Talking Guitar: Ted Åstrand of Åstrand Guitars
Ted Åstrand of Åstrand Guitars shot to fame in the luthier world back in 2013/14, when we first brought his stunning Å-OM Madagascar Rosewood into the UK. It didn’t take long before his name spread like wildfire among the Acoustic Guitar Forum and orders started to come flooding in. Having just sold his last remaining spot before he closes his waiting list for two years (yes that’s two years), I took a little time to interview the man himself and how he feels about the success of his brand, being a dad and what he has planned next.
BM: Hi Ted, so tell us how is life in the new shop?
TA: Hi Ben, everything is great. As you're aware I recently moved my workshop from Stockholm to Gothenburg. A move of workshop and house is always a big step but the move went as smoothly as I could have hoped for. In the past I've rented and shared a workshop but I've now got my own space up and running and I'm now fully back to work as usual.
My workshop is located in the industrial part of Gothenburg where many artists, musicians and craftsmen are located. Due to the growing city of Gothenburg and lack of housing, many parts of the city are being totally rebuilt and made into homes. I recently found out that the area my workshop is located in is one of these places. So it looks like I'll be making another shop move at the end of 2018. However the next move will be made into a new space which is much larger and where I can grow even more as a builder. I've got everything set up nicely in the current workshop but I've got big plans for the next workshop which I'm already really excited about!
BM: You have recently become a dad for the first time. Congratulations! How are you handling the work / life balance?
TA: Thanks, it's an extraordinary feeling becoming a dad, as you know. Of course, this has changed both my personal life and work. In the past, I could easily spend 16 hours a day in the shop and easily work 7 days a week. Guitars are my passion and life and nothing has ever competed with this, until now. I find myself wanting to spend as much time as I can with my daughter but also in the shop building guitars. Naturally I'm spending less hours in the workshop now compared to 2 years ago, however I'm now organising my working hours in a much more efficient way.
When I'm in the shop I'm more focused than ever and I've got a better working flow and balance. To be honest I've never had this much energy and aspiration to building guitars. Due to a better set up workshop and efficient planning, I'm building the same amount of guitars annually as before. My partner is a freelance actress and combined with my work it makes it very easy to plan around working and parenting for both of us.
BM: We recently sold your last remaining spot for 2019. How does that make you feel, knowing your guitars in such a short period of time have become so popular?
TA: The fact that people are appreciating my work and ordering guitars from me is a feeling that simply can't be described. I truly love what I do and I feel so fortunate that people put their trust in me everyday so I get to do this as a profession. I have been very lucky in the sense that I have never really had to sell my guitars. From the start I've had a pretty consistent amount of orders coming in and I feel very privileged that I get to follow my passion for lutherie and the craft. I never take things for granted so still I get surprised and filled with joy each time I get an inquiry or order. If any clients are reading this I truly want to say thank you for your support and trust!
BM: We recently brought in one of my favourite Åstrands to date (and there have been many). An Å-OM in Brazilian Rosewood and European Spruce with a stunning Amboyna burl headstock and rosette. What was the build process like for this instrument. And do you surprise yourself sometimes with each build and how they turn out both visually and sonically?
TA: This was a very special build in many regards. It was built for a client who had previously owned one of my guitars and sadly had to sell it due to health issues. However those issues were overcome and this new guitar was ordered to celebrate good health and a new beginning. I recently checked my email inbox and noticed that we almost sent 200 emails back and fourth to each other during this build. I really love it when I get to work this closely with a client and together spec'ing out the guitar.
It always fascinates me when I look back on a build and re-read the first emails that were sent then see the final product. On this specific build we emailed ideas back and forth and both contributed with the final look and result. I do sometimes get surprised with the visuals of the guitar because this is something that grows gradually during the building process. For me I don't like setting all of the specs before the build starts and many times I'll get ideas during the process of the build. I usually start with the back. Seeing it as a clean palette, looking at the grain and perhaps getting an idea for a back inlay, seeing the colours in the wood and getting ideas for binding materials etc. It still fascinates me seeing the guitars take shape and becoming an instrument.
Sonically I don't like surprises (unless they're good). Tonally I always discuss it with the client before the build so I have a clear vision of what he/she is looking for. However since I'm only building 8-10 guitars annually I'm not exactly stringing up guitars on a daily basis and those first few notes played on a build that I've been working on for several months can be truly magical and at times surprising.
BM: How do you overcome set backs?
TA: I don't, I carry them with me forever, wherever I go...haha, no really we all face set backs at times especially within a profession like this. Iv'e always been a very calm person and I rarely get upset over things I can't control. There's a positive side to set backs and mistakes and that is you learn from them. I've had set backs in the past but almost always something good has come of it. Each time I make a mistake or I feel that something isn't working the way I want it to work, I try to take a moment to figure out why that is and how I can improve it. Most new innovations or progressions come from redesigning or redoing previous work.
BM: We have our first SJ coming in this year. Do you have any plans for any other new models?
TA: I do! I have a new OO-12 fret model coming out which I'm extremely excited about, It will be released at the end of next year! I recently released my new SJ model and wanted that guitar to be fully completed before I finished off the final design elements of the new OO-12 fret. The process of creating a new model is a long process for me. I first started designing the new OO-12 fret around two years ago. Since then I've had the blueprint on my workshop wall gradually making small changes to it on a monthly basis. The shape and lines of an instrument have always been very important to me and simply isn't something that can be sketched up in a day. This is something that takes patience and sometimes you just need to step back for a few months to get a better perception.
Iv'e always loved smaller body guitars. The OO and smaller guitars have often been seen as a compliment to a collection or they have been used for certain playing styles. My idea with the OO is to build a guitar that isn't a compliment but a smaller body guitar that can function as a main instrument. One tonal character I've always loved with smaller body guitars is the projection and direct response. With the projection these smaller body guitars are often also perceived as being very loud. However smaller body guitars can often lack the warmth, rounder trebles and deep bass you can get from larger bodies. By adding a 12 fret neck joint I believe I will be able to get that extra warmth and deeper tonal characteristics combined with a newly design bracing system to function optimally for this design. To say the least I'm extremely excited to soon be beginning the work on this new model.
BM: What are your plans for when you open up your list again in 2020?
TA: I've already got quite a few orders booked well into 2020 and several exciting projects on the go. My plans are to continue doing what I'm doing and I'm looking forward to spec'ing out some new guitars for you and the crew over at TNAG!
BM: Thanks Ted, as always it is a real honour representing you and you brand. We look forward to announcing our 2020 orders to the TNAG site very soon.
TA: Thanks Ben, It's been a privilege chatting to you and as always I'm extremely excited about the upcoming work we've got planned together and it's a true joy working with someone who is as passionate about the craft as I am.