“Music is what keeps me supported, craft is what keeps me hungry”: Luthier Daisy Tempest on dedicating herself to one model and realising her family legacy
Hand built by award-winning luthier Daisy Tempest alone in her South London studio, Tempest Guitars are exquisitely crafted instruments for the discerning player.
All images: Press
“A good brand is about good storytelling,” says Daisy Tempest, the head luthier of Tempest Guitars. A good story is precisely what you get when playing a Tempest. After training as a craftswoman in her early twenties, she was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, which was soon followed by Newby Trust Craft Excellence Award. Working alongside another revered English guitar maker in Rosie Heydenrych, Daisy soon became aware of the importance of precision and dedication to high-quality guitar building.
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Now running her own independent workshop, she focuses solely on one model – the aptly named The Model – a small-bodied acoustic to ensure that her focus and expertise is maximised, which benefits both the build-quality and customer. Each guitar is shipped with a photobook, shot, and curated by Daisy, that documents the build process from beginning to end.
With intriguing wood choices, celebrity endorsees and a history of craft and woodworking that stretches back centuries, a brilliant story is guaranteed with a Tempest Guitar.
You began with an award from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust and benefitted from a mentorship with Rosie Heydenrych of Turnstone Guitars. How did these develop your early years as a luthier?
“I actually had another apprenticeship before my time at Turnstone, but I accredit my love for lutherie to Rosie. She was a wonderful influence and taught me to fall in love with the hardest thing for me to grasp, precision and patience. I am lucky I was able to study with someone like Rosie, who I fostered a real respect for. It’s been important to me to have a standard to look up to; being in her workshop really gave me high expectations of myself and my work when I started out on my own!”
Design and craft are also embedded in your family, which has practiced woodworking and tapestry making for centuries. How does that ancestry influence your work?
“I didn’t realise that a lot of the women in my family were woodworkers until after I began lutherie. So, in that sense, it didn’t. However, when it came to naming my company, it felt like a good nod to the legacy before me in the Tempest family of women going against the grain (if you excuse the pun). My father also influenced my decision to become a luthier, as we’d spend many hours playing music together when I was a child, as he’s a composer and pianist. I learned that music was deeply rooted in me, and I wanted to do something around it. it just took me a while to figure out what.”
Your process is based around one model, which is open to various specifications for the player. Why did you choose to base your business model on this interesting approach?
“My theory behind this is simple; I’m a brand-new luthier, and if I spread myself too thin trying to do many different things, I don’t believe the quality will be as high as I expect it to be or would expect my clients to pay for. I just don’t think that I personally can deliver a dreadnought with all it’s different requirements – for example it’s bracing – while at the same time trying to think about how to do justice to a smaller body. So, I do one model, and I hope that I do it well; it’s on the smaller side so it’s comfortable in all hands, and above all I know how it works after exploring it for some time.”
Elsewhere we see sustainable and left-field wood choices, like 5,000-year-old black fossilised oak for example. Why is that important to you and to the industry as a whole?
“Aside from the other glaring reasons, having trained with someone like Rosie at Turnstone Guitars who are renowned for their ‘E-Series’ – guitars made entirely from native English woods – I can’t help but stir when the likes of ultra-exotic, blood-soaked woods are put on a pedestal. There are so many incredible alternatives that don’t come with a corrupt past. Fossilised oak is a great example of an incredible tonewood with high aesthetic and historic value, and I very much look forward to building with it for a client who has earmarked some for the relatively near future. As my knowledge grows, I look forward to discovering more timbers that are more responsible for my business.”
Each instrument is documented throughout the build process and fashioned into a book too…
“A good brand is about good storytelling. This was an absolute no-brainer for me when I first began to think about crafting my client’s experience. How could I separate my business from the many others in the industry? The answer was to draw upon my passions and take my clients with me through the parts that I really love about building guitars. I find so much beauty through the lens of a camera that I often stop on processes and take a snapshot of that moment, perhaps if the light is interesting or if some wood shavings have fallen into a soft pattern around what I am routing or carving. It made sense to me to share these moments of a client’s guitar with them in a presentation at the end, that they can forever enjoy.”
When did you first realise you had a viable business?
“I think I always took a pragmatic approach and knew that I had to make it work no matter what. Looking back, it was incredibly difficult, and I certainly couldn’t go through it again. Thankfully I managed to get through those early days without quitting. It always depended on how much I wanted it, and I wanted it enough to make it happen. I’m also wholeheartedly supported by friends and family who never doubted I could do it; and honestly, I never want to admit to them I couldn’t, which probably contributed to my pushing so hard. My mental health was horrendous as a result in the early days, but I became a lot stronger in the aftermath.”
Did you have any external investment starting out?
“I have some amazing clients who placed orders the moment my books opened; and I put my deposit money to good use preparing a workshop in which to build their dream guitars. I had one client in particular who paid for his guitar up front in total, and with that I was able to buy pretty much all of my equipment in my little workshop. I also was given a scholarship of free workshop space for a year, which has been invaluable. As well as this, I had help from my partner at the time – a fantastic musician – who kindly demoed my first guitar for me for free. I do all of my PR, photography, social media etc too, so that I don’t have to outsource it. That means I can spend every penny on growing my workshop and tools accordingly, which is exhausting, but always feels fantastically rewarding.”
Your workshop is based in South London alongside other artists and makers at Cockpit Arts. What is it about the cross section of music and design that is so essential to your practice?
“Music is what keeps me supported, craft is what keeps me hungry. Music is reliably baffling; it manages to creep into the deepest parts of me and let me feel anything I need at the time. It never fails to. But my craft never fails to be unsatisfactory no matter how perfect that mitre; I will always strive to do everything I make to be better or more advanced. The combination of these two uniting in something like lutherie is really quite powerful to me, and my workday is often a mix of frustration, vulnerability, exhaustion and euphoria in whatever order they show up in! It’s nice to be around other people who have their own battles with aspects of their crafts, and to be offered a cup of tea and a legitimate ‘I understand’ on a bad day. Of course, there are great days too, and they are priceless in a community of friends like Cockpit. We are very close.”
For more visit tempestguitars.com.