PJD Guitars has become one of the largest guitar makers in the UK, as founder Leigh Dovey blends Leo Fender’s ‘production-line’ ethos with the quality of bespoke builds
“I wanted to offer a high-end guitar at a price people could afford because of the methods used to produce it” LEIGH DOVEY, PJD GUITARS
There’s no shortage of guitars out there and yet, in a relatively short amount of time, Leigh Dovey’s PJD Guitars has crafted out its own niche in the industry, bringing highquality electrics with a classic feel into the mass-market arena at an affordable price. The instruments are all made in the UK at the company’s workshop base in York, employing the latest technology alongside the skilled hands of the team to bring the guitars to life – and our gigbags.
“The way I see it,” Lee tell us, “is that the electric guitar was always intended to be a factory-made instrument. When I think of how Leo Fender designed the Tele and Stratocaster, they were productionline instruments: if the neck broke, you unscrewed it and put a new one on. I just thought that, although it’s built on a production line, the quality doesn’t have to be any less than that of a bespoke builder. So I wanted to blend the two: to offer a high-end guitar at a price people could afford because of the methods used to produce it. That’s what we’re doing here.”
You’re pretty state of the art using CNC routing, lasers… It’s not a bunch of people with hammers and chisels.
“Absolutely not, no. Who knows what would come out if it was [laughs].”
Your production is around 40 guitars per month. Do you plan to increase that?
“As you know we were approached to build Cream T guitars for Tim Lobley [see Blueprint, issue 477]. We’re now onto the second model for them, but that’s all hushhush at the moment. In fact, although I can’t tell you the details as yet, we are also working with a top UK luthier at the moment to produce a more affordable instrument. I can’t say more, but we’re well into the prototype stage and there is more to come on that front. We kind of fell into it if I’m honest. It was never a plan to do this; people approached us.
“The point is that there is a limit to the number of PJD guitars we can sell into the market. So by making for other people we don’t have to sell a thousand PJD guitars over a couple of years because we wouldn’t be able to sell them. It’s something we need to ramp up slowly as we build our brand.”
You say your guitars are “proudly crafted in the UK”, but presumably you import most of the woods you use?
“Yes, we do. We’ve certainly experienced some shipping issues [because of the pandemic], but we’ve adapted very well. Swamp ash was difficult and rosewood, too, as we deal with a company in Europe. As soon as Brexit hit, an order that would previously have taken two weeks to get to us was taking two months because of documentation and things like export and import licences. But now we know the process it’s really not an issue.”
Do you see a time when you could use indigenous woods in your builds – or is that totally infeasible?
“I don’t think it’s infeasible. It’s more about the willingness of the customer to try – and accept – new stuff. I’d be more than happy to try English sycamore for necks, for example. But I also think having the facilities to mill the wood and potentially roast it and store it to the moisture levels we require, certainly for neck wood, is about the infrastructure to actually achieve that. That would be the most important consideration because we’re not really set up to do that in this country, certainly for guitar wood. But I’m open to experimenting, and within the next few years it’s something I’d like to bring into our production.”
What about UK-made hardware?
“That’s very definitely a ‘watch this space’. It makes so much sense to be able to offer hardware made in the UK, but not if it’s going to break the bank for people. Offering a bridge that costs £275 or whatever is totally ridiculous, whereas if you could offer a nice hardtail bridge that looks good and is functionally as good as the Gotoh bridges we use, and in a similar price area, I think we could be on to a winner. Classy, simplistic but high quality – you’ll be the first to know!”
How are you finding the finishing process now that you’re doing it in-house?
“Oh, it’s night and day. We now have full control over what we do. I think it’s important not to be constrained by ‘this
is the only way to do it’ mindset. There are better ways, quicker ways, and we’re finding that what we’re doing now, well, we’re getting the best finishes that we’ve ever done. Our guy is absolutely first class. It’s about process and working out the best way, even if that means doing things slightly differently, so be it. It used to scare me if I’m honest – finishing seemed like a dark art. But I don’t feel like that any more. When you break it down and look at it, it’s actually fairly simple in terms of process.”
Another theme we’ve seen, certainly during the pandemic, is a longer lead time for orders. Is that your experience?
“I think the thing we’re struggling with is actually getting hold of the parts that are out of our control, be that our cases, or hardware and pickups. We’re not struggling to make the guitars by any stretch, but it’s a constant juggling act to get hold of the right parts. But, generally, no. We’re getting stuff out and that’s important to our retailers. They know they can order six guitars and they’ll get them in, for example, six weeks’ time as opposed to us saying you might get them next year… if you’re lucky.”
Do you think the sort of guitars people are buying is actually changing? Your guitars are light in weight with an almost acoustic-like resonance to them. They’re very vibrant instruments.
“I actually do think times and tastes are changing. We know more people are working from home, and obviously that’s a result of the pandemic, but having an electric guitar that you can sit and play acoustically is very appealing. I feel like we’re not just building guitars for the studio or playing out live – a lot of musicians want something that they can play at home on the sofa, so having an electric guitar that you can play unplugged that’s resonant… I mean, it’s much more comfortable to play a guitar like that rather than an acoustic dreadnought, isn’t it? You then, obviously, can easily plug it into your computer. and with all the technology there it’s easy to get some great sounds.”
For more information on PJD Guitars, visit https://pjdguitars.com
“We’re not just building guitars for the studio or playing out live – you also have a resonant electric guitar you can play unplugged” LEIGH DOVEY, PJD GUITARS