Interview with Michael Watts of The North American Guitar
Michael Watts is the manager of The North American Guitar, a company that deals in the finest luthier built guitars available. He is also an award-winning player and has appeared with some of the biggest names in the acoustic scene today.
Hi Michael and welcome to Live4guitar. Can you tell us about your musical background for our readers that don't know you?
I’m a fingerstyle acoustic guitarist and lover of wonderful, hand-built instruments. I have played most styles of music as a session player in the past but my passion lies with the steel-string acoustic guitar.
We've had a chance to meet you at the Abbey Road Studios in London at an event run by The North American Guitar. Can you tell us what's the whole concept behind it?
Certainly, the company was founded by Robert Montague and we provide a unique service acting as a conduit between the prospective customer and the luthier who will build their instrument. We are on hand to advise about all aspects of the build throughout that process and keep the customer regularly updated with posts on our private forum. Watching your own custom guitar being built is a truly wonderful experience.
We represent a small number of some of the world’s finest guitar builders including Michael Greenfield (Montreal) Brent McElroy (Seattle), Michael Lewis of Fine Resophonics (Paris), Wirebird Guitars (London), Jason Kostal (Phoenix) and others to come, and promote their work around the world.
The event at Abbey Road Studios was an opportunity for us to bring together like-minded lovers of the guitar in an iconic setting. Let’s face it, what player hasn’t dreamed of walking through the doors of studio 2 at Abbey Road? We organize regular events all of which have our passion for the guitar at their heart.
The North American Guitar event - legendary Abbey Road Studio 2
So how does the bespoke process work with guitars?
Well, the guitar of the 20th century (and our company takes its name from the fact that the instruments we sell had their births in North America rather than Spain. Arch-tops, electrics, steel-string acoustics, resonators are all North American Guitars) were mass-produced commodities in contrast to the classical tradition of the hand-built instrument.
The past few years have seen a turn away from the cookie-cutter, production line instrument as players become more discerning and experienced. In real terms this means that more and more people are looking for a custom instrument but there are so many choices as far as builders and materials go that it can become a confusing process and that’s why we’re here to advise through one-on-one consultations to help each customer own a one-of-a-kind inspirational instrument. We then share the entire process with the customer from initial wood selection through to the final delivery of the guitar.
What are the benefits of a luthier-built instrument as opposed to a big-name company guitar?
Well, the simple fact is that a custom guitar is yours, it’s unique and beautiful. Also luthiers often have access to far better woods than the large guitar companies and the amount of “human touch” and attention to detail is far superior in a luthier-built guitar. Because of this luthier built guitars are often considerably more expensive, but in the same way that a meal at a Michelin star restaurant is more expensive than that at a fast food place. Essentially I firmly believe (and this is a belief based purely on personal experience) that the guitars coming out of the world’s luthier workshops are in many cases streets ahead of those being pumped out by the established “Big Names” (They know who they are…).
Why did you choose to play fingerstyle? Do you also use plectrum and electric guitar sometimes?
I play pretty much exclusively fingerstyle acoustic guitar it’s my voice as a musician and has been for decades now. That said,working with Sam Walker of Wirebird guitars has made me feel a pang for a great electric guitar. Having heard the tone that Guitar Techniques editor Neville Marten squeezed out of one at Abbey Road it’s hardly surprising!
You've also performed at the Montreal Guitar Show in 2010. According to some magazines your performance was the highlight of the event.
It’s always nice to have recognition for your playing, I don’t play live that often but I do enjoy it. At that particular show I also demonstrated a couple of amazing guitars by Seattle luthier Brent McElroy.I have in fact just returned from this year’s show where I played guitars by Brent and Jason Kostal amongst others. It’s true that a really great instrument is a very inspirational thing. It’s difficult not to improve as a player when you just can’t put your guitar down!
What would be your advice to the new guitar generation about making it in music industry?
Get the best guitar you can afford (equal emphasis on each word in that sentence) it will inspire you all your life. Oh, and really LISTEN to what you play.
Have you had a chance to look at our website and the guitar lesson marketplace? What do you think about our new concept with no monthly subscription and the chance for every talented instructor to earn money?
I think it’s a great idea.
Will we see you contributing with some of your licks or lessons on our website?
Well, work keeps me very busy but if I get the chance I’d be happy to.
Thank you very much for talking to us. The Live4guitar team wish you all success.
Thank you and the same to you!
More pictures from the Abbey Road event