In this latest instalment of Meet Your Maker, Connoisseur talks to Northern Irish luthier, Ciaran McNally who, at only 30 years of age, is making some of the most desirable workhorse acoustic instruments available today.
Ciaran McNally is a revelation. Not only because he builds 40 guitars per year, single-handedly from his workshop in Armagh, Northern Ireland, but because he’s a breath of fresh air in the world of guitar makers. He speaks plainly and honestly—he’s unafraid to tell it like it is and he has a clear vision for his instruments that flirt with Celtic influences via the workhorse staples of American golden era acoustic guitars.
Sitting in his office, flanked by a sunburst OM, a dreadnought (“Shane Hennesy’s picking that one up”) and a jumbo hanging on the wall, his charm and energy are as infectious as his guitars.
“It's about 900 square foot here. And it's just me. I come in and ignore the world and make guitars, and it's complete and absolute bliss,” he laughs.
“I’m here in my office in the middle of the building, and then behind me is the main woodworking room, with machines,” he says gesturing around him. “Next door is the setup room. And then in the other side of the corridor, we've got a sanding room, polishing room, and a spray booth.”
In a turn of complete serendipity, we spoke to Ciaran on June 24, 2021, for this interview. And turns out that’s the date his first guitar shipped the year prior.
“I just had this idea that if I was ever going to do it, 30 would be a good point to say ‘Ok, I'm not going to make anyone else’s guitars. I'm just going to make my own now.’ But it was around this time last year I got the keys to this place after returning home from England working at Atkin Guitars, and the 24th was the date the first guitar went out of these doors… so in a year to date, I’ve made and sold 41 guitars from this place.”
And that’s no mean feat. Single-handedly producing 41 guitars of the highest quality in 12 months, working 70 hours a week to meet demand. Ciaran is self-effacing when we talk about his achievements.
“It’s funny, going into the pandemic we had no idea what would be in store for us guitar makers—I certainly don’t think we expected sales to be this high! But really, there wasn’t a better time for me to come back to Northern Ireland and set up my shop here and do it on my own. It’s worked out pretty well for me and there’s certainly nothing I can complain about! There hasn’t been a year since I was 16 or so that I’ve not made my own instruments.”
Ciaran isn’t afraid to say he uses machinery to build his guitars, despite its usage being unfavorable in some circles. But for him, he’s focused on the process of building the acoustic guitar as efficiently as possible.
“I do use C&C and laser, of course. I really didn’t want to outsource anything. I wanted to create my own product here, on my own, and not rely on outsourced operations to a certain extent. And looking back at the pandemic, that turned out to be the right decision. I do everything myself, right through to spraying and finishing. I’ve always been inclined to say that if it's got my name on it, I have to do as much of it as I possibly can. The fact that I do all my own machining and stuff in-house allows me to have a schedule that makes those kinds of numbers possible.”
“And having worked for guitar factories in the past, how I think about guitar making probably isn't the same as most ‘boutique’ luthiers, who'd go into maybe having trained with a single luthier, and maybe do a college course, and then just say, ‘Right, I've got a plane and a bandsaw, and I'm going to make guitars.’ That's a very different thing to what working for companies that make thousands per year teaches you. The fundamentals of craftsmanship don’t change, but the large companies teach you about processes and efficiency,” he says.