Hand it to Rob - the ultimate guitar man; BACKBEAT: BECAUSE THEY DON'T MAKE MUSIC LIKE THEY USED TO!
IN the suburbs of Coventry the ancient skill of the luthier is being maintained. High-quality stringed instruments are being created by hand by folk musician Rob Armstrong who has put his name to prized custom-built guitars. PETE CHAMBERS investigates.
BACK in 1963 Rob Armstrong began a solo career before forming a duo under the name Rob and Des playing the local folk clubs.
By 1967 Rob had become a member of the hardworking folk/jug group The Idiot Grunt Band, which toured Germany and included Rod Felton, Geoff Smedley and John McIntosh.
They also played together sometimes as Gentle Ideas.
"We ended up supporting the likes of Pink Floyd, Savoy Brown and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers", enthuses Rob. "We were predominantly a live act created to entertain and make people happy, we were never known to over- rehearse."
A year later they re-invented themselves and became the New Modern Idiot Grunt Band. By 1972 they went their separate ways and Rob had joined a new unit called Music Box. They released an album called Songs of Sunshine (now very collectable). The band included all-round muso Colin Armstrong who now runs Armstrongs Books & Collectables, in Albany Road.
Rob began making fine stringed instruments in 1971. He never advertised, his instruments sold by reputation alone.
A randomly selected website reads: "Rob Armstrong is considered by many guitarists to be the finest maker of steel-string instruments on the planet."
That reputation has seen him make instruments for the likes of George Harrison, Alvin Lee, Joe Brown, Bert Jansch, Mark 'Bedders' Bedford (of Madness), Martin Barre (of Jethro Tull) and local musicians Dave Swarbrick and Kevin Dempsey.
Probably the greatest advertisement for Rob's work is Gordon Giltrap, the acoustic guitar virtuoso. To say his technique is astounding and original is like saying the Beatles were a good pop group. He, like many others, is proud to own such instruments.
Each instrument takes Rob two to three weeks to make, using wood that is at least 25 years old. He uses no power tools, preferring to make each one totally by hand, so no two are alike.
He reckons to have made well over 700 instruments to date.
"Since I made my first guitar in 1971, I have continued with the same philosophy of making one instrument at a time using basic hand tools. This has given me the freedom to create many variations of stringed instruments. Some simple and functional, others more ornate and complicated.
"The result is that few instruments are repeated and none duplicated. The possibility of some new insight or understanding of my craft remains my main motivation."
In 1989 The Master Craftsmen album was released and featured a host of famous names using Armstrong instruments (including Martin Allcock, Gordon Giltrap, Martin Jenkins, Dave Pegg and Bert Jansch).
Apart from making classic guitars Rob still finds time to write and records a song a week in collaboration with Bubs White who also produces the projects.
"We have just finished the 28th album and are a third of the way through the 29th," says Rob.
"The music takes you over and one way or another you just have to go with it."
ROB ARMSTRONG TRIVIA
ONE local person for whom Rob made a guitar was the late Julie Wells, an admired teacher of the instrument. The Stoke-based teacher's house was once burgled and the thieves took a collection of shiny new cheap guitars. However, they left the older-looking Armstrong and an ultra-rare Jose Romanillos guitar (worth now about pounds 10,000).
THE Music Box LP Songs of Sunshine is now worth pounds 110 in mint condition.
THERE is now a Rob Armstrong guitar owner's registry that lists all those who have ever owned such an instrument.
HARDWORKING: Rob (far right) and other members of the Idiot Grunt Band in the late 1960s; SATISFIED CUSTOMERS: George Harrison (above) and Gordon Giltrap (below) have both owned Rob Armstrong guitars; STRING SECTION: Some of the handcrafted guitars created by Rob (below)FAMED: An Armstrong headstock
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|Publication:||Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)|
|Date:||Aug 9, 2005|
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