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.
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.
is a craftsman and each Madill guitar is unique.
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
Text from NZ Musician magazine.