Upcycled music: my custom-built, eco-friendly classical guitar

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware that I recently had a new classical guitar custom made for me by Neil McHardy Guitars in Cumbria. Here’s some details and a closer look…

McHardy’s eco-friendly mindset

Neil works alone and handbuilds his guitars to order. His offset sound hole design came from his father, who built guitars for the boys he used to teach, using old wood. Neil, a retired engineer, has kept the same overall design & philosophy, creating beautiful instruments out of old wood. Most of his guitars had previously been doors, floorboards or old workbenches. It goes against the mentality of many high-end luthiers, who prize certain ‘tonewoods’ over others. Believe me, these guitars sound brilliant & play as well (if not better) than their (considerably) more expensive rivals.

Unique in more ways than one

I first discovered Neil’s craftsmanship at the Sunbeams Music Centre in Penrith, which has a guitar donated by him amongst its collection. Intrigued by his philosophy of using recycled wood, I contacted him to ask if he had ever made a nylon-strung guitar. Neil told me he had not (all of his creations until then had been steel-strung acoustics), but was up for the challenge.

After lots of careful of research, Neil designed & built a guitar to my specifications. He also sent me regular work in progress pictures (below).

The finished product

Neil finished the guitar for me in late January, and it was great to finally have it in my hands to play. All of my requests & requirements had been met, from the thinner body depth to the input jack being placed separately from the bridge pin/end strap button. The offset soundhole does not effect volume, but rather allows for more vibration of the top. It also suits my more percussive style of playing better.

Specifications

Top: Red Cedar
Back & Sides: Spanish Cedar
Neck: Cherry, with a Beech stripe
Fretboard & Bridge: African Ebony
Head Facing & Golpe: American Walnut

Nut & Saddle: Camel Bone
Pickup: Fishman ‘Presys’

Depth: 90mm at bottom, tapering to 70mm at top
Width of lower bout: 370mm
Length: 1,000mm
Nut Width: 52mm (2″)

I’ve played this guitar for a couple of months now and still very pleased with it. The thinline body & offset soundhole create less conventional nylon-strung sound which is perfect for jazz and latin styles, while still retaining an intrinsic classical vibe.

Unplugged, it is loud enough to be heard, but the onboard mic/pickup combo is very versatile for both live performance and recording – I especially like being able to blend the ratio of microphone (just under the soundhole on the guitar’s upper bout) and pickup. Having a tuner on there means one less thing to forget to pack in my gigbag too!

I’m terms of how it looks, I think this guitar is a real stunner. To me, it mixes the best of classic Spanish guitar with elements of African design – particularly in the binding & rosette. Speaking of which, these are another feature unique to all McHardy Guitars, as they are pieced together from spare wood chippings. No two rosettes made by Neil look the same!

Playability

The action is low but clean, and the 52mm (2 inch) nut, the standard in classical guitar making, feels perfectly comfortable. Its thinline body make it easy to hold in the right position and the neck is well intonated. Big stretches aren’t a problem and full chords hold their tuning across the fretboard. In short, it feels as good to play as it sounds.

The electrics are simple to navigate and sound superb. I’ve already found two settings which will likely become my main voicings for this instrument.

One of a kind

When I first met Neil in his workshop, I noticed he had a collection of wooden circles on a string. These, he explained, were the cut-outs from the soundhole of every guitar he had ever made. He estimated there to be around 50 in total. All of them steel-strung six string acoustics, until mine.

However, it seems Neil continues to diversity and experiment. At time of writing, he was starting on his first ever six string, another requested build. I’m sure he’ll nail it as brilliantly ass he did with my nylon-strung axe.

In a follow up conversation, Neil mentioned one of his Facebook followers admiring photos of my finished guitar so much that he had started enquiring about his own. So perhaps this could be the start of a whole new range for Neil!

For more info…

If you asked about his work, Neil would tell you that he’s “just a man in a shed”. However, if you would like to see more of his guitars, or even discuss a future build of your own, then please do check him out via the Neil McHardy Guitars Facebook page – just don’t inundate the poor guy with requests for the Tim Higgins Signature Model!

Published by timguitar

Guitarist, composer, music therapist and avid bibliophile. Providing an insight into my life as a professional musician, lessons learned as an allied health practitioner, as well as various musings on the world of music in general. Expect plenty of articles about music & wellbeing, classical guitar, jazz, world/roots genres, and all sorts of guitar-related chat.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: