Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

This week we’re back to our usual routine after time out for all sorts of exciting things - we’ve been to Paris, London (twice) and finally we can get back to making sawdust! Be sure (if you haven’t already) to check out the content from our various trips over on our YouTube, Facebook and Instagram pages.

Meanwhile, the box is now closed on this Koa Model L 12 fret fan-fret…

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Meanwhile, Daisy has been working hard on voicing her first guitar - and the box is now closed!

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Finally the Model S in Fiddleback Mahogany and Italian Spruce is back from the finisher - the bridge is glued on, the nut and saddle are completed and strings are on. I’ll leave it for a week or so and then complete the final setup. We’ll also record a ‘Shop Session’ not only are these a fun project and a great way of showcasing artists but they help us top keep a record of our work.

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That’s all for this week. Check back next week to see what we’ve been up to!

Thanks for reading and we hope you have had a great week.

TSG <3

A Year at Tom Sands Guitars - A Photographic Journey - by Daisy Tempest by Tom Sands

I originally wrote this piece on instagram, but after an overwhelmingly positive response that proved apparently informative and entertaining we decided to condense it into a blog post. So, let me take you on a photographic journey of my skills as a ‘photographer’ which can mean anything from training your thumb to skim the ISO wheel at the speed of light, to making loud obnoxious bird noises from behind the camera to ensure your subject looks suitably organic in their surprise (usually reserved for the dog, or somebody I don’t know very well. Tom is now used to it). So, all these photos represent a key milestone or idea to me and are numbered not in terms of importance but in terms of lesson.

1. To begin at the beginning…

Today I realised it’s nearly a year to the day that I came to work for Tom - so I thought I’d spam everyone’s newsfeeds with my favourite pictures over the past year. I’ve grown not only as a craftsperson, but also as a photographer. I’ve learned so much about composition, light, how a camera actually works, design, lines, etc. I still don’t really know the technical details, like what exactly ISO stands for, but they say you should keep some mystery to all that you do. It’s really special to see how my ‘portfolio’ has changed and grown over this year nonetheless. This first photo was taken right at the beginning during London Craft Week, where I had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful craftspeople at a QEST event - where I was desperately snapping away trying to prove myself useful as a potential apprentice, and finding that I really loved taking photos. Tom lent me his 50mm lense and it opened up so many doors. 

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2. Bending perception…

This one was taken about a month in. Looking back at this, I remember thinking how interesting the arm positions were. I still really love this photo, but finding a boundary between beautiful photos and helpful ones (we send these process shots out to clients so they can gauge how their build is going, have regular updates, etc) was something I came to realise I wasn’t navigating too well.

When I dropped this into my ‘side bending’ notes and then came back to them when I needed to bend my own sides, I realised I had a gorgeous page of artistic photographs but none really of what to do and how to do it. Then there was the problem I didn’t anticipate of ‘what on earth will the clients think is going on here if they saw this?!’ - it’s a confusing photo for someone who isn’t a luthier. I started to make it my mission to combine beautiful photography with helpful process shots. This is the first milestone of that realisation. I’m still working hard at trying to do that.

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3. God’s in the colour…

As you can imagine, I felt #blessed to be cutting my photographic teeth on a tree guitar. Who gets an opportunity to experiment with that first time round?!

I wanted to be able to get as much as I could out of this experience - after all, I hear stock is pretty hard to come by... so, I started experimenting with colour, after being a fan of the monotone look. The Autumn leaves outside the workshop (again, #blessed to be in such an aesthetic location) ended up serendipitously adapting their colour at the moment the box was closed on this beauty. Colour, colour, colour. I love this photo. It did everything for itself, just add lense.

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4. The showdown…

The fight we had over this next one! Well, not fight, we both thought this would be a great photo - we just absolutely and resolutely thought it would be more successful from very different angles. We are both incredibly stubborn, in case you didn’t know.

I’d been a few months in by now and I was resolute that I knew what I was doing in this space. Tom however insisted we just tried it first his way around. Fair enough, can’t really argue with your mentor, generally not a good move.

Interestingly, like nothing else before, it actually didn’t work his way. So, we tried my approach and we came up with this. I was so smug, you have no idea. A milestone in that I was able to call a judgement about a space I’d got to know so well over the past months. The white background made it much easier for the shavings to be located in the frame - less busy, so the image could be focused upon with little effort from the eye. It was a wonderful moment when the learner stuck to a judgement and earned photographic respect from the teacher. So I really love this photo for that reason. A real moment of feeling a strong sense of belonging.

Well done for accepting defeat Tom. I still laud this over him, and for me it made up for the many I’d been wrong before, and still am.

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5. Back to my box…

Number 4 was an example of when I was right - this photo is an example of when I was wrong. Another important lesson.

I was resolute (favouring shots with people in them) at the time that this would be a better photo zoomed out a bit. What you see here is a stubborn Daisy begrudgingly getting in close at the instruction of Tom. It’s now one of our favourite photos - I love the intimacy of the detail, the sharp chisel, the portrayal of concentration and serious attention to detail. This shot was a game changer for me, and highlighted the importance of macro photography. It’s a good way of getting that beautiful photo / helpful process shot balance.

It was also a reminder that it’s important to always take someone’s advice even though you think you know best; if you don’t, you might miss an opportunity. Also a reminder to reel in my attitude - which I probably need daily...

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6. Casting shadows…

It became apparent as the late autumn sun crept across the workshop floor one day that I’d been a massive idiot and missed one of the best photographic opportunities in the workshop - the light and shadow! I laid this box on the floor (don’t worry, it’s got a top protector on it) and began snapping away. This was interesting for me as it was so bright and so dark in the same photo so I had to experiment with ISO. Whole new kettle of fish when I discovered the ‘auto’ setting was actually not a great idea for literally everything. Who knew? Shout out to Dion James at Dion Guitars for being the inspiration for this shot. He really embraces the wonderful light and shadows that appear in his shop, his instagram is a great place to see that (@dionguitars).

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7. A lesson in lines…

Tom: ‘Could you photograph the bevel Dais?’

Me: ‘Sure’.

*One hour later*

Tom: ‘I think we need a lesson in lines’.

Oh boy. I took the grossest photo of two guitars next to each other - one with a bevel (this one) and one without. It was the two guitars lying on their fronts, resting in opposite directions next to each other, so the upper bouts and lower bouts rested within the curves of each other, ying and yang style.

At the time I thought it looked smashing. Another hour later, after a lesson in line aesthetics, I realised that this was not in fact the case. I saw that the shadow between the lines I had created for the photograph kind of looked like a fat Loch Ness monster snake that had eaten some kind of small mammal and it hadn’t yet digested in its stomach. NEXT.

The lines weren’t flowing and they certainly didn’t do Tom’s gorgeous body shape designs any favours. Oops a Dais. But, it took a lesson in design to realise this, and it changed how I thought about all my photos.

I revisited the scene and came up with this. Much better to allow the design of the instrument to speak for itself and frame it with shadow, make it a hallway of contrast, as opposed to making the shadow the sole work of art in the frame.

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8. Lutherie’s weirder practices…

Daisy’, I hear you cry, ‘after all this practice, haven’t you figured out a way to make binding look less like guitar BDSM?’

No, no I haven’t. But it makes a cool photo, and allowing things to come across just as they are is part of the fun, even if it turns the heads of non luthiers on your newsfeed. Just make sure your shutter speed is sped up if you ever photograph Tom doing his binding. He goes at it like a bull in a china shop. It’s also worth noting that this goes for mistakes, too; allow things to be captured for their flaws, it’s part of the beauty. Tom doesn’t seem to have any flaws in terms of execution, but my own guitar - being my first one - surely does, but that just means next time I’ll do it better. There’s something beautiful in that, and it took me a while to accept that I shouldn’t hide imperfections in my work.

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9. Capturing moments…

When I say Tom binds like a bull in a china shop, he also moves around the workshop like one (albeit a dainty and accurate bull).

I’ve mentioned I love photographing people before, so I’m always on the look out for moments. A lovely expression, interesting body language etc gets me excited. It’s hard to put into words why I like this photo so much but I think it came from a long time spent on the floor waiting patiently for Tom to stay in a position long enough for me to frame it, correct the settings, and capture a moment.

I’ve found that this kind of patience was the easiest to learn - the kind that keeps you on the edge of your seat (or crouched on the floor in a weird uncomfortable position in this case) because at any microsecond you might miss something that makes the wait worth it. It makes time go by fast and the result is always that much more rewarding. Sort of feels like being a wildlife photographer at points; any disturbance to the craftsman and you might startle them... queue the internal David Attenborough voice.

No one else seems to like this photo, much. Not sure why I do, I guess it’s the unashamed ‘no one really knows what’s going on here’ element. It’s not really anything special, either, but I love everything about it - composition, colour, position, subject. I don’t really need a picture of Tom checking out a neck for my notes, so during the times where he’s just inspecting and not making, artistic licence is okay - right?

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10. The teaser…

When a build is near completion but you want the magic of seeing it for the first time to be there for the client on delivery day, we take ‘teaser shots’ to keep them guessing but also satisfied with regular updates.

This concept came about relatively recently as the first batch of guitars I was working with Tom for came to completion and I had to alter the way I was shooting. This photo of ‘Jupiter’, Will McNicol ‘s guitar, uses lens flare and lacquer reflections so as to not give too much away but accentuate details of beauty. Great fun to shoot, but also tricky coming up with new ways to reveal while not revealing.

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11: The lurker…

This series wouldn’t be complete without the workshop chocolate dog. There sure as hell isn’t a shutter speed fast enough for that tongue. It’s so hard to get a good picture of this dog but, as I said to someone earlier, for every 300 photos there is (if I’m lucky) one good one. 

She arrived a few months after I did and she’s literally the best thing ever. She always helps me in practicing split second shots like this. Star cross-eyed lovers, are Juno and I.

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Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

The highlight of this week was doing a podcast episode with Anne of All Trades. You can catch up on that here. Hearing her story was super inspiring for us, and we hope it was for you too. And, of course, we asked her the important questions we need answering…

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We also released footage of one of the debut Model M guitars upon completion. You can catch up on that below, where Tom discusses what the Model M can do, who it’s for, and why he personally feels so attached to this guitar in particular. In fact, Tom explains that ‘It’s the guitar I’d spec for myself’. 

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Meanwhile, ‘The Tree’ Model M nears completion, and to celebrate this exciting occasion, we’ve documented it from it’s conception in a photo-heavy build diary. Check out part 3 which aired this week on the blog. Plenty of exclusive photos you won’t have seen on any of our other social media channels - as if you needed an excuse to look at pictures of “The Tree”… find it here!

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In other news, we’re fast approaching our Open Day. Don’t miss out, get in touch for more details.

We hope this week’s content can enhance and bring value to your weekend. Enjoy!




TS

Swiss "Moon" Spruce / "The Tree" Mahogany Model M - Build Diary - Part 3 by Tom Sands

It’s neck time.

For this neck I used some of my reclaimed staircase Brazillian Mahogany. Exceptionally stiff and close grained, it’s perfect for a strong, stable neck. And the deep rich colour really compliments this set of “The Tree”.

Fitting the mortice and tenon.

Fitting the mortice and tenon.

Flossing the neck.

Flossing the neck.

I carve my necks with an Auriou rasp, from a small forge in France. Because the rasps are forged by hand, the teeth are more random than a machine cut rasp. This allows a more even result on the carve.

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Routing the headstock with a template.

Routing the headstock with a template.

Careful detail work.

Careful detail work.

Filing down the copper fret position markers.

Filing down the copper fret position markers.

And that’s the woodwork.

And that’s the woodwork.

Ready for a lick of paint to make it pop…

Ready for a lick of paint to make it pop…

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This set of “The Tree” is just dying to come alive with a coat of lacquer. Check back next week to see the results…

Thanks for following the progress of this special guitar.

TS

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

Last week, we had the amazing John Smedley team in the shop to work on a very exciting project. We can’t reveal too much right now, but here is a ‘behind the scenes’ shot to keep you going…

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We’re also very excited to share photos of a new Model M build in “The Tree” and Swiss “Moon” Spruce. You might notice from these pictures that a different approach is being taken - and it involves something called ‘Nomex’. Nomex honeycomb is a composite constructional material made from aramid fibre paper coated in phenolic resin. When sandwiched between two substrate layers you end up with a structure with an extremely high strength to weight ratio. Just the kind of structure you want in acoustic guitar building.

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We are excited to also announce that we’ll be putting out a podcast next week with Ann from Ann of All Trades - you will be able to find that on all our social media channels and all your favourite podcast services very soon!

Have a great week!

TS

Swiss "Moon" Spruce / "The Tree" Mahogany Model M - Build Diary - Part 2 by Tom Sands

It’s part 2 time… which means we get to share more gorgeous photos of this special project coming together. As I said in the last build diary, it’s such a joy to get to work with this amazing wood, especially when it’s being included in one of the two first ever Model M guitars.

On with the build…

Hand cut notches in the rim assembly to hold the back braces.

Hand cut notches in the rim assembly to hold the back braces.

Routing the top - spruce looking like sparks…

Routing the top - spruce looking like sparks…

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A tantalising shot of voicing preparation.

A tantalising shot of voicing preparation.

The voicing completed.

The voicing completed.

….And breathe.

….And breathe.

#dasnice.

#dasnice.

Let’s get that back on and close this box!

Let’s get that back on and close this box!

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We fondly refer to these wonderfully useful Axminster trade clamps as our ‘duck clamps’. You may agree that they resemble a group of ducks on a pond when upside down…

We fondly refer to these wonderfully useful Axminster trade clamps as our ‘duck clamps’. You may agree that they resemble a group of ducks on a pond when upside down…

The router cutter can struggle with the compound curves around the cutaway, and so it’s so important to prep the rebate for the binding to sit in. In this instance, I wanted to be ultra careful about my binding job and so I used an old school brass gramil given to me by Mark Gaiero. It’s great to go old fashioned sometimes and finish the job off perfectly by hand. This delicate spruce is best handled with care, too…

The Gaiero Gramil.

The Gaiero Gramil.

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As you can see above, I also used a razor blade on the back binding channel to ensure the rebates are perfectly square. Another great tip from the Somogyi shop…

Time to bind.

Used inner bike tubes make a great binding elastic.

Used inner bike tubes make a great binding elastic.

Don’t forget the cutaway…

Don’t forget the cutaway…

Bound. Boxed. Time for a neck. Just in time for some Autumn sunshine!

Bound. Boxed. Time for a neck. Just in time for some Autumn sunshine!

Thanks for reading part 2, next week I’ll share photos of the neck coming together. Have a great week!

TS



Swiss "Moon" Spruce / "The Tree" Model M - Build Diary by Tom Sands

Last year, I received an order that I couldn’t wait to get started with. This client wanted me to build him a guitar made with some of the rarest wood on the planet, some quilted mahogany from “The Tree”. You might have heard of it… if you’re still unsure, click here to read a ‘Wood in Focus’ we did a few months ago, which will hopefully clear any questions up. We paired this amazing wood with Swiss “Moon” harvested Spruce - a beautifully straight, close grained wood. with a fabulous pale cream-white colour.

Not only did this humble me when I realised I was the first UK builder to use this extraordinary wood, but it was doubly special because this guitar would become one of the first Model M guitars (built alongside another Model M in Redwood and Maple). Now that this Model M is away at the finishers, I thought I’d share some of the photos of it coming together.

Bending the sides using a Fox style bending form.

Bending the sides using a Fox style bending form.

Bending the cutaway with the hand bending iron.

Bending the cutaway with the hand bending iron.

Laminated linings for an ultra-stiff rim assembly.

Laminated linings for an ultra-stiff rim assembly.

Trimming the rim assembly into shape.

Trimming the rim assembly into shape.

Fitting the cutaway.

Fitting the cutaway.

Inspecting the rim assembly.

Inspecting the rim assembly.

Checking the cutaway.

Checking the cutaway.

Carving the end block.

Carving the end block.

Installing the radially etched copper rosette.

Installing the radially etched copper rosette.

Be sure to check back soon for Part 2 where I’ll be sharing more photos of the build.

Thanks!

TS

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

Last Monday we had the talented Will Bremridge visit the workshop to photograph a series. Here are the results!

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We are also so excited to reveal the new project that is now ready for a coat of lacquer. It’s a Model S ‘White Label’ in a wonderful pairing of Sitka Spruce and Santos Rosewood. It’s complete with a dyed grey burl rosette, with matching dyed grey birdseye maple headstock veneers.

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This project was all about trying new and different things - stay tuned for more…

This week we have more photography and videography plans, as John Smedley, makers of the finest knitwear in the world, are coming to work on a special project with us to celebrate British craftsmanship of all kinds. Again, make sure you keep up with us on our social media and blogpost channels so you don’t miss anything.

Although we love having all these different people are coming to visit the workshop to create art, it does make us question whether we are using our (relatively small) space to it’s best advantage. We wrote a blog post on the importance of a clear workspace, which you can read here.

We hope you have a great week!