Simon Ambridge, England

Born in 1951, I come from a long line of London cabinet makers dating back to the 18th century. After leaving school I studied graphic design at Bath Academy of Art and the Royal College of Art. My interest in guitars began in the early 60's with the explosion of the pop music industry. My first guitar, a cheap, burgundy colored, acoustic f hole cutaway soon had a pickup fitted, got played endlessly and became what I recognize now as the seed of a passion which has endured to this day. In 1978 while running a furniture-making workshop. I made my first acoustic guitar based on a Martin, then soon after I made a Torres style classical with help from Kevin Aram who has since established himself as a leading luthier.

At this point my path was clear; I was hooked. However, it was a further 10 years before it was possible to devote myself to guitar making full time. Becoming a full time guitar maker coincided with my move to Devon in the southwest of England, thanks to a setting up grant from the Crafts Council of Great Britain. I was particularly honored by this grant since the selectors included Jose Romanillos, David Rubio and Paul Fischer. In 1991 I received awards from the David Canter Memorial fund and Southwest Arts. In 1995 I moved into a studio on the Dartington estate in South Devon, home of the renowned Dartington International Summer School.

Over the years I have enjoyed a growing international reputation with customers in North and South America, Canada, the Far East and Australia as well as mainland Europe and the UK. I live with my wife Anna in South Brent, within the Dartmoor National Park. Although primarily self taught as a guitar maker, I am indebted to the many luthiers and guitarists who have shared their advice, support and encouragement with me.

My guitars owe their inspiration to the instruments of Antonio de Torres, Santos Hernandez and Hermann Hauser I. By combining design elements from these great makers with my own ideas I produce instruments which are traditional in style, lightly built and very responsive. I am aiming for a sound which is full bodied, yet clear and focused across the whole musical spectrum. I use a fan strutted system derived from Torres which I believe contributes to more efficient sound radiation (projection) and helps give an instrument character, widening its range of available color. In the construction process I am constantly checking the plate resonances before and after assembly so that in the completed instrument all the components work together as a whole. I try to aim for a body frequency of around F which seems to result in guitars with a strong fundamental quality to the notes and the robustness of sound which I particularly like.

Volume is a necessary attribute of a concert guitar, but I do not pursue it at the expense of musicality. Quite often guitars which are particularly loud close up do not project well in a concert situation and produce a sound which is unbalanced and lacking in purity. Players often comment that my guitars are very easy to play. How I design and construct my guitars assures just the right combination of string tension and plate elasticity. This in turn contributes largely to this ease of playability. I also pay particular attention to the feel of the neck and take care to ensure that the fingerboard is correctly adjusted and the frets are well polished.

My background as a visual artist, combined with good woodworking skills, has allowed me to focus a lot on details of design and decoration. This has enabled me to craft guitars known for their high level of musical and visual refinement. I have always believed that quality comes before quantity, and this is evident in the fact that my output is between ten and twelve instruments only per year. I find building guitars to be very satisfying. It is indeed a privilege in this age of fast fixes to be able to individually handcraft a classical guitar of the highest quality which in turn I hope will give enduring pleasure to players and audiences alike.

I construct my guitars in a controlled, dry atmosphere using only the finest and carefully selected seasoned tone woods. I use European spruce for the soundboards and Brazilian or Indian rosewood for the backs and sides, and occasionally flamed or bird's eye maple as an alternative to the rosewoods. I make the necks from either South American mahogany or cedar (Cedrela) and the heads are fitted using either the traditional 'V' joint or a splice joint in the case of Torres copies. The heads are faced with ebony or rosewood and the centre joint is often inlaid with strips of decorative veneers to match the rosette.

For my standard concert guitar I have adopted a traditional strutting design derived from Torres (seven fan struts and two diagonal bars laid out in a kite pattern) and Hauser 1 (thin plate under the bridge). Occasionally on Torres models I open the harmonic bars to give the soundboard more flexibility which in turn lowers the resonant frequency. The wood I use for struts and bars is quarter sawn, and cut from split billets. Struts are glued to the soundboard with hot glue using a solera (dished work board) only when the ambient relative humidity is around 40%. This ensures that the correct doming of the soundboard is achieved in the finished instrument. The top linings are made from separate blocks and the back linings are either kerfed or solid.

I adjust my ebony fingerboards so that the bass side tapers down slightly towards the sound hole. This allows the height of the strings above the soundboard at the saddle to remain the same and improves the guitars' playability. I cut my fret slots on a slitting saw using templates produced with the aid of computer technology. The fret positions are therefore consistently accurate and intonation is as perfect as practically possible. I use the 12 hole system for tying strings to the bridge. The obvious improvement is that a constant break angle is maintained over the saddle maximizing energy transference to the soundboard.

For my standard concert guitar I have adopted a traditional strutting design derived from Torres (seven fan struts and two diagonal bars) and Hauser I (thin plate under the bridge). In 'La Suprema' the lower harmonic bar has cutouts which allow the outer fan struts to run up to the sound hole reinforcement. All my guitars' struts and bars are quarter sawn from split billets. I use a solera (dished work board), attached only when the ambient relative humidity is around 40%. This ensures that the correct doming of the soundboard is achieved. I make my top linings from separate blocks and the bottom linings of bent spruce.

I cut my fret slots on a machine I designed myself, using templates produced with the aid of computer technology. As a result, my guitars' fret positions are consistently accurate and their intonation is as perfect as practically possible. Over the past couple of years I have used the 12 hole system for tying strings to the bridge. Apart from the obvious improvement in maintaining a constant break angle over the saddle, I've found that it's possible to subtly adjust the tension of any string and the way it sounds by reverting to the usual 6 hole tying method. Try it yourself!

I make all my inlays individually, so they usually differ from one guitar to another - though there are decorative themes running throughout all my guitars such as the fine wheat sheaf herringbone reminiscent of Torres. I tend to prefer natural woody inlays though I've been known to splash out with color now and then! Having experimented with various finishes over the years, I am convinced that French polish of shellac is unquestionably the most beautiful sounding and looking finish for a fine classical guitar. It is also relatively easy to repair and maintain. I apply this finish in the traditional way using only freshly mixed Luna pale shellac polish. I can tailor my guitars' fingerboard widths, neck dimensions and string spacing to individual requirements. I also offer other options such as a 20th fret and a radiused fingerboard. I provide Rodgers tuning machine heads as standard on all my guitars. (Learn more).

Simon Ambridge