From John Mills , one of the world's finest guitarists with over 3,000 concerts to his name. Described by Andres Segovia as having ' purity of technique and musical sensitivity'
Shaun Newman showed me several guitars built in his Crediton workshop, and they were certainly impressive instruments. His workmanship is of a very high order, combined with a very interesting selection of timbers, giving the guitars a highly attractive and carefully considered appearance. All those I tried had excellent balance and projection, with a characteristic quality of tone often found with the deeper-bodied design favoured by some luthiers. The variety of tone colour was also excellent as was the dynamic range on all the instruments.
From Peter Nuttall, internationally renowned composer, performer, teacher and arranger - Bournemouth 2016.
I tried out four of Shaun's guitars. They were all very immediately beautiful not only in the quality and the interesting variety of
the woods used, but also in the artistic use of intriguing and colourful detail in a basically traditional appearance.
And such a pleasure to play! I played them outside in the garden, (which is quite a disadvantage to a classical guitar as the sound
can easily get lost) and still they impressed with the clean and singing resonance of the trebles, nicely balanced by the richness
of the basses. The frets had a smooth rounded surface that felt delightful (and easy!) under the fingers.
The fingerboard was made with such accuracy that no frets needed "levelling off". There was a brightness and quick responsiveness
from all areas of the fingerboard, without sacrificing character and sweetness in the sound. Altogether a delight to the eye and
From David Cottam, busy performer,composer and teacher resident in the South West.
I first tried one of Shaun's guitars about twenty years ago. It was a 19th century style guitar that he had made for his eight year old son. I was immediately struck by the sheer volume possible from this small instrument. In 1999 Shaun made himself a guitar which I liked so much that I borrowed it a couple of times for performances. Its main characteristics apart from the ease with which I could play it were its combination of warmth and clarity. The treble was strong, full bodied and even and the bass was powerful, with good sustain. I had been suffering from tendonitis and I found the fingerboard and set up more comfortable than my other instruments.
Shaun made my first 'Newman' guitar in 2000 using a wonderful close grained spruce top and Brazilian rosewood. I have used it to record a number of CDs and for concerts. I feel that it allows me to make my own distinctive personal sound. People always remark on the beauty of the sound and its projection to the back of the hall. On one occasion someone thought I was using amplification!
I now have four Newman guitars, one of which has an internal amplification system for those occasions when much more sound is needed.
The one he made for me in 2000 is still my all time favourite guitar. I have owned in the past a Romanillos, a Rubio, a Fischer and a Kohno so I am ranking them with some of the best guitars available. My Newman guitars have plenty of volume and are capable of a wide tonal and dynamic range. It's possible to sing legato lines and be punchy too. They have made playing duos with flute and violin easier to balance.
Shaun is uncompromising on quality and works with a complete lack of pressure or hard sell. He is quite content to let his instruments speak for themselves.
From Raymond Burley, internationally renown performer and teacher. I recently had an opportunity to try some of Shaun Newman's guitars - what a pleasant surprise! They had everything necessary: good balance, clarity, a comfortable playing action and a very realistic price tag. I would have no trouble in recommending them.
From James Rippingale, Classical Guitarist, Teacher and Composer. I thoroughly enjoyed playing Shaun's guitars with their beautiful rich sound both full bodied and spacious. These fine instruments made it easy to bring out the individual voices in the music and they responded beautifully to even the slightest changes in dynamics and tone colour.
From Justin Shepherd, Classical Guitarist. I was recently looking for a new guitar and decided to follow up a colleague’s recommendation of Shaun Newman’s guitars. I drove down to see him and he let me play half a dozen of his guitars which were ready. What struck me was how different they were in their choice of woods and also in their decoration and finish. This indicated someone with an experimental and enquiring approach to making guitars, an impression which has developed the more I have got to know him and his work.
All of the instruments in his ‘salon’ had distinctive qualities but I was drawn to one which was very different in appearance, sound and finish from any guitar I had owned or, indeed, had played before. This guitar, made from Zebrano wood with an oiled finish, had an outstanding upper treble response with very good sustain. The notes ‘join’ beautifully. It has a bright overall sound and is exceptionally live and ‘springy’ in feel. Its basic air resonance is at around G#, higher than the more normal G or F#, but the sustain and exceptional response in the treble in the higher registers give it a lovely shimmering quality and this is its defining character.
The bass, maybe because of the guitar’s high air resonance, is clear and incisive. Along with the clarity and brightness of the overall sound, it is noticeable how distinctly the inner voices can be heard.
Shaun recognises that each guitar needs to be set up to suit the individual player and readily took it back to make minor adjustments to the action after a few weeks. That those who buy his instruments are happy with them is important to him. It is an exceptionally ‘playable’ guitar. One never feels one has to struggle with it and one feels one can be in control of the instrument rather than that the instrument is controlling the player and the sound.
I have subsequently had a chance to play another of his guitars made from the more traditional spruce and Indian rosewood. This has a very different sound from my own but casts another light on his work. I can warmly recommend those who are thinking of buying a new guitar to consider a trip to Crediton to try Shaun’s guitars for themselves, each one of which is different, but each one of which is made with care and passion.
From Matt Petherbridge - Exeter, June 2015 Teacher, composer, performer.
After having spent much time searching for a quality classical guitar with a cut away but without much success I approached Shaun,
who was more than happy to make a cutaway for me. The process of getting a guitar made from scratch has been a real education.
Being able to talk through things like the merits of different woods and build design and being updated on the progress at regular
intervals was a unique experience. The guitar is stunning to look at and is a real work of art. Some of the features make it quite
original looking in the conservative world of classical guitars, such as the headstock and bridge.
The guitar, with its Engelmann spruce top is incredibly responsive and has great sparkle and sustain that stays remarkably even throughout the fingerboard.
The dynamic range is also very good with a lot of volume for a classical guitar which responds really well when played in large
spaces. The sustaining sound qualities of the instrument enable softer playing to sound clear and beautiful. Shaun is very agreeable and was happy to make suggestions and changes throughout the commission process.
It is a truly inspiring instrument to play and compose on.
From Jeremy Fox, classical and flamenco guitarist - London, August 2015.
I came across Shaun's guitars - and got to know Shaun himself - a few years ago. On my first visit, he showed me one of his guitars
and I bought it on the spot. I now have three "Newman" guitars, two classical and one flamenco. They are quite simply superb.
All three are full-volumed and beautifully balanced - the basses deep and resonant, and the trebles sparkling and full of life.
That they are also a pleasure to the eye is an added bonus. I can't recommend them too highly.
From Phil Tucker - Wellington, August 2015.
I only walked into Shaun Newman's workshop to have my son's school guitar repaired; I walked out with a new beautiful hand-made
concert classical guitar.
The first thing that strikes you about Shaun's guitars is their beauty. Apparently, mine has back and sides made of a wood called
West African ovangkol, a front of Canadian spruce, a neck of Brazilian mahogany and a fingerboard of Indian rosewood.
That doesn't mean much to me, to be honest. I would describe it as having a lovely pale, almost yellow front that contrasts with the
darker sides and fingerboard and is finished with delicious red trim (tulipwood purflings, Shaun would say) and red rose detail
around the sound hole. This fine detail jumped out at me as soon as I saw the guitar, as did the headstock and bridge,
which are crafted into a pattern that evokes Moorish Spain. They were the Shaun Newman trademark touches of individuality
that made me decide, 'Oh yes, she shall be mine!'
Then there's the playability. I am no virtuoso, by the way, and you don't need to be to enjoy a Shaun Newman guitar.
Shaun didn't bat an eyelid when I fumbled through Hotel California - it sounded great to me! That's because the guitar is very
forgiving - if you go for a big reach and stretch with your little finger for a note, the playing action is so smooth that the note
seems to play when on another guitar it would be a tuneless 'plick' - I swear it makes me a better guitarist! I have not played
the guitar so much in years.
One last comment - I've been working away; when I got back on Friday afternoon the first thing I would see was the guitar.
It wouldn't matter if I couldn't play a note - she's beautiful.
From Andrew Scott. Retired GP and guitar enthusiast. I now have three and a half Shaun Newman guitars! The half refers
to a radical repair generously carried out on my very first instrument purchased from a junk shop aged 13 and which turned out to
be from the 19th century and French.
While visiting, I was able to see the Newman workshop and the various stages of building
a truly exceptional guitar. Clearly Shaun's attention to detail had to be exceptional as well. I went away with no 8 and my
enjoyment from playing grew from that moment. Since then his experience and skill has reached maturity and I am very fortunate to
own and play the famous 'Zebra' no 34 and the most recent no 48 in ziricote, spruce, cedar and ebony completed in March 2014.
They complement each other and should really be in the hands of a virtuoso!!
There is no production line in the workshop. Each instrument is unique. My advice to anyone looking for a new guitar would be to go
and talk to you Shaun, see the workshop and play his beautiful guitars. That would speak better than words could ever do.
From Steve Gordon, performer, teacher and publisher. One of the most impressive features of the two Newman guitars
I've played is the balance, warmth and depth of tone across the entire range and particularly in the middle and upper register.
These guitars have a very individual character, the tone on the upper strings is complex,mellow surrounding a steel core,
resonant and with great projection.
From Rhisiart Arwell, performer, composer, tutor, and one of Wales' most famous guitarists. The love story started quite simply.
“I’ve just finished this guitar, do you think you could take it for a while and let me know what you think of it?”, Shaun asked.
“A pleasure!” I replied, savouring the thought I was going to enjoy having a spanking new guitar to play with for a month or so.
As all classical guitarist will know very well, the pleasure of spending time with a new instrument is indeed a very special experience; getting to know and understand a new voice, exploring the depths of its sonority, cradling it sensual shape, enjoying the smell of new wood and glue and taking it though its paces for sustain and projection.
Shaun and I had met at a London Guitar Festival the year previously and found we got on rather well.
Shaun had recently undertaken a repair on my 1974 Manuel Contreras guitar, which had developed a rather annoying buzz and we had arranged to meet half way between our respective homes in a motorway service station so that I could pick up my newly repaired Contreras guitar.
I noticed that he was carrying two guitar cases with him on that day. It was later during our chat over coffee that he mentioned a recently completed guitar and his wish for me to let him know what I thought of it.
I felt honoured. I had been a fan of Shaun’s instruments since I’d played his guitars at the London guitar festival, and now I was to be given the opportunity to spend some quality time with one of his very fine instruments. I had also recently returned to playing professionally and was in a busy period with a series of concerts to promote a CD release. I was certainly a good time to put a new guitar through its paces - I was fired up and guitars were very much at the centre of my universe.
I couldn’t wait to have a look at the instrument, and once home, I took it out of its case and was immediately impressed with the ‘look’, the craftsmanship and finish. Spruce top, nicely fashioned bridge, rosewood sides and back and rather nice machine heads.
My regular Contreras guitar has a cedar top and I’d always hankered after a spruce top instrument. What a great opportunity this was going to be, then. Those first few notes I played were impressive enough, but after an hour or so of going through my repertoire, my appreciation of the guitar’s qualities was growing.
What struck me most during those first few sessions with the guitar was the clarity and separation of the sound. The Contreras certainly has a big sound, but I wouldn’t say the sonority is superbly clear in all registers. Compared to Shaun’s guitar, chords on it sounded a little muddy and lacking in definition.
This gave a new perspective to my repertoire, especially Renaissance, Baroque and Classical. Slowly, other features of the guitar made themselves present; the long sustain, the resonant bass notes and plumy trebles, especially in the higher registers. A perfect package. I then fitted Savarez strings on it, and they immediately made a difference; the instrument was even louder.
I’ve noticed that even the ‘best’ guitars by famous makers have ‘dead’ notes somewhere on the fingerboard. One accepts this I suppose, mostly because the whole ‘package’ is excellent. The good news is that I couldn’t find a dead note anywhere on Shaun’s guitar. Good news indeed.
By now, I had even started to play the guitar in my concerts and was very impressed by its projection and sustain in all types and sizes of recital rooms. It was certainly an excellent package for a performer and was proving a very useful and creative tool.
I started to notice that the ‘evaluation period’ for the guitar was gradually getting longer and longer, and I really found it difficult to contemplate the prospect of returning it to Shaun. Shaun hadn’t been asking for it back and, as if he’s read my mind, an email arrived from Shaun; what did I want to do, return the guitar or did I want to keep it?
There was never any question about it, my mind was made up, I was going the have the guitar as my main instrument.
The deal was done and I couldn’t have been happier. The guitar is a gem. It feels right, and the sound is rich and resonant. It’s such a pleasure to play, and as most of us know, the acid test with great guitar is that they will you to play them, and play them all the time!
I’ve now had Shaun’s guitar for some two years and I’m still using it as my main instrument.
In 2019, when I was starting to think about recording a second CD of popular works for guitar, I suggested to Myfyr Isaac, my recording engineer (and excellent guitarist) that we should perhaps evaluate guitars for the recording project. He agreed.
I recorded a test track using various guitars, in order to see (and hear) which one would give us the best result. Myfyr wasn’t aware of the background nor of the emotional attachment I had with any of the instruments, so his evaluation was based purely and entirely on quality of sound.
After the session, I asked Myfyr which guitar in his professional opinion would be the ‘one’ to use. There was no doubt in his mind, and he said without hesitation: “That one”. He was pointing at Shaun’s guitar. “That’s the instrument with the best sonority and clarity, the one with the most ‘information’ in the sound. That’s the one you should use”.
As so it was. We’ve used Shaun’s guitar for the project and I’m more than happy with the result.
I remember asking Shaun as he handed over the guitar to me initially for evaluation: “Why did you want me to have a look at this guitar?”
“I think it’s rather special”, he replied.
Exactly, in a nutshell. Thanks Shaun.
The love story continues.
From Ted Foulkes, keen amateur player, Teignmouth. I first heard about Shaun as an instrument repairer and restorer. I had found an old guitar by a well known Spanish maker but it was in a sorry state. I took it to Shaun to see what could be done with it but, as I suspected, it was too far gone to justify the time and expense of restoration.
While I was there Shaun showed me some of his guitars and I tried a lovely cedar and walnut example. I had been looking for a special guitar for months, but had been repeatedly disappointed by guitars of well-known makers I had travelled a long way to try.
I had not considered a luthier made instrument. I am an amateur player and thought such instruments were strictly for professionals, but Shaun’s instruments are priced at about the same level as decent quality factory made guitars! I went back to Shaun’s house a few months later (delayed by the Spring lockdown) and spent several hours trying five or six guitars. All were lovely instruments and all were different, apart from Shaun’s signature headstock. He never makes two identical guitars.
For reasons I can’t really explain, none of them seemed to be exactly right for me. Shaun did not try to push me towards any of the guitars or make me feel in any way obliged to buy one. The November lockdown came and went and Shaun sent me an email to say that he had built two new guitars. He invited me to take them home and try them for a few days. The first guitar was truly made for concert performance. The sound was huge with loud, ringing trebles and a deep, powerful bass, but it was too demanding for me. It needed a concert hall to contain the sound and a professional player to control it.
The second was a lovely small bodied guitar based on the shape of a Martin of the late 1800s. It was immediately very comfortable to hold and to play. The fretboard was a couple of millimetres wider than standard which helped me to play cleanly. The action was easier than any other I have found on a classical guitar and enabled me to play passages I usually struggle with, without fatigue. The sound was sweet and full.
There were, however, a couple of things I was not sure about. Shaun took the guitar back and a week later invited me to try it again. It was now perfect. It felt as though it had been made to my exact requirements. I have owned the guitar for a couple of weeks now and it is opening out beautifully. A bright, chiming treble has joined the initial sweetness and the mid range and bass are strong and warm. All are well balanced and easily controllable, an important consideration for a player of my standard. I can hardly put it down.
Whether you are a professional player or a keen amateur, Shaun will make you welcome. You will find no pressure, no salesmanship, just top quality hand made guitars at factory guitar prices.
From Eric Lam, accomplished guitarist, Kowloon, Hong Kong:
A big thank you for making me a wonderful instrument. I have received the guitar safely on Wednesday. What a stressful time waiting for FedEx to deliver it! Due to the lack of direct flights to Hong Kong, the guitar had been to France, India and China before reaching me. Have to say that your meticulous packaging really was necessary these days and thanks for that.
Just a short review of playing the guitar for a few days (very hard to put down, by the way).
The woods of the guitar look really good. The rosewood is very dark and I believe very well-seasoned. I have not regretted choosing the oil finish too, I really like the subtlety and texture of it.
The playability is very good. At first, I was not so used to the neck shape, since I rarely play a "D"ish shaped neck. However, it is actually very comfortable to play with after getting used to it. It allows me to easily place my thumb anywhere on the vertical axis as different chords require and barre chords are effortless to play now. Many technical difficulties of some challenging pieces have been solved instantly with this guitar. The action is very good too. Since the neck and frets are very well made, I guess I can actually try a slightly higher action without getting too challenging. I play rest strokes quite powerfully, so occasionally, I might get a fret buzz. I wonder if high tension strings would help that.
Finally, the sound. Without doubt, the guitar sounds fantastic. When it arrived on the first day, the strings and the guitar were a little dormant, as an expected result from after days of flights, yet it still sounded very good. The volume is huge and I hope my neighbours won't complain. The sustain, balance and evenness along the fingerboard are very good. The bright trebles stand out from the strong, steadfast, reverb-y basses. The basses are like piano basses with the sustain pedal, so each voice of the music can actually last and stand out, something that I need when playing Baroque music. The guitar is very responsive, I actually need some time to get used to it and realised I don't need to play as hard with my right hand, reducing much tension. I can have better dynamic and tone control with this guitar. The guitar already sounds quite open, just think about how good it will sound when it evolves to its full potential. You were right about the guitar sounds great right off the workshop.