Photography Joe Supple
HOW IT ALL STARTED
“When I was five I saw Back To The Future and from then on, I wanted to be a guitar player… and drive a pickup truck! In 2000 I was in hot pursuit of that dream at The Guitar Institute in West London. I was, however, unsupported and extremely underfunded. I owe a debt of thanks to this day to The Musician’s Benevolent Fund who paid for my education and my bread with a little bit left over for a great Mexican Tele in sunburst and helped with advice on funding the rest of my London living.
“I say great – and I loved that guitar – but it was always in need of TLC and intermittently on the verge of falling apart, so I became a regular visitor to the workshops of Chandler Guitars in Kew. If West London and Surrey are the birthplaces of British blues and rock, then Chandlers was the place where all those players took their instruments for servicing and the workshop there was at the very least as good as anywhere in the country at guitar related work.
“It became a running joke that I would always ask for a job when I went there but the joke became a reality when they offered me a place in 2001. I had finished my one-year college course and though I had the offer of further music studies I didn’t have any way of funding that, so I put on my learning hat and spent six months setting-up shop stock guitars and making teas and coffees. One day I was given a Baby Taylor to set-up. The customer – a chap called David Gilmour with whom you might be familiar – liked the work I’d done, and I was trusted with customers’ guitars from that point on.
“It wasn’t so long before the workshop manager left to start Charlie Chandler’s Guitar Experience and with Charlie gone, the team sort of broke up and drifted apart leaving me as the only full-time repairer with part-time help from the legendary Brinsley Schwarz. I remember well a day one Christmas sorting out Chris Rea’s pedalboard while he waited and talked football and the time when we had a load of guitars to sort out after a flood in Elvis Costello’s storage facility.”
GOING IT ALONE
“By 2006 I knew I had to be my own boss. ‘Monty’s Guitar Repairs’ was born and started operations in my spare bedroom on a rickety computer desk. I started doing work for friends from bands on the same pub circuit as me and customers who followed me from Chandlers. Guitar repairers/luthiers are kind of like hairdressers, you find one you like, and you stay with them.
“In 2010 my first child was born, and it was the kick up the whatsit I need to take things more seriously and go all-in on Monty’s. I sold my motorbike, which funded the start of the pickup side of the business. I locked myself away in a garage and figured out how to make them. I’ve been on my own for most of the journey with friends and family dipping in every now and then when I needed help.
“In the last 18-24 months my small team of fellow tinkerers has grown naturally and smoothly and now I am really lucky to have five lovely humans working with me. We can do everything and anything from restringing to custom guitars, amp repairs, pedalboards. To be honest anything to do with guitar. It’s my home, where I started, and where I have had the opportunity to get my hands on an impressive amount of drool-worthy, guitar-related stuff.”
“I have trained up quite a few people now and it has always seemed to me that passing on knowledge is one of the most important parts of this business, plus it’s a bit of a selfish thing, too, as I love to see people when they learn something for the first time. Yes, you can learn a lot from YouTube et cetera, and I do myself for various things, but there are some aspects that don’t translate well.
“There are two types of tuition I offer. The most popular are the group sessions. There are only three in a class, we cover getting the perfect setup. People can bring their own guitars in and we go through fret dressing to get the neck true and get rid of all the lumps and bumps. That gives us the best foundation to set the guitar up. Sort the truss rod, nut height, action and intonation. Plus, all the little things that go along with it, general electronics check, proper restring and fretboard maintenance even getting the fret ends. The cost is £350 for the day.
“I also offer one-on-one tuition for people that would like to focus on something specific. Refretting, gluing techniques, putting a partscaster together. Whatever you’d like to cover really.”
Matt showing TGM how to level frets
STRIKING A BALANCE
For many guitar players, getting your instrument in fine fettle is a process shrouded in mystery. We ask Matt if there’s one factor above all others that contributes to a great guitar setup.
“Number one is balance,” he affirms. “Everything must be balanced right for it to work. If the truss rod is wrong then the action measurements at the 12th are wrong, if the nut is too high then you are going to be putting more pressure on the strings than you need to so you can fret them pulling them sharp and sound nice and dissonant, if you’ve ever had your guitar sound in tune when you play an open D but it sounds out when you play an A – other combinations are available! – that’s why.
“You also need to balance it for the player and their needs. When people get their instruments set up with us for the first time, I always make sure that they give themselves 15 to 20 minutes when they pick their guitar up to play it, so if we need to tweak it we can and then those measurement go into their file so the next time it’s perfect from the off.”
You too can benefit from Matt Gleeson’s extensive luthiery and repair experience
MEET THE TEAM
Matt talks us through his “small team of fellow tinkerers”…“Tim Hughes (aka ‘Tonty’) has a history as touring tech and still does the occasional trip out for special friends. Here he does all manner of set-up and repair work. Apart from me, he’s here the most.
“John J Presley (aka ‘Jonty’) is a pro player who looks mean, moody and magnificent in his videos and is a joy in real life. He helps with pickup-winding, pedal-making and is at his happiest when surrounded by amps that need fixing.
“Paul McCaffrey (aka ‘Ponty’) is a friend of the firm. He’s borrowed guitars loaded with prototype pickups and given valuable and informed feedback. People have bought pickups from us based on what they have heard on his YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/fendermac).
“Gelert (aka ‘Gonty’) is a regular helper, warming presence and friend of Monty’s.
“April (aka ‘Aonty’, it helps if you say it in an Italian accent) is the empress of paperwork and helps me source the weird, wonderful things that we use.”
For more information about Monty’s Guitars, visit www.montysguitars.com.