Handmade Guitars United Kingdom

The Ellastone Special

The Ellastone Special Review

LIKE COURSES AT a cordon bleu feast, British luthiers keep a comin’. This month we unearth the talents of Northworthy. Jerry Uwins looks at an example of their work... and wants to take his plate back for more!

Northworthy Ellastone Special

Northworthy - after the pre-Viking name for Derbyshire where the workshop is based. Company founder Alan, a model-engineering hobbyist and former engineer, built his first acoustic in 1982 and now makes around 20 a year.

Most sales to date have been through word of mouth on the local folk and Christian music scenes, but Northworthy users include John Renbourn, and George Harrison had a ukulele built for him some time ago.

Having seen a selection of Northworthy's, their modus operandi seems to be to take standard designs and adapt them. The Ellastone Special certainly fits into this scheme of things. The top half of the body has dreadnought-style shouldering while the lower bouts are Jumbo-like in width and profile the two portions. Joined, as it were, to give a squat, wide-waisted look. The rim depth is a semi-deep, 113mm max.

The shape is a purposeful one, allowing the bridge to be placed using what Alan refers to as the five elevenths principal’: i.e. five elevenths of the distance between the centre of the soundhole and the base of the guitar. ‘The sweet spot,’ he says.

Fullness and presence are priorities too. The quarter-sawn braces under the top-grade solid sitka spruce top (with so much lateral patterning that it could almost be called figured) are left unscalloped in the centre and very finely tapered at the ends in the interests of brightness and edge. The top is thinner than that of the standard Ellastone, and the X-bracing moved towards the soundhole both factors in giving a livelier, more played-in sound from new. The bridge pins are solid brass, which gives, says Alan, a more substantial mechanical fit between strings and bridge, also providing more mass where it’s wanted. ‘The result is more sustain and extra brightness.’

The back and sides are solid Indian rosewood, the back pre-braced to a 15 ft radius swell, the ribs sanded to match this cross-section before gluing. Alan reckons this not only minimises unwanted stress but helps take out some of the tonal hardness, which can be a not entirely desirable characteristic of rosewood. (Note that the Ellastone is also available as the Wyaston, a similar, albeit plainer guitar, with cedar top and mahogany back)

As the Special, this Ellastone Is nicely spec’d-up cosmetically. The front is bound in a rosewood-edged herringbone pattern, the back is centre-lined, the soundhole rosette and peghead motif are inlaid with abalone. This is a plastic-free zone- all bindings are wood or fibre, the nut and saddle bone. The finish is all-over gloss twin-peck polyurethane, immaculately applied to ‘the minimum workable thickness for a very high gloss.’

Northworthy necks are distinctive; this one — a customer’s guitar — is more distinctive than most. Normally, the recipe is 44mm at the nut widening to a string-spacing at the bridge of 55.5mm, a flattish, moderate and constant-depth section of around 20.5-21mm, and a nominally 25" scale length. Our sample keeps with the nut, scale and depth dimensions (the latter perhaps flattening more in feel towards the heel), but broadens out considerably to give an ever-so-airy string-spacing at the bridge of 62mm, the widest on a steel 6-string you’re ever likely to come across.

It feels unnervingly wide initially but is actually great for fingerpicking and, anyway, it’s hard to criticise a particular player’s preference. That aside, I love the shallow constant-depth feel, one Incidental benefit — Alan was keen to point out — being fast capo shifts since the capo can be set to the same notch wherever it’s needed.

Materials-wise the neck is cedar, unusual for a steel-strung acoustic but a wood the company uses for most of their rosewood-backed instruments (mahogany backs are paired with mahogany necks). The neck - with double-action truss rod - is scarfed under the headstock: not an economy measure but to enhance strength at the most vulnerable point. For this reason, too, the peghead capping of ziracote (similar to rosewood) is quite thick at approx. 2.5mm.

The 20-fret fingerboard is Jet-black, ebony-bound ebony, Sri Lankan or Vietnamese, dot inlaid with mother of pearl and with lowish wide-oval frets polished to mirror-like smoothness. The Inspiration for these came from a Gibson acoustic Alan used to own. ‘It’s a personal preference; I find they’re more comfortable and last longer. You can have thinner ones if you want. It’s like the radius: 11" Is standard, but we do 16 for those who want a flatter board.’ Where most makers use a standard tapered dovetail neck joint - Northworthy use a flat heel joint on all their guitars. ‘With modern glues it’s stronger, and we’ve never had one move. Actually, you have to be more accurate when cutting for a flat joint - dovetails can be packed and shimmed if they’re not quite right first time.’

Sounds

My liking for rosewood-backed guitars has taken a knock In recent times thanks to a couple of recent, rather brash review Instruments, but this Northworthy utterly restores my faith. It’s big and bold (projection is even better from the player’s perspective); the body of the sound delightfully balances a resilient, zesty attack with sweetness and a fluid sustain, and the definition of the fulsome yet controlled bottom end is among the best I’ve heard on any acoustic.

It’s like all the sonic elements that Alan Marshall has sought to unlock have come together In a nigh-on perfect alchemy. This is played-in class — world class!

Northworthy Ellastone Special

British made medium/large body acoustic. Herringbone bound solid sitka spruce top, solid Indian rosewood back and sides. Scarfed cedar neck with 20 fret bound ebony fingerboard. Sonokeling (rosewood) bridge with brass bridge pins. Bone nut and saddle, gold plated tuners.

Options: Ellastone Std - subtle construction variations and plainer cosmetics. Wyaston - similar but with cedar top/mahogany back and sides. Norbury Special - similar to Special but with three piece Rio rosewood back.

Range options: Spruce/rosewood: Mayfield - classic-derived medium body; Tideswell - dreadnought; Carsington - like Mayfield but wider below waist and longer body. Cedar/mahogany versions are, respectively: Alport; Radbourne; Mappleton. Electro versions available on all models using the customers' choice of pickup system.
Left-hand options: All models at no extra cost.

Finish Gloss: or satin natural (same price)

Various qualities and styles of case available, including specially made, fitted fibreglass in a variety of colours.

Dimensions

Scale Length: 634mm (24.96")
Width Of Neck At Nut: 44mm
Width Of Neck At 12th Fret: 56.5mm*
String Spacing At Nut: 37mm
String Spacing At Bridge: 62.5mm*
Action As Supplied At 12th Fret: (treble) 1.5mm
Action As Supplied At 12th Fret: (bass) 2.7mm
Maximum Rim Depth: 113mm
Maximum Body Width: 409mm
Fingerboard Radius: 11 inches
Weight (approx.): 4.5lbs (2.04kg.)

Please note that  dimensions marked * are unique to this instrument.

British classic? Northworthy's Ellastone is an interesting, non-standard size, combining elements of dreadnought and jumbo.

Reproduced with kind permission of Link House Publications and Jerry Uwins. T.G.M.Thanks to Neil Hudson of Harp & Carpe, Ashbourne for the loan of his Ellastone Special.

For Custom Guitars Handmade & Built in the UK
Call Northworthy Guitars On: 01335 370 806

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