It is always special to have something made according to your requirements, measurements, needs and desires by a master crafter – whether it is a suit, dress or even a house. When such a tailored item is combined with the intensely personal subject of musical taste it takes on an almost transcendent importance. This is exactly the case when ordering a guitar from South Africa’s own Guitar Guru, Marc Maingard.
Marc is regarded as one of the top five luthiers (guitar makers) in the world. Master Crafters are a rarity these days of instant gratification and micro-wave results but Marc is a Master Crafter in every sense of the word.
Not only does he possess the accumulated skills of a lifetime of patient trial and error that separate him from all but the very best; nor is it the combination of his classical musical training that elevates him to the upper echelons of Master Luthiers; it is in fact the spiritual depth with which he interacts, listens to and understands the wood with which he works that exemplifies his guitars and make them some of the most sought after and loved musical instruments in the world.
He has sold guitars to rock-god Steven Stills of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame; jazz fusion master, Earl Klugh; movie tough guy and guitar player, Steven Seagal; to name a few and scores of collectors from Japan to Johannesburg and Hollywood to Holland.
In 1996 Steven Stills said of Marc, “It was in South Africa, of all places, that I should find the best guitar-maker in the world. A unique and lovely sound, he’s really one of the best.”
David Crosby said of Marc’s work that, “It is the first 12-string guitar I have ever played that is perfectly accurate from fret one to 14!”
More recently Marc’s work was recognized by none other than Johnnie Walker which chose to announce the unique perfection of its latest Blue Label blend by counting it as “one of five exceptionally rare objects, each of which was a perfect example of fine craftsmanship and epic achievement,” at a once-off exhibition at Le Chatelat in Sandhurst, Johannesburg on 1 November 2011.
With an iconic new bottle design for the launch of their prestigious new Blue Label whisky; Johnnie Walker exhibited one of Marc’s Steel String Grand Concert Guitars; along with the very first of only 100 special Friedensreich Hundertwasser Limited Edition Mont Blanc pens; a Breitling Transocean Chronograph, an 18-Carat Rose Gold on brown crocodile skin watch; and a 105-year-old bonsai tree! Each of these exalted objects were assigned its own personal security guard on the way to, during and back from the exhibition.
Distinguished company indeed!
Marc inherited his musical genes from his concert-pianist mother and was something of a child prodigy with the violin, which he started playing at the age of five.
By the time he was 14 he was playing in the junior philharmonic in Durban, where he was born and grew up, being the youngest player in the 78-piece orchestra.
Unfortunately, a motorbike accident at the age of 17, left him with a cracked skull and a fractured neck, rendered him unable to hold a violin – devastating news for the young Marc to see his chosen career ripped away.
It was several years later that he picked up another instrument, the guitar, to alleviate boredom during his compulsory military service. He wrote songs and sang with his el cheapo guitar.
After his army days, he made a living through fixing cash-registers. Some of his friends however were earning a living by playing in a band at a hotel.
“They were so out of tune and played so badly,” recalls Marc, “I thought, ‘if they can do it, then so can I’.”
In 1972 Marc fulfilled his burning ambition to travel. He headed to the freezing United Kingdom where he decided to take advantage of a cheap offer to go to Spain. He performed in a bar in Torremelinos where, due to a lack of surfable waves, he befriended various guitar makers and began to learn the art and science of constructing these string instruments.
After playing various styles in several places in Europe, Marc headed back to South Africa – only to have his guitar broken on the plane.
The man who repaired it completely botched the job, so Marc redid it himself. His effort was so impressive that friends and colleagues asked him to repair their broken instruments.
So Marc began repairing and making guitars, but felt he didn’t know enough so he wrote to Santa Cruz guitars in the US and they offered him an apprenticeship.
A few years later he studied under José Oribé, one of the best classical guitar makers in the world.
In 1974 Marc went to India for a year, where he studied Yoga and became a teacher but even more importantly it gave him his foundation for life. It instilled in him a sense of discipline that helped him to redefine his life and how he was living on a daily basis. Not only did it teach him what to eat and drink but it also taught him how to prioritise his day for maximum benefit.
An active sportsman who mountain bikes and surfs (he was the Western Province Champion), Marc is able to get up at 5:30am every day for the first of daily meditations because an early bedtime forms part of his circadian cycle.
Marc’s signature is the ‘beveled’ edge he developed. This ensures that his guitars are more comfortable to hold, especially while playing in a seated position. He is also well known for the intricately detailed inlays on his guitar rosettes, necks and headstocks.
He meditates and prays for each piece of wood, recognising that it was once a living tree into which he will instill new life, as it becomes part of a unique instrument of music that communicates joy and love. By tapping it, he is able to hear the individual voice of each piece.
Marc’s main stock of wood comes from a single Brazilian Rosewood tree that had been felled over 60 years ago and was found at the bottom of an old timber yard.
“Yes, I mourn the loss of the tree,” Marc says somberly and sincerely, “but what better way to honour its life and its gift to the world than by reincarnating it as a friend that will be used by a passionate musician who will who will cherish, respect it and pass it on to a similar person in future?”
These days Marc makes 11 or 12 guitars a year and Cape-based guitarists don’t have to visit and climb some distant mountain to find this guru because he has lived in Scarborough for the past 37 years.
Yes, Marc’s guitars come at a price. You can buy an off-the-shelf model for a lot less than the base model of around R40 000, but that will always be ‘just another’ musical instrument.
Buying a guitar from Marc allows you to determine each detail of its design. It enables you to choose each and every individual piece of wood used in its creation. It empowers you to listen to each piece, you choose ones that quite literally resonates with you personally so that the final result will be an extension of your own character and spirituality. This will not only hold a deeper relevance for you, but will one day become a tangible memory of you to pass on to your loved ones after a life-time of making musical joy.
To hear Marc playing one of his own guitars, go to www.fullcirclemag.co.za/guitarguru.