Top Luthier Secrets Revealed


Words and pictures
by Simon Higgs

I often get asked what it was like working with Roger Giffin. Just to clarify, I didn’t work in custom shop, but I worked next door where I maintained the guitar collection in the Artist Relations showroom. As a result, I was able to find an excuse to pop my head into the custom shop just about every day and learn something new – mostly by just watching what was going on.

I’m not and don’t profess to be a luthier like Roger, but I do know quite a bit about guitars. Thanks to what I’ve learnt from top luthiers like Roger and others like Mike Lipe and Jonathan Wilson (and Hugh and Andy Manson who let me bug them when their shop was near me), I’ve designed several guitars for my own use which have been outsourced to the professionals to get them made properly. As Roger kept reminding me, I don’t know enough to be a really good luthier, but what I do know makes me really, really dangerous!

So with all this dangerous knowledge in hand, I can, for the very first time, reveal some of the trade secrets of one of the world’s top luthiers – I give you “Mr Griffiths”…

Actually, Mr Griffiths is one of Roger’s pet peeves. It’s what a lot of people think his last name is, probably because he’s English. Consequently, he gets called it a lot. He hates it.

As you can see from the photos, Roger’s technique involves very fine and delicate precision as he carves out the cavity for the bridge pick-up.

Roger is a very safe builder. He always wears eye protection (he calls then “eyelids”) and knows exactly which tool to use for every job. It’s a hammer.

Being a professional wood worker, Roger frequently assembles odd-shaped pieces of wood together using said hammer. As you can see from the pictures, Roger has a technique of storing spare nails in his hand for later use.

If you’ve always wondered how guitar builders prepare their finishes, note the similarity in the colour of the deep red sunburst on the guitar and the colour of the blood seeping through the bandage on Roger’s left hand. Now you know.

Roger has been known on rare occasions to use a another precision tool – a baseball bat – to swat away annoying pests (such as an over-tightly strung musician) from his workshop.

You’ll find that Roger, like many other luthiers-to-the-stars, performs very craftsman-like work.

In the the picture on the left, Roger is holding a bit of wood that “fell off”. He’s trying to figure out where it goes back.

And yes, that is Jimmy Page’s new Les Paul that he’s working on.

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