Can a 35-kilogram block of aluminium be turned into a perfect-sounding guitar? Add a five-axis milling machine and a dream and you have the foundation for Drewman Guitars’ aluminium guitars.
Entrepreneur/musician Andy Holt spent years dreaming of the perfect guitar. Finally he decided to build his own – out of aluminium.
Now Holt’s Swindon-based company Drewman Guitars is hoping to persuade musicians all around the world to make the switch – from wood instruments to the unique aluminium instruments pioneered by the company. Inspiring this innovation is Holt’s love of guitars and his friend’s metalcutting equipment.
“I had never worked with metals before, so it’s been a journey – we had to learn everything from scratch,” Holt told Metalworking World. “Now, two years later, we’ve started to sell our guitars and people are starting to talk about us.”
It’s been a rapid transition for Holt, whose day job involves being the owner of a software company. One of his top clients, who is also a family friend, runs an engineering company that does five-axis precision milling for the aviation industry, and Holt was struck by the idea that he could use that equipment for a different purpose.
“I’ve always played guitar, and about two years ago I had an opportunity to buy myself the guitar of a lifetime, the guitar you save up for that you’ve wanted all your life – that classic Gibson vintage in lemon burst, the perfect guitar,” Holt says. “I was just about to spend thousands of pounds on this guitar, when I decided instead to throw all my money into research and development to see if I could make my own, using the equipment I knew I could get my hands on if I went to see my client and all their technology and milling machines.”
After months of doing research with a design partner, Holt came up with a method for precision-crafting guitar bodies in a way where they would all be identical – unlike wood guitars, which all have individual characteristics.
It involves taking a single 35-kilogram block of aluminium and using a five-axis milling machine to carve out the inside of the guitar. The next step is to make an inverse mould of the inside so the guitar can be flipped over as the machine carves out the archtop. The whole process takes about 200 minutes per guitar, with close to 95 percent of the metal block removed during production.
The first two models – the D1 and DT – have been made with wooden necks. But the company is now starting to produce guitar necks out of aluminium as well, even though that’s a more complicated process.
“We’re milling everything except the frets, because the frets can’t be aluminium as the strings would wear them away,” Holt says. “And we’re laser marking on the fret markers after we dip the neck in a clear coat of anodise. I don’t think anyone in the world is doing that.”
The company is hoping to have the all-metal guitars with aluminium necks on sale before Christmas. And they should have a unique sound.
“Any element of aluminium on the guitar will change the tone,” Holt says. “Any tuned bits of metal touching the strings anywhere will change the tone and make it brighter and sustain better. So the neck itself should make it a very loud instrument.”
The Drewman Guitar models are already creating a buzz in the music world. Holt reports that “a global rock band who use a lot of technology in their music” has expressed interest, and he says Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett was impressed when he tried the D1.
But it’s not just rock musicians who are drawn to metal. “We made two really deep-blue-coloured anodised guitars, and I sold both of them to jazz musicians,” Holt says. “So jazz musicians like the blue ones. The silver seems to be what the heavy metal rock guys want. But they’re exactly the same instrument.”
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