Guitar Connoisseur Stories: All English Guitars

From my small workshop set in a quaint patch of English countryside, I’m doing something a little risky, some may even say suspect; I’m building a signature range of guitars entirely from English grown timbers! But I’ll get on that a bit later. Hi, I’m Rosie Heydenrych and I’m a luthier based in Surrey, England. I build custom handcrafted acoustic guitars with a responsive and balanced tone.

I began my journey into luthiery in 2010 at a guitar building evening course at the London Metropolitan University. The path that led me into that classroom on that fateful September evening is long and winding. I fell in love with the steel string acoustic guitar in my late teens – it became a lifelong friend to me and guided me into a world of music I never knew. It helped me find my voice and make sense of things happening around me through the songs that I played and those that I wrote with my guitar.

Guitar making made me feel the same way that picking up that first guitar did. It took me on a five-year journey from that evening class to working in a repair shop, being an apprentice and finally opening my own workshop in 2015. The hunger to want to know more ignited something within me that still burns strong (perhaps even stronger) to this day – an unrelenting quest to learn more and to push the limits. As many know, the quest to push to the limit can often result in failure and through my voyage into this craft, I have been humbled beyond measure about what it means to fail. But I’ve also developed the ability to pause, reflect, pick up the pieces and become stronger because of it.

And now back to the all English guitars…

As with most luthiers, I am incredibly interested in wood, however, I’m particularly interested in the debate surrounding “traditional” tropical woods which are becoming increasingly more endangered. I started to wonder about the prospect of a guitar built entirely from all English grown timbers. The back and sides, the neck, design features, the soundboard and even all the internal components!

This lightbulb moment set off what some might call an unhealthy obsession sourcing woods to try and build a complete guitar from trees grown in England. Once I had acquired the timber, I really had no idea if this was actually going to work but I still had that inexperienced ‘gung-ho’ attitude and naivety which breeds ignorant confidence. I was certain it must surely be possible. Lo and behold, at the end of that very first all English build I had made a guitar that was undeniably different but still produced a beautiful and responsive tone.

There was still some finessing to do, but in my mind this concept had legs. And so, the E-Series was refined, developed and born!

One of my customers (and now friend) went so far as to commission a ‘totally’ English guitar. The only thing we couldn’t source in the end was the fret wire. But everything else, from the Whitby Jet saddle and nut, to the handmade tuners and strings, were from England (let’s gloss over the finish shall we…excuse the pun).

The background to some of the English timbers I have used really are quite amazing. One of the most fascinating is 5,000-year old Bog Oak. This is Oak that fell into English Fenland bogs thousands of years ago and has lay underground ever since. It has a dark brown to black color which is a result of a chemical reaction occurring between the tannins in the Oak and the soluble irons present in the bog it was being preserved in. It is also much denser than regular Oak and is comparable to some of the world’s most highly-valued and sought after tropical hardwood.

Another aesthetically beautiful timber and one of my favorites is English Yew, even though the entire tree is pretty poisonous and must be worked with extreme care. It was planted in countless churchyards throughout England with several myths about why, including purifying the dead. Yew has remarkable elasticity and is very close-grained so it was a popular material to use in bow making, especially during the Middle Ages for the famous longbows. A more recent use (other than for guitars!) is anti-cancer compounds being harvested from the foliage and used in modern medicine.

Other fantastic English grown timbers I’ve used include English Apple, Cherry, English Walnut, Western Red Cedar and London Plane.

As guitar aficionados, you will have noticed that new and increasing CITES regulations are coming into effect to protect the rare and beautiful tropical trees on our planet. While English wood isn’t the answer to large-scale manufacturing needs, through my E-Series guitars I hope to demonstrate that beautiful guitars, both tonally and aesthetically, can be made from less traditional tonewoods. I’m also proud to show off my country’s beautiful natural resources and tell the world their story.

Guitar making to me is a bit like baking, although not a reflection of my skills in the kitchen because I have none. There are so many variables and ingredients that go into a great end product. It’s about learning how the ingredients work together and understanding what you need to do in your processes to get the best out of the materials. As tropical wood becomes rarer and regulations become tighter, I would really encourage players to find out more about alternative woods and the potential they have to still build wonderful instruments – and maybe even inspire you to play something new!

You can find more information about my E-Series guitars, including photos and videos, on my Facebook page  and Website turnstoneguitar.co.uk

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