Meet Dave Semple, local luthier extraordinaire

Meet Dave Semple, local luthier extraordinaire

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Meet Dave Semple, local luthier extraordinaire

The London resident specializes in building the custom guitar of your dreams.

According to Wikipedia, a luthier is “a craftsperson who builds and/or repairs string instruments that have a neck and a sound box.”

It’s quite a noble trade and a respectably creative art form, adding a whole new dimension to the concept of music and how we experience it.

Meet Dave Semple — actor, drama teacher, author, musician and local luthier. He’s been active in the London arts community, after relocating from Windsor in 1989. Merging his passion for music and knack for design, Semple became a luthier in 2006. He’s been responsible for coming up with some rather interesting and fascinating designs.

Meet Dave Semple, local luthier extraordinaire
Credit: Dave Semple

So, let’s get to know more about Mr. Semple as he gives us some nifty insight about his experiences in the luthier trade.

Reverb: What was it that got you into becoming a luthier?

Semple: I’ve been working on guitars for 15 years. It all started because there was a specific guitar I was looking for that I couldn’t find. When I contacted the manufacturer, they told me it would be a custom build and quoted me an astronomical price. So, I started thinking, “What if I could just build it myself?”

My father taught me how to do woodwork and wiring, so I hunted down the parts online and began assembling it. It’s kinda like adult Lego — most parts fit, but, when they don’t, you sometimes you have to get creative in how to modify things.

Then came the endless hours of research into the nuances of doing proper setups and better wiring. I research every day to find better, more efficient ways to refine my approach. I still have a tonne to learn.

I have a rule, though: I won’t do something to a client’s guitar unless I’ve done it a couple of times on one of my own.

A collaborative design by visual artist Samantha Boehler and Dave Semple of Phoenix Guitar Works
(Credit: Dave Semple)

Reverb: It looks and sounds like a fascinating trade. Since you’ve been at it for well over a decade, it might be safe to ask, “What makes being a luthier so fulfilling?”

Semple: I love creating guitars with one-of-a-kind finishes. I’d like to think that my guitars are unique and that you couldn’t buy one like it in a store. I love when the client plays the guitar and they tell me it sounds better than ever after the work I’ve done.

I’m always fascinated by how many musicians don’t really know how to do setups or minor repairs, so I often feel a bit like a magician or wizard when I can do the voodoo that I do.

Not to mention, working with my hands also helps calm my mind.

Reverb: In your opinion, what are some of the coolest, most niche designs you’ve created?

Semple: I’ve built a few license plate and cigar box guitars (3-string, 4-string, and 6-string).

I also like doing finishes that involve burning the body with a torch (shot sugi ban – a japanese technique), as well as Lichtenberg burning. That’s where you create an electrical current which burns a fractal pattern into the wood. I also love collaborating with an artist friend, Samantha Boehler. She adds custom artwork to guitar bodies and headstocks.

A Lichtenberg burn design by Dave Semple of Phoenix Guitar Works
(Credit: Dave Semple)

Reverb: For those new to the concept, what kind of services does a luthier offer?

Semple: My services fall into 3 categories:

1) General repairs and maintenance: I do some finish repair work as well as wiring, setups, and fretwork. In other words, services to get the maximum playability out of your existing guitar.

2) Refurbishes and modifications: Taking older guitars and giving them a second life. This can include new finishes and paint jobs (including custom artwork), to pickup and wiring upgrades; anything to make an old guitar like new.

3) Custom builds: I build mostly from sourced parts, but I can cut custom body shapes. If a client tells me exactly what they want in a new guitar, I find the parts to do it at the best price. Again, this includes some custom finishes.

Mostly I work on electric guitars, but I do setups and repairs to acoustics, as well.

A license plate guitar and cigar box guitar, both created by Dave Semple of Phoenix Guitar Works
(Credit: Dave Semple)

Reverb: What would the advantages be to hiring a luthier as opposed to, say, a major music gear retailer?

Semple: My experience with some of the big music stores is that, quite often, they send your guitar away if the work can’t be done in-house. This typically applies to big jobs, but it’s still a pain. For example, I had one guitar gone for 4 months.

There is also a consistency issue — it’s not always the same repair person. Most of the independent luthiers and repair guys I know have been doing it for years. They get to know your guitar and you get to know them. It’s more of a relationship. I try to turn over work within 24 hours depending on the job, specifically with repairs. For most players, turnover time is important.

Reverb: Should anyone need your services, what’s the best way to get ahold of you?

Semple: Feel free to reach me at my Phoenix Guitar Works page, or you can send me an email.


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