Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

January is going quick. It’s snowing outside, but the shop is alive and hot with productivity, you’ll be pleased to hear!

This week, the Baritone Model L got all the attention. The back was glued on, the binding channels were routed, and the binding itself completed. The end graft also received an etched copper inlay. It was also time to install the arm bevel.


Lots of progress, and lots to look forward to next week. We hope you all had a lovely one.

5 Ways To Beat The Creative Block by Tom Sands

Whether you’re a creator by profession or hobby, you may have at some point experienced the dreaded creative block. As our livelihood depends on free-flowing creative energy, it has the potential to be a serious problem. We’re often asked how we manage to overcome it’s difficulties, and so we thought for today’s post we’d share our 5 ways to beat the creative block. 

1: Use your location.

We came across a highly sensory passage from Alan Moore over coffee this morning, from his book ‘DO / DESIGN: Why beauty is key to everything’. His advice for a creative push was this: ‘Walk through the front door, smell the warm baking bread that makes a house a home. Feel the cold visceral shock of the ocean as the waves break on your body. Lie in a wild meadow and watch the clouds scud across the sky. Slowly breathe in the scent of the summer rain’ (42). Although we can’t always have summer rain at the drop of a hat, Moore accentuates the importance of the natural world and the simple pleasures to warm the creative soul. When we find ourselves needing an artistic refuel, this is exactly what we in the workshop try to do. We go through the door, close it behind us and shut off for a while. We are lucky, our shop is located in the beautiful North Yorkshire area. This means we have instant access to nature’s tapestry. We also have a dog, so an escape is forced at least twice a day. You can also bring a camera and have a play.

Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 09.47.39.png

This is invaluable as, like Moore, we both find that our creativity is best enhanced around the textures and colours of the natural world. It means we miss the traffic jams to inhabit crammed repurposed offices in London with their invasive and humming yellow lights. Not to say that some artists find inspiration from the sprawl, though. It’s a matter of exploring your own arenas. 

In Yorkshire, we can utilise the landscape much like the Romantic poet and his ‘Sublime’. It provides a sobering companion to the cabin-fevered mind laced with creative dilemma. Where we lay our hat, or rather our chisel, you can be back from round the river and various surrounding hills in the time it would take to route a binding channel. 

When we find ourselves needing an artistic refuel... we go through the door, close it behind us and shut off for a while.

2. Tidying the workshop 

There isn’t much to say here, except a favourite aphorism, a tidy desk is a tidy mind. Sometimes woodworking shops are left for months and even years coated in sawdust and offcuts, and this may well be giving the flow of your ideas a hard time. Picking your way through an unpleasant space takes up valuable concentration you could be using for daydreaming the next body shape, painting or concept. 

Perhaps more importantly, the catharsis of self-care extends fundamentally to caring for one’s creative space. If you show no care to your space, you are doing yourself, and your work, a disservice. Having a tidy up occupies the section of your brain that requires no creative thought, freeing up a nice bit of space to use later. Also, your space will look great when you’re ready to get going again.

Screen Shot 2019-01-17 at 10.24.41.png

3. Q&A on instagram

We made a habit of doing this every Friday, but now we do it in our podcast. We discovered that answering questions on things quickly isolates things which you do know, and exposes that which you’re unsure about. It can get you back on track by demanding you to think about why or how you do something. It’s always good to disengage and step back to employ the rational when the mind is playing up. It also might make you think about a better way of doing something.

4. Learning to be absent from comparison. 

If you change the way you respond to competition, you may find yourself trapped in a rut of creative block less and less.

This is so important. Especially when social media sharing is so important to the artistic community. It’s a catch-22. Rather than a tip for when you’re struggling with block only, this one is more about your overall mindset to creativity. If you change the way you respond to competition, you may find yourself trapped in a rut of creative block less and less.

Same goes for taking risks in your work. Many potentially great ideas are killed off before they see the light of day and if we accept that something may not work from it’s conception, it is more likely to hold value in some way; be it as a project to run with or to learn from. It’s easier to kill an idea dead than fear it may not please an audience - or fear it’s potential to be better left in another’s hands. Don’t let that deter you. Throw cautions to those instagram gails.

5. Talk it out

If you’re lucky enough to work with somebody, another creator perhaps, ask for their advice. Maybe not if they’re in the middle of a creative zone, they won’t thank you for that, but if the opportunity allows, talk it over. Take a walk with someone, talk about what you see. 

Speaking of ‘talking it out’, we recently interviewed some other Yorkshire based luthiers, Al and Chris from Alpher Instruments. Al and Chris find the rural surroundings equally invaluable to their craft.

We’d love to hear how you tackle your creative block. The more obscure the better - leave us a comment, and maybe we’ll depart from our list next time and take on some new methods!

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

Another week, already?

It’s usually a busy working week in the Tom Sands Guitars workshop, but this one seems to have flown faster than usual…


The progress on a Baritone Model L commenced, and the box is now shut and awaiting binding. The response after the voicing process when tapping the top was quite something - it’s one to get excited about!

IMG_1701 2.jpg

Tidying up the sides is next.

In the blog section this week we looked at another prestigious designer after Dieter Rams had his three part focus. Admiring Rams’s focus on minimalism, we looked at Mies van der Rohe, who worked by similar principles in terms of ‘less is more’. His focus on materials is particularly important to his philosophy, and writing a blog post discussing his attitudes and how they could relate to guitar making was a thought provoking exercise. See below for the full post.

Our podcast ‘The Interval’ will be held in a very special location and with some very special guests this week. Tune in Saturday to our instagram stories to hear more. We are very excited to have our first guests on the podcast!

We hope you have had as lovely a week as we have!

Mies van der Rohe - An Architectural Minimalist by Tom Sands

Portrait of Mies. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe

Portrait of Mies. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ludwig_Mies_van_der_Rohe

Recently we wrote a three-piece blog post on Dieter Rams and his 10 Principles of Design. We united Rams’s philosophies with lutherie, evaluating how each principle would affect the design and construction of a custom guitar. This thought experiment provided a valuable opportunity to reflect upon the design of our own instruments and return to the reasons we design a guitar as we do. 

In order to expand this interesting exercise, we are looking in this post at another designer who, like Rams, works to the manifesto of ‘less is more’. 

Mies van der Rohe was the director of the Bauhaus, a school specialising in modern architecture in Germany. When Nazism declared it’s opposition to modernism, the school was closed and Mies moved to the US where he joined the Illinois Institute of Technology as head of the architecture department.

The Barcelona Pavillion, designed by Mies to accommodate the German section for the opening of the 1929 International Exposition. Image source: Wikipedia

The Barcelona Pavillion, designed by Mies to accommodate the German section for the opening of the 1929 International Exposition. Image source: Wikipedia

Like Rams, Mies established a style that would fit the new industrial age; a style rooted in coherence and simplicity. He chose modern architectural materials for his constructions such as steel and glass, and used only the bare minimum in terms of structural necessity. He referred to these stripped back designs as ‘skin and bones’ architecture. Think of our modern city skylines; the glass open windows, the rectilinear streamlines. we have Mies to thank for them.

This chair, designed for the Barcelona Pavillion, represented modernity and high quality. ‘Ironically, the Barcelona chair was the result of painstaking hand-craft techniques using traditional materials’… (McDermott, 115)

This chair, designed for the Barcelona Pavillion, represented modernity and high quality. ‘Ironically, the Barcelona chair was the result of painstaking hand-craft techniques using traditional materials’… (McDermott, 115)

Mies was brought up a stone carver, his father’s trade, and the care over his construction materials perhaps has it’s roots in a love of working closely with types of stone. This often meant Mies’s buildings boasted expensive exterior and interior materials, despite the vast cost. Take the Seagram building in Manhattan - it is a striking giant of bronze, travertine and marble. In essence, Mies displays the bare materials in all their honesty, while elevating and complimenting their inherent beauty through the use of complimentary materials and surface finish. There is no elaborate decoration or business; the materials speak for themselves. As Mies simply puts it, ‘no design is possible until the materials with which you design are completely understood.’ (Cited in Daza, “Looking for Mies”).

no design is possible until the materials with which you design are completely understood.
— Mies van der Rohe, (1886-1969)
The Seagram Building, New York. Image source: Wikipedia

The Seagram Building, New York. Image source: Wikipedia

Mies’s respectful attitude to materials is certainly an intrinsic philosophy within the Tom Sands Workshop, and we believe his approach is an important one to consider when designing and building a guitar. On a recent build, a Malaysian Blackwood and Swiss ‘Moon’ Spruce Model S, an etched copper rosette was inlayed under a mirror gloss to preserve the natural colour of the copper and was able to naturally compliment out the wonderful orange hues in the Malaysian Blackwood. The wood and the copper worked best together as two juxtaposed and unaffected materials, elevated to their fullest potential with a clear preserving gloss.

Another recent build, a Model L boasting a cedar top rich in a different orange to that of the copper, seemed most complimented when paired with brass. When experimenting with surface finish in order to elevate the brass as a material to it’s fullest potential, a radially brushed surface texture set inside a Bauhaus-esque Rosette design seemed a simple yet effective balance of texture and tone catching and selecting light to great effect. Macassar Ebony represented a suitably estranged look to the brass and the cedar and subsequently the materials allowed each other harmonious statements of non-overbearing aesthetic. 

Model L Bauhaus inspired rosette in Brass and Macassar Ebony, set against a cedar top.

Model L Bauhaus inspired rosette in Brass and Macassar Ebony, set against a cedar top.

Model S etched copper ‘Penrosette’, finished with a mirror gloss

Model S etched copper ‘Penrosette’, finished with a mirror gloss

The aesthetic and holistic benefits of respecting materials for their own properties, whilst experimenting with finishes to tweak the way they are perceived without organic compromise is not to be underestimated. While there is a certain value in the beauty and craftsmanship of elaborate inlay, for example, there is a fine line we believe between the beauty of intricacy and crafts for craft’s sake.

Cited: McDermott, Catherine. ‘20th Century Design’, Carleton 1999.
Ricardo Daza, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (2000). “Looking for Mies”, Birkhauser

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

This week marked the first week back in the shop of 2019! A very Happy New Year from TSG.

The woodwork was rounded off on the two Model Ms, one a 12 fret “The Tree” / Swiss “Moon” Spruce, the other a 14 fret in Spalted Maple / Redwood. They were treated to a photoshoot, capturing these amazing woods freshly sanded to perfection with all the care and detail they deserve. It’s off to the finishers for both of them very soon - an exciting way to begin a new year!

IMG_0563 2.jpg
IMG_0458 2.jpg

After a bit of time out of the shop around the holidays, no time was wasted in the shop this week as the Baritone Model L in Ovangkol / Swiss “Moon” Spruce edged it’s way closer to the voicing process, and the initial shavings taken from the bracing have begun to litter the workshop floor. By the end of next week, the voicing process will hopefully be complete and the ball set in motion for the box to be shut, the neck to be carved and the fretboard to be glued. We’re really excited to see how this baritone will sound.


On Thursday, we also recorded Episode 6 of ‘The Interval’, our lutherie podcast, the first of the new year. Check it out when it goes live on Monday! Thursday also brought us a wonderful package from our friends at Lie Nielsen Toolworks. The workshop is now kitted out with LN merch, what a lovely end to a traditionally gloomy first week of January!


Next week will also hopefully be time to think about the new projects beginning very soon, and prepare the shop for a new batch of exciting builds..

The Year This Year... by Tom Sands



As the year 2018 draws to a close, we wanted to share with all friends and supporters of Tom Sands Guitars a newsletter of what exciting things have been happening over the previous year. The business has grown enormously, and could not have done so without your support; at shows, at events, online and as friends of the guitar. January 2018 saw the first guitar out of the brand new Tom Sands UK workshop, and this year has seen the growth of the business into new heights of opportunity. 


 The first of the 'shop outings' of the year began in March, when Tom was invited to exhibit at the V&A museum in London. He displayed his work as a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust scholar, to represent British craft at it's finest. It seemed that the guitars made a striking impression amongst the London design elite, and Tom was subsequently invited to exhibit at both Carpenter's Hall and David Linley's Belgravia showroom in May in celebration of London Craft Week, where he gave live voicing demos. The guitars were befittingly on display for a discussion of the sensory experience of craft, with the 'How To Spend It' expert Nicholas Foulkes chairing. Champagne flowed (thankfully not anywhere near the guitars) and Lord Snowdon himself had a whirl on the newest Model S. 

Linley Showroom with Horologists Craig and Rebecca Struthers, and Designer Silversmith Wayne Meeten.

Linley Showroom with Horologists Craig and Rebecca Struthers, and Designer Silversmith Wayne Meeten.

     Though London in itself be a far-flung place for a Yorkshireman, the Holy Grail Guitar Show was not to be missed, and so the guitars were carried out to Berlin before Linley managed to borrow them for his showroom. While the guitars Tom brought to the Holy Grail Guitar Showwere already spoken for, the buzz around his table was incredibly humbling - although, this may be down to the fact Will McNicol was performing mini demos to everyone who stopped by to have a look. Will also played a rather more organised demo on Tom's guitars, and many friends, old and new, were met. Thank you to all who made it such a wonderful trip. 
     As if Berlin wasn't far enough to travel, August demanded a trip to across the pond for the delivery of a Model S and a Model M. Of course, it only made sense to tie this trip in with a visit to the Vancouver International Guitar Festival in Canada. The Model S and Model M were displayed, as in Berlin, in their element among some of the world's top luthiers, and after the show were transported over to San Diego to a very happy client. Will performed an exclusive house concert on the two guitars for their client, which will no doubt be remembered from all parties as a very special evening.


     Despite all this excitement, the workshop (and Tom's creativity) were keen to gather the right kind of dust, and with a full order book the start of some very special projects were underway. Five bespoke builds; two to be the first Model M guitars, two Model S, and one Baritone Model L. The volume of work at hand twinned with the dedication necessary to make each build special meant that the company was in need of a helping hand.
     After approaching Tom on instagram, Daisy Tempest managed to secure a much coveted position as 'Creative Assistant', based at the workshop to observe and learn about build processes, capture regular and informative images of build progressions for clients and focus upon growing the company's social media presence. Together, Tom and Daisy ensure you get your dose of 'The Week This Week', the weekly shop update series, various 'Wood in Focus' educational videos and a multitude of short video tips and advice for aspiring luthiers and clients alike. Our goal is to embed the company with as much value as possible in line with the high level of craftsmanship and dedication that goes into a Tom Sands Guitar. Not long after Daisy joined, another assistant came to the workshop - Juno may have four legs and a tail, but her services as 'wood procurement officer' have been invaluable.


     With a broader team and order board in 2018, the company was honoured to accept more press coverage opportunities both internationally and in the UK. In February, Spanish magazine 'Guitar Fair' reached out to Tom to do an article paying homage to his 'minimalist y refinado' philosophy. Later this year, Tom and his new assistant Daisy were featured in Country Life Magazine's 'Living National Treasure' feature. Subsequently, Tom was invited to appear in 'A Celebration of British Craftsmanship' by Julian Calder and Karen Bennett, a book comprising of 100 of the top craftsmen and women in the UK, sponsored by the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.      
While the company flourished outside the world of high-end guitars in it's own right, the reputation within the world of fine instruments was not diminishing. In July, Tom joined the ranks of the other world-class luthiers represented by The North American Guitar in London and celebrated their official partnership with 'An Evening With Tom Sands' hosted in their showroom earlier this month. Will McNicol played a demo concert on Tom's Cedar Model L (appearing on Will's new album released next year) and Tom partook in a Q&A session. Thank you to all those who came, and it was a wonderful way to close the year. 


     We hope that your 2018 has been as filled with positivity, growth and wonderful people as ours at Tom Sands Guitars has been, and we look forward to sharing the next year with you!

This Model L is currently available from The North American Guitar.

This Model L is currently available from The North American Guitar.

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

It’s the end of another jam-packed week. The big news to acknowledge this week is that our resident shop dog, Juno, graduated from puppy class yesterday. A round of app-paws for Juno.


The two M builds have progressed this week, and the neck carving process is underway. The mahogany used for the necks comes from an old staircase, and it is proving nearly as stubborn and hard as the wenge to carve. When carving a neck, like any process, the intentions for the design of an instrument is at the forefront of the mind. We’ve uploaded the third and final instalment of our discussion of Dieter Rams’s 10 Principles of Good Design’ and how it relates to guitar making. Check out the link to the previous post at the bottom of this page.

IMG_9859 2.jpg

And while you’re at it, we recorded the fourth episode of the podcast ‘The Interval’ yesterday evening. It’s available now for a more verbal update of our week, with answers to the questions everyone sent in. We received a huge response that we were not expecting, so thank you to everyone who has been keeping up and listening to or watching the podcast episodes. Much appreciated!

As we draw towards Christmas and the New Year, our next and final podcast of the year will be about looking back at 2018 and it’s highlights, and setting goals for the New Year. If you’d like to contribute your own highlights and goals, we’d love to hear and discuss them on next week’s podcast. Please send us a message, or comment below in order to participate.

We hope everyone had a great week. Time to wrap up these Model Ms! TS

Dieter Rams's 10 Principles of Design: Part 3 by Tom Sands

Concluding the discussion and application of Deiter Rams’s principles in relation to guitar making, we address principles 7, 8, 9 and 10 in this post.

Good design:

7. Is long lasting. 

As the famous Levi-Strauss slogan goes, ‘Quality Never Goes Out of Style’. In an ephemeral society, the design that stands through each fickle fashionable fad is one that boasts success in Rams’s seventh principle. Without appearing archaic, a product must prove itself to be timeless. Like Levi-Strauss focuses on one material and it’s qualities, denim, so a well-designed guitar must focus on it’s materials. These materials will speak for themselves. 

Levi 501 Jeans. Source: www.retruly.com

Levi 501 Jeans. Source: www.retruly.com

If we look at examples of guitars that have stood the test of time, the original Stratocaster might spring to mind. It was, and still is, a highly desirable instrument. It is also incredibly minimalist, and do not exhibit elaborate inlays - these have a tendency to date very quickly.

I try to pay homage to this principle in my rosette choice. The ‘Penrosette’ celebrates the medium of copper with an etching taken from Roger Penrose’s mathematical pattern creates a subtle aesthetic pattern with a timeless narrative. Incidentally, much of Penrose’s work with Stephen Hawking is to do with the nature of time… 

Original Stratocaster. Source: www.musicradar.com

Original Stratocaster. Source: www.musicradar.com

8. Is thorough down to the last detail

I think this idea ties in neatly with principle number six regarding honesty. A guitar that is well-made from the inside out and does not cut corners with the craftsmanship of unseen structure. Taking the time to get to know and understand the needs of a client exhibits attention to this principle; a thoroughness as important as the physical artistry. For example, my ‘Penrosette’ idea came to fruition from the knowledge that my client was a retired mathematics teacher.

The Penrosette, Model L (Malaysian Blackwood / Swiss ‘Moon’ Spruce)

The Penrosette, Model L (Malaysian Blackwood / Swiss ‘Moon’ Spruce)

9. Is environmentally friendly 

This is a highly topical principle in terms of guitar making.

Tom Sands Guitar with Rocklite Ebano fingerboard and binding.

Tom Sands Guitar with Rocklite Ebano fingerboard and binding.

In January 2017, the new CITIES regulations on all Dalbergia (rosewood) specimens was put into action. This meant that no Rosewood could be exported without the knowledge (via certificate and a payment) of the government. This included things that were already made out of Rosewood even before January 2017 - guitars very much not exempt. All Dalbergia genus woods, including African Blackwood, Cocobolo, and Bubinga were included in the appendix. This meant the acquisition of these tonewoods became suddenly very tricky, and subsequently there was a price rise in many of the woods named by the government.

The CITIES law was put in place, ultimately, to protect these species from extinction. To design our guitars to be environmentally friendly and fulfil Rams’s principle, then, we must embrace the search for materials that co-ordinate sustainability and aesthetic, quality of sound and resourcefulness. Indeed, there have already been materials that accommodate these demands; the company that produces Rocklite, for example. Rocklite create man-made composite alternatives to endangered woods such as East Indian Rosewood (Rocklite Sundari) and Ebony (Rocklite Ebano). Rocklite Ebano has been used in a handful of Tom Sands Guitars for fingerboards, bridges and bindings, and it has proved basically indiscernible from real ebony. Clients and players testify they also cannot notice a difference. Economically friendly, high quality, many may see little or no sacrifice in moving away from the endangered woods in favour of Rocklite’s alternative. 

10. Good design is as little design as possible. 

‘Less is more’. Personally, I would like to work towards a simple, uncluttered aesthetic, and I’m experimenting with ways to achieve this. I would like to build a guitar with no rosette, no binding, or anything unnecessary, eventually. 

Thanks for reading, and please leave a comment if you have any thoughts to share on Rams’s principles.

TS <3