Peter Madill began making guitars over 50 years ago in Dunedin. There was no mentor and no books back then. He taught himself how to make guitars, using the invaluable skills he learned while doing a cabinet-making apprenticeship in the 1960s. Plus, of course, he was a prominent folk musician, who generally had a guitar in his hands anyway.

All those years ago, Peter was working at the DIC menswear department by day, and making guitars at his flat across the road at night, occasionally all night, and through the weekends.

In 1973 Peter moved to Auckland and joined a violin repair business which evolved into The Stringed Instrument Company, a haven for musicians wanting anything from small repairs to a major commission. He made guitars for the original Split Ends, when they were spelled that way, a 12-string acoustic for Phil Judd, and electric guitars for Mike Chunn and Wally Wilkinson. He also made electric guitars for the look-no-hands wizards of that time, Harvey Mann and Eddie Hansen from Living Force, and many others.

But it wasn't just guitars. Bruce Woodley from The Seekers still uses a Madill mandolin. And when the early music movement flourished in Auckland, Peter was asked to make rebecs - a three-stringed instrument dating back to the 15th century - viols, and a lute. The last-named was the most difficult instrument he ever made. He believes it is now somewhere in America.

Peter stopped making guitars in 1987. The share market crash was the needle that broke his back, and he decided to "replace art with a real job." The business had become "almost economic", but it was hard yakker.

Near the end of 2007, having moved back to Dunedin, Peter began making guitars again. In early 2019 Peter returned to the North Island, now living and working in Levin.

Times have moved on considerably since the late 1960s, when Peter would often have to make the required tools himself. Now there are tools and machines for just about anything you would ever want. And good wood is only a mouse click away, even if it is in Alaska.

For the soundboard Peter has always used a quality spruce or cedar though is not too specific about what he uses for the sides and back. There's a greater acceptance of experimentation now with people looking after trees more and the once-favoured rosewood becoming scarce.

Peter Madill is a craftsman and each Madill guitar is unique.

"What I would love to see is New Zealand musicians playing New Zealand-made instruments in the same way Australian musicians are so proud to play instruments made in their own country." – Peter Madill


Text from
NZ Musician magazine.