Ian Noyce circa 1997
This article in Australian Musician was a response to a set
of questions circulated to Luthiers by John Brownrigg, well known
music rep and guitar lover.
I made my first guitar (a steel string acoustic) in 1965 in my
Dad's joinery works at Mildura and made about a dozen pretty rough
guitars and a few mandolins, for friends over the next few years.
I realised that to get a good sound the guitar should be made
out of solid wood rather than plywood and the only way I could
afford such a guitar was to make it myself.
In 1974 I moved with my wife and two young kids to Ballarat to
complete my Engineering Diploma, but due to a combination of factors
soon found myself well and truly afflicted with "guitarmakitis"
and a fledgling building and repair business and I was hooked!
I loved being in the music trade and got immense satisfaction
out of interpreting musicians needs whether it was a repair job
or a commissioned guitar.
I soon realised that if I was to make great guitars I needed
to learn everything possible about music - where it comes from,
where it's going, players styles etc. and to be totally involved
with the world of music, in order that I could find my place in
the evolving scheme of things. Pretty soon I was designing all
sorts of steel string guitars and basses, jigs and tools and employing
three people to help it all happen.
Twenty years later, I have a full range of acoustic, semi-acoustic
and electric bolt-on and plank neck models, an in house designed
and built computer numerical control machine centre, a bank balance
that'll be in the black in a few years and amazingly enough my
loving and patient wife! In that time I've earnt a dollar also
playing and repairing sax, keyboards, mandolin, button accordion,
mouth organ, percussion and some stuff I won't mention. I believe
a broad appreciation of how instruments work and playing gigs
is essential to good guitar making.
Most guitarists will stick with famous brand names and it will
always be tricky to find the customers who have an open attitude
to small time guitar producers. It follows that in a country as
large in size and small in population as ours that it's almost
impossible to "crack the market" and have ones guitars
in music stores across the country, as they just aren't going
to turn over fast enough for the music stores to afford stocking
them and it's pretty tough having a wholesale/retail price structure
when you're making guitars in batches of less than ten or so at
Although we occasionally sell guitars and necks and bodies to
music stores, most of what we make goes direct to customers all
over Oz and occasionally overseas.
I enjoy being in touch with music stores and other builders and
repairers as the Australian distributor for EMG pickups (We're
the longest running EMG distributor in the world!) and other guitar
items we import and distribute. This takes some financial pressure
off guitar making but adds time and interruption pressure to it.
I have two pieces of advice given to me years ago by a great
friend and musician, Pete Howell.
- Man cannot live by Gig alone.
- The Gig is mightier than the sword (all kinds).
Pretty deep stuff, and it's helped me through many a dark hour!
I guess I'll be making guitars till I drop or at least until I
go blind, and I'm pleased with the fact that we're successfully
using Australian Blackwood in most of our guitars across the range
now and finding it very well received. I'd like to sell a few
more overseas but it all takes dollars and I guess I'm really
more interested in dealing with Australian musicians. That's where
As the above prose is my response to John Brownriggs' excellent
questionnaire, I feel I should respond specifically to a few questions
I have not covered.
All time favourite instrument;
My favourite Noyce guitar is an acoustic I made for myself
in 1982. The older they are the better they get. I also love Gurian
guitars (made mostly in the seventies) and have played some marvellous
old Martin D-28s and a couple of Maton Messiahs were as good as
Builders who have influenced me;
Michael Gurians' guitars influenced me as they weren't dreadnoughts
and they had excellent balance of tone, dynamics and response
across the range. Greg Smallman is also very interesting; early
in our careers he informed me that one day John Williams would
play his guitars and some years later whilst outside gardening
I heard Williams playing at the opera house for an Australia day
concert. I immediately recognised that it was a Smallman! His
sound is so distinctive that you could pick it from a hundred
metres through a 60mm. T.V. speaker!
All my guitars have been my own designs, following traditional
approaches but hopefully making improvements as well as establishing
my own style. I like balance in all things and plenty of bottoms
in the top strings and plenty of tops in the bottom strings; do
that and you've got a good guitar.
Best guitar I've built?
In terms of comparison with other instruments I like to think
my Dolphin 5 string bass is my most competitive instrument. For
all round comfort, playability and sound performance there's nothing
in the world that would make it look bad.
Advice for prospective customers?
Ask around the traps for comments on different makers, write/phone
them and if possible go visit them. There's a lot to be picked
up in this process, all of which should help your playing in subtle
ways. Having a guitar custom built for you can be an extremely
rewarding experience. Many of my customers finish up with two
or three of my instruments; once you've purchased a custom built
guitar it can form a habit!