There are many guitar companies out there and over the years there are more one person or small outfits cropping up that are challenging the norm and creating modern classics yet being respectful of what has come before. Seth Baccus guitars is one of those.
Having come from a solid background working with Manson Guitars in South Devon, Seth branched out on his own and set up his workshop in Portugal. Having recently returned to the UK, we put a call in to Seth as one of our previous guest speakers, Jas Morris of Firekind who is endorsed by Seth Baccus Guitars, suggested we had a chat...
What was the initial attraction to guitars and how did you become a luthier?
“My step father is Andy Manson, the founder of Manson Guitars, and he built his first guitar in 1967. As a result I grew up surrounded by guitars, musicians and sawdust so it’s all happened kind of naturally. When I finished college I got a job at the shop and I had always fancied having a go at the building side of things - I was about 22/23 when I had the time and resources to build my first guitar. My friend Tim (Head Luthier at Manson) and I would go out to the workshop on our days off and get stuck in, learning how it all works so it’s all grown from there. All of my favourite players growing up played sunburst Les Pauls and I was really into the whole Guns n Roses, Jimmy Page vibe. Working at the shop I was able to play a wide variety of different instruments in all price brackets and I had always lusted after a Les Paul, but every time I picked one up, it never felt quite right to me. Partially that’ll be as I learnt how to play on a Strat and I never quite got along with the scale length of a Les Paul. When it came to sitting down and designing my range of guitars, I wanted the core model to be my dream Les Paul. The idea behind my Nautilus model is a modern interpretation of the idea of a set neck single cut but I build them with a Fender scale length. Right from the very first one I built I thought ‘that is it, that is what I’m after’. Building in a traditional Gibson construction method but with a different scale length really had an impact on the tone and feel of the instrument where I found it tightened up the bottom end and gave the trebles a lot more attack and less soggy sounding than some Les Pauls I had played.”
Talk us through the process of making a guitar from inception to completion.
“Choosing the body and neck woods is the first stage and very important as to the kind of voice you want the instrument to have. The kind of wood and the weight of the wood makes a big difference to tone between models for the both the body and neck. If i’m building directly for a customer I spend a lot of time interacting with them to get a good feel and understanding of what they are looking for in a voice, weight and feel for the instrument. Preparing the wood, getting it down to the right size and shape comes next. Over the last couple of years I’ve moved in to using a small CNC machine for cutting out the body shape and carving the tops. I used to do all of that by hand but I hit a level of production where it was more efficient to use a CNC but more importantly it was more consistent. That was really an important thing from having customers who wanted to repeat order guitars where they had one, loved it and wanted the same but in a different timber, finish or pick up spec. I machine out the body, the necks are all shaped by hand but the fingerboards and inlays are all cut with the CNC. It’s about a week of machining to get all the parts roughed out and then it gets down to the really fun hand work in the bindings, the top, the sanding, contouring followed by the neck shaping and carving. My guitars have a unique heel design, where the neck joins the body, which at the moment can only be achieved by hand carving it, glue it all together and you’re done! You know, it all sounds so simple when you talk about it...if only! I use the best components that money can buy which stems from working at Mansons and I’ve only ever really been interested in having the highest quality going to make sure everything I build is the best it can be.”
It must be exciting to see pieces of wood come turn out to sound so great!
“It’s an incredibly rewarding process from start to finish and the most rewarding is when I’ve finished my part in building and the instruments heads to the customer, that’s only the start of it’s life which is quite inspiring to think what sort of journey the guitar is going to go on which will certainly outlive me. Where I’d like to take Seth Baccus guitars in the future is to have a small skilled team of people working together as I believe that particularly the Nautilus design really has a place in the market which is shown by those who play it, the guitar dealers that are ordering them and although it’s a classic type of instrument, it does things that others don’t and I really believe in that design.”
You were involved in building guitars for Matt Bellamy of Muse. How much further can it go with tech being added to guitars?
“That’s a really interesting question in the fact that the first guitar we built for Matt was in 2001 where Hugh and I delivered it to Real World Studios where Muse were recording Origin of Symmetry. That guitar Matt specifically wanted a couple of pedals built into it in a Zvex Fuzz Factory, an MXR Phase 90 along with a Roland MIDI pickup and an acoustic piezo pickup built in. At the time for us from what we were doing that was pretty revolutionary and exciting to be involved in. It takes someone who is as creative and has as much imagination as Matt to really show you what can be done. Moving on from that we built several other guitars, with Hugh building all the early ones, and they featured more and more effects like a wah pedal, more midi controllers and all kinds of gadgets and gizmos. As for where it will go in the future, I think the MIDI thing is still pretty unexplored as to it’s fully untapped potential. With various ways of incorporating controllers into an instrument in a more complex way than the XY controllers it’s really that those kind of ideas need to come more from the artist playing as they are the ones with the vision of where and how the guitar will be used. There will be some that balk at the idea of technology in such a traditional instrument but it’s kind of funny for me as I sit right in the middle of the road on that! The guitars I build these days are fairly traditional and classic where I’m going for absolute purity of tone. But, having said that, if the opportunity came up to really, really push the boundaries with an exciting artists like Matt Bellamy then I would jump at the chance as most guitarists are generally quite a conservative bunch, not that I’m knocking them for it, but the most popular guitars in the world are 60/70 year old designs. I think the bottom line is don’t be closed minded as to what can be done or may be done in the future.”
Some of our students study Live Sound with us, what did you learn working as a Tour Technician with Led Zeppelin that you can pass on?
“It was really through the Manson connection that I got into working as a Tour Technician as Andy Manson has built lots of guitars for John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin bass and keys player) over the years. My first bit of professional tech work was in 2001 where I went on the North America and Canada tour with John's solo project band where we played around 40 dates and it was just the best experience but terrifying and nerve wracking at the same time! The main thing about being a live technician is keeping your cool when things go wrong. No matter how well you prepare, something may well come up so you have to stay cool and work the problem out before it gets even worse particularly in how quickly you can get whatever it may be sorted out. I learnt a lot from it in the way I build my guitars in that I make them so they are easily and quickly repairable on the side of a dark stage and as accessible as possible so they can be maintained easily as that’s what life on the road is about. I did a few other European tours with John with it culminating in the famed Led Zeppelin reunion Celebration Day show at the O2 Arena in London. I was totally star struck the whole time working that! There was enormous pressure for that gig and you can only imagine what Robert, Jimmy, Paul and Jason Bonham (original drummer John Bonham’s son) felt like as well. They hadn’t played together as Zep for something like 27 years and the expectation for the gig was enormous as it was a one off show so there was no thinking ‘ah, it’ll be alright, it’ll be better on the second night”. One show, one night, it had to be spot on in every way right from the get go. We spent 6 weeks prior rehearsing every day, all day nailing every moment down. Right at the last minute we had a small technical difficulty which got the butterflies going but we managed to get it fixed just before the guys went on stage with the rest of the show being flawless. Just such a great experience and I’m very grateful for it.”