Friday, December 13, 2019
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Notes from a guitar artisan

DUBAI: Clapton and Hendrix books, along with rows of guitar magazines, decorate the wooden shelves of the rustic shop decked with guitar trinkets and empty glass Coca-Cola bottles. Beautifully crafted guitars sit with pride along the wall as their contrasting unfinished counterparts lie in the workshop across from them.

With over 4,500 likes on its Facebook page, the shop – Ramsay Phillips Guitars – has been going from strength to strength since it opened in 2012.

“I never really strived towards it but that was the magical thing about recession – it gave people a chance to do anything that they wanted because they had nothing to lose,” says 30-year-old South African Ramsay Phillips, the owner. He previously worked for an engineering consultancy firm in Dubai before the global financial downturn kicked in.

“It blows my mind to think about, if we have a passion for things then it can’t be by accident. We should follow those passions, if you do what you love it will reap success.”

Although Phillips learnt to fix and repair guitars as a teenager, it was during a holiday in Australia in 2009 that he first experimented with building an electric guitar from a 40,000-year-old carbon dated Kauri wood. There has been no looking back after that. Through trial and error and also mentorship along the way he became an adept artisan at building guitars.

“I love the instrument and the history, the romance behind the guitar,” he says. Known as the “tone-consultant” among his clients, he now uses his skills to put together the pieces of a musician’s musical pursuit.

His shop, located on Shaikh Zayed Road (near Dubai Garden Centre), also provides services ranging from repairs, customisations and rehearsal studio.

Phillips’ clients stretch from Bahrain and Qatar to Neal Schon from the band Journey (who he worked on a prototype for as part of the artist’s signature model).

He says loves the challenge of delivering what his diverse clients ask of him. “Guitars are very personal. One type of wood is different from another and responds differently, all the materials you choose are thought through to create the specific sound that you’re looking for. It’s quite beautiful.”

But what about quality and price?

“It works out just about right compared to branded guitars because of the exclusivity of building or customising your own guitar. It’s just as much designed by someone who’s a connoisseur, special, different and with a story behind it. With the same building quality equivalent to Fender at $3,000, we cost a third of that.”

He says his objective is to match each guitar to the unique playing style of the owner, and uses every guitar as an opportunity that deserves a chance.

The writer interned at XPRESS