GLADESVILLE GUI­TAR FAC­TORY

Australian Guitar - - Contents -

A deep dive into the mind of one of Aus­tralia’s most re­spected gui­tar luthiers.

ISAAC WARE HAS BEEN WORK­ING AT SYD­NEY’S GLADESVILLE GUI­TAR FAC­TORY FOR OVER A DECADE, AND HE’S LEARNED A FAIR BIT IN THE PROCESS. WE CAUGHT UP WITH HIM TO TALK ABOUT WHAT MAKES THE RIGHT GUI­TAR, AND, OF COURSE, THE RIGHT CUP OF COF­FEE. WORDS BY ALEX WIL­SON.

“T here’s no typ­i­cal day, re­ally.” Luthier and en­gi­neer Isaac Ware is running me through his sched­ule at his shop. While there’s no set rou­tine, he does have a go-to process to start off each morn­ing. “I go to my desk with my mu­sic on, and I look at what’s on the to-do list,” he says. “I never quite know what’s com­ing, whether it’s body work, a re­fret, elec­tron­ics or some­thing else.”

To give you an idea of the work­load, Isaac pushed through around 750 re­pairs the past fi­nan­cial year. He’s based at the Gladesville Gui­tar Fac­tory: a long-stand­ing busi­ness si­t­u­ated on the border of Syd­ney’s in­ner-city and its leafy north­ern sub­urbs.

An­other cru­cial part of Ware’s daily start-up is the morn­ing cup of cof­fee – a com­fort (or re­quire­ment, per­haps) of the AM hours we can all re­late to. Thought­ful and ar­tic­u­late, Ware runs me through how he pro­vides a qual­ity cup for ev­ery­one he works with. It’s a task he hasn’t been as­signed, but has taken on him­self as part of his pur­suit of de­tail, qual­ity and ex­cel­lent process.

“I know the look, the smell, the taste and what it should be. And then there’s ob­vi­ously other stuff like the tem­per­a­ture to get right, the tex­ture in the milk…” Per­fec­tion in an espresso shot. “We have a beau­ti­ful Ital­ian cof­fee ma­chine, and I can’t deal with the idea of giv­ing any­one I work with sub­par cof­fee.”

One can’t help but feel this com­mit­ment to a great cuppa is a re­flec­tion of the same care he gives to any of the in­stru­ments that he comes across.

“I tend to get a bit funny about dirty in­stru­ments,” he laughs. “There’s a big box of la­tex gloves on my bench that gets used quite reg­u­larly. I’d say I do about five to six re­frets a week, and I re­ally en­joy that sort of work. I’ve been do­ing it for a long time, and it’s great to get deep into the process. I can also get quite into lac­quer work or fix­ing elec­tron­ics.” For Ware, there isn’t a ‘per­fect’ gui­tar. The right in­stru­ment needs to be set up ac­cord­ing to its own in­ter­nal logic, and cal­i­brated to the in­di­vid­ual player. Ac­cord­ing to Ware, the first fac­tor is that each gui­tar op­er­ates ac­cord­ing to a spe­cific ge­om­e­try, set in place by fac­tory

specs or a cus­tom build. Then, once you’ve got your head around how the shape af­fects the sound, you need to ad­dress the other fac­tors: wood, elec­tron­ics and hard­ware.

Th­ese smaller de­tails vary in a way that tends to pile up in larger dif­fer­ences. The up­shot of all this is that, ac­cord­ing to Ware, there is no one-size-fits-all ap­proach to build­ing or fix­ing your in­stru­ment.

“You can have two ‘iden­ti­cal’ Martin D-28s side-by-side,” he ex­plains. “Yet in prac­tice, they can be wildly dif­fer­ent due to the small vari­a­tions be­tween them. You won’t find me set­ting up an in­stru­ment ac­cord­ing to its spec­i­fi­ca­tion list.”

This at­ten­tion to de­tail and sense that each in­stru­ment has a unique char­ac­ter was re­in­forced with the three years he spent un­der the leg­endary Jeff Mal­lia, one of Aus­tralia’s premier luthiers. At first, Mal­lia was hes­i­tant to take on a full-time ap­pren­tice, but he bonded with Ware over their shared back­grounds.

The two men had back­grounds as tech­ni­cians – Mal­lia in med­i­cal tech­nol­ogy, and Ware in en­vi­ron­men­tal science and do­ing up old VWs – that in­formed their ap­proach to lutherie and re­pair. “I wasn’t the best mu­si­cian,” Ware con­fesses. “But Jeff started out as an en­gi­neer as well, so he un­der­stood where I was com­ing from.”

An­other im­por­tant part of Ware’s her­itage is his re­spect for the tra­di­tion of lutherie it­self – par­tic­u­larly as it ap­plies to his work with acous­tic in­stru­ments.

“Stringed mu­si­cal in­stru­ments have been around for a long time,” he ex­plains. “A lot of the ba­sic devel­op­ment was done right in the early stages. In some re­spect, the work we do still needs to be tied to that understanding.”

He goes fur­ther, ex­plain­ing his thoughts about a vin­tage Jazzmas­ter that wound up on his bench the past week.

“It was a 1958 model,” Ware tells us. “When I took it apart, I saw that ev­ery com­po­nent on that in­stru­ment had the orig­i­nal date code from the year it was made. That was an in­stru­ment that’s been played in New York its en­tire life, and it has just now come to Aus­tralia. It held up all this time.”

To wrap things up, I ask Ware what ad­vice he would give any as­pir­ing luthiers, techs or gui­tarists sim­ply want­ing to get more hands-on with their axe. He nom­i­nates tem­per­a­ture mon­i­tor­ing as the key thing to watch out for – and as ex­pected, he has it to­tally ac­counted for.

“In Syd­ney, we have such er­ratic hu­mid­ity that I main­tain my work­shop at 45 per­cent rel­a­tive hu­mid­ity and around 20-to-25 de­grees year round,” he ex­plains. “That’s the same en­vi­ron­ment main­tained in the fac­tory that built your gui­tar, so I want that there if I’m glu­ing some­thing, set­ting up a neck or do­ing any kind of test­ing.”

But ul­ti­mately, he leaves things on a hu­mor­ous and philo­soph­i­cal note. “We live in a dis­pos­able so­ci­ety, and peo­ple are less and less in­clined to work on or un­der­stand their pos­ses­sions.

“The best way to learn is to do, and I al­ways en­cour­age my cus­tomers to learn how to do the ba­sics – truss rod ad­just­ments, ba­sic in­to­na­tion, those kind of things. You wouldn’t be­lieve the num­ber of peo­ple that come in and say, ‘Oh, my in­stru­ment’s not work­ing,’ and I just pop it open and re­place the bat­tery.”

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