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History of Lowden

In the late 1980’s George Lowden accepted an invitation to visit the main Lowden dealer for Switzerland, Servette Music in Geneva. Upon his arrival, co-proprietor Yves Imer thanked George for coming, because some of the Lowden customers he was to meet had not realised he actually existed – they thought “George Lowden” was merely the figment of some marketing man’s imagination - a leprechaun, in fact! This served to enlighten George to the principle that an ‘information vacuum’ will always be filled – sometimes benignly, sometimes bizarrely. So, for the record, here is the complete story of George Lowden and his guitars.
About Lowden
  • 1961

    In the summer of this year, at the age of ten, George took the first step on what was to become a lifelong pursuit to build guitars which would inspire players with their sound, feel and looks. “My friend Alan French and I made two "guitars" with the help of his dad, who was a boat builder in Groomsport, County Down. The "guitars" had fishing line for strings, bent over nails for frets, and a square soundbox!!”

  • 1969

    At eighteen, George remained driven towards learning the art of guitar building and made a further attempt. “ I had another go and made an electric guitar- more recognisable as a guitar, but barely so! I dreamed of becoming Ireland's answer to Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

  • 1974

    “After a fair bit of prayer (I needed all the help I could get!) I decided to make guitars professionally. Armed with some wood, basic woodworking tools and an excellent booklet by English Luthier John Bailley, I began the journey.” Over the next two years he taught himself how to use woodworking tools and learned his trade, mostly by trial and error. He began thinking about body shapes, internal bracing patterns, side profiles, construction options, varnishing techniques, plus design options for stabilising the acoustic guitar while still allowing it to breathe… This was a challenging and exciting time. “ I learned everything the hard way. I had no one to teach me how to avoid the obvious pitfalls. I tried new shapes, bracing designs and many other ideas and gradually emerged from the ‘hard school’ of self taught guitar making.”

  • 1976

    Throughout these years of experimentation, and more prayers to the Designer of the trees and sound waves, George became increasingly aware of the physics involved in the production of sound in the acoustic guitar. This led to his innovative soundboard bracing design, including the “Dolphin” strut profiles, the bridge design, the finish inside the soundbox, as well as the methods of assembly chosen and the blending of different woods. He then began a series of experiments aimed at increasing structural stability, finally designing what has become known as A-frame bracing.The first guitars with A-frame bracing and the Dolphin voicing profiles were made in 1976.
    "I am grateful to Stephen Delft and Chris Eccleshall (both excellent London based luthiers at that time,) for their help with specific information about where I could source various tools and woods etc. They were very patient and helpful during my ‘learn as you go’ period!"

  • 1977

    By this stage the O 25 had arrived, along with another three models all of the same shape, bracing and simple cosmetics. I was happy with the voicing of the bracing, craftsmanship, general design and most of all, tone, of these guitars.” My friend, Alastair Burke, showed his guitar (the first South American Rosewood and Cedar “O38”) to the main acoustic guitar shop in Paris at the time, Folk Quincampoix. The result was a shock phone call for an immediate order of six guitars with the request for four more every month!!! Sales began to explode, and George tried to expand the business to cope with the increasing demand.That first Irish studio/workshop, in 6a High Street, Bangor employed the first 4 trainee guitar makers, Colin ‘Dusty’ Miller, Frank Kernaghan, Sam Irwin and Michael Hull. It produced approximately 100 guitars, which can be identified by small blue rectangular labels.

  • 1980

    Yves Imer and Rene Hagmann of Servette Musique in Geneva had always been very supportive towards George since they first discovered his guitars in 1978. In 1980, Yves asked George's permission to source a small and expert company to make the guitars under license, so they would be more widely available. George recalls “Thus began a five-year period when my guitars were made by the small dedicated band of luthiers in the S.Yairi workshop near Nagoya, Japan. Visiting the workshop regularly to give the designs and check quality, I observed their craftsmanship and serious approach to work! I found them to be honourable and courteous, and I had the greatest of respect for their hard work and excellent guitars. I learned a lot about production and tools, and they in turn were delighted to be able to make original design guitars to this quality level. I also observed, what was to me, a new type of workmanship. I had previously thought that working to a high standard took a lot of time. However, I found that, with practise, the same or better results could be achieved at speed, by working at a high level of concentration . They also took me to visit a tiny store in Nagoya to buy Japanese hand tools with their laminated steel and fantastic cutting edges- which were a complete revelation to me”.

  • 1985

    ‘80s music brought a fashion for all things electronic in music and worldwide sales of acoustic instruments declined dramatically. S Yair’s proposed to consolidate by closing their workshops and moving production of Lowden guitars to a larger factory where other brands were also being made. George decided instead to try setting up a new facility in Ireland. A building was rented and modestly fitted out in Bangor County Down and new craftsmen trained from scratch.

  • 1986

    Micky Uchida, arrived in Ireland to live with the Lowden family, having written to ask George if he could come to work for him. Micky had been trained in classical guitar building but was interested in learning about building steel strings guitars. After observing his obvious talent as a craftsman and luthier, George offered Micky the factory manager's position. Lowden Guitars of this period were labelled with a slightly smaller version of the oval label and approximately 500-600 guitars were made in each of the first 3 years then approximately 1000 per year thereafter.

  • 1988

    Demand for acoustic guitars was still very low and worldwide prices were about half (in real terms) what they are now. Eventually in November, the fledgling Irish company ran out of funds and George was uncomfortable continuing with an under-funded business unable to meet its commitments, so he decided to close it down. On being informed of this, the Company’s bank asked him to agree to a Receivership, as they believed the Company could be sold if George agreed to a future co-operation. A group of local people put together a consortium to buy the assets out of Receivership. They called their company The Lowden Guitar Company, and signed a licensing agreement with George by which he retained personal ownership of the Lowden designs and trademark. He provided quality control and new designs while remaining independent from the new company which moved production to Newtownards Co Down. The model range at that time was much more limited than it is now, but the beginnings of a dealership network had already been established in parts of Europe and the USA.

  • 1989

    George moved with his family to France and continued his work as an independent luthier designing and building his new range of classical guitars as well as his steel strings.

  • 1990

    George returned to Ireland and continued to build his own acoustics and classic custom guitars for individual clients. He had earlier developed his classical design by means of an award from the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship which funded him to build and test prototypes in Switzerland. There the late Werner Ernst, who was a Lowden retailer and concert classical guitarist, allowed him to set up a temporary workshop in his home. George continues to personally build a small number of classical guitars today.
    Special thanks go to the late David Hammond from BBC Belfast, champion of local arts, crafts and music, who introduced George to the Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, and encouraged him to apply.
    George also continued to work with The Lowden Guitar Co designing new steel string guitars, helping with training and quality control.

  • 1991

    Micky Uchida decided to return to Japan to start his own solo luthier business.

  • 1996

    George trained his eldest son Daniel in classical guitar making and continued to design new models for the Lowden Range: the Small Body, the Jazz and the Premier Range ( now known and the 35 Series )

  • 1998

    To celebrate 25 years of guitar making, George designed the 25th Anniversary Limited Edition Model.

  • 2000

    Demand increased for limited edition Lowdens, so George designed the Millennium Twins. These were pairs of guitars in a choice of models built from matching sets of figured Walnut with soundboards from adjacent sets of Redwood sourced from trees which had fallen down naturally.

  • 2003

    The License with the Lowden Guitar Co was ended and production of Lowden guitars at the Newtownards factory ceased at the end of December 2003.

  • 2004

    From this date Lowden guitars are built by the family–owned company, George Lowden Guitars Ltd., under George’s direct supervision. New workshops opened in Downpatrick, Co Down. Ireland. and the integrity and passion – once described as “Olympic guitar making” - which goes into every Lowden guitar is still as strong as ever in the team. Lowdens’ 30th Anniversary was celebrated with a Limited Edition pear-wood guitar, which proved phenomenally popular. As the new workshops got ‘up to speed’, the full Lowden range was brought on line again………but with some surprises in store! The small 'S' model was redesigned with a more curvy body and shorter scale length. George took the 'F' model design a bit further and also redesigned the nylon-string Jazz model and based it on his classical bracing design.
    The ‘new era’ of production is signified by a new rectangular label.

  • 2006

    The ‘50’ Series Custom Shop was introduced to meet the demand for customisation and to offer the choice from our Reserve Selection of Master Grade tonewoods. George's son Aaron walked straight from school into the workshops to begin his apprenticeship to his father.

  • 2007

    This year saw the launch of the Richard Thompson and Alex de Grassi Signature Models – both ‘F’ cutaway body sizes in stunning wood combinations. Both Richard and Alex have chosen to play Lowden for many years and we wanted to recognise that, and pay tribute to their skill.

  • 2008

    This was a busy year for new introductions! The famous 'Lucky Strike' Limited Edition featuring once- in- a- lifetime - quality Sinker Redwood tops from the eponymous Lucky Strike log and The Baritone guitar, plus the re-introduction of the 22 model and the addition to the Jazz Series of a Brazilian Rosewood/ Alpine Spruce version.

  • 2009

    The long standing relationship between finger style artist Pierre Bensusan and his Lowden guitar was marked by the introduction of a Pierre Bensusan Signature model featuring a soundbox bevel designed by George. The bevel provides much welcomed comfort when practising for hours, or for reaching over the soundbox generally and has since become a very popular optional addition to any guitar in the 35 Series and 50 Series.

  • 2012

    George had been asked at various times whether he would make a guitar with a ' fan ' style fretboard. The concept has been around since medieval times, but was generally only available by commission from individual luthiers. The idea is that by using a variable scale length , the bass string length is increased and the treble string length is decreased, which enhances the tonal qualities at each end of the spectrum. George designed a unique 'Dali-esque' bridge which allows any Lowden to be made with a fan fret option without interfering with the unique Lowden soundboard bracing. Simply angling the bridge would have necessitated altering the placement of internal struts.

    We also recognised the contribution of Thomas Leeb's amazing percussive acoustic style to the acoustic guitar world - and particularly the Lowden community - by creating the Thomas Leeb Signature model complete with a replica of his wooden scratch plate.
    The world famous Bushmills Irish whiskey o pant entered the music world with their first “Bushmills Live” event and commissioned 3 special guitars from Lowden. Backs and sides were made from the staves of whiskey barrels, unadorned, and the soundboard was cedar. Bushmills gifted one to Gary Lightbody (Snow Patrol) and one to Foy Vance , keeping one for themselves.

  • 2013

    It was our pleasure to celebrate a great Irish connection between Paul Brady and Lowden with a Paul Brady Signature model, specially designed to be played successfully on stage with a band, but using a mic - only set up, if desired. This is Paul's preferred option of late. Initially at the request of our Japanese fans, but proving a major success internationally, we also launched The Stage Edition 32SE - a revised version of an earlier design - featuring a shallow body, fast neck and inboard pick- up.

  • 2014

    We celebrated George's 40th Anniversary as a guitar maker with a truly special and personal Limited Edition Option package which George has said "comes from the heart" and was available for any guitar in our range.!) This year is also Pierre Bensusan's 40th anniversary and we are marking this with him by reproducing his original Lowden - the 'Old Lady' ( now retired) - as a second signature model.
    Our good friend and supporter Gary Lightbody from Irish band Snow Patrol requested that George build a guitar for him to give to Ed Sheeran. George took careful note of Ed’s playing style and designed a completely new - and smallest ever - Lowden guitar. Both Ed and George were delighted with it , and so we added it to the Lowden Range . It is known as The Wee Lowden because “ wee” is a popular word in Ireland to affectionately describe anything small .

  • 2017

    Bushmills proposed a Limited Edition guitar to celebrate the idea of Fathers and Sons in recognition of the passing on of skills in the craft of Bushmills barrel making and Lowden guitar making. Eight ‘F’ body guitars were made in Ancient Bog Oak with Sinker Redwood soundboards featuring a custom designed inlay of crossed Luthier and Cooper tools below the heel cap and a centre back inlay curved to the shape pdf a barrel stave.

  • 2018

    Following the success of their first Limited Edition Lowden which was massively over-subscribed, Bushmills commissioned another, with the theme of the copper still. This time thirty guitars were made in African Blackwood with Alpine Spruce soundboards, available in ‘O’, ‘F’, and ‘S’ body sizes. This time the decoration outline of a still inlaid using copper from an actual still under at the top of the guitar back, and a centre back inlay in the shape of a stylised soundwave inlaid using wood from sherry casks.
    Also Ed Sheeran wanted to return Gary Lightbodys favour and had asked George if he would build Gary a solid body electric guitar. George went off for his annual design retreat and designed the GL10. Back home, the team contributed more to the design and together they were pleased to introduce it at the Winter NAMM Show.

  • 2019

    At the winter NAMM Show in January, Lowden exhibited their largest selection yet, introducing 4 additions to the new electric range including features such as weight relieved bodies, Lollar P90 pickups and new wood options. New acoustic additions were the F35 12 fret, the S35 12fret and the Wee Lowden Jazz model with LR Baggs session VTC. New wood combinations were added to the 50 Series: Macassar Ebony / Sinker Redwood and Macassar Ebony / Alpine Spruce.
    Also, after 2 years of exhaustive research we brought out a new range of Lowden Guitar strings. They are phosphor- bronze with an ultra thin treatment for longer life, and come in 6 gauges from extra light to baritone.
    But in possibly the biggest development to date, Lowden announced their collaboration with Ed Sheeran and launched the new “Sheeran by Lowden” range of entirely new guitars. These guitars plus he groundbreaking method of constructing them, were designed by George Lowden to meet the needs of young aspiring guitarists, and fulfill the joint vision of Ed and George to “get great guitars, made in Ireland, into the hands of kids”

    Visit Sheeran By Lowden