My journey with Fylde Guitars

When people from England hear the word Fylde, they associate it with Blackpool, its tower, beach, kiss me quick hats, perhaps Fleetwood, Fishermen’s Friends and Lytham St Annes.

Mention it to guitar players and they think of the work of Roger Bucknall OBE and his team at Fylde Guitars.

First, a little about gear

Even though I have accumulated a lot of it, I have little emotional attachment to ‘gear’, treating each item as a tool to perform a certain task.

As you will read during this article, over my 49-year career if an item ceases to become creatively useful I have had no compunction slapping stuff on Loot (remember this), or more recently on eBay and Reverb.

There are notable exceptions and have made some monumental mistakes which, if you are interested, may explore in another article (leave a comment below).

OK, now let’s get on with it.

A dalliance with acoustics

Until recently, I have never been a ‘real’ acoustic player, always a wannabe, with electric guitars being my main thing.

I was hugely inspired by Jimmy Page - with who I share my birthday. After listening to ‘Babe I'm Gonna Leave You’ and ‘Black Mountain Side’ how could I resist the lure of the acoustic guitar? Saxon, Eko 12 string, Lowden, Rodríguez, Fylde, Guild - six and twelve - have all been bought and sold. My stable now contains National Resophonic, Collings, Larrivée and more recently returning to Fylde, which is the focus of this piece.

This is my Fylde journey…

The University of Salford Guitar Society

Miraculously, I managed to scrape a degree in Chemistry from Salford University as during this period in the mid-70s, I was a full-time musician and didn’t attend very often. When I did, the focus was sharing my obsession with all things guitar rather than twiddling test tubes and founded the University’s guitar society.

We made various guitar-based boozy trips, one being to Fylde Guitars, which was at that time located in a factory premises on the Fylde coast in Lancashire.

It was a looooong time ago and I have forgotten most of the details but do remember the piles of maturing wood, dust and meeting Roger who had tremendous enthusiasm.

In the early 80s I bought my first Fylde instrument, second-hand from the late, great Keith Hand, who had a music shop in my home town of Bury. I can’t for the life of me remember the model and sadly, don’t have any pictures.

Back then effectively amplifying acoustics for live gigs was tricky and as my main studio and live work was with electric guitars, I eventually sold it - probably to buy some piece of ‘must have’ electronic wizardry.

The King John bass

Fylde gradually disappeared off my radar until a few years ago when Suzy decided she needed an acoustic bass. We looked around for something really cool and bespoke.

Following a deep trawl of the web, we saw loads of production line instruments, but then Roger’s name popped up and after having a good dig around the Fylde Guitars website, gave him a call.

Suzy Starlite with her Fylde King John bass pictured in front of a wooden shed in Winsen Aller, Germany
Suzy Starlite and her Fylde Guitars King John Bass - And yes, it’s very big…

He had a long waiting list but told us there was a bass for sale which was owned by renowned acoustic bass player Joss Clapp. Suzy called him and came to a deal. We saved up and finally collected the lovely instrument from him at Tebay services, near Penrith in Cumbria - the full story is told on Suzy’s website.

It is an amazing instrument which got me thinking.

The walnut mandolin

I have always loved mandolins and remember in my youth taking my original one to parties and annoying the guests with furious Rory Gallagher style playing. I can’t remember what happened to that instrument but my longing continued and Suzy bought me an ‘Oakwood’ as a surprise for my birthday. It was a cool instrument but lacked a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ and following a diplomatic discussion with my wife, sold it as I had decided it was a good idea to commission one from Roger.

It arrived, a beautiful thing that sounded amazing but I struggled to play it due to my big fat fingers. I really tried and achieved some level of competence but decided eventually to let it go to someone who had the digitus’ to do it justice.

I may try an Irish bouzouki next…

My Fylde Guitars Walnut Mandolin fitted with a Headway under saddle pickup
My Fylde Guitars Walnut Mandolin fitted with a Headway under saddle pickup

The Classical

Our artistic move to contemporary folk / art-rock dictated that we needed a Classical guitar. When I was teaching regularly in the 70s I did have a Rodríguez, but sold it (you see a pattern here), to buy some new gizmo that was at that time ‘desperately’ needed.

Now I required something that was more suited to a steel string / electric player and after speaking to Roger we decided to give the Fylde Classical a go, but with the slight twist of a cutaway.

This type of guitar normally joins the body at the 12th fret and although I am not one that frequents the dusty end of acoustic guitars, the accessibility is very useful.

It features Indian Rosewood back and sides, Englemann Spruce top, three-piece laminated neck, Ebony fingerboard and bridge, no position markers, gold plated Gotoh tuners and Rosewood bindings.

Pickups on nylon strung guitars are always problematic as the string tension is very low for an under saddle pickup to work correctly, so we decided on a K&K Pure system which features three pickups glued to the underside of the bridge. They are passive and I combined it with a ‘Pure’ preamp, also from K&K, which has volume, bass, middle and treble controls. Sounds great!

I was very happy indeed when I collected it from his workshop in Penrith, the experience enhanced by dinner at a local pub with Roger and his wonderful wife Moira, numerous pints of bitter (that’s a British style of beer for our international friends) and great conversation about, you guessed it, guitars.

I have since used this wonderful instrument frequently in concert and in our series of live-stream concerts which were broadcast in the first six months of 2022. Can’t wait to record it.

Before leaving, he very generously gave me a copy of the latest edition of his book, ‘Wood, Sweat and Tears’, which over the space of three weeks voraciously consumed over morning coffee. It’s a great story and well worth buying.

I also tried a new steel-strung guitar model he had designed alongside the legendary Martin Simpson. It was a short scale, 12 frets to the body with a cutaway. Amazing.

Necessary evil

12 strings are a necessary evil in my armoury as sometimes only that sound will do and have been through a few. The classic, but horrible to play, Eko acoustic, then more recently a Gibson ES335-12, which I picked up from Wildwood Guitars when we were over in Colorado (now sold) and currently, a double neck 6/12 Mosrite ‘Ventures’ model electric, with pickups rewound in a P90 style by the wonderful Matthew Bascetta of House Of Tone. It’s featured on the tile track of our latest studio album, ‘The Language of Curiosity’. It’s white, it’s odd, it’s a bastard to play but it sounds great.

Some years ago I bought a Guild 512 - the classic 12 played by everyone from David Gilmour to Tom Petty. It sounds good but playing it was always a chore as even though the action was reasonable, the string tension is high, even with a set of ‘10s’.

After experiencing the ‘Simpson’ short scale (the production model version of which is called the Fylde Orleans), I wondered what a 12-string would play and sound like, conversing at great length with Roger, by email, about the design and build. He tells me now that I hold the record for the number of emails exchanged over a custom project - yes, I am a pain in the arse.

I had already decided that I wanted a standard six-string in this configuration and - guess what - am selling my Guild and one of the Collings’ (TBA) to fund the project.

It’s all about the wood

I am not really into guitar bling, proffering to fund time spent on the construction and appropriate wood as opposed to non-functional adornment.

We settled on Indian Rosewood for the back and sides, an Alpine Spruce top, custom width Ebony fingerboard and a simple LR Baggs Element under-saddle pickup with an extra jack output on the six-string for a magnetic pickup. I own a Sunrise which is excellent but currently open for new options: comments and any ideas are greatly appreciated!

If you want to know more about the pickup selection and other details, please comment below and I will get back to you.

Forward wind 18 months (and that’s a short lead time for a custom Fylde Guitar) and we visited the UK to collect both instruments. I was overjoyed with the sound and playability of these amazing guitars.

The sound is very ‘British’, which of course is impossible to define, but they do have a certain presence and attitude which gives them a totally different character to an American build. There is no doubt that there is a little of Roger’s energy contained in every joint and carve.

One of the wonderful things about these guitars is the very low string tension and hence the ability to bend. You would think that this would compromise the ability to drop tune, but no, they are so sensitive and really work well; you don’t need to play, more caress the strings.

Ban the bass

Many players love strong bass in their acoustic tone but, unless used as a solo instrument in a recording, I think it’s more for self-gratification than practicality. Even playing un-amplified, the bass is lost to the audience who are listening more than a couple of metres away. It’s simple physics; bass frequencies are omnidirectional and the higher the frequency, the more directional they become.

As a ‘band’ player, in the studio and on stage, I almost always roll the bass off. This allows the guitar to sit beautifully in the mix, without muddiness (high pass filters are the most used controls on our CADAC analogue board). In a live setting, this also prevents feedback, especially with heavy compression.

Following ‘another’ conversation with the very patient Roger, he opted to make the bodies thinner - around 90mm on the six and 100mm on the 12 - resulting in both instruments displaying tight bass and low-mids with delicious high-mids and treble: to my ears, they are very well balanced guitars.

String it

The six is pretty conventional and came with 12-16-24w-32-44-54 and has now been restrung with identical gauges in my favourite string brand, Curt Mangan (PhosPhor Bronze - medium light).

The 12 certainly isn’t conventional with 11-11-15-15-17p-8-28-10-40-24-48-28 and am going to have to make some special sets as I LOVE the gauges. Yes, that is a plain third.

More bitter

Bitter in more ways than one.

We visited during one of the coldest periods the UK had experienced in some time; snow and ice were everywhere but of course, we had to celebrate and paid a visit to ‘The Old Crown’, in Hesket Newmarket which is Roger & Moira’s local pub: a cooperative and in which they have a stake.

Great food, gripping conversation - not just about guitars this time - countless pints and topped off back at their home with a fair few of not so ‘wee’ drams of outstanding single malt whisky before crawling off to bed.

And finally…

I haven’t recorded the classical, six and 12 strings instruments yet, but I will certainly let you know when I do.

I hope you have enjoyed this piece and if you have any burning questions on this or any other post, please comment below and I will get right back to you.

Feel free to subscribe to receive updates and new posts and if you like gear, take a look at my website where almost everything is listed and described with sound samples from real, released music.

See you in two weeks!

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