Dave Walsh owns a small one man workshop in Britain where he builds authentically aged, “relic” electrical guitars. We had a little chat with Dave about Eternal Guitars and his working methods.
Hi Dave, thank you for taking your time to speak to us. Could you tell us a little bit about how and when did you start Eternal Guitars? Where are you located?
Hi there. I’ve been a luthier for almost 20 years – I originally did an apprenticeship in Denmark Street in the west end of London but in that time I’ve also worked in other areas of the guitar world, including writing for Guitar & Bass Magazine in the UK and a stint at Guitar Institute in London, but I’ve always loved repairing and making guitars. I moved away from London a couple of years ago down to the south coast of England and I had to start my business again, so I decided to do something a little different. I love vintage guitars and being a creative person with a bit of an art background, I found that I really enjoyed the relic process on the few guitars that I had done for customers in the past so I decided to begin making them. The first review that I received was very positive and now people are beginning to love the guitars because they sound as good as they look!
What motivated you to begin building aged “relic” electric guitars in the first place? And what type of guitars do you build? Standard models? Custom orders? How does it work?
The primary motivation was a love of the process. I’d seen plenty of relic guitars on the market – some very nice and others not quite so good! So I wanted to make aged guitars using high quality components and nitrocellulose lacquer which in my opinion sounds better than modern poly finishes and combine the look with my experience in setting up vintage guitars so that they play as well as possible and of course also sound amazing within a realistic budget. I offer standard models based on well known instruments but I also build hybrid, custom or totally one-off models.
Please describe to us how do you come up with the names for your guitars?
To be honest I can’t really take the credit or the blame for that! My wonderful girlfriend usually christens them depending on how they look. I don’t think she sees them (or anything else) as inanimate objects – and I think she’s right… : )
You are currently building your first bass guitar. How did that come about?
To be fair, it’s not the first bass that I’ve ever made but it is the first Eternal. I’d been wanting to make an aged bass from the beginning but time and constant guitar orders conspired against me! My good friend Chris (who also helps out with the marketing) is a bass player so we collaborated to make a special one for him. He has a particular style and sound that he needs so that’s why it ended up as a bit of a hybrid with modern hardware and his choice of pickups. It sounds thunderous though and he’s very happy with it. Next up will be a stock early ‘50s T-Type bass in butterscotch blonde…
Can you describe to us the process, from idea to conception, of building a great relic guitar or bass?
It may sound obvious, but it really does start with the wood. Every guitar – even electric ones – are acoustic in nature and if it doesn’t sound good unplugged then put it back on the wall and walk away! Ash, alder and mahogany bodies all sound very different too as well as maple or rosewood fingerboards so I go through a very long process of determining exactly what tone a customer is seeking before settling on the right wood combinations. Some are tried and tested like ash and maple for an early ‘50s T-Type sound but sometimes like on my T-Type Jr which is actually a hollow mahogany design it can be a bit more experimental. With the T-Type Jr I was looking for a fat, warm sound without the associated weight of a Les Paul for example and the result is a very lightweight but incredibly loud guitar. The pickups are only there to amplify the core tone and colour the sound to a point – we have a saying here that you ‘can’t polish a turd’ and with pickups that’s very true as they will never make a terrible guitar sound great. So once I know what a customer wants in terms of tone, the rest is about making it feel and of course look great by using the right finishing products, hardware and professional set-up.
Do you have one instrument that is your favorite or that makes you the most proud in terms of craftsmanship, sound, look, and so forth?
Oh, I love them all but the Blonde S-Type ‘Betsy’ is a truly wonderful guitar – as is the Custom T-Type that I made for Sound Venture Guitar Boutique. I also love the T-Type Jr as well as the new Olympic White over Three-Tone Sunburst J-Type that has just been christened ‘Lola’.
How do you consider musical styles and genres when building your guitars in terms of selection of pickups, woods etc.?
That’s good question. Usually a customer will have at least a vague idea of what they want, but not always, and some people are embarrassed by a lack of knowledge. Sometimes I have to coax it out of them but by asking the right questions I can usually narrow it down. As I’ve mentioned above, some wood and pickup combinations are classics that will work 99% of the time whereas sometimes I have to be a bit more creative and interpret what a customer needs and wants into a workable design. The Eleanor E-Type guitar is a good example – it’s owner Mike approached me to make a one pickup T-Type relic but with the feel and sound of an Ibanez Jem… On the surface, it looks like most of my other guitars but the neck profile is copied from one of Mike’s own Jem guitars, there are 24 frets on a 16” radius fingerboard with a bullet truss rod adjuster at the headstock. The lower cutaway on the body is deeper than normal for better access to the top frets and on the back the heel is sculpted away and there’s also a ribcage contour. The pickup is a DiMarzio Evo2 which is coil split and makes a great T-Type twang as well as all the usual hi-gain grunt. Oh, and there’s a kill switch and an angled jack socket like a Jem too…
Are your guitars especially common among musicians playing a certain genre?
Not especially. Obviously the more classic vintage designs lend themselves to certain styles of rock, jazz and blues but a great sounding guitar can work in any musical environment. Ultimately, I’m happy to build whatever the customer wants and if that means installing a Floyd Rose on a banjo then I’ll consider it..!
When building a custom guitar or a bass for a particular player, what considerations do you make?
It’s up to me to get it right first time so I ask A LOT of questions and nail down the exact spec. before picking up any tools. My guitars represent a fair investment for most people so they have to be right in themselves and for the individual player. Everything from fret size to the capacitor values can be specified and decided in discussion with the customer. Once the build is completed I then go through an exhaustive set-up procedure to ensure that the instrument plays at its best for the style that the player requires and most importantly how he or she plays because we all play differently…
Any interesting new relic guitars or basses on your workbench right now?
I’ve just finished a Reverse J-Type in Sea Foam Green that is a killer one pickup guitar and I’ve also been commissioned by a gentleman in Sweden to build a VERY obscure Jeff Beck S-Type which has been a lot of fun as no one anywhere has any real knowledge of the instrument except some footage from a German TV show in the early ‘70s.
Any advice for players looking to order a custom relic guitar or bass?
Don’t be afraid to ask! Almost anything is possible be it a straight copy of a classic vintage guitar or something hybrid or totally unique – drop me a line through the website or give me a call. I love a challenge too…
Given that this is for a blog, what role has technology (the internet, your website, etc.) played in the success of your business?
It’s vital in creating awareness if nothing else. Technology plays a huge role in marketing a brand or business and for a one man business based on the seaside in England it means I can reach customers worldwide as well as locally. I’m currently building guitars for customers in Sweden and Japan too – and that would never have happened without the internet…
Any famous last thoughts?
Thank you so much for talking to me! I now have to return to repairing guitars and refitting the bridge to an old 12-String acoustic – it’s not all glamour here… ; )