This is a guitar I built recently in memory of my Grandparents, Jack & Mary Palmer, who both sadly passed away in the last year. They were my Mother’s parents and came from a small village called Ballyouskill in the beautiful rural landscape of north Kilkenny. There they lived long and contented lives, running a dairy farm and raising fifteen children (yes, fifteen). They were such a large part of all our lives and the life of the local community and we all miss them both very much.
This guitar then is my small tribute to them. It was a pleasure to build, not only for the basic ‘hands on wood’ joy of making a guitar, but also because the many quiet hours of studied concentration that it took to make this guitar in particular allowed me time to reflect on the abundant happy memories I have of time spent with my Grandparents. Time spent on their farm, in their home, in Grandad’s workshop, in Granny’s kitchen, at huge family gatherings, memories of Grandad’s stories and conversations with Granny, and of all the ways unbeknownst to them in which they enriched and influenced my life.
It was also a pleasure, on completion of the guitar, to present it to my younger brother John for his birthday on the eve of my sister Julie’s wedding day this year.
The guitar has a few noteworthy features. The wood used for the back and sides is Irish grown Walnut. This wood came from a Walnut tree that fell into a lake in Mullingar, Co. Westmeath. I acquired a portion of it from William Bunbury at the Lisnavagh Estate in Co. Carlow.
The bridge, headstock facings and heel cap are made from Ash taken from an Ash tree that grew on my Grandparent’s farm in Kilkenny. Grandad used this Ash to make hurley sticks and I was given a small piece of it by an uncle a few days after Grandad’s funeral. It connects the guitar directly to my Grandparents and their home.
The headstock inlay is of two swallows ascending from the pastures to the heavens on a brightly coloured rainbow. The swallows represent my Grandparents, Jack & Mary, who every spring looked forward the return of the swallows to the farm. The inlay is of black, white and gold mother of pearl, maple, elm, walnut and rosewood, and coloured sycamore veneers.
The fretboard inlay adjacent to the sound hole is a plan view at 1:1500 scale of the buildings on my Grandparent’s farm in Ballyouskill. It is of green Imperial Jade and is oriented N/S from the point of view of the player.
The end pin inlay is a slice of a Holly branch which I took from the Holly tree that my parents planted in our garden in Dublin upon the birth of my brother John. Holly has as a result become John’s tree and it is for this reason that I used Holly for the bindings on the body, neck and headstock. I also used blue New Zealand paua pearl extensively in the purflings and dot markers as a nod to John’s extensive grand tour of the southern hemisphere which he undertook over the past year.
Overall specs are:
Back and Sides – Irish Walnut
Soundboard – Bearclaw Spruce
Neck – 5-piece laminated Brazilian Cedrella / Maple / Rosewood
Fingerboard – Ebony with Holly bindings and blue New Zealand Paua Pearl dot markers
Bindings – Holly
Purflings – Rosewood / blue New Zealand Paua Pearl
Rosette – Rosewood / Sycamore / blue New Zealand Paua Pearl
Bridge – Unique Kevin O’Brien Guitars signature hand carved bridge in Irish Ash
Bridge Pins – Bone with blue New Zealand Paua Pearl dots
Nut / Saddle – Bone (46mm Nut)
End Pin Inlay - A slice of John’s Irish Holly
Headstock Inlay - “Ascending Swallows” in various pearls, timbers and coloured veneers
Fretboard Inlay - Imperial Jade
Bracing – Sitka Spruce
Machine heads – Schertler open back
Finish – Hand rubbed satin lacquer
Great trailer for Ballymun Lullaby. In Irish cinemas, go see!
Trailer for a short movie entitled “Yggdrasil” by the Wood Collective | Meitheal Adhmaid (www.woodcollective.ie), documenting their recent installation at this year’s Electric Picnic Festival in Stradbally, Co. Laois. It features music composed by my brother in cynicism Paul Shorten and collaborator Conor Gillen. The guitar element of the music in the trailer is played on a Kevin O’Brien Guitars Cedar and Walnut jumbo acoustic. Check out the full movie here.
Researchers at Cardiff University reporting at the Acoustical Society of America meeting have presented striking images of stringed instruments made using “holographic interferometry”, which allows them to visualise precisely how and where the soundboards of instruments vibrate.
Check out these inspired visuals to accompany a nugget of nu disco perfection from Shit Robot, called “Take ‘Em Up”. This track makes me feel like eating skittles on a trampoline. Video was produced and directed by my insanely talented cousin Eoghan Kidney. Check out more of his work at vimeo.com/kidney
A Recently Completed Classical Guitar
My first foray into the lofty world of classical guitar building has borne this neat little guitar in East Indian Rosewood and Western Red Cedar. The neck is in Spanish Cedar (Cedrela) and features bookmatched Rosewood headstock facings. The fingerboard is in Ebony and is bound in Rosewood with a Sycamore coach line. The body is bound in Mahogany, also with a Sycamore coach line and features Sycamore and Mahogany purflings. The soundboard bracing is in Sitka Spruce and braces are arranged in the manner of J.S. Bogdanovich. The bridge is hand carved from ebony with Rosewood, Mahogany and Bone decoration. Machine heads are satin gold Gotohs with pearloid buttons. This guitar is finished in a beautiful and tactile hand rubbed lacquer.
Shortly after I completed the initial set-up of this instrument I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to hear it played by renowned Irish musician Pat Finney. To say I was happy with how it sounded would be an understatement. In Pat’s virtuoso hands the guitar sounded deep and resonant with a very pleasing clarity and sustain of the high treble notes.
It being my first classical build, and classical guitar making being as it is quite a traditional and particular subset of lutherie, perhaps I “lucked-out” with the end result. Luck no doubt played a part, as it does in most things, but mostly I put it down to the ever patient and insightful guidance of my tutor at the Lagan Lutherie School, Sam Irwin. Thanks Sam!
This guitar will be available for sale shortly (for a VERY reasonable price) after I have made some minor adjustments to the setup. If you are interested please get in touch - kevin[at]kevinobrien[dot]ie
Scored some Irish Walnut
I paid a visit to The Lisnavagh Timber Project in Co. Carlow recently in search of interesting Irish grown woods. They happened to have a selection of rare and beautiful Irish grown European Walnut from a tree that grew (and subsequently fell into a lake) in Mullingar. I wasted no time in grabbing a few choice pieces for my timber hoard which have been since been re-sawn into 10 sets of backs and sides with a few nice lumps left over for a couple of electric guitar bodies.
I’ve already started a couple of special guitars with this wood about which I will post some updates soon.
Maple and Spruce 12-String For Sale
This stunning 12-string guitar is now available for sale. It has been lovingly crafted by me in the workshops of the Lagan Lutherie School in Belfast over a period of six months. This beautiful guitar incorporates several unique features including carbon fibre reinforced and lightened spruce bracing, compact ‘Rickenbacker’-esque tuner arrangement, signature hand carved ebony bridge and a spectacular high gloss vintage sunburst finish.
Back and Sides – Fiddleback Maple
Soundboard – Sitka Spruce
Neck – 5-piece laminated Mahogany / Maple / Rosewood
Fingerboard – Ebony with white MOP dot markers
Bindings – Boxwood
Purflings – Sycamore / Rosewood
Rosette – Sycamore / Rosewood
Bridge – Unique Kevin O’Brien Guitars signature hand carved Ebony bridge
Bridge Pins – Ebony with white MOP dots
Nut / Saddle – Bone (48mm Nut)
Bracing System – Spruce, Carbon Fibre reinforced and lightened
Machine heads – Grover Vintage Sta-Tite (97 Series) 14:1 ratio arranged in a ‘Rickenbacker’-style pattern
Finish – Vintage Sunburst
This guitar sounds beautiful. The maple back and sides together with the carbon fibre reinforced bracing combine to produce bright shimmering trebles which compliment perfectly the strong and resonant mid and bass notes. It is a balanced sound with ample volume and endless sustain.
You are welcome to try this guitar for yourself, see the Contact page for details of how to get in touch.
Price is €1500 ono and includes a hardshell case.
Welcome to the Website/Blog of Kevin O’Brien Guitars!
While this page will principally be about the instruments that I make, and guitars in general, I have many other interests beyond the world of guitars, all of which influence my work and which I hope to occasionally touch upon in this blog.
But first! A large guitar maker and a small dog…