(12-01-2003) He's the Stradivarius of the Rock 'n' Roll World -- Reuters * - U2 Feedback

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Old 12-02-2003, 12:36 AM   #1
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(12-01-2003) He's the Stradivarius of the Rock 'n' Roll World -- Reuters *

He's the Stradivarius of the Rock 'n' Roll World

Northern Ireland's George Lowden crafts acoustic guitars for the likes of Dylan, Clapton, the Edge and others.

By Kevin Smith, Reuters

DOWNPATRICK, Northern Ireland When Belfast's George Lowden built a rudimentary guitar at age 10, little did he know that one day some of the world's biggest rock stars would line up to pay top dollar for his work.

"It had nails for frets and fishing line for strings, and I pranced around the garden pretending I was one of the Beatles," said Lowden, now a graying 52-year-old father of five, as he whittled a sliver of rare tropical wood in his workshop.

At his home, deep in the countryside of Northern Ireland, he produces the Rolls-Royce of acoustic guitars for a customer list that reads like a Who's Who of rock music: Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, U2's The Edge, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits and Northern Ireland's own Van Morrison, among others.

The guitars are cherished by fans for their "fast response," good looks and pure, "open" sound.

They have even spawned their own Web site, the Cult of Lowden, where fans pick over the finer points of the instruments in near-obsessive detail.

Lowden cheerfully admits that when he first started making his own guitars in the early 1970s, he "hadn't a clue" about what he was doing.

"I got hold of a 'how to' book, some wood and just got started," he recalled.

There followed a painstaking process of trial and error.

"I had to learn everything the hard way, but when you learn that way, it sticks," Lowden said.

"Every guitar I made, I changed the design for the next one--new body shapes, new bracing designs inside, changing the thickness of the wood and so on."

Working from a room in his apartment, Lowden financed his endeavors by selling his early efforts to friends and local musicians, before arriving at a design that became the template for a series of instruments still in production.

In 1976, he got his first real break when a friend walked into a folk music shop in Paris carrying a Lowden guitar.

"They tested it against their own stock and immediately ordered six up-front and four a month thereafter," Lowden recalled. "I was in business."

He hired and trained a handful of apprentices and increased his output, working for several years from a tiny studio on Northern Ireland's eastern coast.

Eventually, he set up a factory in Northern Ireland, producing fewer than 1,000 guitars a year but competing at the high end of the market with sector leaders such as U.S. giants Martin, Taylor and Guild.

Lowden still relishes the challenge he set himself as a child and takes about 10 orders a year from aficionados who want an instrument hand-crafted by the man himself.

These guitars are highly prized, compared by some to violins made by Stradivarius, and that's reflected in the waiting time--currently 2 1/2 years--and the price.

A top-of-the-range guitar made to order by Lowden costs $17,000--up to five times the price of a factory-built Lowden and a far cry from the $85 he got for his prototypes.

Lowden does not play the guitar himself, saying their design and construction takes all his time and effort.

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Old 12-02-2003, 08:29 AM   #2
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