Youghal musician, Paul McCarthy enjoyed the fruits of his labour when his hand made acoustic guitar was put on display at Cork’s renowned music store, Crowley’s as part of the Irish Handmade Instruments Exhibition 2012 running from 10th August to 11th September. Paul’s guitar was the result of a FETAC Level 5 course in instrument making taken at St. John’s College, Cork. - Story: Michael Twomey
Speaking at the exhibition, which saw the talents of Declan Sinnott and Mick Flannery entertain the invited guests, Sheena Crowley remarked that ‘music is our heritage and it is in the very fibre of our being’. She could have applied that statement to Paul’s own journey from musician to instrument maker for there is no doubt that both the instrument and the sound it makes are indelibly marked in the fibre of Paul’s being.
“I had never thought about it before but it is in the family. My Grandfather, Danny ‘Duis’ McCarthy (Youghal Pipe Band) used to repair pipes working a lathe off a sewing machine and making drone pipes from Elder wood. They couldn’t afford to just go out and buy new pipes so they fixed the ones they had,” he explained. Tradition aside, it seems Paul and the instrument making course were made for each other.
He is qualified in French Polishing and has experience in furniture restoration as well as furniture building. Coupled to his love of music and keen understanding of guitar mechanics, this was a match made in Heaven. “I think you have to put your heart and soul into it and have a passion for music. It was great to be able to play it. No instrument maker knows what the instrument is going to sound like,” Paul observed with honesty. “Not until you put on the strings. Some instrument makers don’t play but when I strummed it for the first time at home, away from everything, and got the feel for it, it was beautiful,” he added.
It took more than passion to build his own guitar however and Paul identified the aspects of craft that result in a gratifying outcome. “Attention to detail is crucial because if a certain thing is out it affects everything else. You have to be careful and you have to be very patient.” The guitar is built from several types of wood – Rosewood for the back, sides, fret board and bridge. Mahogany for the neck, Walnut veneer for the headstock, Quilted Maple for the logo and Rosette, with binding also made of Maple. The logo is designed from Paul’s initials and the rosette design caused him to ‘hum and haw’ over the finished look.
Being familiar with guitars, wood and tools was an advantage to him when faced with the task but it was still unknown territory for the guitarist having taken up the challenge to go back to education. “I was unsure about how long the guitar would take to make and we had two days a week in the workshop. When I started, the biggest challenge was trying to judge the time, You have to have a plan – how long will it take to dry, to set, to cut, what happens if you have to start again? But, I really started to enjoy it once I got my hands on the wood and it was completed by Easter.”
Drawing, designing and building a guitar from scratch wasn’t the only demand of the course with modules in Communications, Art Appreciation, Drawing, Design, Materials and Finishes, Veneering and Marquetry, Web Authoring, Musical Instrument Woodcraft and Work Experience also to be completed. Paul took to the challenge with relish by finishing top of his class with an extraordinary 9 Distinctions. Paul will now move on to Level 6 and hopefully more success.
But, how does one measure success? Certainly the academic achievement can be read on paper. Putting a price on your first hand crafted guitar probably devalues it. When asked, ‘how much?’ Paul struggled to reply. Hand and custom-made instruments are sold for thousands. Meanwhile, back at Crowley’s music store, owner, Sheena Crowley called for the skills that Paul and his Grandfather before him displayed to be supported. “I think it is necessary to support Irish instrument making. Our government should facilitate and supplement these makers,” she stated. In an age of mass production, factory robotics and online shopping what price the joy of music played by the hands that crafted the instrument?
Watch the video slideshow of the making of Paul’s acoustic guitar…
To contact Paul for any guitar repairs or service:
Call Paul at: 086 1512146
POLMAC GUITARS – Youghal Co. Cork Ireland