really puts himself on the line with these road trips both in terms of the trust and time he invests but also we should never underestimate the depth of the roots that lutherie has in him. Out of the two guitars I was surprised to be most intrigued by the Sapele FT - this I think will have years of opening up and unfolding which to me signifies a voyage of discovery.

 

Thanks Dave