Recently we have been talking to Marten Ten Broek about his home built guitars and string instruments. For Part One of the interview click here.
RSG: You’ve built a Weissenborn style lapslide guitar – at what point do you think tradition can be a help or a hindrance?
I believe in the craft of ancients, but I dont believe in slavishness either. I know of a fellow who doubtless, turns out the most faithful of replicas of a particular maker of lap slide guitars. They are beautiful, truly. But do I think that maker of old had all the answers? I dont. His oeuvre stops at mark-IV but the truth is he only stopped there because he passed away.
It’s important to acknowledge the past and discover what worked for the traditional, historic guitar builders with the tools and materials they had, and then, move forward. Each of us has the potential to do great and marvellous things if we give ourselves the freedom to let go of the rules and try out new ideas to see what might happen. Have a lash at it. Make a few mistakes – enjoy a couple of explosions. If you do that within the comfort zones of your budget, and as you get better, get the tools you need to make advances in your work. Also find people who share your interest. Discuss.
But dont be the person who has all the theories and rules down pat, but didn’t have a go. Because…that guy is the man who will tell everyone you that don’t make real instruments but, no matter how or why you build an instrument they immediately become real the moment you sit down and play them.
RSG:What are you working on at the moment, what are you considering building in the future and why is the ukulele so special?
My current works in progress include a cello and a violin. I am extremely interested in sympathetic strings, tied construction, furthering lap slide guitars by use of double bridges and split scales, antler spider bridges and lathed wooden resonator cones, bowl backs, theorbos, viola de gamba, viola de amore, a building a keyboard instrument with bells or wooden chimes instead of strings, spearing more fish, and mastering my second album.
The ukulele was an attempt to make a quickly repeatable instrument that might be more affordable for commission. The string configuration and tuning is based on Tahitian ukulele, though the sound hole is on the front instead of the back, and it has much thicker strings – for more volume. This becomes appreciable when in the tuamotus, where living in the atolls, one is often drowned out by the sound of wind and choppy water.
This is truly a special instrument. every kid in polynesia can make this sing, fingers a blur. You could paddle with it at a pinch if the outboard motor dies, club your way out of trouble if it got nasty at a party, and make 100 friends who really, and truly, love you. I am in discussions with another luthier to make a pattern to produce in gaza as a humanitarian project to bring instruments to kids – I really think it could fly. I made this in only 20 hours.
Marten M-XIII box dread nought guitar.
-mahogany top, back, sides, neck.
-vitex cofassus (molave) fingerboard
-bone nut, bone and mahogany bridge (floating) bone sourced in paddock next to shack.
-stainless steel tailpiece.
-totara bracing. originally fitted with soundpost. removed due to more sound coming out of back than front!
-no truss rod, but very thick neck. will not reduce this.
-linseed oil finish.
Lap slide guitar. loosely patterned off Weissenborn type 1.
-mahogany top, back, headstock.
-oak sides. note that sidewall of top and back also form sides, but oak makes up the depth.
-bone nut, bone and mahogany floating bridge on vitex cofassus diffuser. floating to further experiment. wants more bass.
-stainless steel tailpiece.
-routed bracing. (skillsaw and chisel routed, anyway)
-mother of pearl fret dots and detailing. incidentally, i dived for my own pearl oysters in the Tuamotu archipelago, in French polynesia.
-linseed oil finish.
Dirt floor special 3 string slide guitar. a nod to cigar box luthiery.
-antique indian sandalwood carved box with m.o.p. detailing.
-tremolo neck -built to flex when shaken, to achieve tremolo with open string placement.
-bone nut, bone and mahogany bridge. recycled ukulele friction tuners.
Te uku lele : “the voyager”
-mahogany back and neck-chest of drawers, head stock mahogany from a bowl.
-kauri top – 100 y.o. bit of wall from raglan pub after remodelling.
-vitex cofassus layer beneath fingerboard
-rewarewa fingerboard- nz honey suckle, truly a beautiful wood. this was floorboard.
-lignum vitae fret dots – from a lawn bowl, in the days before plastic. extremely hard, oily wood, 11,500 pounds per square inch to crush, tricky to glue.
-lignum vitae floating bridge.
-fencing staple tail piece.
-burn detailing on back and side.
-black pearl I dived for.
Here are Marten’s cello experiment and the beginnings of his violin.