It’s no accident that Hendrix and Clapton, like thousands of other guitarists, fell in love with their guitars. Literally. Guitar maestro Andre Segovia once famously declared: “I have had three wives and three guitars. I still play the guitars”.

When Leo Fender designed the Fender Stratocaster in the 1960s he designed one of the sexiest objects on the planet - curvaceous, beautifully styled electric guitars with matt white control knobs and scratch plates. Fifty years on they are pop symbols and social magnets which still sound divine. No wonder guitar slingers, no matter what their preferred model of guitar, hug them close and  never let them out of their sight. They even give them names. Now in his 80s, BB King still books two airline tickets when he tours - one for him and one for “Lucille” his cherry red Gibson 335.

The love affair between guitarists and their instruments is at the heart of the matter for Nelson based luthier Russ Mattsen. The former fitter and turner has spent the last eighteen years making guitars in his Annesbrook workshop and has developed a worldwide reputation among discerning guitarists for the impeccable design and the beautiful noise his guitars make.

The process of building a guitar is anything but production line for Mattsen. He makes five guitars each year. These days they are commissioned by clients who contact him via his website asking for custom made guitars to order – like the Crossroad style resonator guitar called Tribute to Robert Johnson he recently made for an Australian guitarist. Or the stunning guitar which features in the music videos of fellow Nelsonian singer/songwriter Aly Cook.

“The guitar we used for Aly’s videos is special. It’s a left-handed Scroll model guitar. We gave it a makeover for her second video Midnight Sun - changed the colour and antiqued the finish to suit the set design and cinematography”. It’s this kind of attention to detail that makes these instruments fit exactly with the artist. Both Mattsen and Cook are bathing in the glow of the Midnight Sun video which is currently on high rotate on Sky 63. 

The guitars are more than a fashion statement for Mattsen. They are his passion. He has rolled a number of skills into one vocation by marrying his engineering and carpentry skills with his other life as a sculptor. And of course he is a guitar player.

When I ask what CDs he is listening to Mattsen mentions Wellington-based Darren Watson’s album St. Hilda’s Faithless Boy, Hammond Gamble’s 90 Mile Days and local bluesman Ralph Bennett-Eades’ Everybody’s Got A Li’l  Somethin'. “I love the blues. I see lots of struggling New Zealand musicians, I admire their determination”.

It’s the sheer beauty of his guitars that is captivating, even to a non musician. With intriguing names like The Florentine Scroll and The Austen Silver Star the instruments glow with an inner life which has been passed onto them by their maker.  “I make each guitar by hand, one at a time” says the unassuming craftsman. “This allows me the freedom to take the time to get the best out of each instrument and to make changes so that each instrument is tailored exactly to meet the guitarist’s requirements”.

 “The coolest thing is that I can knock off early and play the guitar in the afternoon”.

http://www.mattsenguitars.co.nz