Paddy Burgin Luthier

From Spectrum, 12:10 pm on 4 January 2015

Paddy playing one of his bouzoukis.

For more than 16 years beautiful hand-crafted wooden instruments have been leaving Paddy Burgin’s backyard workshop in Wellington - destined for customers all over the world.

Paddy’s has been making a living as a luthier (someone who makes or repairs string instruments) since the 1990s, after many years working in journalism. 

Paddy was already an accomplished furniture maker when he decided to combine his love of music with his wood working skills. He went looking for a place to learn instrument making and ended up attending a guitar making course in Canada.

After two months of fine tuning his skills in a tiny village on the Saskatchewan prairie, Paddy returned to New Zealand and started building guitars and other strings instruments in his home basement.

Sheets of spruce and other exotic timbers have to be shaped, bent, fitted and glued.

As he grew in confidence and skill Paddy started exhibiting and playing at music festivals around New Zealand and in the United States.

Paddy estimates he’s made around two hundred guitars, bouzoukis, mandolins and harps.  He says the thrill of bending, shaping, carving, fitting and gluing an instrument hasn’t lost any of its allure.  As he talks, he is constantly running his hands over the wood, tapping with his fingers on the sheets of spruce and other exotic timber he uses. He says he still loves stringing the newly made instrument and hearing its voice for the first time.Paddy’s not the first one his family to make guitars.  His father was a steel guitar player who made his own instrument out of an old diving board when can home from the war.

LuthierInstruments come in many shapes and sizes.

These days Paddy has carved out a niche for himself making an acoustic lap steel guitar called a Weissenborn – an instrument first developed by Hermann Weissenborn in Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s.The guitars have a distinctive hollow neck – and have been resurrected by musicians like Ben Harper and David Linley. Paddy makes most of his Weissenborn style guitars out of mahogany, with a little bit of paua trim, adding a touch of New Zealand. Each instrument represents several weeks’ work.

The Weissenborn lap steel acoustic guitar.

In parallel with his guitar making Paddy has forged a career as a musician – working with a number of bands including Paddy Burgin and the Wooden Box Band.  He plays regularly around Wellington at festivals, folk clubs and bars.