Anniversary Instruments

2014 marks the tenth anniversary of De Faoite Stringed Instruments and so I'm going to be making some special and some different/oddball instruments as time allows to celebrate this and will feature them here.


"An Féa Caol"




This guitar shares the same body shape as my Terz Harp guitar "Fimbrethil" but without the hollow arm. Tolkien translates "Fimbrethil" as "The Slender Beech" which in Gaelic is "An Féa Caol". With different string gauges "An Féa Caol" can be either be used as a Parlour guitar or tuned three semitones higher as a Terz guitar. It's short scale length is the same as a standard sized guitar Capoed at the first fret and using it as a Terz you can get the sounds of a normal guitar capoed much higher but with lots of fingerboard space.


I wanted to use some special woods and found some lovely figured Pear for the back and sides and as it reminded me a lot of maple in terms of its acoustic properties Western Red Cedar was the ideal top to use. To tie it all together the neck, bridge and fingerboard were also figured Pear and Macassar Ebony bindings (including the fingerboard) brought it all together nicely. The tuners are Gotoh with Ebony buttons and the fretwire is gold EVO and the scale length is 610mm.


I love the harp like quality this guitar has when Capoed in Terz tunings. You can listen to me playing this guitar as a Terz in FCFBbCF tuning (the same intervals as DADGAD) with my own compositions "Three Steps Up - Calypso", "Job Half Done" and "An Féa Caol" with the Capo at the fifth fret - equivalent to DADGAD Capoed at the eighth fret.






The first stringed instrument I made was a mountain dulcimer from a kit I bought in Hobgoblin in London. I was delighted to get the opportunity to make one of my own design for Vic Griffin. It seems to me to be a smaller version of my "Red Kite" lap slide guitar and as Sparrowhawks fly in the local woods here it was the perfect name for it.


"Sparrowhawk" is an hourglass shaped Mountain Dulcimer with a European Spruce top; Sapele back, sides, neck, peghead and stringholder; Bog oak fingerboard and nut; Macassar Ebony binding, bridge, headstock veneer, heel caps and end grafts; b/w/b purflings, Gold EVO fretwire; bone saddle and Grover tuners. Scale length is a guitar friendly 650mm and string gauges as 13,13,17,32w for ddAD tuning. The finish is hand rubbed pre-catalysed lacquer. The soundholes on the lower bout are "De Faoite Hares" from my label designed by my daughter Martha and on the upper bout they are Sparrowhawk silhouettes.


Here's a recording of me playing my arrangement of Nic Jones's "Ruins on the Shore" on "Sparrowhawk" in ddAD tuning. A photo-documentary of "Sparrowhawk's" construction can be found here.


"Cailin Beag"




"Cailin Beag" which is Gaelic for "Little Girl" is a 375mm scale length Concert sized ukulele essentially made with the bits left over from making "An Féa Caol". It has a Western Red Cedar top with figured Pear back, sides and neck; Bog Oak bindings, fretboard, headstock veneers, end graft, heel cap, bridge nut and saddle; black/pear/black purflings. Gotoh Planetary Geared Ukulele tuners with black buttons, Gold Evo fretwire and Aquila nylgut strings.


Here's my version of Clive James & Pete Atkin's "Beware of the Beautiful Stranger" played on "Cailin Beag" in cGEA tuning.


"An Tairneanach Mór"




The fourth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is "An Tairneanach Mór" which is Gaelic for "The Big Thunder". This is my take on an old ladder braced Leadbelly Stella slothead 12 string guitar. It uses a "Samhain" body with 660mm scale length, 13 frets clear of the body, floating bridge and tailpiece and a hybrid ladder/A frame bracing design and is be tuned down to C-C in "standard" and to Bb for dropped tunings. It has a Lutz spruce top and English oak back, sides and neck that came from a chest of drawers, with bog oak fingerboard, bridge, bindings and veneers.


The last few days have been breezy courtesy of the tail end of hurricane Bertha and I've been watching the many Red Kites and Buzzards here taking advantage and having a great time riding the winds like surfers ride the big waves, gliding and diving effortlessly and seeming to be having great fun. It lifts the heart. "Raptor Windfall" is a piece I composed in their honour played on "An Tairneanach Mór" in Bb F Bb Eb F Bb tuning (the same intervals as DADGAD).


"An Tairneanach Darach Beag"




The fifth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is "An Tairneanach Darach Beag" - "The Little Oak Thunder" the closest I could get in Gaelic to "Baby Boomer" - which has top, back, sides and neck from the same source as "An Tairneanach Mór". This is my take on a fretless bass ukulele in the style of the Kala Ubass instruments.


The Kala instruments are based on their baritone ukulele body and I based mine on my tenor guitar body using a floating bridge. The scale length is 525mm (approximately depending where you put the bridge) and it uses the polyurethane Pahoehoe Black Bass Strings made by Road Toad Music. Body and neck are English Oak and fretboard, bindings, bridge, nut, saddle and headstock veneers etc are Bog Oak (sinker English Oak). Purflings are black/pear/black and the tuners are Sperzel lockable bass tuners. It's fitted with a K&K Pure Bass 4 String pickup.


Here's a sample of how it sounds unplugged.


Here's a sample of how it sounds plugged in - courtesy of Colin Veysey.






The sixth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is "VictorM" - a five string open back banjo. Short for Victor Meldrew (as in "I don't believe it") it was a surprise gift for Martin Robertson from grateful Acoustic Soundboard Forum members in appreciation of Martin's work in creating and running the Forum and organising the annual September meet up. It was presented to him at he the fifth meeting in Halifax on 26th September 2014 Halifax. Here's a video of surprised and delighted Martin receiving his new banjo:



"VictorM" has a vellum grade calf skin head with 11" rim diameter, an English Walnut rim capped top and bottom with Anjan and an English Walnut neck. It has a brass tone ring and raw brass hardware together with Gotoh tuners. It also has a De Faoite adjustable neck system. A photo-documentary of "VictorM's" construction can be found here.


"Becky's Bass"




The seventh of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is Becky's electric upright bass. It has a variable scale length of 950-1000mm depending on where the bridge is placed. The body and neck are made from Port Orford Cedar from a tree that grew in the front garden. The body is covered in Sapele veneer front and back and the fingerboard is East Indian Rosewood. The tuners are Hipshots and it has a K&K bass pickup. It also has a De Faoite adjustable neck system. A photo-documentary of its construction can be found here.


"An Muc Screadail"




The eighth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is a tenor banjo "An Muc Screadail" - "The Screaming Pig". It has a 530mm scale length, a calf skin head with 11" rim diameter, a Birdseye Maple rim capped top and bottom with Macassar Ebony and an Birdseye Maple neck. It has a brass tone ring and nickel hardware.


Here's a video of Joe Wadsworth playing "Carolan's Concerto" on "An Muc Screadail":







The ninth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is a Piccolo guitar called "Suzanna" named after my youngest daughter. Originally made back in 2004 it was my take on a travel guitar loosely based on a Tacoma Papoose with a 605mm scale length with 16 frets clear of the body. The back and sides were Brazilian Rosewood and the top Sycamore and it was designed as a travel sized guitar for standard E-E tuning:


The Tacoma Papoose has a 484mm scale length and is a Requinto guitar - like a standard guitar capoed on the fifth fret and tuned A-A instead of E-E. I am fascinated by the key of Bb in modal tunings and my baritone guitars and 12 string long scale instruments go down to C-C which enables these tunings - I have formed the "Bb Earth Society". I decided to re-make the Suzanna guitar into a Piccolo guitar and tuned C-C instead of E-E. This makes the Piccolo guitar a high octave Baritone guitar, or if you were using the mandolin/octave mandolin analogy, and baritone guitar would be an octave Piccolo guitar.


I re-used the Brazilian Rosewood back and sides and put on a Port Orford Cedar top from "The Tree" that grew in my front garden together with a Birdseye Maple neck and bindings, Macassar Ebony fretboard and headstock veneers, a Brazilian Rosewood bridge and custom Rubner tuners. The scale length is 440mm. The Brazilian Rosewood was a find in a local woodworking store and was a small block so the back was four pieces. So here's a recording of me playing Mark Thomson's arrangement of "Roslin Castle" and my tune "Daithi's Shed" in Bb F Bb Eb F Bb tuning - strings are 13, 17, 22, 29, 35, 53. This was recorded straight into my Zoom H4n with flat EQ and no added effects.


"El Xiprer"




The tenth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is "El Xiprer" - Catalan for "The Cypress Tree". It's a 650mm scale length flamenco guitar with geared pegs using a Santos Hernandez guitar shape but the bracing and everything else is my own design.Port Orford Cedar from a tree that grew in my front garden was used for the top, back, sides, neck, linings and bracing together with figured Bog Oak for the fingerboard and bridge, and Coyote Wood (Platymiscium polystachium) for the bindings, end graft, heelcap and headplates. Purflings are black/ pear/ black. Here's a recording of James Daubney playing "El Xiprer".


"Ceol Binn Sean-Aimsire"




The eleventh of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is "Ceol Binn Sean-Aimsire" - a fretless 5 string banjo-bouzouki. Its genesis was at the July Guitar Weekend at Halsway Manor in July 2016 hosted by Gavin Davenport when one of the tutors - Tristan Seume - brought along a "banjola" that Roger Bucknall of Fylde Guitars had made for him. When I got back home I did some research. The instrument dates back to the 1890's when it was called a "mandoline-banjo" or "banjo-lute". In 1996 the American builder Edward Dick started making his own version that he called a "banjola" - a banjo/mandola hybrid using a larger body and scale length than the originals and a pinned bridge rather than floating bridge with tailpiece. Goldtone followed his lead and also call their instruments "banjolas".


Having made a 5 string open back banjo I didn't really see the need to make a fretted version like a "banjola". However, having made a fretless banjo - "Llinos" - for the talented young player Matt Rowland I was intrigued by the fretless sound and although I'm sure there is one out there somewhere couldn't find any reference to a fretless "banjola" having been made. For the body I planned to use a narrower version of my octave mandolin "Ceol Binn Mór" both in width and depth, combined with a 630mm scale length neck as per my "VictorM" banjo - the body depth is 70mm to match that of the banjo. I always have to have a name before I build and this was to be the Gaelic for "Sweet Old Timey Music" and became "Ceol Binn Sean-Aimsire" (pronounced "Kayol bin shan am-shy-ear"). Gaelic is a very descriptive language and properly this is "Ceol aoibhinn de chuid na sean-aimsire" - "Sweet music from out of the old time" - but this wouldn't fit on the label so it was "adapted".


"Ceol Binn Sean-Aimsire" is a 630mm scale length five string fretless "banjzouki" with a Western Red Cedar top; American Black Walnut back, sides, neck and linings; East Indian Rosewood bindings; Macassar Ebony fingerboard with frailing scoop, bridge, nut and saddle; Anjan end graft, heelcap, headplates, porthole and. black/ white/ black purflings. Tuners are Gotoh banjo tuners with Ebony buttons and it has a brass mandolin tailpiece. The fifth string nut is a short piece of EVO fretwire with a banjo spike as string guide and there is also a capo spike and fret for the 5th string at the 7th fret.


Here's a recording of me playing Sam Carter's "Dreams are Made of Money" in f C F Bb C tuning on "Ceol Binn Sean-Aimsire".






The twelfth of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments is "Ceithre" - Venezuelan Cuatro. In essence it's a large ukulele - between a tenor and baritone in size - tuned one step up from a ukulele ADF#B (think bottom four strings of a guitar in EADGBE Capoed at the 7th fret) with "reverse" re-entrant tuning - the top B string is an octave lower and a semitone higher than the bottom A string. Re-entrant tuning has the outer two strings close together in pitch and is effective with up/down strumming patterns. On ukulele's the bottom G string is tuned an octave higher and is a semi-tone lower than the high A string. Cuatro is Spanish for four and so my instrument had to be "Ceithre" - Gaelic for four and pronounced "Heh-reh". I decided to make it as a miniature version of a flamenco guitar, t he top is Lawson's Cypress from "The Musical Tree" and the back and sides are Sapele and the neck Spanish cedar. Bindings, trimmings and Golpeador are Etimoe and the bridge is English Walnut. Tuners are Gotoh ukulele pegs (1:1) with Ebony Banjo buttons. Scale length is 498mm A photo-documentary of making a commissioned "Ceithre" can be found here. Here's a recording of me playing "Ceithre Shuffle" on "Ceithre".


"Nancy" and "William""




The final two of my De Faoite Anniversary Instruments are "Nancy" and "William". My first two creations started in 2002 - "Nancy" and "William" were conceived as a matching pair of small bodied guitar and guitar-bouzouki and their naming comes from the frequency of appearances of these names in traditional English songs and their design was dictated by the size of some wonderful pieces of Old Rio Rosewood I found in Isaac Lord in High Wycombe plus two spruce guitar top sets. The backs were six joined pieces and the necks had 16 frets clear of the body so you could say they were unique but there were influences there from the great maker Stefan Sobell who I very much admire. I finished them both in 2003 after an "interesting" journey and although in looks they were "rough as a badger's arse" they sounded really good - the beginnings of the De Faoite sound:



Over the years the necks have been raided for the hardware - tuners, fingerboards and carbon fibre - and all that was left were the boxes. I decided to re-use the Old Rio Rosewood back and sides with new Lawson's Cypress tops and necks using wood from the "Musical Tree" that grew in my front garden. They are based on my "AnFeá Caol" Terz/parlour guitar body shape with a 630mm scale length and 13 frets clear of the body and they have keep their names and Serial Numbers. Bindings are Birds Eye Maple; the fingerboard headstock veneers are Macassar Ebony and the bridges Rio Rosewood. These are the last of my "Anniversary Instruments" projects that I started in 2014 to mark the tenth anniversary of De Faoite Stringed Instruments. To celebrate their re-birth here's a little D minor waltz in DADGAD I wrote called "The Resurrection Waltz" played on "Nancy":



Here's me playing Martin Simpson's "Air for Maurice Ogg/The Plains of Waterloo" in GDAD on "William":