My main instruments have been made since the early 70s by Stefan Sobell in Northumberland in the North of England.
After playing bouzoukis, mandolas and mandolins made by him, in the late 80s I decided I wanted a rounder, warmer sound for my bouzouki and we came to the conclusion that a bigger body was the answer. Rather than have a very large tear drop shaped body, I opted for the guitar shape which is easier to hold. A lot of people who do not know me think it's a guitar, unfortunately!
Well, I suppose it could be called an eight string guitar! (Maybe if I called it that, I might get booked at Guitar Festivals...?) Very little remains of the original Greek bouzouki but it has four courses of double strings - like the modern Greek bouzouki and was originally based on the Greek bouzouki, so we still call them bouzoukis (except when Greeks are present...!). I tune it GDAD.
I also play a mandola made for me by Stefan in the 1990s (tuned DAEA). It had to undergo a heavy re-building programme in June 2012. Any instrument takes a while to recover from such interference, especially having a whole new sounding board. It made a pretty quick recovery though and was soon back at the head of the queue!
An instrument that I really love is my "bassouki". Made for me by Davy Stuart in New Zealand, it's a regular bouzouki shaped bouzouki but by stringing it .056/.042/.032/.018 (unwound). I am able to tune it down to CGDG. I use a Sunrise magnetic pick up on it and it has really great bass.
I also like to play an octave mandola made by Fylde. This is tuned GDAD, the same as the bouzouki. I like to play it open for songs in G and D and it has octave strings on it which give it a very different sound to the bouzouki.
Following the lead of Dónal Lunny, Rens van der Zalm and Nikola Parov, I commissioned a bouzouki-shaped bouzouki from the famous Japanese guitar makers - K.Yairi in 2012. Ogawa-san and his colleagues who built it, spared no effort to make it a brilliant instrument. It is so beautiful to look at, I hardly can believe my eyes when I take it out of it's case.
I used to have my harmonicas specially built by Antony Dannecker of Lincolnshire, UK. He uses Hohner parts and his own ingenuity and I am currently using his Dannecker Blues harp, though I have to ask him to put different cover plates on, so that it will fit into a harmonica holder. I use a harmonica holder that I have had for over 50 years! God knows how I never lost it! It was given to me by Rambling Jack Elliot at the time I was learning how to play. He also gave me the crucial information that Woody Guthrie used to play the harp upside down!!
Apparently so did the southern blues players of that period. There is no dis/advantage in this but I'm glad I learned to play it upside down like Woody! Jack played it the normal way...
In 2015, thanks to Eagle Music shop in Huddersfield, I was able to get some sponsorship from Seydel, the German makers who have a long history in making harmonicas and I’ve started using them.. I really like the low Eb, F, F# harmonicas I have from them. I also have a few old favourites like the Suzuki Pro Master 350V harmonica in G and A. My harmonicas are re-tuned and cleaned by Cathal Johnson who has a workshop in Galway. It’s great to find a harmonica technician in Ireland.
In April 2017 I received a mandola that I had commissioned from Ogawa-san’s new company “Vincent”. It’s a beautiful object and I’m hoping for big things from it!
I am currently using a Highlander pick up in one of my Sobell bouzoukis. In the other and in a Sobell mandola, I am using K&K pick ups. with many thanks to Dieter. The Yairi/Vincent instruments come with the Fishman Matrix. I have no idea which is better...
-Andy writes in June 2017-