"The 49er Comes Through"
Story: Adrian Legg
Pictures: George Clinton

6th December, 1977 (original scans)
Jack (left) and Norman
Jack (left) and Norman
'Basically, we're woodworkers, and this is where it all starts from', said Norman Holder. He's a partner with Jack Golder and Bob Pearson, in the admirable Shergold guitar making business. A straight forward, no-nonsense sort of bloke, a highly skilled craftsman, and on the quiet, a bit of a genius, and responsible for the invention of a truss rod that has helped, with Jack Golder's experience, to make some of the finest guitar necks in the world.
The 49'er? Jack started off with Jimmy Burns ('at four bob an hour') and rapidly rose to manager there when the original four pick-up Bisons were made. The first forty-nine were completely hand-made, and jack remembers them with justifiable pride......'Custom jobs they were, it was all custom work, every one of them was a work of art - the shaping, the rasping...... the work that went into them, it must have cost a fortune. Well, of course, it did.' Jack had to plane up all the rough cut fingerboard ebony by hand (from 5/16ths to 3/16ths) and he still remembers the blisters. He did the first shaping of the horns, that beautifully vulgar exaggerated cut-away - 'All I could picture was an animal charging down towards me......and all the necks were moulded by hand then, until forty-nine. Forty-nine guitars actually went out, all hand made they were'. The necks were beautifully dovetailed into the bodies, with a smoothed out heal. Problems developed with the gold plating on the fittings - it kept coming off - and the design was changed to a bolt-on neck (taken from the Vista-Sonic) two-pickup job with chrome fittings. Norman, also working at Burns then, prior to his shortlived emigration to the land where they make guitars out of billabong trees, was involved with this model, and still rates it as a really good instrument.

Bob Pearson, originally with Vox, joined forces with Jack and Norman after the collapse of Hayman. He had the interchangeable modular control system idea while working at Hayman, and Jack and Norman were already in business supplying the necks and bodies for the Hayman guitars, so it was a fairly natural conclusion that Bob should bring his electronics flair to the new Shergold enterprise. We asked Bob about his module idea.

'Originally, when I had the idea, I decided to give it the Hayman thing. I've been working with guitars since way back in the early Vox days, and you could never satisfy a guitar player - being a guitar player myself I could understand it - you were always stuck with (the fact that) once the guitar was made, somebody would want another switch to do something else......it was just impossible to keep changing the guitar, it meant cutting it about and that didn't do the guitar (any good). The idea just came one day, drop a module in, we can change the circuits, and there's no end of different modules we can make up and then put on the guitar without actually changing the physical nature of the guitar itself'.

Unfortunately, just as Bob's idea was starting to cause a stir, Hayman 'went broke'.
Cleaning up width on router
Cleaning up width on router
Jigged up for drilling
Jigged up for drilling
Underneath locating plates for body drilling
Underneath locating plates for body drilling
That's life, I suppose, but the Hayman collapse also lumbered Jack and Norman with a hefty five-figure problem as a result of their involvement supplying the basics of the Hayman guitars, but a simple and heroic stoicism kept them together to get Shergold off the ground - Jack 'We just had to starve ourselves a bit till it got better'. It did and they are now slogging away from dawn to dusk to meet orders for their own guitars (the bulk of them export, so lay off musos Healey).

Jack will enthuse about their necks at the drop of a template, and rightly so. They grace other guitars than Shergold (an old connection still persists!) and if many other makers had their way, would grace a lot more. The enthusiasm in the trade for them tends to justify Jack's opinion that, as far as the electric goes, the neck is the most vital part of the making - a thing I agree with along with a many other players. We thought our readers would be interested in the process that evolves a neck from a lump of maple to guitar handle, and I was fascinated as Norman and Jack took us through all the stages on the way to Bob's final fitting up.

The maple for the necks comes into the country at around 18-20 per cent moisture content, and is kiln dried down to 10 per cent by the importers. When it arrives at the Shergold factory, Norman stacks it and leaves it entirely alone for a minimum of six months - he's absolutely rigid about this rule since a customer pushed him into using some too early, and ended up with a slight bit of movement in the wood. After this period, the pieces are planed and flattened out. We'll take just one piece from here on, to avoid confusion, although the operations are done in batches to cut setting up times. Our lump is now fitted into a guiding jig, and taken to the spindle moulder - several small blades set into a spinning holder - which still owes Norman a piece of finger. This cuts out the flat of the headstock, and the same machine, with a different cutting tool, takes out the groove for the truss-rod. From there the piece goes to a bandsaw, where it is marked up from a pattern, and cut roughly to shape. The actual width is then cleaned up on a router, one side at a time. The next stage is the drilling out of the machine head holes, truss rod access points and so on. This is done in a jig which has locating templates fitted underneath which relate to a guide pin fitted to the working plate under the drill. So far, all this is Norman's end, and now our lump goes round to Jack.
Bodies
Bodies
Reverse side showing cut-outs
Reverse side showing cut-outs
Chiselling off excess fillet
Chiselling off excess fillet
Truss rod ready for fitting
Truss rod ready for fitting
Norman's neck shaping tool
Norman's neck shaping tool
Quirking
Quirking
Bob fitting up a Modulator 12-string
Bob fitting up a Modulator 12-string
Queuing up for stringing and final checking
Queuing up for stringing and final checking
Jack hammers the truss rod down into the groove, and then forces and glues a fillet in on top which bends the truss rod against the internal curve of the truss rod accommodating groove - it stays bent now, and for a very good reason. At the adjusting end of the truss rod, a square metal collar which retains the screwer-upper is fitted rigidly into the neck wood, thus enabling the curved rod to push the neck forward, as well as pushing it back, and because it is curved, without putting a direct lengthways stress on the neck which might ripple the finger-board. Tricky to explain, but brilliantly simple in concept. Norman invented this idea in the old Burns days, and now Music Man are using a similar bent rod principle. This principle was used on the Haymans, Burns, and Ned Callan ('nobbly Neds' Jack calls those guitars) necks. Meanwhile, back at the lump, the protruding excess fillet is chiselled off, the fingerboard is glued on, and the lump goes into the press with twenty-seven others.

From the press, it goes back to Norman and the spindle cutter, the fingerboard is trimmed and rebated for purfling, and cambered and dotted. The fingerboard has already been slotted for fretting - this is done by a 14 thou blade set up on the circular saw bench. Marker holes for the fret positions have been drilled onto the jig which holds the fingerboard, and these are fitted against a centralising pin on the saw guide, and the whole lot is pushed over the blade which is set to the necessary depth.

Back to Jack for the fretting - hammered in by hand the usual way. They are sanded off for the correct edge-angle, and finished with a file mounted into a wooden block. The next stage is to fit the purfling. The glue goes on, and is 'quirked' with a small pointed stick to get the excess out of the bottom of the rebate. The purfling is put on, and Jack pulls it down hard into the rebate using an old screwdriver type truss rod tool. It is then bevelled, and made to lip over the fret ends to help avoid lifting. At this stage, the back of the neck is still square, so it goes back to Norman for some treatment from his special cutting tool. He made this blade eight or so years ago, and it is still going strong. It has two cutting edges shaped like U's, which are spun against the wood to shape the back of the neck, and this is done twice, with the neck both ways up to ensure an absolutely even curve. A touch with the sander, and it's ready for finishing and mating with its body, which is Bob's department.

Shergold currently make a range of nine instruments, including an excellent twelve string, and the Masquerader standard guitar is being phased out on favour of a Custom model, which features Schaller heads and a six piece bridge (an area of criticism in our report on the standard model). The Modulator range has five different control modules available for it, and Bob tells us more are on the way.

Jack has his ear to the ground for players' requirements, and I'm sure we'll see some more and exciting developments in the range. Meanwhile, It's nice to have a home manufacturer doing well so that many of us players can save a bob or two on foreign currency, and we wish the firm lots of luck - they deserve it.