A few days ago I spent a couple of hours with Jonathan Hirsch. So what, you ask. We were introduced three years ago by a mutual friend Georgina Angele who thought that we would have something in common.
Jon is a dreamer, inventor, perfectionist and musician. He combines all these qualities in the form of his life’s obsession. Creating his own guitar. Like me, he’s listened to all the greats, wondered at the strange blend of spiritual transcendence and sheer down to earth sweat and toil involved in making a guitar sing. He’s listened agape to the pyrotechnics and impossible finger work of Jimi Hendrix; he’s stood in awe at the fluid dexterity of Eric Clapton and he’s tried to emulate the distinctive finger-picking style of Mark Knopfler. For years he’s yearned to put his own print on the path to the stars that these immortals have trodden. To leave a legacy, to make his mark, to mark his make.
The Hirsch SB-1 Small Body Electric Guitar stands in a corner of an upstairs studio. A perfect thing. Enthroned on its own bespoke stand, regal, yet small in a Windsorian way.
The Hirsch SB-1 is a wonderful, unique creation. It combines a full length neck with Gibson length combined with Fender string spacing. The body is its signature piece. It is a neck-through body construction with a contoured heel and carved top, with a creamy brown mahogany veneer. I suppose one could call it a travel guitar, but that just doesn’t do it justice. It has the glorious curves and styling of a vintage guitar with the ability to play full fret, is roughly half the size of a standard guitar, yet boasts a two-octave fingerboard. The construction is customised with top quality wood, pickups and hardware and the kind of lovingly finished touches that only hand-built instruments have. Jon intends to commission a limited first edition of just five, individually numbered and badged with the name of a well known popular song – ‘Love me do’ etc.
So who will buy it?
Jon thinks that the Hirsch SB-1 will appeal to serious musicians, professional or amateur, who are not prepared to compromise on quality, pitch or performance. Someone who has made a little money and has to travel. The SB-1 is 30 and a half inches long – half an inch under the air restriction for hand luggage. You can take this beauty onto the plane and fondle it during the journey.
The likely selling price is going to be between £4and £5k so this is not a whimsical purchase. However, when there are only five of these works of art in the world, the price begins to look quite slim. The purchaser may well already have a Strat or a Les Paul and will buy on form as well as function. They may have a small guitar collection and want a small guitar to join it. However, design is not enough. It has to sound sublime as well.
Matt Backer who plays guitar with new British torch singer, Rumer has already laid hands on it. It is on television on Comedy Rocks (Friday 4th February, ITV1). The SB-1 has had its initial break. Jon, the proud father, went to London to attend the recording. In the breaks, he played his guitar and waited for people to come alongside and admire his handiwork. Rob Harris, the guitar player from Jamiroquai did just that.
Talking to Jon, you realise that this quest to launch a new kind of guitar is not about the money. It’s not even about business success. It’s about leaving something behind. Something that could only have come from him. That kind of passion can’t be taught, instilled or mentored into someone. It can only ever be released.
It was a privilege to spend some time with Jon. A local musician, Tom Walker (The Tom Walker Group – Everyone was there EP – www.thetomwalkergroup.com) stopped by to pick up the guitar for a few moment, run his fingers up and down the neck, play a few runs. Jon stood by, enjoying the sensation of someone else playing his baby, intrigued by the different sound coming from it.
By day, he works in digital interactive media, deftly manipulating other people’s ideas into learning dialogues and experiential portals. But his heart lies in creating the ultimate conversation. Between creator and man. Between idea and realisation. Between the present and the future.
This encounter inspired me to seek out again one of the greatest guitar sounds ever produced, by Roy Buchanan, on ‘The Messiah will Come Again’ played on a brown 1953 Fender Telecaster that he nicknamed ‘Nancy’. I once played this to the owner of B&W Loudspeakers, Robert Trunz, on the original prototype pair of £35,000 Nautilus loudspeakers. We both ended up in tears. The birth pains of creation tend to do that to you.
The Album – Roy Buchanan – Buch and the Snakestretchers 1971
‘The Messiah will Come Again’ – full album version.