FdA Historic Craft Practices - Musical Instruments 1984 - 1986

Peter Barton

Classical Guitar Luthier

Talk us through your career path since graduating.

On leaving West Dean I set up my own workshop from home in Addingham West Yorkshire in 1986. I concentrated on making classical guitars, and in 1987 was awarded a Crafts Council setting-up grant which allowed me to buy some more tools and tonewoods.

In 1992 I was appointed as a part-time lecturer at Leeds College of Music to teach guitar making on a BTECH diploma course. I taught two days per week for seven years at Leeds and gained a lot of experience, both in teaching and making.

During that time I exhibited my guitars at many international festivals in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and in the UK. This included taking part in an exhibition of British guitar makers at David Linley’s prestigious gallery in SW London in 2001.   

In 2010 I returned to West Dean College to start teaching guitar making short courses, which I still do today.

What projects are you currently working on?

I have customers all over the world and for many years supplied guitars to a classical guitar studio in Tokyo. Most of my sales are directly to both professional and amateur musicians; including internationally known classical musicians, Vladislav Blaha from the Czech Republic, Nikita Koshkin and Asya Selyutina from Russia.

In the early 90s I also started making steel string guitars and was commissioned by folk singer Kate Rusby to make an instrument. I have since made many instruments for her and other folk musicians including tenor guitars, mandolins and citterns.

This year my orders are all for classical guitars. Last year I was commissioned by a fellow student, Harry Jenson, who studied with me at West Dean College, to make a classical guitar from figured maple.  Harry is now a very well-known bass maker and restorer in Amsterdam, and I am hoping to be able to take the instrument over to him sometime this summer.

What do you consider your biggest achievement to date?

My biggest achievement has been to make a living from doing a job that I love. To hear one of my instruments being played in concert or on a recording, is the ultimate in job satisfaction for me.

Do you have any tips for recent graduates?

I would recommend that recent graduates have realistic expectations of making a living from this craft. Most craftspeople only make a living once they have a well established reputation for making. In my experience, finding a market for sales of fine instruments may take up to seven years. In that time it is important to balance making to a very high standard with promoting work through exhibitions and contacts. It might also mean taking on other part time work to subsidise income.

How do you think studying at West Dean College prepared you for what you do now?

Studying at West Dean College was essential to developing the skills I needed to become a professional instrument maker.  I was taught by Roger Rose, a very talented teacher and craftsman. I learned to work with traditional methods and hand tools to an exceptional standard. Most of the instruments made in the workshop at that time were commissioned by players, whose expectations of the students’ work were very high.

The privilege of working in such a wonderful workshop in the most beautiful environment was inspiring, and we produced some fine instruments under Roger’s guidance.

What's your favourite memory from your time at the College?

I have many fond memories of my time at West Dean College. There was a great friendly atmosphere in the workshop and a very collaborative spirit between the students. It was inspiring to see the work that others were doing, and I think it made all of us strive for excellence in our making.

On a less serious note it was also very good fun. We had some great parties and made lifelong friendships.

Being able to walk around the gardens and up to the Arboretum is still a great pleasure.