Welcome, and thank you for your interest in McGillivray Guitars.
I am often asked “how did you get into guitar building?” For me, the appeal lies in the way lutherie combines art and science, drawing upon and exercising the left and right sides of the brain. Satisfaction is gained as the process unfolds and I combine and work down natural materials such as spruce or rosewood. The culmination is an heirloom-quality instrument that enhances the human experience of both player and listener and, as the instrument is passed on, for future generations.
Having played guitar since the early 80’s, I was on a permanent quest, as most musicians are, to find a better sounding, better playing, instrument than the one I had. Frequenting guitar shops whenever I could, I discovered factory offerings could only attain a certain level, and still maintain desired prices and production targets. I began to research guitar building, thinking in the future it would be something I’d like to pursue.
I spent ten years studying the craft, collecting tone wood, and acquiring tools, before actually building my first guitar. I learned that factory guitars and handmade guitars have fundamental differences. In the factory setting, guitar parts are mass produced in batches with speed and efficiency driving construction methods and design decisions. As the guitar moves down the line, the next piece is pulled from the bin and added to the assembly. All the components in the pile are of uniform dimensions; however wood is not a uniform material, even from the same tree. Each piece of wood needs to be evaluated and then worked to its optimum dimensions, based on its stiffness and density.
In the factory, randomly selecting components from the bin occasionally results in a combination of excellent parts, producing an exceptional guitar. This is why you can play ten factory guitars of the same model, made at the same time, and a few will excel, a few will underperform, and the rest will be average. A good hand builder, in a one-person shop, takes the mystery out of how the final product will perform. He or she has invested years collecting superb tone woods, studying the properties of wood and adhesives, and incorporating the successes, and knowledge gained from failures, of luthiers, past and present. Only the best wood is selected, and then worked to its fullest potential as it is combined with other woods, bone, and steel, to work synergistically as a unit.
While I was doing my research and collecting tone wood, I ordered an expensive, handmade guitar with an inheritance from my grandfather. This, I reasoned, would give me a benchmark to study and compare my own building progress against in the future, plus I would get that handmade tone and playability I’d been searching for. The guitar arrived six months later, and although it was nice, it just didn’t have the tone that my ear was searching for. This was the nudge I needed to kick-start my building career. Perhaps it would take many tries, but redirecting my energy from searching for my perfect guitar, to creating it, sat well with me, and so it began.
I learned from a tutor who is an experienced builder, and by self-study and experimentation. While completing my BSc in Forest Science I had the opportunity to gain in-depth knowledge on the structural properties of wood, at a cellular level; this has served me well in understanding how to select and optimize tone wood. Twenty years in the sawmilling and forest products industry, as a professional forester, further tempered my understanding of wood, the growing conditions required for premium tone wood, and how to break down a tree for the highest quality yield. Attending the American School of Lutherie, in Portland Oregon, and studying the methods and approach of Charles Fox, gave me a strong foundation and I have continued to refine my sound and style.
Initially based in British Columbia, McGillivray Guitars now operates out of Calgary, Alberta, producing several commissioned instruments per year, with occasional speculative builds, the progress of which can be viewed on the website, in “On the Bench”. Commissioned instruments are fully customizable in all aspects, including model, size, shape, scale length, string spacing, neck profile, body depth, and wood selection. If desired, an individual’s playing style, hand size, and physical conditions will be evaluated to select and guide the player to their optimum personalized instrument design.