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Lowden guitars are currently handcrafted in a small workshop in Downpatrick under the direct supervision of George.
Eric Clapton, Jan Akkerman, Vince Gill, Mike Oldfield, Pierre Bensusan, Alex de Grassi, Peter Finger, Nick Harper, Don Ross, Richard Thompson, the late Eric Roche, Paul Brady, Lee Rogers, Gary Lightbody, and Foy Vance use Lowden Guitars.[dead link]
The first Irish studio/workshop, in 6a High Street, Bangor employed 4 trainee guitar makers, Colin ‘Dusty’ Miller, Frank Kernaghan, Sam Irwin and Michael Hull. It produced approximately 100 guitars during this period, which can be identified by small blue rectangular labels.
Beginning in 1980, George licensed manufacturing of his guitars to a small group of master luthiers in Japan, near Nagoya.
In 1985, as a result of the rise in interest for all electronic instruments in music, sales of acoustic instruments slumped worldwide and the owners of the Japanese factory decided to close it and move production of Lowden guitars to a larger factory where other brands were made. George was concerned about this outcome and decided to try setting up a new factory in Ireland. By way of very little capital and through the help of an investor (David Jebb); George rented a building in Bangor, Co. Down and began to employ and train new craftsmen.
1986 Micky Uchida, (a Pierre Bensusan fan and guitar maker himself from Japan) arrived in Ireland to stay with the Lowden family and asked George if he could come to work for him. Micky had been trained in classical guitar building but was interested in learning about steel strings. A short time after his arrival in Ireland with his wife Izumi, George offered Micky the factory manager's position after observing his obvious talent as a craftsman and luthier.
Lowden Guitars of this period were labelled with a slightly smaller version of the current oval label and approximately 500-600 guitars were made in each of the first three years then approximately 1,000 per year thereafter.
Receivership and licensing agreement
Eventually in 1988, the company ran out of funds. George was uncomfortable continuing with an under-funded business unable to meet its commitments, and decided to close it down. On being informed of this, the Company’s bank asked George to agree to receivership, as they believed that the company could be sold with George’s agreement for future co-operation.
A group of local people put together a consortium, headed by Andy Kidd, (whose background was as a recording engineer and record producer) to buy the company out of receivership. George Lowden signed a licensing agreement with this new company. This ensured that he retained personal ownership of the Lowden designs and trademark and enabled him to provide quality control and new designs while remaining independent from the company. 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 wife and children to France and worked as an independent luthier designing and building his new range of classical guitars as well as his steel strings. During this time, he also designed new models for the company, and checked quality on periodic visits back to Ireland. He built, as he still does, between 10 and 15 instruments each year for individual musicians who commission a personal guitar.
Some time later George continued his implementation of new designs by introducing the ‘Jazz’ nylon string electric acoustic.
In order to satisfy an increasing demand for more ornate instruments, Andy then asked George to design a series of guitars with more inlays, as the ‘Standard’ guitars were too plain for some musicians' taste. Thus was born the ‘Premier’, or “35” series with George Lowden’s version of "flash". This series has been the most successful of all the Lowden designs with their figured exotic woods and inlays combined with selected grades of soundboard tonewoods.
Change of ownership
The acoustic guitar market had begun to flourish again during the 1990s, but the company, significantly hampered by under-investment, had not been able to achieve its potential. In November 1998, keen to participate in a progressive plan to develop the business further, George Lowden, along with Steve McIlwrath and Alastair McIlveen set up a new holding company to buy a controlling interest in the Lowden Guitar Company. George’s vision was “that the company should become as good as the guitars themselves…”
In November 1998, a visitor to the factory showed up guitar case in hand with the Lowden guitar serial No.1. The very first guitar George designed and built. This was an excellent reminder of how far the Lowden Guitar had come. As a celebration of this long journey, George designed the 25th anniversary limited edition model. “My aim with the design and build details was to make available in reasonable numbers, a guitar which was as close as possible to the guitars which I am only able to build personally for a very few players each year under my full name. I therefore included as many as I could of the construction, voicing and cosmetic details, found in my own guitars in this limited edition of 101 instruments.”
By this time, the community of Lowden enthusiasts had grown considerably and players were not only attracted by Lowden’s tone, looks and attention to detail, but also by the fact that they were not mass produced. Requests increased for ‘special edition’ Lowdens and in order to fulfil this demand George designed the Millennium Twins. “As a luthier, I find that designing a few ‘special’ guitars does stretch my creative abilities and I enjoy that challenge. I believe this does help to develop the art of guitar making in a much wider sense as well. I introduced the limited edition Millennium twins with their matching sets of figured walnut back and sides and adjacent sets of redwood tops sourced from trees, which had fallen naturally.”
In 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.
- "lowdensonyoutube". Georgelowden.com. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- George Lowden Guitars
- "Home". Georgelowden.com. Retrieved 2013-03-25.
- Lowden Guitars Website
- Lowden guitar database on Guitarbench.com
- The Eric Clapton website has an article about a charity auction in 2004 held by Christies where Eric Clapton raised $7.5 million by selling his guitars. Lot 32, His 1996 George Lowden O38, guide price of $5,000-$7,000 sold for $41,825. Read it here .
- the late Eric Roche does a run down of his equipment starting with Lowden Guitars.
- Berkowitz, Kenny; "Lowden Guitars", Acoustic Guitar March 1999, issue 79,
- Bensusan, Pierre has retired his jumbo S22 Lowden guitar after 25 years of service, and is using a new F body Lowden Pierre Bensusan Signature model starting 2009.
- de Grassi, Alex; answers questions about his music and equipment
- Ohlschmidt, Jim; "Louise Taylor", Acoustic Guitar, issue 98, dated February 2001, dealt with Richard Thompsons equipment,