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Old 05-14-2021, 08:53 AM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Default First commission - long awaited birthday present from Taran Guitars

What's this all about?
The build of my first (and probably only) luthier-built guitar is ready to commence with Rory Dowling of Taran Guitars. Rather than jump straight into the pictures I know youre all waiting for, Im going to indulge myself and tell my story as well as showing the necessary pictures of the guitar coming together. Ive enjoyed living vicariously through every build here, so I thought Id share my journey for those still in the waiting phase. For the old hands, it will be an opportunity to laugh at my naivety.

Who am I?
So first the introductions who am I? As far as music goes, Im an amateur. Not even a good amateur. Or even an amateur attempting to be good. I dont play in public (well, no-one does anymore, but I didnt even before then). I play the guitar purely for my own pleasure, relaxation, and amusement.

Ive played since I was 9 years old. I got my first full size guitar a Yamaha classical guitar for free when I was 12 from a friend of my parents who lived up the road. I still play it I still like it. When I was in my late teens I added 2 more: a second hand steel strung guitar (a Morris tornado GX - I still play it too I still like it too) and a lovely 1998 American Roadhouse Fender Strat, which Ive rarely played. Im an acoustic player at heart. I love being able to pick up a guitar and the sound is just there none of this messing around with dials and knobs failing to get the sound in your head. Thats been the end of my guitar buying journey until now 3 guitars, each more than 20 years old, and the only good one is the one that doesnt get played. Go figure.

Morris tornado 140521.jpgYamahaG240 140521.jpg
fenderstrat 140521.jpg

Professionally, Im an engineer with a PhD in Physics (specializing in lasers and optics) and coming up for 15 years in product development at a company I enjoy working for.

Personally, Im a family man, with a lovely wife and two young children and a massive extended family who all seem to like each other.
I dont want for much.

Why am I telling you all this? Firstly, I thought it would be nice to introduce myself. Secondly, Im hoping this will be relevant as the rest of this unfolds

How did I get here?
My journey to Taran guitars started in the lead up to my 40th birthday when my wife asked me Is there anything in particular youd like for your birthday?. I thought about it for a bit, trying to work out what I could get that I could keep and treasure. And the only thing that I would really like would be a very nice guitar. So I went back to her and suggested that if anyone wanted to get me anything, give me something to put towards a really nice guitar and I would then get the guitar to play for the rest of my life. This way, Id think of them every time I picked the guitar up. Yes, its all a bit syrupy.

That meant that I knew what I wanted in a guitar, something that would remind me of the warmth, love and peace that I find when Im with my family. Any ideas what that sounds like? I didnt. But I could feel it deep inside and I knew that Id recognize it when I played it.

My first thoughts went to the obvious ones get either a Martin or a Taylor. My preference would be for a Martin. Not because of history or anything noble like that. Because its my first name and Im really amused by the idea of having a guitar made by a company that shares my name.

My second thoughts were that it would be nice to find something closer to home, a bit more unique, and so I started looking at Scottish guitar makers. Id played a Moon guitar a few years back and it was really good, so I wondered what else might be available. It didnt take me much searching to find Taran guitars in Pittenweem. Pittenweem is close to my home, round the corner from where I went on holiday as a child and along the road from where I took my baby boys on their first holidays so it ticked all of the emotional boxes for me.

I had a browse around the website and the first picture I saw knocked my socks off. Then the rest of the pictures knocked my jumper, trousers and t-shirt off too. These were pretty special compared to what I was used to!

Taran-DS2-front.jpg
The first guitar I saw on Taran Guitar's website.

The guitars looked incredible and what I could find suggested they sounded pretty special too.





I also loved Rorys outlook. His passion, knowledge and love of what he does shone through the pages of his website and interviews I found. It was such a shame that they were a bit over my budget!!!

I kept an eye on their website just for the sake of seeing something beautiful, and with not a little lust in my heart. Eventually I saw a second-hand guitar become available and quickly wrote to Rory enquiring about the price in the hope that it would be nearer my budget it wasnt. Regretfully, I wrote to Rory saying that my head would have to rule my heart and Id have to lower my sights. In hindsight, and given how rooted in emotion a guitar purchase is, believing my head would be allowed the final say was a little foolish.

The idea of having a guitar made, by someone as passionate as Rory, in a place that had such a presence in my family memories, just wouldnt go away so I spoke to my wife to see how she would feel about me saving up and spending so much on a guitar. Her words were Go for it if thats what you really want. Its not like you spend money on anything else. Shes great. We agreed that, given my lack of experience with high quality guitars, I would explore what was available so I had a frame of reference, but in a 50:50 situation on guitar quality, I would go with Rory just to have the experience of having a guitar made. I was 90% sure that I was getting my guitar made.

Striking while the iron was hot, I spoke to Rory and arranged to come and see him. He fortunately had 1 guitar that was ready to head down to The North American Guitar that I could try imminently. So I took a couple of days annual leave to spend some time playing guitars.

On the first day, I travelled far and wide in Scotland looking at the best available guitars I could find. A shout-out required here to Celtic Chords in Stonehaven, where I played some Brooks, Atkins, Lowdens and a couple of handbuilt guitars from local luthiers. Then I travelled to Guitarguitar in Glasgow who were fantastic as well. I played every guitar I could lay my hands on and while Id played some lovely guitars, nothing really struck home. They were definitely a big step up from what I owned, but nothing was hitting that emotional itch I was trying to scratch.

As I was just about ready to call it a day, the assistant asked if he could try me with one more and placed a Taylor 614ce in spruce and maple in my hands. I fell in love. The tone of it hit every part of me and I really connected deeply with it. This changed things drastically. Now Taran guitars would have to be very special indeed. My 90% probability was definitely more like 50% and dropping now.

On day 2, I went to Taran Guitars, met Rory, and played my first two Tarans.
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Old 05-14-2021, 09:18 AM
prickards prickards is offline
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Love the story. This is what it is all about.
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Old 05-14-2021, 09:44 AM
Vaillant75 Vaillant75 is offline
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Hi Martin,
Thanks for setting the stage so nicely. Beautiful guitar pictures always make me happy, but knowing the back story always bring something extra.
This will be a fun one.
Cheers.
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Old 05-14-2021, 11:02 AM
Scallywag Scallywag is offline
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YES, congrats! Can't wait to see this come together. What model are you opting for?
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Old 05-14-2021, 11:53 AM
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TomB'sox TomB'sox is offline
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I know that you know that Rory knows...HOW to build a great guitar. Congrats!
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Old 05-14-2021, 02:51 PM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by prickards View Post
Love the story. This is what it is all about.
Thanks. I've loved reading others stories while I waited for my chance. Time to return the favour.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Vaillant75 View Post
Hi Martin,
Thanks for setting the stage so nicely. Beautiful guitar pictures always make me happy, but knowing the back story always bring something extra.
This will be a fun one.
Cheers.
I felt the same way about your Tom Sands thread. Hope you're still enjoying it as much.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scallywag View Post
YES, congrats! Can't wait to see this come together. What model are you opting for?
Congrats on the wedding! Not going to reveal too much too soon, but I've gone for the Tirga Mhor as it just seems to fit.

Quote:
Originally Posted by TomB'sox View Post
I know that you know that Rory knows...HOW to build a great guitar. Congrats!
I know that you know that I know that..i can't do it. Thanks for stopping by.
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Old 05-14-2021, 09:55 PM
Dustinfurlow Dustinfurlow is offline
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Very cool and great background intro. If you're gonna go for one good, handmade guitar then you deserve the best and Rory is the man to provide that, IMO. You're crazy lucky to live closeby!

My one experience playing a Taran immediately made me keen to order from him. I got pretty lucky to win the Young Player Bursary which helped the slot move to 2021. He begins my guitar in about a month. I really enjoyed Skyping with him a month ago and seeing the shop. Will likely be flying to Scotland to spend a day or two with them and do some videos once the guitar is done in the Fall. Cant wait!
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Old 05-15-2021, 02:21 AM
Rammer Rammer is offline
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Great story Martin, I'm in South Ayrshire so have heard a bit about Taran but similar to yourself, they are out of my price budget. Looking forward to seeing and hearing what is to follow.

On a side note, how did you get on with the Atkins at Celtic Chords? I phoned Atkin yesterday and amazingly found I was speaking to Alister Atkin himself. Was just really asking some general questions re stock levels and upgrades on tonewoods but it was a nice wee chat. I'm leaning towards them at the moment but haven't had a chance to play any of his guitars.
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Old 05-15-2021, 02:46 AM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dustinfurlow View Post
Very cool and great background intro. If you're gonna go for one good, handmade guitar then you deserve the best and Rory is the man to provide that, IMO. You're crazy lucky to live closeby!

My one experience playing a Taran immediately made me keen to order from him. I got pretty lucky to win the Young Player Bursary which helped the slot move to 2021. He begins my guitar in about a month. I really enjoyed Skyping with him a month ago and seeing the shop. Will likely be flying to Scotland to spend a day or two with them and do some videos once the guitar is done in the Fall. Cant wait!
Thanks Dustin, I am indeed very lucky. There have been a number of unexpected joys that came from this decision: discovering a multitude of amazing builders and enjoying their craft; learning about the intricacies of building guitars and the sheer complexity in the factors that influence the sound; discovering new music and musicians, and then inspiring me to reconnect with playing. You factor highly in this last category for me and one of my main long term goals I've set is to learn to arrange my own pieces having heard some of your arrangements. I'm staying away from songwriting though.

Really looking forward to hearing about your build and seeing what you do with it. I can always volunteer my guitar for testing if Rory is short of finished guitars when you're over!
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Old 05-15-2021, 02:52 AM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Originally Posted by Rammer View Post
Great story Martin, I'm in South Ayrshire so have heard a bit about Taran but similar to yourself, they are out of my price budget. Looking forward to seeing and hearing what is to follow.

On a side note, how did you get on with the Atkins at Celtic Chords? I phoned Atkin yesterday and amazingly found I was speaking to Alister Atkin himself. Was just really asking some general questions re stock levels and upgrades on tonewoods but it was a nice wee chat. I'm leaning towards them at the moment but haven't had a chance to play any of his guitars.
Hi Rammer, thanks for reading. The Atkin was and excellent guitar, but just not for me. I tend to prefer the more modern voices and it's more traditional, but it stood up against any of the Martins I played that day. I believe that Guitarguitar in Glasgow now stock some Atkins models. They'd certainly be worth trying to see if they suited.

The ones that stood out at Celtic Chords were the Brooks, which again were excellent, but just didn't tick that very last box for me. I was being super picky throughout the whole process though. If I'd been told I had to leave with one, I'd have been very happy.
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Old 05-15-2021, 02:59 AM
Rammer Rammer is offline
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Good to know that the Atkin stands up to the Martin as that's probably where I'll be making my decision. GuitarGuitar in Glasgow don't have any of the Atkins in their shop at the moment (they are all down south) but apparently, for a refundable 10% deposit, you can arrange for them to be in store for a trial. As for price, they are pretty much in the same bracket as a Martin (D18, D28) but offer a lifetime warranty rather than the 1 year deal we get over here with Martin so that may sway my thinking too.

Thanks for the update and look forward to seeing your new guitar in the future.
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Old 05-16-2021, 10:37 AM
steveh steveh is offline
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Originally Posted by MThomson View Post
On day 2, I went to Taran Guitars, met Rory, and played my first two Tarans.
...and they blew the Taylor 614ce right out of the water, even considering the price differential.

Or something like that?!

Your audience await.

Cheers,
Steve
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Old 05-16-2021, 11:19 AM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Originally Posted by steveh View Post
...and they blew the Taylor 614ce right out of the water, even considering the price differential.

Or something like that?!

Your audience await.

Cheers,
Steve
Yeah, you just nailed the short version of my story. Still going to tell the long one though.
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Old 05-18-2021, 10:19 AM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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What happened at Taran guitars?
First of all, I met Rory and was struck by his warmth and friendliness. He was definitely someone that I would be happy to work with on a guitar.

Following the pleasantries he offered me the guitar, and it took my breath away. Just looking at it was something special and I was a bit nervous to take it. I’m so glad I did. The only way that I've found to describe it was that I couldn’t find the edges of the instrument. I couldn’t play quietly enough that the resonance would disappear, and I couldn’t play loudly enough that the sound broke up. It wasn’t as good as the Taylor…it was far better. It wasn’t exactly the sound I was looking for, but it was obviously incredible.

Taran-DS4.jpgDS4-back.jpg


As a result, We then spent 2 hours in which I appalled my engineering self. I’ve spent >10 years in search of precision, correctness, unambiguous language, testable information. And I found myself talking about guitars in terms of emotions, feelings, sensations. Fortunately Rory appears to be fluent in this language and I was in no doubt that he would figure out what I wanted, even if I couldn’t explain it properly.

Rounding it off he let me play an older guitar of his that had been built for heavy flatpicking, and before the developments that came as a result of his conversations with Martin Simpson - https://www.taranguitars.co.uk/blogp...-simpson-xh9n7. This guitar, while easily the equal of anything I’d played the day before, didn’t measure up to the first guitar I’d played. Rory left me with the following “I’ve improved this much in the last 3 years, it’s 2 years until your build and I don’t intend to stop improving”.

Cocobolo-Tirga-Beag-2015.jpg

I left him saying that I would sleep on it and decide. I phoned my wife on the way home and said the same thing. She laughed and said “You’ve already decided!”. She has an irritating habit of being right. I emailed Rory the next day to kick it all off.

The initial spec for the guitar was as follows:
  • Tirga Mhor model with German Spruce Top and Maple back and sides to push for a controllable sound.
  • Soundport as I loved the feeling of the sound surrounding me, especially as I’m playing for my own benefit most of the time.
  • No cutaway as my classical guitar training would allow me to accommodate playing above the 12th without it – and I never went there much anyway.
  • I liked the ergonomics of the fan fret, but didn’t play that much in alternate tunings so I was on the fence about this.
A lot changed in a couple of years.
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Last edited by MThomson; 05-20-2021 at 04:25 AM. Reason: Realised I'd forgotten to add a link
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Old 05-20-2021, 07:16 AM
MThomson MThomson is offline
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Default Learning what I like

Over the next two years, Rory was generous enough to give me the chance to try a number of his instruments to help narrow down the design brief, and in this time I developed as a player, a listener and a guitar enthusiast. Throughout the whole thing I was encouraged to seek perfection and at times found myself nit-picking about aspects of a certain guitar. I tried hard to ensure Rory knew that I was being hypercritical because if he had turned around at any point and said take that one home, Id have left and been extremely happy.

Visit 2
The next guitar I played was in December 2019, less than a month after the birth of my second child. Id been having a fairly rough time and it was like a little moment in an oasis.

This guitar has previously been documented here https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/...d.php?t=564773

TaranGuitarsDS7.jpg


Rory wanted my opinion on it because he thought that the tonality aligned with the brief that wed discussed. And he was right. The guitar was much more aligned in overtone content to what I had described, albeit that it required a heavier touch than the first. Once more it was obviously a great guitar, absolutely fantastic to sing with, completely aligned to what I asked for tonally - but if I had to pick Id have taken the DS4 that I played the first time without even thinking. Maybe I didnt know what I wanted after all.

We left it that we would catch up around April 2020 prior to try the guitars that he would have heading out to the Holy Grail Guitar Show as that would give us a wide selection to really look at what I actually liked. Clearly that didnt happen! (grumble, mumble, COVID, expletive, grumble etc).

Taran Guitars DS8 Demo
What happened instead was that this guitar dropped at The North American Guitar and the demo blew my tiny little mind. It wasnt what I asked for, but it resonated with me in a very visceral way. I must have listened to the demo about 8 times trying to work out what I was hearing. I decided that I absolutely loved it. I was right back on to Gemma to see if there would be a possibility of trying anything similar when the world opened up.



Visit 3
Fortunately for me, my little corner of the world opening up coincided with Rory building a guitar for some guy named Martin Simpson https://www.acousticguitarforum.com/...d.php?t=586153 and they kindly invited me up to try it, arranging a big open space where I could be on my own with the guitars. Even better, there was a Tirga Mhor in Sinker Redwood and Claro Walnut ready at the same time.

Martin+Simpson+Tirga+Mhor.jpgTaran+Martin+Simpson+Tirga+Mhor+back.jpg
Taran+sinker+redwood+01.jpg

In Rorys opinion, this would let me try two guitars that he feels are the polar opposites of what he can build with this model. Trialling them, I found that there were also plenty of similarities and quite frankly these are two best guitars I have ever played, or indeed heard.

The redwood and walnut guitar was perfect - the exact sound that I had in my head when the whole thing started out. It was quite literally the best guitar that I was capable of imagining but I liked the Adirondack and African Blackwood better! My only concerns were a slight steeliness in the trebles (which I would happily live with) and the immensity of the sound. It was LOUD! Was it just too much for a guy who will mostly be playing at home and when the kids are in bed?

Extra Treats a Taran Tirga Mohr in my home!
Off the back of that visit, I got an extra special treat. Martin Simpsons previous guitar was heading back to Rory and they arranged for it to stop off with me. This was fantastic for a number of reasons: I got to play a lovely guitar for a couple of weeks; my wife finally got why I was so excited (and she LOVED the smell of it); my playing improved dramatically; and I got to appreciate what it would be like to have a instrument of this caliber in my own home.

me+DS3.jpg

This last thing was so powerful that I very nearly cried the first time I played it in a space that was so familiar to me. I found it quite overwhelming.
As for the guitar itself, I really liked it too if not as much as either of the two Id just played. I think Rory has indeed got better in the two years Ive been waiting. In terms of the sound, it had beautiful, sweet, fat trebles, in quite a bright guitar where bass presence was definitely not as strong as the African Blackwood guitar. Basically if I could take the bass from the African Blackwood guitar and merge it with the trebles from this, I would be very happy indeed.

Interestingly, I got a call from Rory when I returned it where he suggested much the same thing. At least if I didnt know what I was talking about, he was understanding me perfectly. He reckoned that East Indian Rosewood might be the compromise position and coincidentally, he had a build in progress in the very combination we were discussing. So we made plans that I would return when it was ready.
That didnt happen (grumble, mumble, COVID, many expletives, grumble etc).

However, by this point, Id reconciled myself to the fact that Rory knew what Id liked, hed hear this guitar and I was more than happy for him to make the final decision for me.

Final Visit!
Having planned a video call to discuss the final(ish) details, my corner of the world obligingly opened up just in time for us to convert it to a face to face chat. Once more it just happened to coincide with a Spruce/Fenland Oak guitar that Rory had built on spec that he wanted me to try. The trebles were insane, sweet, incredibly full with a natural reverb. The bass was present, but more percussive than ringing. I thought it would make an incredibly good fingerstyle guitar but wasnt sure it was the all rounder that I was looking for.

Taran-bog-oak-front.jpgTaran-bog-oak-back.jpg

After a LOT of chat we decided on the following and I had the pleasure of selecting which pieces of wood would go into my guitar. Well, I got to choose between 1 or 2 pieces after Rory had narrowed down to options he found acceptable!
  • Swiss Moon Spruce top
  • EIR back and Sides (with fully kerfed linings). These are a set that Rory purchased from Stefan Sobell. Stefan apparently acquired them in 1999 with the cut date somewhat earlier. Rory was raving about the quality of the wood.
  • Neck material was TBD depending on what Rory heard during the build.
  • African blackwood fingerboard and bridge I got to select the fingerboard too.
  • Florentine Cutaway I discovered I REALLY liked having one when I had the guitar to stay
  • Laskin bevel
  • 660mm 645mm fan fret,
  • Soundport
My biggest decision was the soundport. On my way through, Id played one that I loved, one that didnt have it that could have done with it, and one that had it but didnt need it I find it brings out bass and mids more and I found the balance better without it on that specific guitar. Rory felt that the trebles for the EIR wouldnt suffer from having the soundport and that I would get the enveloping sound that suits me playing on the sofa. So, we decided to go for it on the basis I can always make some sort of a cover if I find it not working for me.

We also decided on all the aesthetic choices, colour palette etc. Frankly, it was one of the most enjoyable days of my life. And then he told me that the build was due to start the next week! I really need to apologise to Rory for the excitement overload he had to deal with.

In summary, I asked Rory for a spruce and maple guitar and he spent two years convincing me that I didnt have a clue and I really wanted a spruce and rosewood guitar. I hope hes right.

Next up on to the build!
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