I first heard of Brook Guitars quite recently, when I was so taken with the outstandingly beautiful resonance of the guitar someone was playing at the Queen of Cups open mic in Glastonbury that I went up to the owner of the guitar afterwards to ask him about the instrument that, I noticed, had ‘Brook’ on its headstock. He told me how he’d had much the same reaction as me when he first heard a Brook guitar and set his sights on acquiring one himself. He went on to describe the extremely rural location of the Brook Guitars workshop in the heart of Devon and the affable – not to mention extremely talented – men who painstakingly and lovingly build each unique instrument right there. I was intrigued, and when I got home I looked up Brook Guitars, and the more I read, the more I dreamed of one day having my very own Brook. What’s more, that deepest-Devon workshop was only an hour and a half from me, so what was to stop me from taking a trip down there sometime to meet the men who make these fabulous instruments and maybe get to play one or two myself while I was there?
If you look on the Brook Guitars website, you’ll see that each model is named after a river in the West Country – Taw, Tavy, Lyn, etc, etc. There are, it turns out, quite a few rivers in the West Country, which is fortunate because there are quite a few Brook guitar models. There’s also, not surprisingly, given the small size of operations and the fact that everything is handmade, a bit of a waiting list for these custom-made beauties. So I also had a look online to see if any used Brooks ever come up for sale. Sure enough, there were one or two, and – again, not surprisingly – it was clear that they hold their value and are very sought after.
One in particular, listed on Reverb, caught my eye – a travel-sized Brook Little Silver, named after a tributary of the river Mole in North Devon. I’ve long been after a small guitar that sounds like a big one, and up to now have been quite disappointed with the travel guitars I’ve acquired and then quite quickly sold on – not only because they sounded too thin, but also because there was a limit to what I could play with just 12 frets up to the neck. When I realised that the Little Silver is a 14-fret model, I decided I absolutely had to at least have a play of the miniature beauty to see if it might be the very instrument I’d been looking for. The seller was Coda Music in Stevenage, Hertfordshire – one of a very select number of dealers who stock Brook guitars. I called the shop, had a chat with them about the Little Silver, and decided that I’d drive there to try it out.
And then Covid struck. My plan was scuppered for at least the next ten days, and I kept looking on Reverb to check that the guitar was still there, worried that someone else would snap it up before I ever got a chance to try it. I finally made another call to Coda Music, and they very kindly agreed to hold the Little Silver until I could get there the following week.
Well, the rest goes without saying, really – for who has ever tried out a guitar, discovered that it has the most wonderful tone, is in fact everything they’d ever wanted, and then walked away from it? Not me, let’s just say… (Incidentally, I’d also recommend Coda Music as worth a visit – a fabulous range of guitars of all types, and very friendly and knowledgeable service.)
Next stop, a visit to the Brook Guitars workshop in deepest Devon to get a pickup and strap button fitted. Given its small sound hole and pristine neck, I wouldn’t have trusted anyone other than the makers of the guitar to carry out that kind of delicate work on it!
The man I’d spoken to on the phone was waiting for me outside the workshop when I finally rolled into view, and, after breathing a hefty sigh of relief, I parked up, was greeted by him (he introduced himself as Simon), and we went into the rambling old pink cottage where Brook guitars are created. The aroma of sawdust filled my nostrils as we stepped into the first room, and I was instantly transported back to the woodshop in Virginia where I’d happily worked during my very first stay in the USA years ago, when I was a volunteer at a therapeutic community in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Ah, the memories!
The other half of the Brook partnership, Andy, took my guitar from me, laid it on the work bench and set about the business of fitting it with an under-saddle pickup (the only type that would work due to the size of the sound hole). Meanwhile, Simon took me on a fascinating tour of the workshop, where it became apparent that absolutely every step of the process of building a Brook guitar is done by hand, or at the very most with the help of basic but customised (by Andy) woodshop machinery such as routers, sanders and planers. It also became clear that each Brook guitar is completely unique, as they use such a wonderful variety of different woods, mostly British tonewoods. So there is no other Little Silver exactly like mine, whose sides and back are made of beautifully resonant walnut, with a Sitka spruce top. (To be honest, I’m not sure that there are many other Little Silver guitars full stop!)
So I have the travel guitar of my dreams, memories of an adventurous ride into deepest Devon and a fantastic trip around an amazing guitar workshop – as well as another exciting related project in the making: because the Little Silver is such an unusual size, it came with no case, so what else was there to do but have a leather gig bag made specially for the tiny beauty? I happened upon a leathermaker here in Glastonbury, the talented Effie at SoulHuntress. Together, we’ve come up with a design for the bag, and as I write it's being created. More photos will follow!