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» Interview with Richard Bartram

Interview with Richard Bartram

How long have you been involved in repairing and making instruments?

Since 1966, when I started making guitars for myself as a hobby. I eventually produced a guitar I liked enough to play at my club gigs on the London folk scene.

How did you get into doing it?

I'd made a decision to make myself a guitar. The motivation to get it done came from members of the band I played in at the time who bet me that I couldn't do it after my foolish throwaway remark, "This can't be too difficult a job." Thirty-nine years later I know that there is always something to learn about making guitars. Ho-hum!


How would you describe yourself? / How would you like to be thought of?

I think good humoured most of the time. A good listener, when my arthritis isn't playing up! And just recently, a very fine Grandad to Freddie! I like a few beers with old friends and a good rant, putting the world to rights and all that stuff. I especially enjoy the bizarre conversations I have with my old school friend Tom.

What do you like best about your work?

On the practical side, always doing that little bit better with each craft operation over the years. An immense satisfaction comes from feeling happy about achieving a goal. Of course, working for myself gives a certain amount of freedom. But if you're conscientious about what you do there is a weight of responsibility to all my lovely customers without whom I couldn't pay the gas bill!

What's frustrating about it?

I feel the obligation somehow to do some repair work that just isn't worth the trouble and certainly doesn't add to my financial well-being, or pay that gas bill! And of course there's never enough time to make guitars, repair instruments, improve my own guitar playing, do a bit of gardening, feed the cat and spend quality time with my dear wife!


What music do you like listening to?

I like jazz music. I particularly like jazz piano - Bill Evans is one of my favourite musicians. I'm very fond of a lot of English jazz musicians such as Django Bates, Iain Ballamy. One of my first loves in jazz guitar was Jim Hall. John Scofield. Pat Metheny. My real inspiration early on was the English guitarist Davy Graham. I still marvel at his first two albums - "The Guitar Player" (acoustic guitar and drums) and the groundbreaking "Folk Blues and Beyond" which I've played at least once a month since it came out in 1964. There are also many other fine players on the jazz and folk scene I like listening to - too numerous to mention.

What music do you like to play?

I'm a jazz-studying-nut! I turn tunes inside out, upside down, looking for new ways to play them, reharmonising them, whether for ensemble or solo playing. I still love to go up to folk clubs and have a burst of the occasional song!

Is there any particular incident or project which stands out in your mind?

Years ago when I was a guitar teacher in London schools I had a young student, Earla, who took a dislike to me, my guitar playing and my choice of music. She literally jumped all over my music stand then picked it up and proceeded to wring it in her very solid, muscular hands. It wouldn't look out of place in the Tate Modern. I've never had that reaction from a listener since!

What do you hope for in the future?

Good flood defences! More hair! A premium bond win! And, of course, to keep making, playing and selling nice guitars.

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