Over the weekend of 5th and 6th May 2018, 135 of the world’s finest luthiers from no fewer than 35 countries, from all over Europe and as far away as Argentina, USA, Russia and Japan, gathered at the Estrel Hotel in Berlin for the fourth Holy Grail Guitar Show, the biggest International custom guitar show on the planet.
Fusion were indeed proud sponsors of such a unique event hosted by the EGB (European Guitar Builders Association), which is dedicated totally to custom-built acoustic, electric and bass guitars. It’s more of a celebration of the hand-built guitar itself, like an art exhibition with an extension to music. The skills of the luthiers are quite extraordinary.
The Association’s Executive Director Tania Spalt explains,
“Now with nearly 200 members, the EGB was formed in Vienna by a group of professional independent luthiers with the purpose to work within the guitar building community around Europe.
A lot of the big guitar shows worldwide, have started to dedicate special areas for boutique guitars, but the Holy Grail Guitar Show in Berlin, leads the way by highlighting the importance of hand-built guitars and the value of preserving the skills of luthiers throughout Europe. Each year the EGB invitation committee has a difficult task in selecting a balanced display of acoustic and electric instruments, so all the applicants are carefully considered and invited on a rotational basis so the visitors and potential buyers have a varied experience of all kinds of lutherie. We had 135 luthiers from all over the world again this year, and those who didn’t exhibit this time, travelled from afar just to be at the show.”
For the exhibitors, the Holy Grail Guitar Show is not only aimed at endorsing themselves, it’s also a platform for luthiers to promote their skills as well as support the charm and the art of guitar building, this is something the EGB are extremely passionate about.
“It doesn’t matter if they are famous or not, have a lot of money or are just starting out, the most important principle is that all the luthiers are treated fairly and equally. Unlike some of the big trade shows, they all get the same floor space, and no one is allowed to have any big booth designs or banners. Apart from talking to potential customers face to face, they can also talk to each other and share construction ideas and skills, there are no secrets at the Holy Grail Guitar Show.”
The music industry is of course well aware of Cites (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) which is now in full swing protecting endangered species of wildlife, forests and fisheries and of course the shipping of certain tonewoods. This is an issue that the EGB is deeply concerned about and therefore organised the ‘Local Wood Challenge’ to highlight their concerns about environmental problems associated with the use of tropical and endangered woods.
For the second year running selected exhibitors could volunteer to make an instrument exclusively from woods locally grown in their region. Far more than just an exercise to build a guitar, stunning results proved that instruments built with timbers from the back yard can arguably be as good as those built from exotic tonewoods.
Among new themes for this year was the ‘Community Build Project’, a task started by the EBG in 2017 which is aimed to highlight how women are under-represented in the world of guitar playing and lutherie itself. For the ‘Community Build Project,’ three professional female players were asked to design a guitar to their own personal specifications, and then to work together with over 30 of the finest luthiers within the EGB in three groups. Each group was assigned to build an acoustic for Jacky Bastek, an electric guitar for Elena Todorova and a bass guitar for Julia Hofer.
The three artists each had their own conclusion for the project:
Elena Todorova. Electric guitar.
“I’m not really into the technical side of making guitars,” says Elena Todorova, “So I wasn’t going to tell these guys how to build an electric model, but I knew they could solve a lot of the problems a woman can have with guitars. Most of the time, when women walk into a guitar shop, they have to take what is offered and deal with it. After working with these amazing luthiers, I now have a great sounding lightweight guitar that’s also comfortable to play so I wouldn’t lose my inspiration during a two hour show.”
Julia Hofer. Bass guitar
Bassist Julia Hofer comments, “We were communicating a lot via email with drawings and ideas for my bass, but one of the highlights was meeting Andrea Neubere 5 times in Vienna to try out different woods and designs. I wanted a 5 string model with a through-neck design and a punchy sound on the low E and B strings, and a clear sound on the high G from the 12 fret upwards for soloing. I said I have a sound in my head, this is what I want I don’t care how you do it, just do it…” she laughs. “I’m so pleased with this bass which I call The Red Lady as the alder body has a beautiful paduak top which has a natural red hue.”
Jacky Bastek: Acoustic guitar
“I travelled to 5 different workshops throughout Europe to work with the luthiers and to see the basic design evolve into this beautiful acoustic guitar,” remarks Jacky. “It was an amazing experience to actually see the different ways these incredibly skilled luthiers work with wood. I’m definitely more interested in guitar building than I ever was. The ergonomic shape of this guitar is so important for me as a female guitarist, thanks to the luthiers and my design, it fits me well. It’s a compromise of a big guitar, that’s actually small enough for me to play and that I feel comfortable with. A far cry from when I first rushed out and bought the biggest dreadnought bodied acoustic I could find which was uncomfortable to play. I can’t thank the EGB enough for organising the Community Build Project.”
During the build process the guitars journeyed through various workshops throughout Europe. These included Christian Jablonski in Austria, Christian Stoll Germany, Adriano Sergio Portugal, Andy Manson also Portugal, Jacky Walraet in Belgium and Adrian Lucas and Rosie Heydenrych from the UK, who were chosen for their specialities and skills to contribute to the build of these unique guitars.
Rosie Heydenrych the owner of Turnstone Guitar Company says, “As soon as I heard about this project I was really keen to get involved. I built and braced the back of Jacky Bastek’s acoustic guitar using English cherry wood provided by fellow team member Andy Manson. We were really keen to, where possible, use local and non tropical woods for the entire guitar. Andy sent me the wood and I constructed my part using traditional hand tools and when I’d completed my task, it was sent back to his workshop in Portugal for him to assemble the body.”
Safely cocooned within their Fusion gig bags, the three finished guitars were presented at the Holy Grail Guitar Show 2018 to the delighted artists, who then gave solo performances and also played as a trio whilst showcasing the craftsmanship and playability of these guitars built by some of the world’s finest luthiers.