Hi, I’m Franck Powell.
I’m a guitar maker, teacher and the single pair of hands making Black Swan Guitars. I’m based in the UK—Lincolnshire to be precise—in a small workshop equipped with everything I need to make my instruments the time-honoured way.
My interest in guitar making began just over a decade ago. I wanted a nice guitar but couldn’t afford one and so decided to make one instead. As unrealistic as that seemed at the time, I bought myself some second-hand tools, struggled for days to sharpen them and eventually managed to make some nice shavings. I was hooked.
Before I’d even finished that guitar, I was already thinking about the next one—guitar making is an addictive business. After making a few more I enrolled at Newark College in Nottinghamshire which was the tipping point to starting my career as a maker in my own right.
Having now started teaching on the BA in Musical Instruments Crafts at the same Institution is a great privilege and a huge opportunity for me to learn more.
About My Guitars
I’m a big fan of early American guitar makers—Martin, Bruno, Schmidt and Ashborn to name a few—and I hope their influence shows in what I do.
Despite these sources of inspiration however I build classical guitars too and I actually owe much of the way I work to the Spanish tradition. Rather than build the guitar body inside a solid mould and then connect it to its neck much later (as most early American makers did) I build instruments using a guitar shaped workboard (the solera) and actually marry the neck to the top very early on in the process. I then add the sides and, lastly, I “close the box” by gluing on the guitar’s back. I use this method for both steel-string and classical instruments—I find it suits me better and makes it easier for me to build a guitar free of structural stresses that might have a negative impact on tone.
I’m not the only one working this way of course. The first time I personally came across this method was in Andy Manson’s work, who is widely recognised as one of our very best British makers. This opened my eyes to a different way of doing things. Luck would have it that years later I could count Adrian Lucas—another hugely experienced steel-string maker—as one of my teachers at Newark College and he too has been using this method for many years. His input, along with that of seasoned classical guitar maker James Lister, transformed the way I approach this craft.
I’m a firm believer that many of our own native British hardwoods look and sound every bit as good as their exotic counterparts and I simply love working with them. Given the increasing shortages and restrictions on timbers such as Rosewood for example I think this makes practical sense too.
Whatever materials I use, I put a lot of effort into making sure they are sourced responsibly and as close as possible to my workshop. When exotic woods are called for, I try to make use of carefully reclaimed timbers before turning to suppliers for virgin lumber. Again, I’m not the only guitar maker in the UK who chooses to work this way and the environmental benefits of doing so are clear.
Less apparent, but also of importance to me as a maker, is the glue I use. Whilst synthetic glues have become the standard in factory built instruments, I prefer to use hide glue throughout the whole construction process. Its joints are stronger, don’t shift as easily and are simpler to repair should anything ever go wrong. The fact that it is used exclusively to conserve and restore our most valuable and historic instruments says it all to be honest. Whilst I have no proof that it has a positive effect on a guitar’s tone, it dries much harder than its synthetic counterparts which I think promotes efficient energy transfer through the instrument. The major downside from a maker’s perspective, is that joints need to be clamped within seconds—rather than minutes—of applying it, which is probably why it isn’t used in large production settings.
It is probably worth mentioning at this point that hide glue, along with components such as shell inlays and cow bone saddles and nuts, are all of animal origin. I realise this may not be to everyone’s taste and I’m happy to build instruments using alternatives to these on request and at no extra cost – feel free to get in touch if you would like to discuss this further.
Commissioning an Instrument
The guitars section of this site will give you a general idea of the aesthetic choices I make for my stock instruments, which are occasionally available for sale here. These details will change depending on the materials I have available but features such as scale length, neck profiles and body dimensions will normally remain the same. Minor customisations such as neck profiles and widths can normally be accommodated as part of my regular builds at no extra cost. If you are looking for something very specific in terms of looks, design or hardware however, I will be happy to discuss possibilities, prices and waiting times. Feel free to contact me here if so.