Friday, July 31, 2009

Chinese guitars

Far too many guitars have passed through my hands. I could measure my life in terms of Gibsons and Guilds, Martins and Fenders, crippling hire purchase agreements (Guild 12 string), shocking maxxing out of credit cards (Gibson J40), and the selling of everything else for the sake of one instrument (black Martin J40MBK).

Time was I'd hang out in music shops for hours on end, endlessly strumming and picking, comparing and contrasting. I was a total guitar snob. And, I think, trying desperately to gain some kind of security in my very limited playing from possession of a good guitar: It gave you some kind of status, even if only initially.

Lately, though, I've sold the hand-made Moon, keeping the Martin Shenandoah Susan gave me for home use and giving the last roadgoing Martin (not the black one; it's long gone)to James for his 18th birthday. As for performing (still doing it, I'm afraid: gigs coming up are Belladrum, Wizard and Wigtown festivals) I've acquired a couple of Chinese-made acoustics.

Labelled Guvnor, they're examples of a phenomenon prevalent on eBay: a UK/US designer comes up with an idea for a product, and gets a Chinese factory to make it at a fraction of the price it would cost anywhere else. Depending on the baseline cost, the factory's capabilities, skill of craftspeople, quality of materials and obviously the original design, the results can be excellent, or terrible.

The Guvnors I have are very good. Not all carrying that label are. What I have are designs by a British luthier known as 'Marc Lamaq' though I think his original name is Hammick. His career, if you do a bit of Google digging, appears to have had its ups and downs.

The guitars are, to put it mildly, heavily influenced by the designs of Northern Irish legend George Lowden (pinless bridge, split bridge insert)but the quality of (all solid) woods used is fantastic. I have one (GA777CE)cutaway acoustic with a rosewood body, the other is maple (GA700CE). The rosewood one has one of the nicest bookmatched spruce tops I've ever seen. Both come with Fishman Classic Four electronics. They were less than £200 each. If there's an issue with either, it's in the neck area. Both necks are Gibson pattern, meaning thick and lumpy. I have large hands, so that doesn't bother me. The frets are jumbo sized and probably need dressed. But at least they're not lifting, as was the case with that hugely expensive black Martin J40. Which I sold, in the end, after smashing the front accidentally, with another Martin's headstock. Let's not talk about that.

Now, the black Martin mentioned above cost around two grand, and that was 20 years ago, with basic Fishman electronics and a hard case. Are the two Guvnors as good? No. That black Martin, when new, had more, and more even, projection than any other guitar I've played. The neck, lifting frets notwithstanding, was a joy. But what a price. My two Chinese guitars are more than capable of handling professional work over a long period of time. The rosewood one in particular has the depth and aggression I look for in an acoustic. And the split bridge means the intonation is perfect.

Really, no-one should be surprised. The tradition of quality instrument making in China goes back thousands of years. In the classical world, this has been long recognised. And if you're looking for a violin, cello or double bass bow, the carbon-fibre examples made in China are among the best anywhere. They're not cheap, though.

Guvnor Guitars have a website, but I don't think they're trading except through Chase Direct in Manchester and the electronics in those guitars do not appear to be Fishman. You can track down the originals, and occasional Lamaq prototypes, on eBay, however.


max lamaq said...

Hi, I am Max Lamaq and i am the son of Marc Antonio Lamaq (originally Mark Hammock)who makes these guitars.

Keep your eyes open for new guitars being launched from Marc in the near future and also look out for the Sue Scott guitars (SS guitars) and some guitars Marc is manufacturing named after my brother Stefan Yozef guitars. These names are already on the market and at the moment are being distributed from the north east. for example has some products for sale. :)

John Marr said...

I'd love to hear from Marc. How do I reach him?

John Marr said...

I'd like to speak with Marc. How do I reach him?