Noyce Guitars
Mount Clear
Ballarat, Victoria
Australia, 3350
+61 3 5330 2244


Interview

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 a time.

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.

  1. Man cannot live by Gig alone.
  2. 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 I live!


Supplementary comments.
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 you get.

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!

Designs;
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!