SVL Guitars is a UK based guitar manufacturer that specialise in re-creating the much loved “S” and “T” Fender models from the classic era of the late 50’s and early 60’s. With top level guitarists including blues virtuoso Matt Schofield on their books, it appears SVL are going from strength to strength.
Guitar Jar catches up with Director Simon Law, to quiz him on the SVL product range and his involvement within the guitar-based industry.
…I find the best sounding necks are the ones that hardly need any tension on the truss rod, it really lets the strings ring out loud…
- Hi Simon, before we get into the details of the SVL Guitars product range, can you let Guitar Jar readers know if you play the guitar and if so, who or what inspired you to start learning the instrument?
Yes I sure do, I started playing when I was about ten years old, so a long time ago… my older brothers would always have Jimi Hendrix and Cream playing and it just went from there. The first tune I ever learned was Hey Joe, in my own way first and then later I really got ‘into’ Hendrix and worked out the correct fingerings and tone’s etc.
- Can you tell our readers about the origins of SVL Guitars? What inspired you to start the business initially?
I actually started building the odd guitar when I was still in my teens, I called them SVL guitars back then, it’s just my initials and then way later I started experimenting with different woods and pickups. In 1990 I started working in a local music shop; Kempster and Son’s in Swindon. I’d work on guitars of all sorts; we had a few local players with some really fabulous vintage guitars, old 60’s Strat’s and Tele’s, one guy had a beautiful 63 Strat in Fiesta Red. The way these guitars felt, played and sounded was totally different to anything new at the time, this was my inspiration to start building the guitars I do today.
- Your guitars look stunning. Can you explain the key aspects you keep in mind when creating guitars based from the classic era of the late 50’s / early 60’s?
Well body weight is a major thing; I like one piece bodies if possible and not too crazy light. I like them to resonate well, I tap test each body after they have had final sanding as I like to hear a nice woody ‘knock’ to them. I also tap test the necks and try to match them to a body so the note of the neck and body compliments one another. The neck for me on ‘S & T’ type guitars is highly important and I find the best sounding necks are the ones that hardly need any tension on the truss rod, it really lets the strings ring out loud.
- Do you have a preference of pickup used in SVL guitars, or is the choice strictly down to the customer?
I’ve just finished developing my own design of pickup with Jerry Amalfitano from Texas, a really clear sounding pickup, not high output, it sounds super clear with a lovely sweet rounded high. I love them and I’m really pleased with them.
- To what extent do you believe the type of finish influences the overall guitar tone?
Well most modern manufacturers use polyester finishes which is basically wrapping the guitar tightly in plastic! the guitar has to breath and resonate freely, the best sounding guitars have hardly any finish left on them. I just love the sound of Nitro Cellulose, it’s tricky to work with and you can get terrible problems when it’s hot or cold, but it’s worth it.
- How did your association with Matt Schofield begin?
I’ve known Matt Schofield since he was 12 or 13; he would come into the shop where I worked to buy his big fat strings! He would ask for like 12 to 56’s and I say ‘are you sure you want those size strings sonny’?? ha! He was ‘WAY’ good back then, he later moved to London and we would bump into each other at the odd gig, then he moved back down near me.Matt always dropped recordings into me to listen to, and I’d say ‘yeah not bad’ when I was really thinking holy **** this guy is the real deal. I helped him out on a few gigs in 2005 and then we started working together properly in 2006. I’ve toured all over the world with him and I’ve seen him grow both as a player and as a singer and songwriter; I really think he’s one of the finest players on the planet.
- Are there many more “household” names using SVL guitars?
I’ve built for a fair number of session guys from all over the world, most of these players are fairly unknown. I’m just about to start building a guitar for Mike Landau – actually he wants two guitars but he’s only gonna get one at a time. I’ve spent a few years trying to convince Robben Ford to use one of my guitars, the ‘Supernatural’. He actually loves that guitar but he has his 1960 Tele which is pretty hard to beat!!
- On your website, you state that SVL don’t relic their guitars, “as you don’t really believe in it”. Interesting stuff! Can you shed any light on your thoughts?
Well… it’s actually way harder to make a lovely looking ‘new’ guitar and I really like a challenge! Also I’ve never seen one relic guitar that looks like the real thing, I just don’t see the point in taking all that time to make it look like a ‘fake’ old guitar.I’d rather spend all my time making the guitar feel, play and sound as close to the old one’s as possible, even down to the gentle rounding on the edge of a rosewood fingerboard so it feels like a well loved 40 year old guitar. I recently saw Matt Schofield’s SVL 61 which was new last year and it looks like it’s been on the road for 20 years already – it’s all natural wear.
- You’ve recently been touring with The Renegade Creation Band, featuring Robben Ford & Michael Landau. What was your involvement with the tour? Is it true that what happens on tour, stays on tour?!
Yeah I was on the road with them in the U.S on their East Coast tour. I was backline and guitar tech for Robben Ford, Mike Landau and Jimmy Haslip. It was just the best time, I may write a book in years to come, I’ll have to change everyone’s name’s but they’ll know who they are. They are an amazing live band, different every night. I’d worked with Robben before but it was my first time with Mike Landau. He’s staggering, just oozes tone, and sometimes I wasn’t sure where the sounds were coming from. It reminded me of the first time I saw Jeff Beck and yeah, what goes on tour stays on tour… sorry…
- Aside from your involvement with The Renegade Creation Band, are you involved in any additional aspect of the guitar playing industry? You seem like a busy guy!
Until fairly recently I was writing in the Q&A section of Guitarist magazine which was great, however I didn’t think journalism was for me. I’ve done a lot of tech work for the band Delirious and also many many other great players. I’ve also done a few tours where I was the player and I had a tech myself! I’ve been a sound engineer and even produced a few albums for people; I can really get to use my ears in the studio and I hope to work with Matt on his next album.
- It’s been economically tough over the past couple of years. How do you remain motivated?
Well I was bought a coffee machine as a house warming present a few years ago by rather a famous man who shall remain nameless. Every time I feel low and lazy I make some coffee, think of him and it boots me up the backside to get on with something… true story.
- Your house is burning down. What’s the one guitar item you would save?
Ah well it would have to be my 1962 Gibson ES335, greatest sounding 335 I’ve ever heard. I’d save it because it’s my 1962 Gibson ES335 and it’s the best one I’ve ever heard.
- If you could form a super group using famous musicians past or present, who would you have on drums and why?
It would have to be Mitch Mitchell, I could then get Matt Schofield on Bass guitar and we could go and play Hey Joe properly… Matt’s a great bass player as well.
- Lager or Cider?
I’m a country boy so cider in the summer and Guinness in the winter.
- What’s the plan for SVL Guitars for the next 12 months?
Wow, well just more of the same, I’m working with Matt on his album, building some guitars, I hope to get out and some gigging myself, however I just get too busy with other peoples gigs…
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