My Tom Sands adventure started by reading a post by Adam on the Acoustic Guitar Forum. Adam’s high praise of his two Sands guitars piqued my interest. I contacted Adam, asked a few questions about Tom and was given Tom’s e-mail address. Tom responded that day and after a few back and forth e-mails I put a deposit down on what would become Tom’s current Small model. In those early back and forth emails it was obvious that Tom was passionate and articulate about lutherie. I believe Tom was halfway done with his apprenticeship with Ervin Somogyi. It was probably fool-hardy but a few days later I also ordered a Large.
Since I live in the same state that Tom was apprenticing in I invited him to visit any time. A few months passed by before I actually met Tom. In our initial meeting, Tom said it was all about the relationship between a luthier and a player. I recall thinking that sounds wonderful but it’s easy to say. Fast forward two years, over 100 e-mails and a multitude of phone calls later and I’m lucky to call Tom a friend first and my luthier second. In that first visit, Tom asked me what my vision of our guitar was, what kind of music I enjoyed and who were some of my favorite guitarists. I recall mentioning that Will McNicol was currently one of my favorite players and that he should contact Will. That visit went way too quickly.
About a half year later Tom invited me to the Bay Area to see where he “worked”. I’m no fool and quickly agreed. It was there that I finally got to try my first Sands guitar. The Small sounded exquisite and the Medium that had been strung up the day before was darn impressive for a guitar that truly was 1 day old.
I was impressed with how driven Tom was to be the best. To uproot yourself, travel to a different continent and to not get paid for two years proves how dedicated and motivated Tom is. While we were eating that night I thought back to Tom’s “it’s about the relationship” and seeing that he truly meant those words and I started to understand what he meant.
Fast forward and Tom returned to Ripon. Our conversations turned from dollars to pounds and the new CITES regulations presented some challenges, but any bump in the road was always turned into a positive. On my birthday Tom was kind enough to give me a lesson with Will McNicol, an incredibly thoughtful present. It truly is about the relationship.
Photos started appearing at the beginning of the year. It was exciting to see the genesis of my guitar. It was more exciting to see my Small being played by Will on videos and at the Holy Grail Guitar Show. It was obvious that Tom had crafted a very special guitar. My Large started after that show and once again Tom shared its progress with texts, phone calls, and videos. The plan was for Tom to deliver both after the Vancouver Guitar Show. Tom called one day and asked if I minded if he brought his “roadie”. Before I could respond he told me his roadie was Will McNicol. After Tom’s present, I continued taking lessons with Will. “It’s about the relationship.”
The day finally came. It truly was more like a whirlwind 36 hours but oh what a day. The Small came with true mojo from Tom’s incredible hands and heart and infused with music from Will. I’d seen and heard that guitar for months so I knew it was truly special. The day went too quickly but the highlight was having a house concert by Will. He played all my favorites in our living room with both of Tom’s guitars. The synergy between Tom and Will is incredibly special. They provided a once in a lifetime experience I will never forget!
In the last month, the Small has lived up to my expectations. It is incredibly comfortable to play. It responds to the lightest touch and is surprisingly loud when called upon. I don’t deserve such an incredible instrument but I sure do love it. The Large is the guitar I’m most surprised by. Being an “old fart” I’ve found that smaller guitars appeal to me more than they used to. In the planning of the Large Tom advised me that a Manzer wedge and an arm bevel would greatly enhance the comfort. He was absolutely right. I figured I’d mainly play the Small but the Large has been a delightful surprise. The 25.5” scale length allows me to go into low altered tunings and provides a crisp and tight sound and feel. I capo at the 4th fret and CGCGCD and DADGAD tunings envelope the room with a cathedral-like sound. To my surprise, the Large is one of the most versatile instruments I’ve ever played. No matter which of Tom’s guitars I play I always have a smile on my face.