Paul Sheridan, Luthier
By Graham C. Rawlins
Paul Sheridan, luthier, has been making guitars which rank amongst the best available in Australia. Graham Rawlins spoke with Paul about his work and ideas.
G.R: Paul, what motivated you to build your first guitar?
P.S: Initially, the love of wood – the beauty, the texture, the smell. Then again, I had begun to play the guitar myself, but the cost of a good guitar was beyond me. Because I was always looking for something challenging as far as woodworking skills were concerned, the guitar – making one – was the next option. Then I found myself making two, the three …I just kept on making guitars until I at last decided they were good enough to sell.
G.R: So it became a full-time occupation?
P.S: Yes, I realized that if I wanted to make top quality guitars, then I was going to have to put several years of my own time, and my own money, into developing them.
G.R: It’s interesting that you mention the beauty of wood. The first thing to notice about your guitars is the outstanding finish as fine as I have ever seen on a guitar.
P.S: Well, I French polish my guitars. I recently experimented with a catalyzed urethane finish, but it is so toxic I won’t be using it again. That was the first time and the last.
G.R: You seem to build cedar top guitars in favour of spruce.
P.S: It’s a case of supply and demand. Enquiries about my instruments are usually in favour of cedar. It gives a big sound straight away, whereas spruce needs time to develop.
G.R: Acoustically, your guitars are improving all the time. Each new guitar seems to have an edge on the previous one. How can you remain consistent, and at the same time improve each guitar?
P.S: I began building from the basic Torres design with seven fan struts, and average wood thickness. You see, almost every part of the guitar is variable. You have to cut out as many of those variables as possible to be consistent. Then you can alter small things at a time and evaluate the result. In this way each new instrument becomes a part of your research to develop a better sound.
G.R: Can you give an instance of something you have tried that has improved your guitars?
P.S: Acoustically, you mean? Yes. I extended the cross brace under the bridge to almost the full width of the table, similar to the Bouchet bracing system. That to date has been one of the best guitars.
G.R: Finally, the price. For some time now your guitars have been leaving even the most expensive production line guitars for dead. More recently, you have come close to that elusive quality that makes a fine concert guitar. Do you still see yourself catering for the more advanced student?
P.S: At the moment, yes. I am trying to keep my prices as stable as possible for that kind of market. The player-performer is prepared to pay more, but then he wants the best. That market must wait until it is clear I am producing concert guitars.
G.R: Paul, do you mind if I say something?
G.R: I don’t think you’ll be waiting for very long!