Meet the Maker: Lowden of Northern Ireland
We have long been fans of Lowden guitars here at Gryphon and we were always excited when we had a used one to offer for sale. We loved their meticulous craftsmanship, playabilty and amazing tone. Our one complaint with Lowden guitars was that we had a rough time finding enough used examples to satisfy the demand for them. Players were understandably hesitant to let loose of such a fine instrument and when they could bear to let them go, they never lasted on the floor for more than a couple of weeks. We had talked with Lowden over the years about stocking their guitars and in 2016 the stars finally aligned and we finally became a dealer. They are still a little hard to come by, orders can take as much as a year to show up, but we are finally getting a steady stream of new guitars from the small workshop based in Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.
George Lowden started fooling around with making guitars in 1961, when he was ten years old and he and a friend made a pair of square-bodied instruments with bent-over nails for frets and fishing line for strings. By the time he was 18, George Lowden began taking luthierie more seriously when he made his first real guitar, a solid body electric. In 1973 he decided to take up guitar making as a career and in 1976 he developed his classic jumbo-ish body shape, which is now known as the O. The new guitars, which were offered in rosewood, mahogany or walnut backs and sides with spruce or cedar tops, proved to be popular with musicians in Europe like Pierre Bensusan who were looking for a guitar with a balanced, powerful tone that worked well in standard and altered tunings.
In the mid-1980s, George Lowden was hit hard by the synthesizer boom that caused sales of acoustic guitars to drop internationally. He sold his company, although he remained in touch as a consultant and helped design new models, and devoted his time to hand-making classical guitars and the occasional steel string. In 1998 he repurchased Lowden Guitars, and rededicated himself to building a company that could continue his legacy as a brilliant luthier and designer. These days, many of George’s family members are involved in the company and, after seeing how good the new guitars are, the future of Lowden Guitars looks secure.
Lowden Body Sizes
O: The O is perhaps the best known Lowden body shape and it dates back to the birth of the company. The O has a fairly large body and measures about 16 ½ inches across the lower bout. The O has a powerful, but clear bass response and shimmering mids and trebles. They sound great when played in an open tuning like DADGAD but they also work really well when flatpicked in standard tuning.
F: The F model was introduced in 1982 and was redesigned in 2003. It has a smaller body than the O, but it still produces a prodigious amount of volume and projection. The F was designed to be a flatpicking guitar but it works very well for fingerpicking, as well. Two of Lowden’s most famous fingerpicking users, Pierre Bensusan and Richard Thompson, play F model guitars. These days, the F is Lowden’s most popular body size.
S: The S model was designed in 1994 and although it is smaller the F and O, it has a remarkably loud, balanced voice. It projects very well and responds very well to a light touch. It’s a wonderful guitar for fingerpickers and players looking for a lot of sound in a smaller package.
WL: The WL, or Wee Lowden, is a tiny guitar but it speaks with a loud voice. Players who travel but need a great sounding guitar in a portable package should take a look at this guitar. We’ve also sold some to players who need a shorter scale length but don’t want to compromise on tone.
The Lowden Range
The Original Series
There are 4 models in the Original Series, the mahogany/cedar 22, the walnut/cedar 23, rosewood/cedar 25 and the rosewood/spruce 32. For many of us, we first learned how good Lowdens sound by playing one of these styles. Original Series guitars are made from AAA grade wood and they boast a simple but elegant design that emphasizes the natural beauty of the wood. The binding and purfling is all wood as is the sounhole rosette. The nut and saddles are bone. The O size is available in all four styles while F and S are available in selected styles.
The 35 Series
All of the guitars in the 35 Series are made with AAAA grade wood. The 35 Series is fancier the Original Series but it still retains the understated elegance that Lowden is known for. As of this writing there are ten different wood choices for backs and sides including Indian, Honduran or Madagascar rosewood, walnut, koa, Tasmanian blackwood, myrtle, cocobolo or mahogany and five different choices for the tops including Sitka, Adirondack or European spruce, redwood, or cedar. Not every body size is available in every wood combination but with almost 30 different possible combinations, there is sure to be a guitar to appeal to you.
The 50 Series
The 50 Series is the best Lowden has to offer and you can think of this line as their custom shop. Lowden uses Master Grade wood for these guitars and every combination of tonewood is available in every body size. If you want, you can add a body bevel, get fanned frets, opt for a 12-string, ask for a cutaway and choose the wood for the binding, among many other custom options. Because there are so many options, we tend not stock many 50 Series guitars, preferring instead to let the player decide what they want.
WL Fan Fret: The Wee Lowden Fan Fret has a remakably full tone for such a small guitar. As George Lowden says, “I began to think a Wee Lowden with the smaller soundbox would be even better as a fan fret and the bass would be even deeper than our single scale Wee Lowden. It has turned out to be true – not a day and night difference – more subtle but definitely there!”
Baritone: The Baritone is a recent addition to the Lowden line and we’ve had more people asking about it than any other model. The Baritone is based on the O size and it has a longer 27.5 inch scale length and a slightly deeper body. It’s designed to be tuned from C to C or B to B and man, does it rumble and roar. Baritones are available in the 35 and the 50 Series.
Signature Models: Lowden offers a number of Signature Models, including guitars designed with the input of players like Pierre Bensusan, Richard Thompson and Alex De Grassi. We have a few of these on order so check in to see what we have in stock.
Some of the recent Lowden arrivals at Gryphon Stringed Instruments: