George Stevens Luthier Interview
NAME: George P.J. Stevens
LIVING IN : Lydd, Kent, United Kingdom
TRAINING & BACKGROUND: The instrument making course at the London College of Furntiture ’89 – ’94
PLAYING: Drums, bouzouki, european and english bagpipes. Bit and pieces on the instruments I make – lute, early harp, gittern etc.
NAME OF YOUR HIGH SCHOOL BAND : Didn’t have one, though I’ve been in various bands/collaborations over the years.
LUTHIER YOU ADMIRE THE MOST: From the past – and in this case also largely from an artistic point of view I’m gonna say – Joakim Tielke
INSTRUMENT YOU DREAM TO HAVE ONE DAY: Don’t have one really, though it would be nice to have a decent drum kit again, I’ve not had one for years.
LAST ALBUM YOU BOUGHT: Can’t remember !
LAST MUSIC SONG YOU PUT IN YOUR CAR: Compilation cd featuring various artists from this year’s Medieval Muisc in the Dales festival, at which I was recently exhibiting instruments.
LAST SHOW YOU WENT TO : Seth Lakeman at the Delawarr Pavilion.
MOST IMPRESSIVE INSTRUMENT YOU EVER HAD IN HAND: Strad violins x 2 and Guaneri violins x 3
MOST STRANGE RESTORATION OR REPAIR YOU HAD TO DO : Ummm. I try and avoid repairs if I can these days. I’ve not done anything much of that for sometime as I’ve never really enjoyed it. Though have done a fair bit in the past. I prefer to concentrate on making.
I make plucked instruments inspired by historical models from the medieval, renaissance and baroque periods.
This includes early guitars but also lutes, and harps. I’ve made about 300 instruments.
I’m mostly known for lute family instruments and early harps, I would say.
I don’t have a flagship model as such, which follows from what I say above.
I suppose you could say the gittern. This is an early type of small European lute whose body is hollowed and carved from solid.
I’ve done a lot of work on these over the years and have made over 50 of them now, more than anyone else currently in the world I’m pretty certain. There’s only one surviving original, in Germany, made around the mid 15th century.
Though iconography showing gitterns is quite plentiful for about the two centuries preceeding 1500, from all over Europe; suggesting a very common instrument during that period. I’ll keep it brief, though I could wax lyrical about these things for ages.
Although, proportionally I’ve made more harps than anything else.
Philosophy – never stop questioning.
Lots of hands on practice, care, sharp tools. All things coming together, there is no – one thing.
Think about what string spacing you want. If you have particularly big hands you need to be able to play what you’re gonna get, comfortably.
This is more of an issue on some instruments than others, however.
If it’s a harp think about what range of notes you want.
If it’s a lute think about what period you are most insterested in, if you know (?)
Extra courses of strings were gradually added to lutes over approx one or two centuries to keep up with popular musical practice, so you need to know roughly what period music you want to play on it. Most people do.
The post commonly played lutes today have between 6 and 8 courses of strings. A ‘course’ can be a pair or a single – the usual configuration on these I mention is pairs, often with octaves in the lower half, but with a single top string.
A lot of the earlier instruments I make have sounboxes carved and hollowed from blocks of hardwood (gitterns and harps) in the historical fashion. This is expensive. Sometimes less costly versions can be made by building up out of pieces – so another consideration to be made is cost and against authenticity.
Well I’ve mentioned some of this directly above, it is further outlined on my website – which ideally anyone should have had a good look around before even contacting me. Many questions are answered on there. Y
ou might have to wait up to a year for something from me on order, unless I might happen to have something that you like directly available.
I have a few things available right now, for example. For orders I work on a first come first served basis and I usually take payments at intervals. When someone contacts me we typically have a short discussion about what they want and if it’s an order then a deposit will be paid in due course which places them on my waiting list.
Well quite a few well known people in the early music world I suppose but probably most people wuld not have heard of them.
I’ve sent instruments all over the world – most extensively around European countries unsurprisingly, but also way further afield all over the U.S.A, quite a few to Japan and also Cuba and Australia
I do far fewer shows than I used to. I just don’t have the time these days. I don’t travel abroad anymore to do shows. Too much for one person to do.
I only usually do Medieval Music in the Dales in the north of England and the London Early Music Show – in September and November respectively.
Most of my sales are done online from me personally – and many of these people I never meet and will probably never meet them.
I appreciate the trust greatly but in the luthiery world hopefully longevity speaks volumes and after 3 plus decades I’m still here making pretty obscure stuff. I’m only still here because people keep asking for it!
I also sell some instruments through the Early Music Shop in the UK – they have some at present. Both they and I send out globally so location is not a problem.
Obviously any currently available instruments can be tried out – but I am just one person, not a factory, and many items I make take a long time so I am usually working to order.
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