42 years repairing and still loving it!
Why did I become a guitar repairer?
In 1976, I bought a ‘74 Strat for $400 when I’d only been playing for 3 months. Everybody laughed! I put 8-38 strings on it because I reasoned that it was an electric guitar so the amp should do all the work and the string gauge had to be as light as possible. I bought an Acoustic 135 solid state amplifier reasoning that valve amps were old news and transistors would obviously last longer - wouldn’t they?
I plugged in. I HATED my sound. I couldn’t understand how my heroes like Clapton, Page and Gilmour got that sweet sound. So I started researching in magazines written on “opaque paper technology”. In a teeny publication called Australian Musician, I read about Rock Repairs (Sydney’s “Premier Guitar Repair Specialists”). I later learned there was only one other guitar repairer in Sydney at the time.
I became a customer of The Rock, as it was affectionately called, and learned that my beloved white ‘74 Strat had a bowed back neck and that, coupled with the spider web strings (that my delicate fingers were used to ), and my tranny amp (that was better suited for use as shopping centre PA system), meant that after spending 2 grand I hated my tone and I had no hope of emulating the fat round tones of my heroes.
The guys then at Rock Repairs refretted my Strat with Jim Dunlop railroad tracks, and set me up with a bloke’s gauge of 10-52 strings. Also the words “valves” and “Celestions” were bandied about. The result? I bent notes cleanly on the Wailing Pailing, liked my sound, and became interested overnight, in guitar improvement methods.
So in May ‘79…………….I bought the place! Since then I have been on a quest for perfect tone and quality in a guitar. Hence my email address!
‘The Rock’ Years ‘79—’85
A wondrous time to be a guitar repairer in the history of Australian music! The heyday of Australian pub rock! Massive crowds, at big hotels, all over town. No pokies in pubs. No giant TV screens showing footy behind the band. We were one of only 2 guitar repair specialist shops in Sydney at that time. We were fortunate enough to repair for the guitarists and bass players of many great bands. See the list at the end of this page.
As you can imagine these were wonderful times. Also, we had a smattering of overseas acts for example, Joan Armatrading and Trini Lopez. We even built a guitar for ‘The Mighty’ Bo Diddley (when Bo was asked why he was called ‘The Mighty’ he replied, “Too many guys out there call themselves ‘The Legendary’!”)
Eddie Van Halen almost single-handedly, in the late ‘70s, made it cool to customise guitars. He concocted a strat copy from parts, screwed the pickup directly into the wood, wired it only for volume, because, “I don’t know how to wire a tone control, man”, painted it red with white stripes and even used a piece of chain for a guitar strap. He and many other rev-head players of the day, also helped to bring about the advent of the Floyd Rose tremolo, which also begat many variants. I’ve often joked that we spent all of the ‘80s installing Floyd Rose’s and all of the ‘90s taking them off again. We built many “Eddie” style guitars, even down to copying the paint job, at customers’ requests.
Rock Repairs was an early example of a custom shop. Imaginations were running wild! We built a machine gun guitar (one P-90) for a Wollongong band called The Gangsters. We built a fretless 6 string electric with no position markers of any kind for a crash helmet-wearing customer nicknamed ‘Shellshock’. We built a guitar that resembled a hamburger and another that looked like a clenched fist. We built a 10 string that had bass scale and guitar scale on the one neck. We built a guitar with a skateboard attached so it could be ridden, and played at full volume, across the stage! A Les Paul could be had new for $800 and a Strat for about the same. The vintage guitar market was only in its formative years and as such modification of guitars in general was cool!
During this time ‘The Rock’ moved from our 8th floor city building, in which we used to be able to crank up our Marshall Major 200W head into 4 quads, to Neutral Bay’s Big Bear centre, where we were sandwiched between the original Smithy’s and an excellent hamburger emporium, so we had to turn down!!!
Throughout ‘The Rock’ years, I was also working 3—4 nights per week in bands like Route 66 and the Dead Bodgies. Great days for guitar players!
Post ‘Rock’ - ‘86—’03
Upon selling ‘The Rock’ in ‘85, I decided to go on my own Rock ‘n Roll pilgrimage of America, and whilst in a music shop in Manhattan, viewing the actual bench on which Larry Dimarzio had wound his first pickup, I got offered the job of onroad guitar teching for The Band. I had to respectfully decline the offer, due to the pesky lack of the required green card. Later that day, I got a call from Tommy Emmanuel, asking me to come back to Australia, to work as guitar tech/driver/sound engineer for himself and his brother Phil, in their high octane guitar duo of the day.
Touring Australia with them was sheer delight—first quality music to packed houses every night. Tommy and I constantly referred to the need for TONE AND QUALITY in both instruments and the way they were played.
I started to realise that a perfectly setup guitar, giving a gorgeously inspiring tone, enables the player to play the music, rather than the guitar. If a player is battling his equipment and isn’t inspired by it, he cannot give his best performance. Also, every player has SLIGHTLY different requirements, regarding action, setup and sounds. People just hear things differently, even levels of ‘out of tune’.
When Tommy moved to Melbourne in the late ‘80s, I remained in Sydney and continued my repairing business which was then based at Pymble. Old customers from ‘The Rock’ and many new ones recommended by them, came to Pymble to experience nuclear strength plunger coffee (with honey) and a satisfying setup, rewire etc.
From Pymble to Glebe ‘03—’09
In 2003 I had my home workshop at my tiny unit in Glebe. Even the painstakingly slow lifts didn’t stop customers scaling the 6 floors to my door! During this year, I also started subcontracting at Jacksons Rare Guitars in Annandale. I worked there part time over
4 days each week for 6 years, having some incredibly beautiful, old rare machines to work on, as well as many brand new Gibson, Martin, National, PRS and Collings guitars.
At end of 2008 I changed my arrangement with Jacko’s, as my own business expanded. I only worked a Jacko’s for a few hours each week and for the most part I worked at my own workshop.
Onward and Upward - Glebe ‘11 to Present
With my website reaching so many guitarists, I found that I had to work solely from my own workshop in Glebe in order to keep up with demand. Each day brings new enquiries and new customers. Many of my old customers from “The Rock” days have been able to find me and we’ve reconnected.
I now work as a sole operator (with the secretarial assistance of my wife Catherine) so I am able to give personal service to each and every customer. I’m forging ahead and still learning! I still see guitars that I’ve never seen before and encounter new challenges and problems to solve. Life is never dull! I’m still chasing those perfect reference tones using different combinations of wood, pickups, valve amps and a plethora of pedals.