Behind Bespoke: Rosie Heydenrych of Turnstone Guitars

It’s that time of the week again, and for the second stop on our Behind Bespoke tour we’re heading to Surrey, UK to visit the lovely Rosie Heydenrych of Turnstone Guitars.

Rosie works with her husband Karl, hand-building steel string guitars to the highest quality. After years of learning her craft Rosie set up the Turnstone workshop in 2015, and within that time has gained an incredible reputation and her instruments have got attention from collectors and players worldwide

 We began working with Turnstone guitars back in 2019 and have had the pleasure of seeing multiple of their stunning guitars pass through the showroom, as well as working with customers on a variety of bespoke orders. Earlier this year we received one of each model, a TS, TM and TG, watch below as Lindsay takes us through each of these.

Also, you may have heard that Turnstone has recently announced that they are releasing a new model, the TD (Turnstone Dreadnought) and we’re excited to be receiving one of the first of these models in the not too distant future.

Rosie's refreshing approach to lutherie

Hi Rosie, thanks so much for joining us. To start I wanted to ask quite plainly, how would you define bespoke?

I would define bespoke as catering to individual needs. It's a very personal experience. When people have been playing the guitar for a while, they get to understand what they like and what they don't like, so they start to consider what they could personalise to meet their specific needs better. It sounds obvious but everybody's different; different playing styles, different ergonomic factors to consider, differences in opinion of what sounds good and even what looks good. The guitar is such a personal instrument and through bespoke customisation, it should be an extension of the player, a reflection of them and their creativity, rather than just another guitar that they happen to be playing.

Do you think that building bespoke allows players to experience something that they wouldn't through a spec or a stock instrument?

Yes, I believe they do. The most obvious aspect of a bespoke build is that the customer can specify their requirements for playability, tone, aesthetics and so on, bringing together everything they may have liked (or avoiding what they haven’t liked!) about the guitars they’ve played over the years into a single instrument. More than that though, it's a chance for customers to have a personal and unique experience. It’s not just about the end product (as important as that is), it's also about being involved in the creative process from the very outset, witnessing the journey of the instrument from being nothing but rough pieces of timber to being something special, something that’s uniquely theirs, something that meets their specific needs. You simply can't experience that same thrill off the shelf. And that’s what I think is so special about bespoke.

You mentioned playability and dimensions… When we talk about bespoke, we see it as the marriage of aesthetics, playability and tonal considerations. Do you tend to find that customers come with more specific requirements around one of those areas or does it vary? Do you get some who are more focused on the playability and like to leave the aesthetics to you?

It varies quite considerably, some have really specific requirements in one or two of those areas and leave the rest to me, others want to nail down every aspect in detail. I would say that it’s probably most common to talk about tone and aesthetics first though. It usually starts with a conversation which I use to identify the most important factors, especially if they’re not entirely clear yet themselves. For example, they may initially say they’re looking for a very particular sound for their instrument which signposts to me that tonal considerations are a very high priority and I need to spend more time getting to understand exactly what it is they need, especially if they can’t articulate it easily. Equally, I've had a small number of customers that have wanted a special instrument to commemorate a loved one, often using money they may have inherited from them to do so. While they still want a great sounding guitar, it may be that something related to design or aesthetic (inlays etc…) means more to them because this is where you could visually pay tribute to them. Essentially, it’s listening for the obvious pieces of information that the client is sharing with you, as well as the clues that may slip by as an afterthought, and putting them in the right order, to prioritise the aspects they consider most important.

Having said all that, it’s also about understanding the level of engagement the client wants to have in the process. Some want to know, or in some way be involved in, all of the aspects of the build. Others have given me their first few thoughts, often along the lines of “I love the work that you do. I’m looking for a small-bodied fingerstyle guitar with good volume, I want you to come up with something.” And that’s about it until I deliver it!  

How do you interpret their needs? How do you match their needs with your knowledge and skill and your materials? And how does that process start?

I think the most important thing is finding a common form of language between us. I try to avoid complex or obscure language, like going down the route of ‘I like a “dark” or “light” sound’, although we do sometimes find ourselves there! It’ll often start with ‘What kind of music do you play? How do you play the guitar? What guitars do you have in your collection? What do you like about them? What don't you like about them?” It’s a very simple and universal way that we can both just talk and understand each other. It gets the conversation going and puts in place a common understanding of what they want before we get into the real detail and nuances. While I call on my experience to lead the conversation, the most important thing is to listen to what the customer is saying, I don't want that to miss something because I’m thinking about what would suit them most. I want to learn about them first and foremost.

And do you think the ability to have those conversations comes from experience, getting to know the materials and getting to know the process and working out how to best match that with people's needs?

Yes, there’s an element of experience that you get from building numerous guitars and hearing the results, but it’s also about hearing how different players interpret your instruments. One player can play a guitar and identify what they like about it, but their playing style can be completely different to somebody else's, and they may have very different thoughts on what that same guitar does for them. With time and experience, a broad range of players will have played your guitars in their various model sizes and tonewood options, which builds a library of information in your head that you can pull upon in the future. So plain old-time and experience does count for a lot.

So, is there any tonewood that you would always suggest that customers should always consider? Is there something that, regardless of people's needs, you think is versatile or trustworthy enough to always be worth contemplating?

My gut answer is no, I don't have a go-to because it depends on the needs of the customer. Going back to what I was saying before, I want to learn about their needs first and be open to listening, drawing out the critical information I need from what they're telling me and only then making recommendations. To already be skewed into thinking about a certain tonewood because I think it’s great just goes against that. The tonal qualities of a timber which may not suit one person could be the perfect match for another. There’s a selection of tonewoods that I prefer for certain things but I would save that for once I understand what the player needs rather than having it in mind from the outset.

As an example, I’m confident that I can build a great guitar using Cocobolo and Swiss spruce. But would that necessarily be the perfect guitar for absolutely everyone’s style and even aesthetic preferences? No. If somebody approaches me and it’s obvious their playing has some jazz influence, they will most likely prefer a guitar with a slightly quicker and reflective sound than Cocobolo can give, the notes need to be more articulated (less bloom) and faster to react. I might suggest another soundboard too, I’ve found English Yew really suits many jazz style players.

What is it about the bespoke process that you think takes people out of their comfort zone?

I think it’s probably placing complete trust in your luthier to build something that you're going to love. I take this trust extremely seriously and I’ve always understood, especially at the start of my career, that it’s a huge leap of faith people are taking when they commission an instrument. Clients are placing a huge amount of faith in me to produce something that they hope to treasure for a lifetime, often planning to pass it down to their children. Regardless of the reputation, a luthier acquires over time, it’s always still a real leap of faith. It's so humbling that people choose me to do this for them.

Another thing is having such patience in a consumerist culture. This is not a typical consumer purchase where you can think "I want something now and with the click of a button, I've got it." You’ve really got the time (often several years) to sit and think about this and wonder, "Oh, gosh, have I done the right thing?" I think it definitely takes people out of their comfort zones to be spending a lot of money on something that they're not going to receive for quite a long time. My job is to reward their extreme patience with something that surpasses their expectations.

What do you love most about building bespoke guitars? Why do you do what you do?

I think part of the reason I got into this was because I wanted to be around people who loved music. And what I love most about our expanding business is people who love music contacting me from all over the world, with different backgrounds, different cultures, different musical tastes, but to a certain degree we are all very much the same - we all have a collective love of the guitar! And that's where we can always start a conversation because that's what we love to talk about.

I also find it fascinating to learn about people's backgrounds, how they got into playing guitar and the path that led to them wanting to order a custom guitar. It’s so nice to have this personal contact with clients, with the strong foundation that we know we both love the guitar, we love music and let's see what we can create together. Cheesy but true.

Also, I know the entire team at TNAG is incredibly passionate about guitars and understands them intimately, so I completely trust them to spec out a guitar with a customer. Add their knowledge of the build ethos and approach that we take at Turnstone Guitars to the mix and customers still get an exceptional bespoke experience. The TNAG team put the time, effort and expertise into guiding the customer through the process before confirming the final spec with me to make sure every detail is covered, and the customer will get the guitar they desire. So it’s a bit like having an extension of Turnstone Guitars in TNAG which is brilliant!

Do you have a favourite part of the process? Is the initial chat a big part of it for you? Or is it the meeting at the end? Or all the different aspects, is there a bit that you get most excited about or you enjoy the most?

It's a constant ride. I do really like the initial discussion because I think something that comes quite naturally to me is being able to visualise what a customer may want quite well. So, when we start speaking about all the different options and aspects of the build, I enjoy visualising the ideas and concepts and seeing if I can bring all the ideas together into a cohesive vision. When a client brings in fresh and new ideas it can help to inspire me also, and that can be quite exciting.

Not considering the actual build process here, I think the initial discussion, and the delivery of the instrument, if I'm fortunate enough to be there when they open it, are highlights for me. It really warms my heart to either see them play the instrument or receive the first email after they get it. It brings me great joy!

I won't take up too much more of your time. But I do want to get you to speak about bespoke building for Martin Simpson and how that experience was.

Well, choosing the main tonewood options was very easy because we based it off a guitar that I'd sent him to critique during the first lockdown here in England and he basically fell in love with it, but it was already spoken for! I offered to build that same spec guitar again, Martin said yes, and we were off! Given that this was a custom build though, even if the major elements were already firmed up, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to make it more personal to Martin.

I’ve been friends with Martin for some time and one thing I know about him is his great love for British nature, birds, moths, woods, and the natural world in general. So, when we had our initial conversation about this build, I said to him, “This is an opportunity to make this guitar a bit more personal to you. I know that you love British nature, maybe there is something we can do on the decorative side to bring some English wood into your build?”. Martin said he was going on quite a lot of walks during lockdown which led me to ask, “Are there perhaps any trees that you see on your walks that catch your eye or that you particularly like?” He told me he loved English Oak and also loved the look of spalted wood.

I went away and worked out ways to integrate some beautiful English spalted Beech into the rosette and headstock, and used some striking English Oak in the binding scheme. Both of these woods are a beautiful gold colour which inspired me to instil a subtle golden theme, integrating in some gold Gotoh tuners and two golden dots on the fret markers. That all developed quite naturally after we started talking about making this build personal for him. Thankfully he has the guitar now and loves it, which is a huge relief when you’re building for someone as incredibly talented and respected as Martin Simpson!

We have an incoming TD Model, aswell as a 2023 build slot which can be secured today with a 35% deposit.

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Please do get in contact if you're interested in order your dream, bespoke guitar. Find out more about trading and flexible finance options to facilitate your build here, or reach out to discuss this with one of the TNAG team.

For more information on Turnstone Guitars and the 2023 bespoke slot we have available, head here.

Check back next Wednesday as we continue our Behind Bespoke trip.


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