Doncaster's guitar man reflects on half century involvement with the beautiful instrument

If there is something about guitars that Doncaster luthier Stuart Palmer doesn't know, it probably isn't worth knowing.

Friday, 23rd June 2017, 5:47 pm
Updated Thursday, 31st August 2017, 3:03 pm
Doncaster man Stuart Palmer is an expert on all things guitar

A conversation with Stuart verges on a name-dropping session, but he's simply recounting a handful of fantastic anecdotes from his long career in the music business.

He's worked with the likes of the Stone Roses, Martin Simpson, Oasis, Richard Hawley, Slipknot, Motorhead and Judas Priest since falling in love with his first guitar almost 50 years ago.

The 60-year-old remembers swapping a pushbike and a turntable for his first axe, a cheap classical guitar, as an 11-year-old in Mexborough.

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The Alfa Romeo guitar Stuart helped create

He pushed the bike to Swinton, carrying the turntable, and walked back with the guitar.

The young aspiring pianist was converted when guitar bands like The Beatles took off in the mid-1960s.

"It was guitars, wasn't it," he said.

"It's that era. I don't want to play this keyboard thing. I want to play guitar."

Stuart in his workshop

Like a lot of mothers did, Stuart's told him that the instrument wouldn't make him any money.

All these years later, he said she still 'didn't fully understand' what he did.

The love of the instrument, and music, has been ingrained in him.

Stuart said modifying, building and fixing guitars was like buying a suit and having it tailored to fit.

The Alfa Romeo guitar Stuart helped create

Plenty of players have used his talents over the years. Stuart's base is his workshop at Electro Music on Copley Road, Doncaster.

Stuart built four guitars for John Squire. Some have featured in famous photographs of John.

He used one of Stuart's guitars at the band's famous 1990 Spike Island gig.

Stuart was still putting the finishing touches on the guitar in the days leading up to the show on the May bank holiday.

Stuart in his workshop

"It had to be couriered straight to the stage for John to use it at Spike Island," he said.

It took Stuart about two months each to build them.

He also worked on a series of bass guitars for John's bandmate Mani, which featured artwork by Damien Hirst.

He repaired some of the fittings on the eye-catching instruments.

"That's the weirdest thing I've done," Stuart said.

His work with the Roses led to one of Stuart's most memorable experiences, which says a lot about rock n roll excess.

John was having a problem with one of his guitars in the recording studio, so the band sent a taxi from Monmouth in Wales to fetch him.

He took the six-hour round trip to spend less than two minutes fixing the guitar.

Stuart remembered turning up at about 10am to find just two engineers working. The band arrived about lunch time.

"I thought 'I'd better at least do something', so I started setting up, tweaking and adjusting guitars until somebody turned up," he said.

"All it was, was the intonation on his top E string.

"It's a 10-second job."

He turned into an electrician for the day, re-wiring a dimmer switch to eliminate the buzz it was giving John's Fender Stratocaster.

Another long-distance trip he did also involved John. Stuart travelled to London to authenticate two rare guitars for the Stone Roses man.

On the way to look at the 1958 and 1959 Gibson Les Pauls, Stuart received the news that his father had died.

He had no choice but to finish the journey: Stuart was on the non-stop train to London Kings Cross.

Stuart examined the guitars before catching another train to Liverpool to be with family at Ainsdale, near Southport.

"That's why I can't forget the day I went to see that guitar," he said.

Indie rockers the Charlatans played some of the more unusual instruments Stuart has been involved with designing.

He lent his expertise to research and development of the Alfa Romeo electric guitar in 2014.

The band played them at the Goodwood Festival of Speed.

Only 11 of the guitars, which was based on the style and materials used by the car manufacturer, were made.

Stuart teamed up with Harrison Guitars, and he said it was the most popular of all his projects.

"It was in about 20 different car magazines," he said.

Stuart owns dozens of guitars of his own, and one of them has an amazing history - a CF Martin once belonging to American country singer Cowboy Copas.

He died, along with Patsy Cline, in a plane crash in 1963.

The guitar was being freighted by railway at the time, ensuring its survival.

Stuart was unaware of its history when he purchased it.

"If you see photos of Patsy Cline playing a guitar, it's that guitar," he said.

Superstition suggests that owners of the guitar aren't supposed to fly because of Cowboy's and Patsy's accident.

You're supposed to give it to a friend before the flight, and get it back after.

"I very rarely fly," Stuart said.

"I've flown once in 25 years. I just don't like flying."

He's only ever owned one electric guitar. Artists like James Taylor, Bob Dylan and Donovan instilled a love of the acoustic sound.

"I've always gone down this acoustic avenue," Stuart said.

Stuart hopes his love of the instrument will be passed on to five-year-old grandson Olly.

"At the minute, he's a footballer," he said.

"Because his dad's a sports coach."