I met luthier Rory Dowling at a music session in The Reverie in Edinburgh sometime around 2010. That evening, he was passing a guitar over in the pub to the talented Scottish guitarist Matheu Watson. It was a very beautiful looking instrument, gleaming white spruce and gorgeous curves, so I went and introduced myself to these guys to find out more about the guitar. I was suitably amazed to discover that one of these fellows was the actual maker of that stunning instrument, as there are not many luthiers in Scotland at all. We quickly struck up a friendship, and when Rory learnt of my small collection of instruments, including a Stefan Sobell mandolin and octave mandolin, I invited him round to take a look at them, as he was very interested in the Sobell style of instrument making, and had received a lot of support and encouragement from the man himself. We had a fascinating evening going over all my bouzoukis, resonators, mandolins and oddities like a 19th Century small Portuguese guitarra. It was clear to me that Rory really knew his stuff, and I learnt a lot of new details about my instruments that evening. Clearly, Rory was going places, and his move to a spectacular custom designed workshop in the East Neuk of Fife was a major statement of further developments.
Rory was particularily impressed with my small bodied 1983 four course Sobell mandolin, built in European spruce, Indian rosewood and a mahogany neck. At that stage he was making a lot of guitars, but in our many conversations, he was obviously keen to make a range of other instruments, and a fine Irish style bouzouki was completed, which eventually went to Matheu Watson about 4 years ago. I believe he made a couple of other ones too at that time. So he seemed keen to add to the guitar range, and to an extent return to instrument types that he had started on before his guitars took off. As things transpired, I left my Sobell mandolin with him in the Comie Law farm workshop last year for the fitting of a K&K pickup system, and I told him to keep it until he had got all the subtleties and details he might want from it. Later, Rory began his first mandolin prototype based on my mandolin, which gradually surfaced in 2014.
So, I was very excited to get a message early in 2015 to say the prototype was virtually complete, and could I try it out? The new instrument was very beautiful to look at, the wood being very fine, and the attention to detail and finish being very sharp, accurate and attractive. It, too, was of the same wood combination, but was also clearly a Taran instrument, which I liked a lot. It is not a Sobell copy, more of a homage to that approach. I was extremely taken with the powerful, balanced bell like sound, and ease of playability. We also discussed a few tiny tweaks, which should add to its cailbre. Rory and I created some short videos to demonstrate the instrument, and I took the opportunity to do a short, spontaneous interview Rory about the mandolin project. In conversation, I asked if he had a name for the range, and we decided then and there to christen it the "Springwell" mandolin after the title of my first solo mandolin album, which is named for my family crofthouse in Polbain in the far NW Highlands of Scotland in Coigach. Rory's other instruments have names from parts of The Island of Harris in the Outer Hebrides, where Rory too has Highland connections, so it seemed doubly appropriate. I am very flattered that Rory chose to do this.
To date, the response to Rory's new mandolin has been wonderful, with, I gather, a series of orders coming in, and I look forward to seeing the first batch of 5 mandolins appear. It would be good to do a comparison of the various wood types Rory is proposing to utilise, including Scottish sycamore. I am certain that the new "Springwell" will give the new owners many years worth of fine music and pleasure in the way that my 32 year old Sobell has done. There is also a Taran tenor guitar and a guitar-bouzouki in progress, so I hope we can do a similar exercise to let the world see how very fine the workmanship of Rory Dowling is.
You can catch up with Rory at his website http://www.taranguitars.co.uk/
June 2016 update.
Rory completed 3 models of the new mandolin in 2016, incorporating a few subtle improvements to the prototype. The 3 different options are in the wood body choice, Scottish sycamore, Indian rosewood and Mexican cocobolo, with a 2-ply laminate on the sides with a sycamore interior, adding tremendous strength. You can hear all about them in the interview film here, https://vimeo.com/171202098 and what they sound like. They are beautifully made and sound wonderful! A tremendous success for Rory, and they are rolling off the bench in number!
April 2018 update.
I ordered placed an order late in 2017 for Taran “Springwell” mandolin number 14, and I chose the superb Mexican cocobolo for the back and sides, with lime wood lining reclaimed from the renovated Smugglers bar in Anstruther, Swiss spruce soundboard, ebony fretboard, mahogany neck with ebony veneer on the faces of the headstock and the new Rocklite binding. A final flourish was the addition of dot fretmarkers and the Taran “t” logo in hand-cut New Zealand paua shell which Rory had beachcombed on a trip there when he was 18 years old!
It is a superb instrument! Gorgeous woods, astounding attention to detail, with a multiple of subtle juxtapositions of the woods at the neck join, with a mastery of detail that only a real artist could create. And the sound is full, balanced, punchy with shimmer and ring aplenty, just perfect for my style of Scottish music.
So, all in all, a wonderful liaison with such an incredible luthier, and a complete gentleman to work with. A great thrill, and a great addition to the Taran Guitar’s range of high class instruments. I look forward to making music with the mandolin for many years to come.