Eternal Guitars specialise in producing authentically aged, ‘relic’ electric guitars, providing guitarists the opportunity to own an instrument that that appears like it’s had 50 years of good use – but at a fraction of the price of a real vintage instrument.
Guitar Jar catches up with manager Dave Walsh, to ask him more about the Eternal Guitars products and services and to hear his opinion on the relic guitar debate.
…giving a player what he or she wants from a guitar can and will make them perform better…
- Hi Dave, before we get into the details of your company and services, can you let Guitar Jar readers know if you play guitar and if so, who or what inspired you to start learning the instrument?
Well hello. Yes, I do play – you have to be able to play to build but particularly set-up guitars. If you don’t understand what a customer is asking for in terms of feel and responsiveness then you haven’t got an earthly of being able to give it to them.I rarely measure things like action setting because it really is all down to feel and most reasonably decent guitars can be modified to play perfectly well if you know how. Also fret size, fingerboard radius and or pickup options – it all comes down to understanding the instrument and how it reacts to different playing styles, hand size all those things and for that you need to be able to play – you don’t need to be the most accomplished musician (no one would ever accuse me of being so!) but you need to know enough.
I started playing at the relatively late age of 18 – a mixture of meeting someone who had far better musical taste than I had at the time who got me heavily into Cream and all those guys, then G N’ R went huge and a couple of years later Grunge hit. It was a very exciting time to be a guitarist or around the music world back then… I was hooked and I still am.
- Can you tell our readers about the origins of Eternal Guitars? What inspired you to start the business initially?
I’ve been in or around the guitar repair business for almost 20 years. I’ve done a few more office-based roles within that time but I always knew it was my true vocation – the physics of it all just make sense to me.Originally I did an apprenticeship in Denmark Street for five years which helped me in the back door and into the world of publishing – reviewing guitars for magazines – that sort of thing. Eventually I decided to open my own workshop in south London which was very successful and I then had the chance to relocate to the coast which I grabbed with both hands as I love to be close to the sea.
I enjoy repairing guitars but the bespoke luthier market in the UK is a tough one, especially if you’re building totally original designs, but I love vintage kit and that led me down the path of learning as much as possible about these guitars and then reproducing the look within a sensible budget using high spec parts.
- Your guitars look fantastic and I’m seriously impressed with how you manage to relic Eternal Guitars. How many years of trial and error has it taken you to perfect the art of making a new guitar look like it’s received 50 years of serious gigging?
Why thank you – it’s great to receive positive comments. The truth is you never stop learning and most days I stumble across something new. In fact as recently as this week I finally discovered a truly convincing way to ‘grey’ the patches of bare wood left exposed when the lacquer is worn away. It’s one of the trickiest things to duplicate realistically in the relic world so I’m now finally happy with the results I’m getting.I actually began relic work on a very small scale about six years ago while running a repair workshop – doing bits and pieces for friends and customers on existing guitars. It was very trial and error but they always turned out okay. When I decided that I needed a creative output to go alongside repair work I began researching how the real ’50s and ’60s guitars were made. Replicating them exactly would be far too costly but I reached a sensible compromise within what was available off the shelf and set about modifying and ageing the parts as closely as possible.
The real key is using the correct materials and in particular nitro lacquer. With my guitars you’re also getting the benefit of many years experience in setting up guitars – original ’50s and ’60s with the curved radius fingerboard need experience to get the best out of – which is why I’m happy to offer them as an option rather than just a blanket 9.5″ radius or whatever. It’s all about the feel…
- The “relic guitar debate” is a topic that has been discussed by a large majority of guitarists of late. As an advocate of relic guitars, what do you consider to be the positive aspects of owning a guitar that has been aged deliberately?
Well, why not? I actually believe that a lot of the naysayers are missing the point – to some extent it is little more than a finish option (as I’ve seen it described recently) but in reality, the feel of a worn fingerboard and thin nitro on a decent piece of wood is something that is very evocative.I also learned very early on that by giving a player what he or she wants from a guitar can and will make them perform better. There is no magic wand in learning to play but you will play better if your guitar feels, sounds and to some extent looks the way you want it too.
The other argument I far simpler – if you love the vintage look but don’t have very serious money to spend on one then this is as close as you’ll get without a time machine. I appreciate that there not everyone’s favourite instrument and that’s fine – I personally don’t go a whole lot on pointy, Floyd rose equipped guitars but I’m glad they exist and I’ve set-up thousands.
- To what extent do you believe the type of finish influences the overall guitar tone? For example, would stripping away a polyester finish and having the bare wood re-lacquered improve the tone at all?
It depends entirely on the wood. If it’s a real budget guitar made of laminate then I would say no, but stripping decent wood on either a contemporary or certainly badly refinished original can greatly improve the tone.It’s not all down to the nitro either – nitro is just a wonderful lacquer to work with and age and Fender (despite what many believe) didn’t exclusively use pure nitro in the early days anyway, but applying a thin coat onto well prepped and sealed ash or alder not only looks great (worn or not) but it does affect sonic properties compared to the very thick poly finishes that thankfully we don’t see so much of today.
- Do you have a preference of pickup used in Eternal Guitars, or is the choice strictly down to the customer?
I use my own pickups which I have made here in the UK – they are very high quality vintage replica’s that sound incredible so I don’t feel the need to use anything else. But having said that – if a customer will only use Seymour Duncan’s for example then of course I’m happy to fit them – but so far anyone who has bought or played an Eternal Guitar hasn’t felt the need to change pickups.
- Can potential customers purchase directly from you and can they have the opportunity to “try before they buy?”
I make what I call ‘stock’ models which are very close replica’s of the more sought after standard types in popular colours from the ’50s and ’60s and a few that are similar to well known artist’s guitars – I can build whatever I like to a point though so sometimes they’re just things that I like to build like the ‘Dennis’ modelwhich is as simple as they come but sounds like a total beast through a good valve amp.These standard shapes are just a starting point as a customer can request any colour, neck shape, electronics, fret wire etc. that they like. I have a couple of dealers in London and one – possibly two down on the coast that will be carrying these models.
I’m happy for anyone to try anything before they buy it if it’s physically possible for them to travel to a dealer or occasionally for the guitar to travel to them. The one exception is custom builds – if a customer loves a model type but would like it in a colour or spec that doesn’t come under the stock banner then, I go through an involved process of determining exactly what they want – sometimes I’ll have to interpret their needs and deliver what I hope will be the perfect guitar for them.
Of course, they’ll try it as the build progresses if they wish, or I’m happy to tweak set-up etc. until they are totally happy after the purchase.
…I discovered a truly convincing way to ‘grey’ the patches of bare wood left exposed when the lacquer is worn away…
- How long can potential buyers expect to wait to receive an Eternal Guitar based on a custom specification?
Excluding the few outside factors like supplier shortages, I can usually offer a six week turnaround from nailing down the spec and taking a deposit to delivery. One of the reasons that I spend so long discussing spec is that many great and talented players aren’t that switched on to the parts of the guitar – they just know if it plays and sounds right which is fine by me, by the way.Some know exactly (down to the thread diameter on the scratchplate screws) what they want which is equally good for me! But for these who don’t know and may even be a bit too embarrassed to ask, well I do everything I do to eradicate that – confusion will reign and the guitar won’t be right which is unacceptable.
- Is there a particular Eternal Guitar that you’re most proud of?
They’re all my babies in many ways and it’s difficult to let them go, but I particularly loved the first ’50s sunburst S-Type that sold very recently to the owner of ‘Chichester Guitars’ and then there was Micawber that got a great review in Guitar & Bass magazine ( a review is also on Guitar Jar, reviewed by the proud new owner).Thankfully Micawber went to a lovely home in the North East over Christmas and is doing well. I’ve just completed a ’59 Blonde S-Type which is one that half my brain hopes won’t sell because it’s the guitar that I’d have loved to owned back in the day but I don’t think it will stick around for long – I’ll just have to make another I guess.
- It’s been economically tough over the past couple of years. How do you remain motivated?
Good question. Some guitars are seen as luxury items for people with large chunks of disposable income to fritter away but for others and the majority of my customers they’re much more than that.As well as making the Eternal’s I also run a repair workshop so if you’re a pro or semi-pro musician then your guitar will need regular maintenance or a service just like a car does so business is steady and I’m sure we’ll come out of this depression soon.
- A DeLorean time machine has just burst onto your front lawn. With your hover-board in hand, you’re ready climb in and hit 88mph. Will you go to the past or the future and why?
Hmmm… in all honesty, I’d probably go back to the late ’80s and have a very solid word with my younger self.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
My 1982 Tokai Love Rock – it was first proper guitar that I bought (for £200!) in the early ’90s and no matter what I’ve done or changed on it over the years, it always sounds great.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
Would have to be Keith Moon for the sheer lunacy and exploding kick drum – or Bonham, just to feel the on stage power.
- Lager or Cider?
- What’s the plan for Eternal Guitars for the next 12 months?
I’m looking to secure a few more dealers in the UK (and possibly Europe) and introduce some new models including a JM-Type in March which is shaping up really nicely.There’s also a single ‘Tron’ Humbucker T-Type on the drawing board and then a range of Bass guitars will be next.
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