Scott Wise matches Tasmanian blackwood guitar slides. Scott mills his own wood for each instrument. This is considered a rarity amongst instrument makers. His shed is filled with wood from all over the world.
Photos and words by Jean-Paul Horré
This is a story about Scott Wise, a Margaret River luthier, who has been building and repairing a wide variety of stringed musical instruments for 30 years. He has raised a family of musicians who are well regarded across Australia and he plays in multiple bands. One of these, The 10 cent Shooters, specialises in playing rare and obscure blues from the 1920′s. You might come across them playing at Settlers Tavern on a Sunday afternoon as they sometimes do.
Scott has been labelled a national treasure by many people who know him and by musicians that play with him and buy his instruments because his craft is rare. He has given me access to be with him and document his life. I was just following him through his process of building a guitar which seems his most common request from customers. The guitar was named Ginger about half way through building it.
What Scott does is a dying art as big name guitar makers use machines to produce their instruments, where he does it by hand using a variety of rare woods to create the best possible sound.
Scott Wise quote from website: “Over the last 30 years I have listened to over 6000 instruments which have come through my hands for repair. I’ve studied and met luthiers in USA, Europe and Australia on many occasions. I consider myself to be always learning, but have become sure of one thing: Whilst the market for stringed instruments is largely determined by the advertising and distributing power of large organisations, the very best sounding instruments come from the workshops of individuals or very small groups of makers who have their hands on the wood from start to finish. It is not the way to get rich. The wealth is in the sounds of the instruments and the greatest pleasure a luthier can have is to hear them played”
Scott forms guitar sides by using a hot bending iron to fit a guitar body mold. The sides are soaked in water over night to make the wood more flexible and forgiving in the shaping process.
Scott operates at the workbench inside his shop. The guitar sides have been clamped into the mold and left to set. While the wood sets, the end blocks are made and fitted to the inside top and bottom of the guitar, effectively acting as a support system.
Scott examines the glue linings that serve as the foundations for the top and bottom pieces of the guitar. These linings rim the top and bottom of the guitar sides, and are glued in and clamped until the glue dries.
Scott check the profile and thickness of Ginger’s internal bracing. He strategically places each piece of bracing to reinforce the strength of the top against the pull of the strings. This also adds to control the voice of the instrument.
Scott uses a small cranked chisel to rebate the mahogany linings for the bracing in the top and bottom of the guitar.
Scott checks the fit of Ginger’s top to ensure the bracing and notches are deep enough so everything is flush.
Scott fits a neck to Ginger.
Classical guitars ‘Torres’ model (spruce top) and ‘Rodriguez’ model (cedar top).
Scott carves the neck.
Scott and daughter Lucy at work.
Ginger being coated with lacquer. Each guitar has 4 stages of lacquer.
Scott sanding the first coat prior to adding the secondary coat of lacquer.
The guitar being strung.
The initial playing. “Ginger” was made from 9 different types of woods. Each wood is specially selected to serve specific demands in the various elements of the guitar’s sound.