Luthier Focus: Tom Sands
In this latest in our series of Luthier Focus blogs, we will be delving deep into the world of Tom Sands Guitars, based in Ripon, North Yorkshire here in the UK.
Tom was the first British luthier to join our roster and what a place to start. He is known widely for making some of the most responsive guitars available as well as his immense craftsmanship, eye for perfection and innovative approach to lutherie. Like many of the luthiers we represent, Tom was a previous apprentice to the masterful Ervin Somogyi. It’s safe to say that Tom has taken this training and applied his skills in his own unique, modern and authentic way, whilst maintaining the incredibly high standards that Somogyi teaches.
Tom has been involved in woodwork for as long as he can remember, growing up with his grandfather being (in his words) “the most practical man you’ll ever meet”. Often his free time was spent crafting objects and learning woodwork skills from a young age, setting a foundation for a continuous interest in this area.
However, Tom first combined his love of music and craft when a schoolfriend’s design project set him about helping make a bass guitar, in return for bass guitar lessons. This had a surprisingly successful outcome and following this experience, combined with his love of design, Tom completed a product design degree at the prestigious Glasgow School of Art. After this he went on join the bespoke luxury craft of fine furniture making. This was something which Tom did for six years and led him to work in some of the UK’s top workshops, including training as a cabinet maker under the mentorship of Wynn Bishop at Rupert McBain furniture in County Durham.
Towards the end of this period Tom found himself dissatisfied, as he was no longer enjoying the craft and felt the creative side of his personality was not being fulfilled. As well as this, he felt there was a distinct disconnect between the making process and the final client. He could be supplied with designs on his bench to create, whilst never actually meeting the client himself. He both wanted to rediscover his creative personality and be able to get to know clients whilst making for them.
Following this, Tom wrote to makers, designers and artists all over the world, looking to find inspiration. This was when he heard back from Ervin Somogyi and was invited out to California for an interview. After a successful two weeks there and a very intense interview process, Tom spent the next two years at the Somogyi workshop where he worked alongside some incredible names in lutherie such as Leo Buendia and Julian Gaffney. Within this time Tom learnt a great deal from Ervin, whilst also beginning to build a reputation for himself as the master luthier he is now widely known as. Only two months into the apprenticeship he received his first personal guitar commission, in which the client provided Tom with a description of what he was looking for and essentially left the rest up to him. This led to more and more orders and by the time Tom had finished the apprenticeship and was ready to set up his own shop back in the UK, he had acquired a two-year waiting list.
Working predominantly with hand tools, Tom now makes incredibly high-quality guitars for the most discerning clients, from his workshop in North Yorkshire. He received a training which has set him up for a lifetime in working with woods and is constantly reaching new heights in his business. Not only is he always looking for ways to improve, innovate and increase both efficiency and productivity, but he is also is also a QEST scholar and teaching his own apprentice, sharing the incredible ability which he possesses.
It’s safe to say that Tom has applied his skill and training in a truly unique way. He's moved away from the classic Somogyi body styles and is experimenting with distinct aesthetic details, such as incorporating etched copper into his guitar designs.
Tom has a saying that “anything which leaves the shop must be beautiful” and for those of you who follow Tom’s work, this is no surprise. Tom’s philosophy is a holistic one, he believes that truly beautiful guitars are built from truly beautiful relationships. Therefore, everything from the photographs which flow onto social media, the emails which leave the computers and the guitars which leave the workshop all have a undeniable cleanliness, order and beauty. It is also worth noting that his approach is incredibly open and unreserved. As I think many luthiers would agree, Lutherie can be a very solitary path. Tom believes that social media is a great way to share his craft, grow as a craftsperson as well as let other people in to see what he’s doing and how he works. As a trainee luthier I must say that this is incredibly true, Tom is willing to help and support both other builders and enthusiasts where possible and let people into his workshop and process. This is a refreshing, humble approach and one that is greatly helped by the extra pair of hands of his apprentice, Daisy Tempest.
Get to know Tom a little better with this 'Talking Guitar' feature, in which he talks about the craft, clients and community of the guitar building world!
Whist working for Ervin Somogyi, Tom followed Ervin’s model templates to get a better understanding of what it all did and how it worked. However, when he finished his apprenticeship he wanted to try and set himself apart. To find a niche within a niche. Coming from a design background and being heavily influenced by automotive design, architecture and contemporary product design he set about shaping the guitars in a way which spoke of his design sensibilities.
The idea was to design three guitars which were all very different to each other, that were doing very different things. He didn’t want the lines between the guitar shapes and tones to be blurred, each was deliberately set apart and willed to make a statement of its own.
This is Tom Sands Guitars 'Small' Model. Typically this model replaces the Somogyi 00 model, however is slightly smaller, with a shorter scale length. This Particular model is made up out of a gorgeous set of Santos Rosewood for the back and sides paired with a lovely Sitka Spruce top.
Here's a clip of Tom walking you through the process and thought behind this wonderful instrument.
This is Tom's version of the traditional OM model. With this particular instrument made up subtly figured Spalted Maple for the back and sides with a stunning Redwood top.
In this clip, Tom explains the roots of the Model M and what makes this guitar so very special indeed.
The Model L is Tom's largest silhouette, inspired by Ervin's iconic Modified Dreadnought design but altered to fit the clean lines and contemporary aesthetics that have become a staple part of Tom's builds. This particular instrument is made up out of beautiful Madagascar Rosewood for the back and sides with a very fitting Cedar top.
Here's Tony McManus giving us a taste of how truly magical this guitar can sound, followed by an in-depth look at this fine instrument with Ben.
Will McNicol Signature Model Model S
We can't go without mentioning the signature model of incredible guitarist and good friend of the North American Guitar, Will McNicoll.
Tom and Will's friendship sparked through social media, when Tom was coming back from California and wanted to start to think about recording some of his instruments and getting demo videos of them.
After agreeing to spend some time with Tom recording, subsequently Will went on to join Tom at the Holy Grail Guitar Show and Vancouver Guitar Show to demo his guitars. A very special friendship was formed and Tom and Will went on to develop a signature model together.
The first Tom Sands guitar Will played was a 00 In Koa and Carpathian spruce. This was his favourite and the starting point for designing a model.
We are delighted to have just spec'd a Model M in Brazilian Rosewood and Mastergrade German Spruce. Click here to find out more!
Have a lovely weekend!