Acoustic Magazine, Nov 2013
You can download the issue for £2.49 here. And you can access a video of David Mead playing and discussing the OM.
DAVID MEAD ENTERS UPON A SAFARI INTO THE BACKWOODS OF AFRICA WITH THIS EXOTIC LITTLE GUITAR FROM DARKEST, ERM, SCOTLAND!
When I heard that a guitar with African Blackwood back and sides was on its way to me, I immediately took up position whereby I could ambush the delivery van the minute it came into view. As a tonewood, African Blackwood is revered almost as much as Brazilian rosewood for its tendency to steep an instrument in heavenly tone and supernatural sustain. As such, it comes at a premium, often adding around £3k to the price of a custom build and, like its Brazilian cousin, years of over harvesting means that it’s in short supply. African blackwood is not on the CITES register yet, but it’s possibly only a matter of time before use of this much sought after timber comes under strict guidelines for import/export. It’s a genuine rosewood – Dalbergia Melanoxylon – but much, much darker than any of the other varieties in common use. Known to blunt chisels in the workshop, it is such a densely resonant wood that sometimes bells have been made from it. But enough about the back and sides, let’s look at the rest of this OM in fine detail… The top is Engelmann spruce, known for its creamy appearance (initially anyway, it soon ambers up after a couple of years) and slightly stronger midrange than the more commonly used Sitka variety. On this Claffey, it’s still in its infant creamy hue because this guitar is barely two months old at the time of writing. As with other spruce tops, Engelmann tends to open up nicely after being played in and thus represents a good investment for future development. The imposing rosette is a combination of abalone and African blackwood and the body binding is ebony – there’s a good overall balance between the creamy texture of the spruce and the almost completely black back and sides. There is a grain pattern to the Blackwood, but the light has to be right to enable you to see it in its full glory. When you do, you are met with patterning that, again, rivals Brazilian rosewood. It’s not quite as crazy as some I’ve seen, but extravagantly textured nonetheless.
One thing you notice immediately on picking this OM up is its weight, due no doubt to the density of the Blackwood. Luckily this hanse;;t resulted in any imbalance as the guitar is very comfortable to hold in the playing position with no untoward veering to one side or the other. The neck is a generous D profile and sits in the hand nicely – but I did notice some very slightly sharp fret ends, possibly due to a little wood shrinkage since the guitar’s manufacture. The sound is very pure and sweet with a good amount of sustain, but there’s a little compression present in the sound picture, too. This, again, could be own to youthfulnesss and will most likely disappear once the woods settle down and begin interacting. There’s a nice amount of volume in evidence and I found that gentle fingerpicking brought out the best tone for me. But chordal strumming and playing with a pick both had their story to tell, making this a good all-rounder in the music style stakes. Overall, this is a guitar that has a great deal going for it and I think it will improve inordinately once it’s got a few months of playing under it’s belt.
There’s a really excellent level of build quality going on with this OM. It’s understated looks add to its appeal – I like the fact that there are no fretboard markers, for instance. Then, of course, there are the bodywoods which not only addd to the Claffey’s luxurious allure but should be exciting for the eventual owner to hear develop to their full potential over the next few years. There’s also the fact that you can pick this guitar up for just over £3k, which is nothing short of remarkable for an instrument with the holy grail African blackwood on board! With everything that I’ve seen and heard here it will be very interesting to see what instruments emanate from Ricky’s workshop in the near future – I, for one, will be keeping a close watch.
Build Quality: 5/5
Ricky Claffey builds custom guitars and ukuleles in Glasgow, Scotland.
I'm not currently taking on any new builds. Please check back in future for updates.