If you are an anorak when it comes to guitars and mandolins, then read on!
Taran Springwell Mandolin #16 (2018)
This mandolin was crafted by the inimitable Rory Dowling, of Taran Guitars, who is based in Fife on the East Coast of Scotland.
It is an A-style mandolin with an oval-hole, a very deep body and wide top, and a Portuguese or "Sobell-style" neck joint. It features a European spruce top and Scottish sycamore back and sides.
Photos: Taran Springwell #16
In early August 2018 (having been in the market for a new mandolin for some time) I was visiting Fife with my family, and by chance I arranged to visit Rory's workshop in Pittenweem. The first thing I noticed when he showed us to the back-end of the shop was this lovely mandolin sitting on the sofa. Rory handed me a plectrum and said something to the effect of "Perhaps you could get a tune out of that", and that was it!
Photo: Rory Dowling of Taran Guitars
Rory set the mandolin up, put my favourite strings on it, and trusted me to try it out for a few weeks at home in Glasgow, and after experimenting with it in lots of different spaces, there was no way I was giving it back! The video below is from the first week that I had the mandolin, and it includes a tune that I wrote and dedicated to Rory called The Sixteenth.
Video: Willie Murray/ The Mystery Inch / The Sixteenth on Taran Springwell #16
The Springwell was designed in partnership with Kevin Macleod, the great mandolin player from Edinburgh, and the name is taken from the title of his first album. I had the pleasure of playing some tunes with Kevin at his house in Edinburgh, and we compared our mandolins; Kevin's features a European spruce top and cocobolo back and sides.
Photo: Cramping the style of The Occasionals (L-R me, Kevin Macleod, Alison Smith, Freeland Barbour)
Photo: Me at Kevin's house with the two Springwells (Calum L, Kevin R)
McIlroy A20 Guitar (2016)
In the summer of 2016, as I was preparing to move to Glasgow to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, I was desperate to upgrade from my instrument at the time, which was a Yamaha FG dreadnought that my dad had purchased at some point in the 1980s.
I came across the guitars of Dermot McIlroy (no relation) from Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland and was intrigued by the large, deep body. I was looking for something that would cut through the noise at sessions (spoiler alert - I attended approximately 4-5 sessions in my four years in Glasgow) and be versatile enough for solo guitar pieces and flat-picking.
Photo: Dermot McIlroy of McIlroy Guitars
After chatting on the phone to Dermot about acquiring one of these deep-bodied guitars, preferably with a spruce top, he told me that one that fit the description had just arrived at (sadly no longer with us) Sounds Great Music in Manchester. After arriving at the Megabus with seconds to spare, I made the round-trip journey from Aberdeen to Manchester, and from there I took a train towards Stockport. Sounds Great Music was a great wee family-run shop and their staff were brilliant; they even gave me a lift to and from the train station!
It only took a few minutes with the guitar, which has a spruce top, walnut back and sides, and pear binding, to realise that it was perfect. It has excellent tone and sustain, it's extremely well balanced, and it has enough projection to cut through other instruments and to provide enough volume for solo playing.
The A20 is a superb instrument and I love playing it as much now as I did the day I lugged it all the way back from Manchester!
Photo: My McIlroy A20
Pickups: K&K Pure Mini (mandolin and guitar)
Preamp: K&K Pure preamp
Pedals: Orchid Electronics Custom mic/DI mute
Plectrums: Wegen, I very occasionally use various Blue Chips I have collected over the years.
Strings: Elixir Nanoweb mandolin strings (10-34), Elixir Nanoweb guitar strings (13-56)
Straps: Lakota Leathers flat-braided mandolin straps
Tuners: Peterson strobe tuners