Most of you will know by now that Ken was a man who had many strings to his bow: as musician, broadcaster, writer, record critic, musicologist, ‘Djangologist’, chef, hotelier, etc etc. However, his activities didn’t end there. Whether it was restoring a boat, or making a guitar, he clearly wasn’t afraid to take on a challenge. This week, we take a closer look at one venture that, sadly, didn’t quite make it. As a guitarist, Ken, as had Django Reinhardt, favoured the Selmer as his ‘weapon’ of choice. Although the Henri-Selmer brand still exists as a musical instrument maker of saxophones and clarinets, the company’s venture into guitars was short lived: only over a twenty year period, from 1932 – 1952. Consequently, only around 1000 or so original Selmers were ever made – but what an impact they had! Much sought after, Ken was the proud owner of number 833. When we spoke with Diz Disley during the research for the film, the very first thing he asked was ‘whatever happened to Ken’s guitar?’ In typical Diz fashion, he then volunteered to ‘take good care of it’. But that’s a story for another day. The Selmer-style of guitar has become a standard that is emulated and replicated widely today, but did you know that as far back as the mid-sixties, Ken had seriously investigated the idea of starting a guitar-making company, producing hand crafted replicas of the Selmer. He had corresponded with Selmer over his idea, which had been extremely supportive of the venture. At a time when electric guitars had become dominant, it was clear that Ken was motivated to continue the tradition of a crafted acoustic instrument, upon which jazz music could be played. With the help of his good friend and musician, Alwyn Hyde-Clark, he had meticulously researched his subject, defined and costed up the tools required: thickness planer, bandshaw, router. He had drawn out the production process work-flow, along with the plans to convert the coach house at the Beeches into the workshop to accommodate the venture. He famously even persuaded his friend, dentist Ronnie Caiels, to x-ray a guitar at his dental surgery in order to understand the inner construction, without having to take it apart! From drawings found in the archive, Ken appears to have worked around the idea of calling the company ‘Master Craft of Britain’, with a logo based on the iconic shape of the Selmer guitar. The fly in the ointment seems to have been revealed when Ken worked through the sales projections. Basing his calculations on various price points for retail and direct supply of between £35 - £70, it was clear that the profit margins would require them to manufacture a quantity of guitars well beyond the scope of their set up. The venture could clearly never be profitable and so the idea had to be shelved. Yet again, Ken was ahead of his time in recognising the enduring popularity and potential demand for the Selmer style guitar, whether as original or replica. Although his venture never materialised, it is very fitting that years later, the guitar-making company JWC used Ken’s Selmer to create a Ken Sykora model as part of its replica repertoire. And did you also know that Ken’s guitar drawing for the logo of ‘Master Craft of Britain’ was used to create the cover artwork for the fantastic double CD of Ken’s music, The Man with the Jazz Guitar? Released earlier this month to 5-star reviews, why not hop onto Amazon, grab yourself a copy and enjoy the art, both visual and aural, of this true original!
GUITAR CLUB 2012: calling all guitarists - all styles, solo, duo, groups - to submit a track for a special programme to be broadcast on the Ken Sykora Radio Station on 15th December at 6pm. More details on our website. In the meantime, listen this Sunday to a Sound of the Guitars featuring all styles of guitars; ‘guitars from everywhere and anywhere, as long as they are not connected to a 1000 amplifiers!’ See you next week, www.themanwiththejazzguitar.com Linda and Marc
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© Five Feet Films Ltd 2012
Published on Nov 2, 2012
Published on Nov 2, 2012
Weekly newsletter for the documentary The Man with the Jazz Guitar, a film about jazz guitarist and radio broadcaster Ken Sykora