Excerpts from interview
by Ulf Zackrisson in
(Sweden) October 1990
Text © Ulf Zackrisson 1990
Reproduced by permission
More and more people are discovering that they can get their guitars made to measure. An authority in this area who is spreading the word about the guitar's possibilities is "Swinglishman" Paul Guy. He is a "real" guitar builder, ie he makes everything by hand, and has recently made his debut as an author with a textbook on guitar tuning.
Englishman Paul Guy has a history as a musician before he became a guitar builder. From the mid-60's he worked mostly in London and took turns gigging and working in music shops. He played studio sessions, pub gigs, in soul bands, dance bands and so on.
He came to Sweden in 1975 as a musician. It wasn't long though before he got tired of touring. But he stayed in Sweden. Another Englishman, and friend of Paul's, Roger Pincott (ex bass player with the 60's group The Nashville Teens - Ed) who was then working at (music store) Sound Side, introduced him to a Greek guitar builder in Stockholm who needed help with electronics.
"He built the strangest guitars I've ever seen. Anyway, I was to do the electronics because he knew nothing about it. I on the other hand had always messed about with electronics, even before I started playing the guitar - was in the Radio Club at school and built crystal radios and so on. Like me he was looking for a workshop, so we teamed up and found a locale after a while."
The partnership didn't work out as well as they had hoped, though, and sure enough one day Paul's partner packed everything he owned in his car and hopped it. Paul took over the whole business and started repairing guitars full time, and after a while also started building his own guitars. Paul has a simple theory about why it often goes that way:
"I reckon that all guitar repairers really want to be guitar builders." He had built his first guitar long before that, though - when he was only 16 years old. - "It wasn't much good, but it worked", he laughs.
He sold his first handbuilt guitar as late as 1984. Before that he had "only" assembled guitars from factory parts. Paul got his basic knowledge from his time in London's music shops, where he made contact with the most skilful guitar repairers there. Knowledge which he shares willingly:
"I've got it mostly free of charge from other people. The old boys in London who taught me never said no, they gave me their knowledge and I'm happy to pass it on."
The basic ideas behind his design come from the guitars which he used most in his musician years, the Gibson 335 and the Fender Stratocaster,. "I used to get irritated by certain minor details, though, like the fact that Fender necks never really sit tight enough with the four woodscrews. You can always move them from side to side. I tried a bunch of different methods and eventually settled on machine bolts, with four threaded inserts under the fingerboard."
Another thing that Paul has an opinion about is the shape of the Strat body at the neck joint. Above the fifteenth fret it's suddenly very clumsy and square. Paul's guitar bodies are cut away at an angle here to give comfortable access to the whole fingerboard.
Paul's "4 + 2" machine head placing is also unusual, and different to most other makes. "They're too close together on Fenders", he thinks . "You get irritated because you're always knocking the machine head next to the one you're trying to tune with. I think the string balance is strange with all six heads on one side, too, unless you mess about with custom string gauges. The high E and the B string are always feel much harder to bend than the rest. Moving the E and B tuners to the other side shortens those two strings so that you don't have to bend them as much to raise them a semi- or whole tone. At the same time you keep the straight string pull over the nut. I wanted the same down angle over the nut on all the strings too, so I used a 13-degree tilt-back head, with a Spanish luthiers's joint.."
After talking to Paul you unavoidably come to think about another Paul - with the surname Reed Smith (interviewed in MM 8/89). Both are musicians and guitar repairers. Paul and Paul have surprisingly many similar ways of thinking - and, furthermore, are both as self-assured. And rightly so too. Paul Guy's guitars feel at least as well-constructed and perfectly made as PRS. They have the same high performance and playability. Feel and quality right through, and just like PRS they take the old guitar tradition that Gibson and Fender started and take it further. Paul has great respect for his namesake:
"Paul Reed Smith is actually one of the smartest guitar builders in the world. But he has that thing, as I said before, like all guitar repairers: you try to build out all the problems you have found with other makes" says Paul.
Excerpts from interview by Ulf Zackrisson
Text © Ulf Zackrisson 1990