George Lowden

George Lowden

George Lowden is a guitar maker, luthier, based in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland. He set out to teach himself the craft with the help of a booklet by English luthier John Bailey. He constructs acoustic guitars, steel and nylon strung. Various shapes and sizes and wood options are used but the O25 model would be considered the 'original' Lowden guitar. It is a large jumbo body guitar usually with rosewood back and sides and cedar top. Walnut, Koa, Myrtle, Redwood, Spruce, Maple, Adirondack, Mahogany and Rosewood are the main woods used by George Lowden.


In the beginning...


1951 George Lowden was born in Belfast Northern Ireland.

1961 In the summer of this year, at the age of ten, George began what was to be a lifelong pursuit to build guitars, which would inspire players with their sound, feel and looks. "“My friend Alan French and I made two " guitars" with the help of his dad, who was a boat builder in Groomsport, County Down. The "guitars" had fishing line for strings, bent over nails for frets, and a square soundbox!!“"

1969 At eighteen, George remained driven towards learning the art of guitar building and made a further attempt. "“I had another go and made an electric guitar- more recognisable as a guitar, but barely so! I fancied myself as Ireland's answer to Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix... (painful adolescent memory....)”"

1973 "“After a fair bit of prayer! (I needed all the help I could get) I decided to make guitars professionally and armed with some wood, basic woodworking tools and an excellent booklet by English Luthier John Bailley, I began the journey.”"

Over the next two years George taught himself how to use woodworking tools and learned how to make guitars, mostly by trial and error. He began thinking about body shapes, internal bracing patterns, side profiles, construction options, varnishing techniques, and design options for stabilising the acoustic guitar while still allowing it to breathe… This was a challenging and exciting time.

"“I learned everything the hard way. I had no one to teach me how to avoid the obvious pitfalls. I tried new shapes, bracing designs and many other ideas and gradually emerged from the ‘hard school’ of self taught guitar making.”"Prior to this time, George had been influenced by guitars that were beyond his financial reach, like the Gibson J 200, Gibson 335 as well as one or two Gretsch models. He knew where his tastes lay and tried to include some of these in the first Lowden guitars."“Of course the three dimensional 'actuals' frequently didn't turn out like the shape in my head and so I kept re-designing for the first four years.”"

Throughout these years of experimentation, George became increasingly aware of the physics involved in the production of sound in the acoustic guitar."“I began to think about air movement inside the soundbox, soundwaves being generated by the energy from the bridge and strings, how to spread this energy over as large an area of the top as possible, how to discipline the top vibrations as evenly as possible taking into account the extra stiffness provided by the proximity of struts to each other, as well as the stiffness created by the guitar sides. I thought about how to reduce 'drag' inside the soundbox, about how to 'focus' the energy of the vibrating soundboard, about how to provide extra stability over and above the traditional steel string design, so that neck re-sets would be unnecessary and sustain would be increased”"

The Lowden guitar was on its way.

Taking Form…

George embarked on a series of experiments aimed at increasing structural stability. At first he tried a neck block extension under the fingerboard and then finally designed what has now become known as A-frame bracing. This consists of two structural struts extending either side of the soundhole, up through the transverse strut, under the fingerboard and finally, butt jointed against the neck wood itself inside the dovetail neck joint. George also aimed to create simple elegance in the cosmetic design.All of these thoughts (as well as prayers to THE designer of the trees and the laws of physics!) and more, led to Lowden’s innovative soundboard bracing design, including the “dolphin” strut profiles (which are top and side voiced for optimum weight & stiffness), the bridge design, the finish inside the soundbox, as well as the methods of assembly chosen and the blends of differing woods…

1976 / ‘79 The first guitars with A-frame bracing and the dolphin voicing profiles were made in 1976 and in many ways have established the Lowden guitar’s distinctive and unique sound. The Lowden guitar was born."“What is now called the O 25 had arrived, along with another three models all of the same shape, bracing and simple cosmetics. I was happy with the voicing of the bracing, craftsmanship, general design and most of all, tone, of these guitars.”"

Help along the way…

"“It was at this stage, as I began to work my way through other problems (for example how to make this a commercially viable project, whilst being based in a troubled part of the world) that I also began to receive help with specific information about where I could source various tools and woods and even construction techniques, from Stephen Delft and Chris Eccleshall (both excellent London based luthiers) They were very patient and helpful during my ‘learn as you go’ period! I always remember this today when I am asked for help from other aspiring luthiers.”"

George’s friend Alastair Burke, who had just received his South American rosewood and cedar “O38”, showed his guitar to the main acoustic guitar shop in Paris, Folk Quincampoix. He did this without George’s knowledge, and the rather shocking result was an immediate order for six guitars with the request for four more every month!!! Sales began to explode, and George tried to expand over the next few years. This proved difficult however, due to commercial inexperience and the exceedingly high interest rates prevailing at the time.

The first Irish studio/workshop, in 6a High Street, Bangor employed 4 trainee guitar makers, Colin ‘Dusty’ Miller, Frank Kernaghan, Sam Irwin and Michael Hull. It produced approximately 100 guitars during this period, which can be identified by small blue rectangular labels.

amurai Steel and the Japanese work ethic…

1980 Yves Imer and Rene Hagmann of Servette Music in Geneva had always been very supportive towards George since they first discovered his guitars in 1978. In 1980, Yves Imer approached George and asked if he could source a small and expert company to make his guitars under license, so they would be more widely available.

"“Thus began a five-year period when my guitars were made in Japan by a small, dedicated band of luthiers near Nagoya. I visited the S. Yairi workshop regularly and gave the designs, checked quality, and learned about Japanese craftsmanship and their serious approach to work! I found the folk I worked with to be honourable and courteous, and I had the greatest of respect for their hard work and excellent guitars. I learned a lot about production and tools, they in turn were delighted to be able to make original design guitars to this quality level.”""“In particular, I learned, what was to me, a new type of workmanship, which can only be achieved when working fast. Until that time I thought a lot of time was needed to work to a high standard. However, in fact I saw and practiced how to achieve the same or better results very quickly, through a level of concentration I had not previously experienced. It was then that the Japanese folk took me to a tiny store in Nagoya where I was able to buy Japanese hand tools with their laminated steel and fantastic cutting edges which were a complete revelation to me”."

The Lowden Guitar Company: Bringing it all back to Ireland

1985 As a result of the rampant fashion for all things electronic in music, sales of acoustic instruments slumped worldwide and the owners of the Japanese factory decided to close it and move production of Lowden guitars to a larger factory where other brands were made. George was concerned about this outcome and decided to try setting up a new factory in Ireland. By way of very little capital (raising it then was more difficult than it is now) and through the help of an investor (David Jebb); George managed to rent an empty shell of a building in Bangor, Co. Down and began to employ and train new craftsmen from scratch. That first team included Ernie McMillen and Robert Graham, who are still with the Company today, and David Pearce, who continued with the Company for many years. Setting up a guitar factory in Ireland where previously there had been no such thing, was an illuminating and challenging experience. George became a salesman, guitar maker, trainer, businessman, all rolled into one.

1986 Micky Uchida, (a Pierre Bensusan fan and guitar maker himself from Japan) arrived in Ireland to stay with the Lowden family and asked George if he could come to work for him. Micky had been trained in classical guitar building but was interested in learning about steel strings. A short time after his arrival in Ireland with his wife Izumi, George offered Micky the factory manager's position after observing his obvious talent as a craftsman and luthier.

"“We worked closely together from that time onwards. Micky concentrated on filling in any area of the factory which needed it and sharing the burden of training and quality control, while I concentrated on productivity, jig design and general management. Izumi actually carried out final assembly and set up of the guitars as well. The only disadvantage to this set-up phase was that I had no time left for guitar making myself, except to help out in particular departments which needed it from time to time.”"

Lowden Guitars of this period were labelled with a slightly smaller version of the current oval label and approximately 500-600 guitars were made in each of the first 3 years then approximately 1000 per year thereafter.

A New Chapter…

1988 The market was still quite flat for acoustic guitars and worldwide prices were about half (in real terms) what they are now."“David Magagna (former vice president of CF Martin and the then USA distributor for Lowden) told me ‘ in the late sixties I could have gone into a large NY store, shown a guitar (not a Martin by the way!) and the owner would have said to me, that's the worst guitar I've seen for quite a while… I'll take fifty! While in the eighties I would have gone into the store and shown a truly great guitar and the owner would have said to me, that's the best guitar I've seen for years, but I can't buy one until I get rid of all these acoustics on my walls’!"

Eventually in November, the fledgling Irish company ran out of funds. Those were difficult times, with no one interested in investing (except one venture capital company who offered a small amount of money in exchange for 66% of the equity, an offer George turned down!). George was uncomfortable continuing with an under-funded business unable to meet its commitments, and decided to close it down. On being informed of this, the Company’s bank asked George to agree to receivership (‘chapter 11’), as they believed that the Company could be sold with George’s agreement for future co-operation.

A group of local people put together a consortium, headed by Andy Kidd, (whose background was as a recording engineer and record producer) to buy the company out of receivership. George Lowden signed a licensing agreement with this new company. This ensured that he retained personal ownership of the Lowden designs and trademark and enabled him to provide quality control and new designs while remaining independent from the company. The model range at that time was much more limited than it is now but the beginnings of a dealership network had already been established in parts of Europe and the USA.

Interlude Français…

1989 George moved with his wife and children to France and worked as an independent luthier designing and building his new range of classical guitars as well as his steel strings. During this time, he also designed new models for the company, and checked quality on periodic visits back to Ireland. He built, as he still does, between 10 and 15 instruments each year for individual musicians who commission a personal guitar. (

More developments….

1990 to '98 "“I returned to Ireland and continued to build my own acoustics and classic custom guitars for individual clients. I also continued to work with the company designing new guitars, helping with training and quality control. It was during this period that the only real significant change to the fundamental design took place: Ernie McMillen who was the longest standing guitar craftsman in the factory, being the very first person I employed back in 1985, approached me with an idea to alter the way the top bracing was carved to make it more suitable for a factory set up. His idea was to take the existing bracing design and replace dolphin like curved bracing profiles, with straight line tapered top carving in order to try and make the bracing more consistent and quicker to produce. The position and dimensions of the struts remained the same. I asked Ernie to make up some test tops and then I experimented with exact specifications for the carving and tapering. After I had completed the development work and was satisfied with the voicing, the alteration was introduced. All guitars (built in the Lowden factory) except one or two specials and the 25th Anniversary guitars have had this top voiced system ever since.”"

This change provided a more consistent and faster factory method to bracing the guitars.

"“I brace my own guitars individually according to the overall design concept of the instrument. The original “dolphin profile” Lowden system requires considerable judgment and careful work in order to achieve best results. It is possible to overdo it, seeing the design is a little more 'on the edge' but when good it is really good! In the factory though, the adapted system was a better choice at least until such time as a working method may be devised which creates totally consistent strut profiles with all those parabolic curves!..........”"

1991 Micky decided to return to Japan to start his own luthier business."“At one point Micky and I talked about doing a joint exhibition of our work in Japan and eventually we may do that for old times sake!”"

’92 to ‘95 In order to provide additional ‘hands on’ help, Andy Kidd invited George to set up his own workshop within the Lowden Factory, to be on hand everyday for troubleshooting and training.

‘96 to ‘98 George moved his workshop to his new home in Princetown Road, Bangor and worked most days from home, but visited the factory virtually every week to use some larger machines and do lacquering work in their spray booth During these two years George remained available to help with troubleshooting and new staff training. He also trained his son Daniel in classical guitar building.

New Designs…

'91 to ‘98 The Small body, Jazz and Premier Range…

"“During these years I also designed some new models to increase the range available. Nick Webb of Acoustic Alchemy (sadly, Nick passed away a few years ago after a brave battle with cancer) approached me and asked me to design a small bodied guitar which he wanted to compliment his "O" series mahogany / cedar guitar. I set about designing a body shape with back and top profiles designed to increase bass without making the trebles thin or 'boxy'. The soundbox profile of the 'S' series and the voicing of the bracing have this purpose in mind. I made the first proto-type myself with the original parabolic bracing tuned to suit the smaller body. The back and sides were walnut and the top was cedar.”"

"“When the day arrived and I tuned the finished guitar up for the first time, I was completely 'zonked' by the sound!!! I didn't want to let it go. Even though I am a poor player, this guitar would have persuaded even me to spend a lot of time learning to play better. This was perhaps the only time I can ever remember being so taken with a particular guitar's sound that I was in another world for a while! Unfortunately Nick was literally waiting for the guitar in a studio in Germany and it had to go and be played properly! The 'S' series was now born!”"

technology and amplification mean that this design is continually being developed and new designs are on the way.”"

In order to satisfy an increasing demand for more ornate instruments, Andy then asked George to design a series of guitars with more inlays, as the ‘Standard’ guitars were too plain for some folks' taste. Thus was born the ‘Premier’, or “35” series with George Lowden’s version of "flash". This series has been the most successful of all the Lowden designs with their beautifully figured exotic woods and tastefully designed inlays combined with the best selected grades of soundboard tonewoods.

Another Chapter: Change of ownership.

1998 The acoustic guitar market had begun to flourish during the 90's but the company, significantly hampered by under-investment, had not been able to achieve its potential (great guitars are only part of the recipe). In November 1998, keen to participate in a progressive plan to develop the business further, George Lowden, along with the majority shareholders set up a new holding company to buy a controlling interest in the Lowden Guitar Company. That holding company was called Sarcon 54 Ltd.Steve McIlwrath had been a minority shareholder in the Lowden Guitar Company since 1989 however; he lived and worked for many years in Singapore for Waterford Wedgwood until, in 1997, he decided to return to the UK. Alastair McIlveen had been employed by the Lowden Guitar Company, as financial controller, for the previous two years. This new company set out to manage the Lowden business with George as Chairman. George’s vision was “that the company would become as good as the guitars themselves…”

Lowden’s 25th Anniversary

In November 1998, a visitor to the factory showed up guitar case in hand with the Lowden guitar serial No.1. The very first guitar George designed and built. This was an excellent reminder of how far the Lowden Guitar had come. As a celebration of this long journey, George designed the 25th anniversary model."“My aim with the design and build details was to make available in reasonable numbers, a guitar which was as close as possible to the guitars which I am only able to build personally for a very few players each year under my full name. I therefore included as many as I could of the construction, voicing and cosmetic details, found in my own guitars in this limited edition of 101 instruments.”"

The Millennium Twins

By this time, the community of Lowden enthusiasts had grown considerably and players were not only attracted by Lowden’s distinctive tone, great looks and attention to detail, but also by the fact that they were not mass produced. Requests increased for ‘special edition’ Lowdens and in order to fulfil this demand George designed the Millennium Twins.“As a luthier, I find that designing a few ‘special’ guitars does stretch my creative abilities and I enjoy that challenge. I believe this does help to develop the art of guitar making in a much wider sense as well. I introduced the limited edition Millennium twins with their matching sets of figured walnut back and sides and adjacent sets of redwood tops sourced from trees, which had fallen naturally.”

June 2000 Differences had begun to develop between the directors of the company. After a period, unable to influence the direction or policies of the Lowden Guitar Company, George felt that his position within the company had become very ambiguous. Reluctantly, George decided to resign as a director. He would continue to influence quality solely through the provisions of the design licence first established in 1989, whilst continuing to build his own custom guitars in his workshop at home.

August 2000 to September 2001 A series of decisions were made within the Licensee Company (the Lowden Guitar Company) without reference to George, concerning guitar specifications and quality control. George discovered the effects of these decisions later during visits to the factory, and this severely damaged his confidence that the integrity of his guitar designs and specifications would be maintained or indeed that the terms of the licence were being respected. After many failed attempts to establish alternative dispute resolution processes over a period of some 11 months, George served a high court writ for what he believed were serious breaches of contract. The company denied all charges, and after more than 18 months of legal action including a counterclaim by the company and additional claims by George, the matter was finally settled by agreement at the court door. The aim of this agreement was to allow a way forward for both parties by limiting further damage and providing a basis for separation.

The directors of the Lowden Guitar Company changed the name of it’s holding company from ‘Sarcon (54) Ltd’ to ‘Avalon Guitars Ltd’ and launched the highly successful range of Avalon Guitars, designed by in-house luthiers including Ernie McMillen and Sam Irwin. At no time was George Lowden invited to participate in any way in these guitars.

Other dates…

August 2001 (five months before the court door settlement) The directors of the Lowden Guitar Company change the name of it’s holding company from ‘Sarcon (54) Ltd’ to ‘Avalon Guitars Ltd’.

December 2001 The Lowden Guitar Company place a full-page advertisement featuring David Gray in “Acoustic Guitar” magazine, and states that Lowden Guitars are “a division of Avalon Guitars Ltd.”

January 2002 The Lowden Guitar Company launched Avalon Guitars, designed by in-house luthiers including Ernie McMillen and Sam Erwin. At no time has George Lowden participated in any way in these guitars.

The End of the Licensing Agreement…

23rd February 2003 Following 18 months of formal legal action, George Lowden succeeded in terminating the licensing agreement with the Lowden Guitar Company as part of a ‘court door’ settlement. All rights to the Lowden designs revert solely to George Lowden from 1st January 2004. This agreement ends a 4 -year relationship with the newest directors of the Lowden Guitar Company but allows a transition period where the company can continue making Lowden guitars until the end of 2003. This period also allows George time to plan the new phase of the Lowden business. As a part of this agreement, George agrees to pay a small levy for each Lowden guitar produced in excess of 2000 for the first three-year period.

Looking to the Future…

Notwithstanding the struggles along the way, after 30 years of development and design George Lowden says his enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the success of the Lowden Guitar is undiminished. "“I am currently finalising plans to set up a new company to make Lowden Guitars (which will include new designs as well as the well established older models) available through acoustic guitar dealers worldwide from 2004.”"

The Way Forward…

In 2004, George is looking forward to bringing you the best Lowden Guitars ever built. Plans are being finalised for a new production facility, which will build Lowden guitars to the exacting specifications and standards of their maker. Guitar enthusiasts can indeed be at ease that the integrity and the passion, which goes into each and every Lowden Guitar has never been stronger; and George is looking forward to continuing to provide the innovative designs and product integrity that has become synonymous with the Lowden Guitar.

More New Designs…

"“I consider it fundamental to the integrity and future of the Lowden guitar that I continue to build guitars personally. By keeping my hands on the wood and designing new guitars for individual musicians, inspiration and the creative edge are constantly challenged”"

"“In November 2002 I created a new small-bodied guitar which is about classical size, (but not shape) which I am very excited about.”"

"“The new S shape is more ‘curvy’ than before, more feminine. That was my main aim, just to make it very attractive as a shape, but as always in design, other things come along as well. Peter Woolnough asked me about building a shorter scale and of course in terms of the overall scale of the guitar itself a shorter string scale made sense. Many years ago I used a 630mm scale and therefore I re-designed the new S to be voiced for the shorter scale. This has made the new guitar more comfortable to play, especially for those with smaller hands, and has not compromised the tone in any way at all. This is as a result of the voicing choices within the construction details.”"

Lowden guitars are currently handcrafted in a small workshop in Downpatrick under the direct suvervision of George. Because of superieur design and high attention to detail and workmanship the new Lowden guitars from the new workshop are considerend among the best guitars in the world today. George still personally handmakes guitars to special order. George Lowden would be considered equal to other fine luthiers like Dana Bourgeois, James Olson, Kevin Ryan, Bill Collings, Del Langejans and Lynn Dudenbostel

Eric Clapton, Vince Gill, Pierre Bensusan, Alex de Grassi, Richard Thompson, the late Eric Roche, Paul Brady are just a few players who use Lowden Guitars.


George Lowden []

The Eric Clapton website, has an article about a charity auction in 2004 held by Christies where Eric Clapton raised $7.5 million by selling his guitars. Lot 32, His 1996 George Lowden O32, guide price of $5,000-$7,000 sold for $41,825. Read it here []

On [] the late Eric Roche does a run down of his equipment starting with Lowden Guitars.

"Acoustic Guitar" published an article in March 1999,issue 79, about George Lowden, available online at [] and also in issue 98, dated February 2001, dealt with Richard Thompsons equipment, []

Alex de Grassi answers questions about his music and equipment []

Pierre Bensusan has retired his Lowden guitar after 25 years of service []

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