Facebook FollowYouTube

Making The Gallipoli Centenary Guitar

I designed and constructed the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar as a reproduction of an 1850 to 1900 Parlour Guitar. This stems from my belief that music is a form of expression that transcends language and guitars are one of the recognised instruments used in one of the most universal forms of communication. I wanted to create a message that could be used and understood across borders.  The motivation behind the creation was to create a tribute to the fallen soldiers that lay on the battlefields of a tragic campaign that was, not only, the coming of age of two young countries, but the birth of a national sentiment that still lives in the hearts of all Australian. The Anzac Spirit.

I was guided to take on the making of this guitar to gain a better connection and understanding of, not only, our heritage as Australians, but what men much younger than myself experienced, and died for. As contemporary Australians, we live in a very blessed time regardless of the current economic situation. Two generations now have not known the hardships of war. The Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq etc, have been fought on the other side of the world. We have thankfully lost only a handful of soldiers, compared to an entire generation. We at home in Australia, didn’t have rationing of food or shortages of materials as a result of these conflicts. No food stamps or propaganda campaigns to enlist. All of our soldiers have enlisted by choice, not conscription or national service. These men and women do so at their own peril, and we go home every night without a care as they protect us from harm. It is a harm that we do not fear because of their sacrifice of duty. We need to remember the service our armed forces provide and what they have given up, and do give up for us.

I wanted this guitar to be a dignified and delicate tribute, not a flashy or flamboyant work, and as such, I started my research into the instruments of the period, and had my eyes opened up to a whole world of heritage guitars and where they came from. The parlour guitar proportions resonated with me, the small, narrow body curves, with such beautiful lines, short necks and wooded tuning machines. This was defiantly the direction that I wanted to go in.

My next dilemma was how to create a connection with the men in the battlefield. Obviously the period of the design of the guitar gives it the look of authenticity, but more is needed to create the connection. What would they have had? Canteens of water, bully beef and bayonets. It was this reflection that led me to the idea of the timbers in the rifle stocks of the Lee Enfield 303 that the soldiers used. I started researching the timbers used in the 303 rifles of WW1. The Lithgow Small Arms Factory (LSAF) in NSW made the 303 Rifles for the Australian Imperial Forces for WWI, and as such, my search for the list of timber started there.

This signalled the start of what would prove to be a very exhausting research project. Finding such historical facts I thought would be a matter of finding the correct web site, or calling the National War Memorial, asking the right questions and getting it done. This was not the case. I spent just as many hours behind the keyboard, on the phone and visiting sites as I did on the bench making this project come to life. I don’t start a new guitar projects blindly, but this one project has surpassed all before it in the effort and dedication required completing it as I had envisioned.

Finding the list of timbers used in the Lee-Enfield 303 of WW1 was a bit of fun. Calls to the LSAF proved to be problematic. I had found information online in regard to the timbers used and was looking for confirmation, however this was not to happen.  The timbers I found to be used were: Queensland Walnut, Queensland Maple, Black Bean, Tasmanian Red Myrtle, Coachwood, Crows Foot Elm, Caribbean Pine, Tasmanian and Victorian Blackwoods, and New Zealand Birch. I managed to find all nine specie of timbers on the list (combining the two species of blackwood as one) and incorporate them into the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar.

The good thing about the list of species is the amount of tone woods, Queensland Walnut and Maple as well as the Blackwoods. The Black Bean is great for the fretboard and bridge. The Coachwood is very hard to find as well as the Queensland Walnut. I had enough Walnut in stock to do what I needed to with the guitar, however, I would have put money on the fact that I had some Coachwood in the workshop somewhere. Do you think I could find it? Not on your nelly. I searched high and low; pulled a rack of timber apart, nothing! Then I looked around other items in the workshop, and found my tool draws have Coachwood draw blades... so I cut out one of the blades to get enough for inlay work. No stone was left unturned.

I looked further into the historical events of the Battle of Gallipoli and wanted to incorporate the battles of the Campaign. I researched the list of known Battle Sites, and inlaid them into the fret board as the main fret markers.  The research into the battles, in itself, was no mean feat. I contacted John McQuilton, an Associate Professor of the University of Wollongong, in the School of History and Politics, I had found an absolute master of Australian History. He was able to assist me with deciphering the Battles of significance as they related to the project.

Picking the font for all of the inlay work was not something I was looking forward to. Other guitar projects have proven difficult and time consuming. After spending about 15 minutes trolling thru the computer, it dawned on me... ‘What do they use on War Memorials?’ problem solved, Trojan is the official memorial font and I used it for all of the back inlay work.

There was more to be done incorporating the history of WWI into the Gallipoli Centenary, and I found myself wanting to work the Slouch Hat Badge, or Rising Sun Badge into the guitar. This would prove to be another job in itself. This badge of country has had many incarnations over the decades. The detail in the badge is hard to replicate, and I wanted to truly obtain the badges depth. Inlaying this level of detail in timber wasn’t looking like an option to pass the dignity test. So I had to find an alternative. ‘Why can’t I use a real Slouch Hat Badge?’ I asked myself.  An authentic Rising Sun Badge would be perfect to capture a real piece of history into the project. My next problem was where to get one, and how difficult would this activity be?

I had experienced problems with sourcing authentic product before. When I had the idea to use the timbers of the Lee Enfield 303 rifles, I really loved the idea of getting timber from a WW1 303, and using it in the guitar. Unfortunately, this led to a hornets’ nest of issues such as ethics, sourcing, and size of the timber. The research into using the timbers led to the discovery that the 303 rifles for WWI from the LSAF were stamped to mark them for WW1. At the outbreak of WW2, any remaining 303 Rifles stamped for WW1 were then restamped for WW2. Making a WW1 303 rifle a very rare and sort after item. Destroying such a piece of history was not what I wanted to do to ‘honour’ the ANZAC’s. But, I thought, what if the rifle was going to be destroyed anyway?

I approached the NSW Police, confiscated weapons section to see if they had any that had to destroyed, thus alleviating any ethical concern. I had visions of having to sign a ‘Stat Dec’ that the rifle stock was destroyed or the one of the NSW Police would have to watch me cut it up. I had a gut feeling that this could be possible. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. But I must admit that the NSW Police took great care in explaining to me, after putting in a formal request, that none of this was possible regardless of the intent. If any weapon is ‘ordered for destruction’ then that is its fate, regardless of history.

Not being able to get a piece of timber from a 303 rifle of WWI, made the finding of a slouch hat badge all that more important. The search was on again. I was trolling web sites and military memorabilia dealers. But a real Rising Sun Slouch Hat badge is a big item in size, anything to about 65mm across.  This would cause an aesthetic problem on the guitar. Are there any alternatives? This led me to discover the ‘Sweetheart’ Badge.

‘Sweetheart Badges’ were given to love ones by service men either before they left for war, or after they returned, as tokens of their affection. Some of these badges are spectacular in their detail and colour, and others are quite simple and restrained. I had found the link that I wanted, and discovered a lovely Mother of Pearl backed badge from WW1 that I obtained through a military memorabilia dealer in Melbourne, unfortunately, there was no history of the item supplied.  I set about designing the peghead of the guitar around this Sweetheart Badge.

Next was the design of the rosette of the guitar. I wanted to inlay the Gallantry Medals that were awarded at the Battle of Gallipoli into the guitars Rosette.  It was difficult to find a list that I could be 100% certain of and without the certainty I would not go ahead with the work.  Looking into the medals that were awarded during any Australian Military Forces conflict is not an easy task. There is no list, official or not, of any medals, gallantry or otherwise in existence. We know the there were 10 Victoria Cross Medals during the Gallipoli Campaign, more than any other Military Conflict of Australian Forces, but that is the start and the end of the list. I found this quite problematic. I did not want this guitar to be false in any way. And as such I chose to use the Service Medals of WW1, in particular, the colours of the ribbons inlaid around the Rosette, and the Victoria Cross Medal ribbon colour on the twelfth fret and used 10 mother of pearl dots to represent the number of Victoria Cross’s awarded.

The colouring of the rosette was another aspect of the guitar that took on a life of its own. To inlay the ribbon colours of the four service medals of WW1, that being the 1914/1914-15 Star, The British War Medal, The Mercantile Marine Medal, and The Victory Medal was to be a difficult process as the colours are what we refer to as ‘true’ colours, that that do not occur in natural timber. I have always made guitars solely from Australian timbers. That is one of the reasons why I felt that I needed to make this guitar for the Centenary of Gallipoli. An Australian Luthier that only creates guitars from Australian timbers, creating a memorial guitar about Australia’s first War as a Federation. My dilemma was how could I complete the vision in my head using the form that I love. When pressure stained veneer in Australia, made from Australian native timbers doesn’t exist? What to do? This one question led to a major development in the project. It opened the door of creativity that took the guitar to the next level.

At the time of outbreak of WWI, Australian and New Zealand Forces where know as ‘Imperial Forces’. We were part of the British Colonies in military eyes, even though we become a Federation in 1901. We were under the control essentially of British Command. We also hear a lot about Australians at Gallipoli and I felt that we forget that it is not only about Australians, but ‘ANZACs’. Australian and New Zealand Army Corps. These three facts need to be incorporated in this guitar. England and New Zealand needed to be represented in this project. How better to do so than in the timbers from these countries, regardless of the fact I would typically only use Australian native species exclusively. This was the perfect way to remind us that we were not in this alone. We were sent in by the British command, at the hands of Winston Churchill, and accompanied into Gallipoli by New Zealand Forces, while British and French Troops landed at Cape Helles only 26 kilometres to the South on the same day, and later in the Campaign at Suvla Bay to the North.

In line with this authentic project, I found an English company that manufactures true colour stained veneers. But they wouldn’t ship overseas... what next? Luckily my wife has a very good friend who she worked with while she travelled through the UK back in the early 2000’s. We had the veneer sent to her, thank you Clair, and she forwarded on the veneer. These colours of veneer went on to be used to create the ribbon colours of the Four Service Medals of WW1, the Victoria Cross ribbon on the Fretboard, and the Rosemary petals and flowers in the back of the guitar and the Poppy Flowers on the bridge, giving the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar the English link.

For the New Zealand connection, I wanted to pick a section closer to home, after all our Forces fought and shed blood as one. I used some Kauri Pine that I got from a project that my Father built many years before that was broken down for its timber. It was an obvious choice in regard to the species, but the fact it came from my Father’s hands made it all the more special to me personally. I incorporated the Kauri as the ‘banner’ timber of the back inlay below the podium and Soldier, Rest on Arms Reversed.  Thus linking out two counties of ANZAC into the same image. The Kauri Pine used in such small area, didn’t have a lot figure or grain to it, providing the Black Bean letters of the ‘1915 Gallipoli 2015’ and  ‘Centenary’ words that were in laid into the Kauri a stark clear appearance, due to the stripy figure of the Black Bean.

The image of the soldier in the back of the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar is the pose known as ‘Rest on Arms Reverse’, a solemn pose of respect to the fallen, and as such, I chose to use Queensland Walnut to give a dark and silhouetting affect. The podium was made out of the Coachwood draw blade I found in my tool draws. This was done to give a contrast in not only the colour of the timber but the grain. The plainness of the Coachwood would also give depth to the white pigment ‘Lest we Forget’ that was inset into the back. At the same time it balanced the figured grain of the Queensland Walnut.

To get the image of the Australian Digger in the ‘Rest on Arms Reverse’ pose, I wanted to take my own. As stated, I didn’t want this project being false, so therefore I needed to get my own images to use. I took my camera and an eight foot ladder to Anzac Bridge in Sydney, and snapped about 100 photos of the two Australian Soldiers on the Western side of the Bridge to later select from for the inlay design. I must admit at this point, standing on a ladder, about a metre  from traffic doing 80 odd kilometre’s an hour up an eight foot ladder with a camera in hand even now makes me shake my head and smile. Going to the extent and effort of originality gave me a sense of importance to the project. This wasn’t a game or a bit of fun. This was real, and purposeful. I was never the less expecting to meet a couple of ‘The Boys in Blue’ asking me to ‘Step down from the ladder Sir’. But what actually happened was far more real.

I returned to my van, with ladder and camera in tow after collecting the images to use, and observed a security car pass me on the way and pull up at the back of my vehicle with lights ablaze. I walked towards the bearded individual feeling very smug due to the innocence of what I was doing. I proceeded to start the conversation with the security man, ‘So I guess you want to know what a guy is doing walking around with an eight foot ladder and a camera...? Well I was just...’ ‘No’ he interrupted me, ‘I want to know what you are doing parked in a Dock Zone?’ 30 minutes later, after having it explained to me that I was parked in an ‘Official Docks’ area, and that I was liable for a $1500 fine, and seeing that there was a ship in port at the time, that make it more like $5000!!!! I had discovered the price of integrity it would seem.

The parking around the Western end of the Anzac Bridge is nonexistent, which is how I found myself in the location, after passing a sign informing all as to the ‘Docks Zone’, that I did miss admittedly. But the very kind bearded man explained that due to the magnitude of the fines, has a policy that for ‘First offenders’, he always waives the fine. He just had to scare the offender with big numbers so that they were less likely to do it again. Plus I think he genuinely liked what I was doing after I explained it to him. Nevertheless, the fact that he took down my number plate, had me scared of the mailbox for the next six months.

The hard carry case that I made for Gallipoli Centenary Guitar was another challenge that took many hours of searching and phone calls into Queensland as part of completing the timber list of the 303 Rifles. The Caribbean Pine that I used for the case could have been used to make the soundboard with for the guitar, but I felt that it would not have a great tone. So I made the decision to use Celery Top Pine form Tasmania, as it was closer to the Spruce that was being used on the guitars of the period I was reproducing and would deliver a closer tone to it. The Caribbean Pine is an imported species, grown today in plantations in Northern New South Wales (NSW), and Queensland (Qld) for the construction industry to make house frames. I got this information from a Qld promotions web site for the Qld timber Industry. You would think that this would make it easy to find? But the contrary was the case. I called timber merchants in Qld of commercial timbers, with the common response of ‘Never heard of it!’  Not even in its other name of ‘Southern Pine’. This then led me to contacting a plantation grower of the Caribbean Pine to ask who they wholesale it to. I got three names and numbers to follow up on from the Plantation Company growing the Pine. By the time I got to the second name on the list, getting the usual response as mentioned above, I had had enough. ‘Well I got your number from the plantation that grows the tree, telling me that they wholesale it to you. So you tell me mate what is going on.’  ‘Arrr well...’ was the response down the phone ‘Let me ask Barry.... and I will get back to you... err what is your number mate?’

It has always amazed me how much ‘Barry’ knows, wherever you go. Every workshop has a ‘Barry’. Thankfully though, Barry came through with the goods, only one problem. The timber was green. Green meaning unseasoned and needing to be dried before it could be used. I was glad I made myself a solar kiln some years back for the purpose of seasoning trees I collect myself. But the time needed was against me. How could I get the timber seasoned quickly enough, the thicker the timber was, the longer it takes to dry. However, the thinner the timber being dried, the more chance there is of the timber warping and twisting and being useless. I had no choice but to take a punt and rip it down thin to dry it, as time was against me.

Keeping to the reproduction theme, I didn’t want the hard carry case to be fitted with modern hardware, clean and bright. I wanted it to look old and dirty, bent and gnarled. Now for a Luthier with a restoration background, this is not new. But I wanted more than just the hardware to the bill. After all, I have gone to the extent of using animal glue to put the project together with, like the guitars of the period. So modern nails would not do. I wanted to find handmade nails to do the job.   This would take time to search a source.  The search resulted in the alternative of using farriers nails, the nails that hold horse shoes on, as I couldn’t find any handmade nails in Australia. I was looking for the case to be made by myself as much as possible. Some of the guitars of the day had cases made ‘in house’ at the Luthiers workshop. I wanted to do the same, and the nails were just the beginning. By putting in a bit of work into each nail myself; I had the nails looking like they are handmade and fitting right into the period reproduction feel.

The idea for the catches for the hard carry case came to me from a compass set that my grandfather owned, a discreet pin and keep catch that is almost lost in the case. Some of the Luthiers in the late 1800’s made the catches for their cases also, they didn’t purchase them, I wanted to keep symmetry with what I was doing. The compass catch was perfect for achieving this, small, simple and achievable in my workshop. It allowed me to complete the case’s hardware by complimenting the two old brass butt hinges I found in my grandfathers collection of bits and the case handle I found on my own toolbox, the first toolbox that I ever bought for myself, from a tool swap back in 1995.

Polishing the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar was going to be one of the parts of the project that I would truly enjoy. It is a time in any work that it all starts coming together, and you get to see the guitar come to life with all its colour and contrast. I had intended to French Polish the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar with orange shellac, as I figured that that was the only shellac available at the time. After checking my facts I found that in 1849, the first shellac bleaching factory opened in the American States.

Bleached shellac doesn’t have as much colour in it to impart on the timber being polished, and as such you get a clearer, un-hued natural timber colour coming out as a result. Looking closely at examples of the period guitars, it would seem that I could use either of the shellacs while keeping to the originality of the period.  Some had very orange soundboards and others not so. The difficulty is the question of how much colour is from naturally darkening with age, and how much is the orange shellac that it was polished with... or not polished with? We could never really know which, but as long as the end result looks like a period guitar colour, then it will be correct.

The peghead is the last area to cover in the story of the Gallipoli Centenary Guitar. It holds the centre piece of the guitar with the Sweetheart badge, and keeps the guitar in tune. I could of used numerous types of machine heads (tuning heads) for the guitar depending on the shape and type of guitar I was replicating. I chose to make wooden tuning pegs, as distinct from metal tuners. I didn’t expect to find metal heads that would fit in the reproduction feel, and I get a really great vibe off the wooden pegs. They have a tactile feel in the hands, not a cold machine made feel like metal cogs.

I turned the pegs in the workshop from Black Been to match in with the fret board and bridge. Repetitious turning is always tricky and the smaller the turning the more you notice any irregularities. After the sections where turned, I then carved the button handles for the correct finger hold.

The pegs themselves are on a taper, and each one is individually hand fitted to its new home in the peghead by hand reaming the hole to fit the tuning peg. Attaching the Sweetheart badge was another story all together. I didn’t want to encroach on the history of the badge, or modify it in any way. It had to be removable and unmolested when fitted to the peghead to be ethical and practical. This process resulted in many detailed and convoluted ideas as to how to achieve this result. Finally commonsense prevailed and simplicity ruled. I had a retired jeweller friend of mine make a simple brass bolt, with thread only for a quarter inch down the shaft starting at the head of the bolt. The remainder of the inch and a half shaft was smooth. This would allow the smooth shaft to go between the back of the badge and the pin that is used to wear it, and hold it into the peghead. Just remove the bolt, and the badge can be picked out of the peghead completely in tact like the day it was given.

I have completed this guitar with the intent to create a work that inspirers people to understand and look into the story of the bloody and disastrous coming of age of our two counties. Creating a guitar that could sing the story and give a voice to the silent soldiers that did not home or have since passed. To remind us of what we have done, what we stood for and maybe what we need to revisit in the future. Stand with your mates and not leaving anyone behind, instead of looking out for ourselves. Say hello to that new neighbour, not look the other way. Check on the old digger down the road. Go to the Dawn service each year. Stand in the cold, if only for an hour, and remind ourselves who has come before us, and think about how you can leave better what was here when we have passed through.

Add a Comment

Latest Posts