The Story of the Cidercaster ...

Below is a Blog by my friend and ‘Telling Life Stories’ partner Tom Henry, a short description of our journey down into deepest Somerset to try out (and purchase) the Cider Guitar !!!

Artist and designer William Morris famously advised to ‘have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful.’ Looking around my front room, I realise that many of my possessions would’ve turned Morris’s luxuriant beard prematurely grey – and yet, when I look a little closer I’m aware that if not exactly beautiful or useful, all of my things do have a story.

Not surprisingly for a writer, I put a lot of stock into stories, and not just those on the page. I don’t tend to amass off-the-peg stuff, and that’s not because of any innate snobbery towards the generic or mass-produced. I just like things with a history, or which evoke a memory or a story. It doesn’t really matter what it is; a 10,000-year-old flint tool that I found on nearby moorland is as interesting to me as a fish-themed cushion I bought during a memorable weekend in the Isles of Scilly.

Such items hold stories in their DNA. Either that, or you can ascribe them a story. I’ve no idea who used the flint tool but I can use my imagination. I like the fish-cushion because it reminds me of happy times as a kid, catching stunted perch in the industrially polluted Leeds-Liverpool Canal.

So when I spotted an advert for a unique Telecaster-style guitar, made locally and with a price tag that wasn’t eye-wateringly expensive for a bespoke instrument, I decided to take a closer look. I own a few instruments, mostly cheap n’cheerful planks that have served me well enough over the years. But this one, made by Antony Moggridge of the delightfully misnamed Shonky Musical Instruments (http://www.shonkymusicalinstruments.co.uk/) was really something special. It was advertised as being made from wood ‘from a 100-year-old cider barn’. That sold me, and so photographer Neil Phillips and I decided to make a trip to the beautiful Quantocks area of Somerset to find out more.

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

Antony lives in a charming cottage with a workshop in the garden. This shed could be faithfully described as ‘shonky’, but you really wouldn’t expect (or want) anything too corporate. Inside, the air was heavy with the aroma of wood shavings, oil and general ‘fettling’ (as we say in Lancashire). Hanging from the ceiling and stacked on every shelf were guitar bodies, necks, woodworking tools, tin cans, paint containers and the rest. In short, the kind of place you know will give birth to a great instrument.

But what of the guitar’s cider factory heritage? Antony tells me his supplier got the wood from the now-demolished Whiteways Cider Factory in Whimple, a village in East Devon. The factory was founded in 1893 and demolished in 1995, but in its time the village was surrounded by the largest cider apple orchards in the world. While the industry is long gone, memories of it remain in the village’s wassailing ceremony each January. This tradition honours and blesses the local apple trees in anticipation of a good harvest, and involves the firing of guns and the drinking of large amounts of cider. Not always the safest combination, but hey….

Anyway, back to the guitar. At this point, let me hand over to Antony to describe how he made it: 

“First I make the blank by joining the timber boards, then route the cavities for the neck pocket, controls and pickups. 

“The timber from the cider factory I believe to be Norway Spruce. It’s from old and large slow grown trees. Despite being old it is actually fairly unexciting, character-wise, due to it being from the internal construction of the buildings, so for this one I decided to create a weathered driftwood effect. I do this firstly using a rotary wire brush on a drill. This is quite aggressive and leaves a fairly rough finish so then I use a smaller and finer brass wire rotary brush on a Dremel to smooth out the fibres. This still leaves a fairly rough finish so the next steps are to sand the grooves individually to take as much of the loose and rough wood fibres out as possible. 

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

“The neck is a purchased premade one from one of my parts suppliers. Vintage 50's spec AA flame maple with a vintage Tint. I was originally going to fit it as it came but despite the vintage tint looked too new for the weathered body so I decided to relic it to a nice comfortable play worn level. The techniques involve rubbing down with sandpaper, rolling the edges with a metal bar then adding stain to the damaged areas to emulate years of sweat and dirt. I then sprayed two coats of matt lacquer to reseal and protect the neck. 

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

“Once all that is done and cured I assemble the guitar. This one has handwound pickups from Amdusias devices, a Gotoh Bridge and Kluson Machine heads. I could have aged the hardware but I decided not too as I liked the contrast between the old rough timber and new shiny parts.

The result is a resonant and vibrant lightweight Tele guitar with oodles of character. “

So that’s the story of this unique guitar, and no doubt it will be the focus of many more stories to come as I take it round the pubs and clubs with my various bands. Question is – does it play well? Beautifully, I would say, and possibly usefully too. And although I know I’m dreaming I’m sure I can detect the faint scent of strong scrumpy emerging from its weathered old body!

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd

©neil phillips photo and film Ltd