I am an established professional luthier, having made over 500 instruments ( at the time of creating this site - 2008 ) since 1972. Having started out making and repairing guitars in South Africa, ( where the Abreu Brothers visited and I did an emergency repair to their 2 fine Rubio 'New York period' 1964 guitars which began it all ) and in 1974 I travelled to the U.K. in search of an 'apprenticeship'- (hopefully with David Rubio [1934-2000], which in the event did not take place- however, David became a good friend, and remained a friend right until the end, and during the 26 years I knew him, David did much to inspire me. David Rubio gave his advice and suppport generously and freely over the years, for which I am eternally grateful. I did also work for him over a long period as an 'outworker' over a 25 year period, and during the last 10 to 12 years of David's working life, when he suffered a lot of back pain, most of the guitars and lutes he produced during that period were mainly constructed by me, and then finished by David in his studio. He also, in our last meeting in October 2000, asked me specifically to carry on the making of the 'Brahms ' guitar, which I am happy to do, to order. There is a website for David Rubio, linked here.
After moving to East Finchley, London, in 1974,and then on to North Kensington, I ran my own studio in London near the Portobello Road, where I also began to teach myself lute making, I then moved into a new shared workshop in the Early Music Centre, founded by Anthony Rooley in 1976, where I shared the workshop space with many other makers, including Norman Myall, Bob Eyland, Norman Reed (sadly missed, a good friend and colleague) Maish Weisman, Michael Sprake, Steven Murphy, Neil Hansford, Klaus Jacobsen and others. During this period, a tremendous amount of research was being done by all the makers into the authentic construction of lutes, theorboes, early guitars of all sorts, gambas etc, and the atmosphere of the centre generated an enthusiasm amongst the makers there to produce the best instruments around. A good example of this is my re-construction of an 'early guitar' built which was the first modern ' true' reconstruction of the earliest dated surviving guitar, which has a fluted and vaulted back, ie thin 'double curved' staves, curved in both directions, which is very difficult to achieve. This was based on the original by Belchior Dias, 1581, ( Royal College Collection) which itself is similar in construction to the 'Chambure' vihuela . I developed my own technique of double-curved bent staves, ie curved along the length and also across the width , using only traditional methods and using tools and technology which would have been available to the maker back in 1581, for the 7 piece back. ( an earlier reconstruction by Chris Challen had a back carved fom the solid ) There have been other reconstructions of this style of guitar since then, but the technique I first developed in the Pottery Lane workshops in 1976 using bent staves for the double- curved back. was 're-invented' and used by me, and has been in use since then.( other modern makers may have used a similar, or even the same, technique since, but as I have no real idea of exactly how others have done this, I cannot compare.) This little guitar was commissioned by AnthonyRooley, who also then commisioned another 'scaled up' version, using exactly the same pioneering construction techniques. Over the next decades I made many lutes, theorboes, chittarone, violas da gamba, violins and cellos, etc, including an accurate copy of the ivory 'liuto attiorbato' by Sellas commissioned by Toyohiko Satoh ( in the pre-Cites days). However, throughout this period, I always continued to develop and build fine classical guitars.
In 1979, the Early Music Centre was due to close and move location, and I then set up another workshop in South London, where I concentrated not only on classical guitars but also researched classical Italian violin making techniques, and in 1986 I won the prestigious Crafts Council Award, for cello construction, the only cello maker to have done so. I then went on to win the Silver Medal in the Manchester International Cello Festival in 1990, ( only one other competition was entered- Guitar Making in Paris, 1989, 2nd place- I am not a 'competition' maker ) and the 'bowed strings' still have a substantial part in the annual output. I am also a member the 'Crafts Council Selected Makers' Index.
I moved out into the countryside of Surrey in 1987, then into the centre of Guildford in 1997, renovating an old building, known as ' The 'Old Glassworks', where I now make, restore and deal in all manner of stringed instruments, specializing in fine and rare guitars.
In 1991 I was approached by Julian Bream to make a precise physical and acoustic copy of the 1940 Hauser 1 ( which was on loan to JB from Rose Augustine)- this relationship continued for some years, and by 1996 JB had commissioned some 8 guitars from me. During this period, I learnt a tremenduous amount from JB, mainly to do with the precise calibration and tuning of the wood prior and during construction, a method which I subsequently further developed and worked into a system now in use in all my guitars, which I call 'Dynamic Resonance', the precise tunings and combination of tunings being a closely guarded secret for now, but will be published for the future. I believe that Hauser 1 developed and knew of some of these tunings intimately, as did many of the 19th C Spanish makers including Torres. I have been lucky enough to own at various times 4 Torres guitars, and guitars from makers such as Manuel Ramirez, Santos Hernandes, Simplicio, Garcia, Sanfeliu, Hauser 1, Fleta, Bouchet, Rubio and many others, all of which have helped me tremendously in developing my own work. I am mentioned by Jose Romanillos in his 'Torres' book as a maker in the 'Torres style'.
I work in a very traditional manner, and any 19th C guitar maker stepping into the workshop today would instantly recognise the tools, materials, techniques and methods of making currently employed, to the extent that still in daily use is an original 19th C treadle circular saw, a treadle lathe, and countless original fine hand tools. Some handtools originally belonging to David Rubio are also still in daily use making guitars. It is only by working the woods directly by hand in the traditonal methods with virtually no 'machining' that the authentic and full potential of the wood can be realised. I specialise in making unique rosettes for each guitar, with the 'long grain' showing, a technique Torres used only once in FE 08, (see details of copies of this guitar elsewhere on this site) and this made possible by using these original tools. 'Compromise' is not a word used in the studio. I do not work to a 'fixed time' for any instrument, each one takes as long as it needs to, with the ultimate aim of making each individual guitar as good as I possibly can.
Many players of world renown are playing on, and have played on, my guitars in concerts, recordings, and performances of all types. I maintain the guitars of many of these players, and others, on a regular basis. The guitars are known for their lightness, easy action, dynamic range, and they are just a real pleasure to play. I have linked to some of these artists from this website, but have chosen not to make a page for endorsements, testimonials or recordings from customers.
I am also a master violin maker, and have been building violin family instruments since around 1979: I won the Crafts Council Bursary ( the first, and I believe the only-, instrument maker ever to do so) in 1986, to research and study classical Italian violin making methods. Since then I have made numerous award winning celli, violins and viola, and I believe I am now very possibly the only current UK professional master luthier proficient in guitar, lute and violin family construction. (David Rubio was similarly qualified). The experience and understanding gained thus and applied to these various instruments adds significant depth dimension to my skill as a luthier in all fields. My bowed instruments are also played world-wide by many professional players . Please visit my associated websites, Brian Cohen, Violin Maker and Brian Cohen, Lute Maker for more information
- Member of Crafts Council Selected Index of Makers
- Winner of the Crafts Council Bursary, 1986
- Silver Medal, Manchester International Cello Festival, 1990
- 1st place for Construction and second place overall (Joint 2nd with Matthias Dammann) , International Guitar Making Competition, Paris 1989
- note: no other competitions entered
- Invited Exhibitor, Bonhams Contemporary Decorative Arts, 1992
- Invited Exhibitor, British Craftsmanship in Wood, 1990
- Featured maker 'Hand Made, Hand Played' 1991
- Commissioned by Julian Bream CBE, a series of 6 guitars, from 1991 to 1998
- Examples of Conservation work: Boston Museum of Fine Arts: Voboam c 1645, Stoss 'Double neck' guitar c 1820:>
Metropolitan Museum of Fine Art, Guitar attributed to Matteo Sellas, c 1640: anon. Italian guitar c 1630, Anon. Italian Guitar, private collection, circa 1630, and many others
- Conservation: Experience Music Collection, Seattle (Jimi Hendrix Collection,) Stroh guitar
Opening times and all contact details, directions etc. on the 'Contact' page. Visitors welcomed, but strictly by appointment only.