Richard Cholerton is the founder of Richards Guitars, a Stratfordupon-Avon based guitar store with a fiercely independent spirit. While the store stocks a range of familiar brands, the heart of the business lies in offering highquality guitars sourced from Britain and Europe, including Gordon Smith electrics and Dowina acoustics – hand-built instruments that offer uncompromising quality without a baked-in premium on the price tag that major brands might command.
Unafraid to call it as he sees it, Richard encourages customers to keep an open mind and do plenty of research before committing to a guitar. He also dislikes heavy-handed marketing, feeling that the proof of a guitar is in the playing, rather than the hype or the name on the headstock. We caught up with Richard to hear his seasoned tips on how to buy a guitar you really click with.
What’s your best advice for anyone setting out to buy a guitar?
“My best bit of advice for guitar players, without being contentious, would be to think outside the box – not to believe everything you see in the media. Question everything, including what I say. Anything that I tell someone, research it, question it, compare it to what other people are telling you. So flip it to me as if I’m the bad guy here. That’s how I would sell [a guitar] to any customer. I would say, ‘If I tell you that there’s this special brand with special people that do things in a completely unique way, research it elsewhere – see if I’m telling the truth, do your own research, don’t just believe everything
I tell you.’”
What are the common mistakes guitar buyers make – and how do you help avoid them?
“Let’s say a customer asks me for an acoustic guitar with a spruce top and rosewood back and sides. During the conversation, you ask them what they’re looking for [in terms of performance]. What’s it going to be used for, what kind of setting, what kind of musical style? Is it going to be plugged in or is it going to be acoustic? And during that conversation you hear the customer say they want something with a warm tone. So let’s just focus on that: they want something with a really warm, rounded tone. My first worry is that the guitar they are asking me about has got a spruce top, which will give you a brighter sound, and rosewood back and sides, which will give you more detailed and quite separated sounds. Let’s say, for example, they’ve asked for a [rosewood] OM. In that situation, I’d be thinking, ‘I’m not sure this is going to give you that warm, rounded sound.’ So I would say, ‘Obviously we have the guitar you want – but I might have a few other recommendations, based on what you’ve said to me, and maybe we can chat a bit more about [what’s going to get you the sound you want].’
I’d try to guide someone to other genuine recommendations based on my knowledge of tone, if you like.”
In your opinion, which of the brands that you stock deserve wider exposure?
“Dowina, Furch, Gordon Smith… Basically, the products that I love and that I’m talking to people about are at the core of everything I do. European and UK guitar builders are producing just the most wonderful instruments.
“We live in a world where we buy mobile phones and don’t question the [human cost of the] technology, the chips that are going into them, the mines that
“If you can buy something utterly brilliant and made in the UK or Europe, why the need for mass-produced American guitars?” RICHARD CHOLERTON, FOUNDER
children are dying in to give us cheap technology. I’m proud of the fact that the main products I love are guitars with a much smaller [environmental] footprint because they are made in the UK and Europe. If you can buy something that is utterly brilliant and made in the UK or Europe, why the need for mass-produced guitars from America for example? To me, it doesn’t make sense.”
“So the brands that need more attention in the wider world are the brands I’m selling, because we live in that kind of world where marketing is so central to the popularity of a brand, even brands like Fender and Gibson. They have their history, but I feel all we ever get is the regurgitating of history, because it’s the selling point and it’s the marketing machine at work again. It’s living off the history, living in the past… The guitars that need to be seen are the guitars that are true to the spirit of the industry, guitars that are made with love and skill, and can offer value for money without spin and marketing on top.”
What should a guitar buyer expect from a good retailer?
“Honesty. It’s going back a few years now, but you’d meet dealers who were caught in a trap. There are products that are sold because everybody wants them, so dealers feel they have to sell them. They’re selling stuff because they’re getting asked for it, not because they necessarily believe in it. To be honest takes energy, to be honest requires time and a longterm approach: ‘I’m going to build this up, I’m going to tell people about this, I’m going to live by how I’d want to be done by, I’m going to treat people how I’d want to be treated.’ It’s expensive to do that, to look after people, to give people customer service and backup. It’s also expensive to hand-finish guitars, to make sure every single guitar is set up to perfection in your workshop.
“Being honest about your business and what you are is an expensive process, but I am motivated by the responses I see in my reviews. If somebody values the experience I’ve offered them, and they go out of their way to write a review, then that’s positive. They make the effort to go into the details of why they’re so pleased. That’s what motivates me – that people just appreciate the effort I’ve put in.”
What’s your favourite guitar in the store and why?
“I’m going to give you one acoustic and one electric. On the acoustic side, I’m going to say the Dowina Pure [a strippeddown, handmade dreadnought with subtle, mindfulness-inspired styling]. It just did everything, it ticked every box in terms of the people involved with build, the care they put into making it, the message that it serves. It’s like we’ve manifested something physical that connects with the emotional and the psychological. It just brings everything into this one little thing – and it’s affordable. So the Dowina Pure is probably my number one.
“I’m also looking right now at the wondrous work of Gordon Smith. I asked Doug Sparkes [head of Gordon Smith] to make me a powder-pink classic ‘S’ with off-white parts. It has a chocolate-roasted maple neck and an ebony ’board, but the pièce de résistance is that it has a fairly wide 45mm fingerboard, which helps people with bigger, chunkier fingers. Even for standard playability, a wider fingerboard sometimes helps people get the chords down, and they like the separation between the strings.
“Again, it’s about thinking outside of the box and giving people an alternative to what the traditional design would be. It epitomises Gordon Smith, being able to provide something truly bespoke, beautiful and gorgeous to look at, and that is unique in terms of the fretboard and how it feels.”
For more information see https://rguitars.co.uk