Name: SEAN CLARK GUITARS
Mission: TO MAKE INSTRUMENTS THAT FEEL AND SOUND GREAT AND ENJOY MAKING THEM
I’ve already written about Dave Bennett, one of the regulars at the Harbourside Market in Bristol, but this week it’s the turn of another market goer, Sean Clark.
When Sean finished his A-levels at Leeds College of Art and Design he had no interest in following his friends to university. “I was working in a pub in Bradford, trying to find a vocation that might combine my various interests. I’d been playing guitar for years and made a half arsed attempt at applying to music colleges, despite my complete lack of musical education.” In college he spent a lot of his time in the workshop, building things, welding, learning new skills and chatting to the technicians. “I’ve always loved making things and working with my hands. My creativity seems to thrive when being restricted or bound in some kind of repetitive process; I used to do dry stone walling, which is just a huge, heavy, fresh air, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle in my eyes.” So he combined his love of making stuff with playing guitar and signed up to the guitar making school in Totnes.
He spent a few months in Devon learning a huge amount. “The course was intensive and went into a lot of detail about each step of the process, as well as allowing us access to the facilities at weekends if we needed to catch up or correct a cock up we’d made. I love the problem solving and the engineering; there are a lot of tools and jigs that need to be made and it’s a great feeling when you make a tool that works perfectly. I can be totally creative and hopelessly practical at the same time! There are tons of variables in the process of making a guitar, and I love having to change certain details or construction processes, whilst still working within the constraints of making what looks like, sounds like, plays like and feels like a guitar.”
Sean went back north briefly and signed up for a two year classical guitar making course in Newark (not the New York borough, the market town near Nottingham). “I met some very nice people in Newark but didn’t enjoy living in the town. I felt I learned very little on the course so left after a year and moved to Bristol. I’ve been here since then.” He’s moved workshop three times but now feels pretty settled. “I’ve been here for four or five years, getting progressively better at my craft, learning from my mistakes (many mistakes), it’s the best way to learn though. My guitars sell as and when I get them made but it takes me a while to do so. I’ve always made my money from part time work of some sort, and still do, and will probably always have to supplement whatever income I manage to make from my guitar making. As long as I keep on enjoying it, I’ll keep at it.”
To help spur him on when he’s in the workshop, Sean likes to listen to a lot of podcasts and the radio. “I love hearing about people from all sorts of fields and backgrounds doing beautifully inventive things. In terms of lutherie I’m not sure I have direct inspirations, but it really spurs me on when I hear about people being passionate about the things they love. Like hearing Oliver Sacks talking about the periodic table for example, or Yann Martel sending his president 101 books in an effort to get him to read more fiction.”
There was one time where Sean’s creativity got him in trouble with his housemate “I got told off because a while ago she found the handle to the mop, severed at knee height. I’d used it to make a cigar box diddley bow! I’ve since bought a new mop…with a plastic handle!”
As is the case with so many creative people, Sean is extremely self critical. “One of the main things I’ve had to overcome is how hard I am on myself. It can be very detrimental to my work. I’m still working at being a bit kinder to myself. But I’m a middle class straight white male, I’ve had it very easy. I try to never take that for granted.” One of his proudest moments to date was making his first real sale through a shop in Bath “It felt pretty good, it had only been in there a couple of weeks.
I make small four stringed guitars out of cigar boxes which people often buy as gifts. It’s lovely to get an email from someone who has received one and I get to send them some music and information about the instrument.”
Sean hopes to make some different instruments this year, “like a waterphone, which is basically two woks forming a sphere with steel rods spiking out around the edges. You bow the rods and it makes a spooky shrill wailing sound like you hear in horror film soundtracks.” If you’d like to get your hands on a bespoke handmade instrument then head down to the harbourside where you can try out some of Sean’s creations. You can also see more examples of his work on the links below.