Chipperfield Original No.45

Chipperfield Original No. 45 is a photographic study of Hugh ‘Chip’ Chipperfield, a professional woodturner with over 35 years experience in the industry who also creates beautiful handmade guitars.

Chip began making guitars as a way to get his son Joe, an avid guitarist, interested in woodturning. He purchased a book on how to build your own guitar for Joe which was met with a polite interest, but little passion. For Chip, reading the through the book proved to be a catalyst for a then-undiscovered talent for guitar making.

In his spare time, Chip produces a small number of guitars each year, creating bespoke instruments for friends and local musicians. During this ‘extra career’ he has built almost every type of guitar; from traditional acoustics, to hard bodied electric models and even a harp for good measure.

My partner commissioned Chip to build me a guitar for my 30th birthday and I decided to document the entire process, from design consultation to completion of the guitar itself. I chose to have a walnut bodied resonator guitar made that would be a hybrid of the styles made by the National and Dobro guitar companies. It would be the 45th Chipperfield Original guitar.

I spent six sessions with Chip between November 2015 and February 2016 documenting the making of my guitar and I felt privileged to witness almost every stage and process involved in its creation. Each photograph stands alone as an intimate portrait of Chip’s skill and love for the instruments he builds.

My aim was to capture the essence of guitar making, a generations-old practice I was unaware still existed in modern Britain. I hope that my images can raise awareness of the craft and continue to support and keep it alive.  

Chip's Hertfordshire workshop

Guitar body stencils used to hold the shape of the walls.

Shaping the sides of the guitar body involves wetting the wood and bending it around a hot iron. The two pieces are shaped by eye and then clamped into a frame set.

The fretboard is finished with Paua shell inlay and filler for the fox design on the third fret. After being left to dry, the fretboard is glued and clamped to the neck.

"I cannot begin to describe the sheer joy in taking a few planks of carefully selected wood and producing a finished item that is not only a joy to look at, but also springs into life when you finally put the strings on a few months later."

A support is glued to the inside of the back panel and is held in place by wooden rods until dry.

Holes for the fret dots are drilled and then filled.

The fret wire is shaped and cut, then pressed into the fret board before being trimmed by hand.

Finally, the frets are smoothed down on a sander.

The biscuit bridge is turned on a lathe from a piece of boxwood.

The hole for the truss rod is created by hand.

The neck is shaped with a combination of sanding tools to ensure a smooth finish. 

Three coats of Danish oil are applied to the body and six coats of of nitro-cellulose laquer to the neck.

The body is left for five days to dry and the neck is left for three weeks to harden before assembly can begin.

After the neck and body have been joined, the setup of the guitar can begin. 

The process involves attaching the tuning pegs, fitting the strings and then making small adjustments to the biscuit bridge to ensure correct intonation. Chip's son Joe helps with this process. 

"Although I find every stage really enjoyable, the most exciting part is the final setup and putting the strings on. 

The reward after hours of work is the thrill of hearing the guitar come to life."

"Not only is there the satisfaction of making an item from start to finish, but also knowing that this is something that will bring pleasure to its owner and possibly future generations for many years to come."

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