After having a string of beautiful handmade instruments (but never having commissioned one) I had been considering pressing the button on my first custom build for a while, but for a number of reasons I kept missing the boat, price rises, closed waiting lists, changes in my opinion…
Then I found Tom (at the time the current Somogyi apprentice) and I thought this could de-risk the purchase of my first custom made instrument. De-risk because it would likely be his first commission (and therefore less expensive), de-risk because if he was Somogyi’s apprentice he would already be brilliant (Somogyi’s interview processes legendarily demanding), and de-risk because he was sharing a studio with the world’s greatest living guitar maker. What could possibly go wrong!
So I contacted Tom and we agreed a price for him to build me a Wenge/Spruce cutaway OM…the first guitar Tom would take as a commission. During the build process I obviously got to know Tom a bit, and loved his innovation and attitude, I loved it so much that I said to him “build a second guitar too, a smaller one, whatever YOU want to build, bring that with you when you deliver my OM and if I like them both…I’ll buy them both.”
So, after 9 months Tom arrived, with two guitar cases…and terror in his eyes. His first customer (and his second)…would I be happy, impressed, delighted…of would I be disappointed?
As I opened the case my eyes came out on stalks, as I plucked the strings my face lit up and I could sense the relief in face of this young man. Obviously I was thrilled. Obviously I bought the 00 as well. We spent the rest of the day chatting, playing and getting to know each other.
As I got to know the instruments over the coming days and weeks it was like an entirely new level of instrument. I had owned great instruments before, my friends had owned instruments that were from a similar level of builder to Somogyi…but nobody had owned an equal to one of these.
The next month Tom came back to visit…and stay. A day of tweaking, adjusting and generally fettling the instruments was mixed with eating…drinking…drinking some more…and then I popped the question… “Tom, would you…erm…make me another guitar.”
We fell about laughing as we discussed what it should be. Clearly this was not going to be at the same “apprentice rates” price that the first two were as Tom had a growing order book and didn’t need to sell them “cheap”, but to be honest, it was never about cost it was always about risk and there was no risk in buying one (or three) of Tom’s instruments because the two guitars I owned were both in the top 5 instruments I have ever played…the OM being number one…an opinion shared by many of my friends who have played them.
Over the two years that I have known Tom, he has changed from being a guitar builder to being a really good friend - he comes and stays, we play guitar and chat, we get dunk. My wife and kids love him…my friends love him…in fact many of my guitar friends are now on the same journey as me. Steve, Dan, Peter, Dave, Ian, Bruce have all commissioned instruments from Tom…some have commissioned more than one…not just because of his stellar ability, but because of his charm, modesty, passion and care for what he does.
The instruments are truly outstanding. Nobody has picked up one and said anything but “wow”…people that have instruments from big-name makers and have played a Sands seem to have their frame of reference for what is possible - design, performance, looks, quality, cost - re-calibrated. At a guitar gathering hosted by a friend of mine (who bought a lovely Mahogany OM) everyone, and I mean EVERYONE was blown away not just by Tom’s guitars, but by the charming and modest man who made them.
Certainly for me, the experience of commissioning a guitar has been an incredible one and an education. Tom makes custom guitars…you can have whatever you want because everything is bespoke…but Tom has strong ideas about what he should and shouldn’t do and he certainly won’t let you railroad him in to doing something that isn’t ideal. Like so many artists his best work comes from you guiding him…shape, woods, style…but leave him to do the details because believe me he’s better at it than you are. But Tom is very different from the other guitar makers I have met. He isn’t aloof. He doesn’t see you as a client. He sees you as a friend and a partner in the process. This is a very precious thing because he becomes a lifelong friend in much the same way as his guitars will.
I feel very privileged to be part of the Sands community. It binds closer together my group of guitar friends by giving us yet more common ground. At a personal level, it has been a great 2 years…I have gained three of the best guitars I have ever played (and certainly the best I have ever owned) and I have also gained a brother/son!