The Return of The Holy Grail

Atkin OM Serial number 63/0401

Alister Atkin must think I’m bonkers – verging on raving lunatic. I don’t know. But I can assure him, I am neither. We met in September 2018 in Mannheim at the Guitar Summit and, being the gentleman that he is, he took time with me over a beer to answer all my questions.

I had travelled there with a second or third hand Atkin OM from the year 2001 which had fallen quite surprisingly into my care the previous month. I had been spellbound by this particular guitar ever since I met Oliver Scheidies (Singer Songwriter and guitarist from Freiburg) and watched him play it. I have played alongside Ollie for many years now and although he could make an old broom sound like a 1930s blues guitar, he’s a man who can spot a good six string at a distance, and loves to play one. If Ollie offers you one of his guitars, you have to take it seriously.

Well, in July 2018,Ollie offered me his Atkin for the THIRD TIME! I said no. I had to. It was his Atkin, and he had loved playing it. Now,, to undertand why Ollie would want to sell it, you need to know the background: The guitar was nearly 20 years old and had been played to the point where it needed quite urgent attention. In short – it had been through the mill and was worse for wear. The story goes that a young Alister Atkin brought this beauty (one of his early efforts – number 63) to Freiburg while visiting his then girlfriend. The records reveal that he swapped it for at least one AER amplifier. End of story…..Or perhaps not!

Unbeknown to Alister Atkin at some point the guitar (still in Freiburg) suffered a battering and was brought into the shop belonging to Thomas Sjenmann for repair – In other words, she was left for dead. Thomas, being the man he is, took it upon himself to bring the guitar back to life. If you look closely at the guitar, you see that some kind of neckbreak is evident, among other things. Thomas quietly went about his work and, before too long, the guitar was hanging up in his shop for sale. Enter Mr. Scheidies.

Ollie – always a man for a bargain – spotted the old OM and immediately tested it. HIs conclusion: Small body, OM size, breathtaking sound. He bought it on the spot. And so the OM of Alister Atkin found a new home and remained quite a few years with Oliver Scheidies, doing the rounds in concert halls and town allies.

In 2012 I met Ollie and over the years we began playing together. Ollie always had (and still has) a selection of fantastic instruments which he regularly exchanges for others, but his Atkin endured throughout this period. Then, in July 2018 (one year ago) the almost unthinkable happened. For the third time Ollie offered me the Atkin. I was about to turn him down (again) but this time it was for real. A friend would be picking her up that week, come what may. That was the moment I had to accept the offer and keep her in the family . I haggled with Ollie, told him he had to sell it to me, and agreed to pay him what the other guy would have paid.

Stunned, I put down the phone, wondered where to get the cash I’d just offered to pay, and wandered around a little dazed for a few days. I had been observing Alister Atkin’s guitars for a while at this point and had even begun saving for a new one – an order which would cost €3600 and take over a year to receive. And now, here I was, about to go and pick up this battered but beautiful-sounding Atkin OM.

A few days later I took the cash over and met Ollie in his flat. The Atkin was standing in the corner as usual, taking a break from being played. We drank a coffee (Ollie makes the greatest coffee) and very soon, the talk turned to the OM in the corner. Ollie was surprised that I didn’t pick it up imediately. The truth is, a certain respect for the moment and the relationship between Ollie and the guitar made it impossible. And the fact that I had the feeling I was about to have one of the Holy Grails of the guitar world in my hands.

The guitar is a mystery. The break it suffered doesn’t seem to have affected the tone. In fact, the tone is unique. Bluesy, woody, big (if needed), gentle (if required) ringing, tight, cuts through the mix like a whip crack. She’s light and compact. It’s the Atkin sound.

The new OMs from Alister are essentially the same, but in some ways different animals. More Rolls Royce with a huge engine under the hood. Pefect guitars. This early Atkin has the essentials – nothing more – and has been played to the brink of existence. As a guitar should be. My take on all of Alister’s guitars is this: They are built to be played…and played and played. I was shopping around for a pre-owned Atkin (a hard thing to find becuase nobody likes to sell them!) over the period while my OM was in repair, and was a bit shocked to see in how good condition the instruments on offer were.

So, there I am with the Atkin, and slowly I begin to realise that this baby has to find its way back to Alister. That’s when the gods of the guitar universe conspire to help. Prepared as I was to drive to Canterbury (UK) with her, to Alister’s workshop, I am extatic when I discover that Atkin guitars will be represented on a stand at the Guitar Summit in Mannhein 2018. I book my ticket and in the middle of September I drive up to meet the great man.

Alister and the team take a good look at the guitar and are surprised how great she still sounds. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to recount my part of the story to him, and he takes his time to explain that number 63 was probably constructed in his garage, back then, before he had a space in a workshop. He’s very patient while listening to my questions, but also amazingly authentic and guitar crazy. I return the next day to the exhibition, duly order a brand new Atkin Essential OOO, and leave my guitar with him and the team to take back to the workshop. Number 63 desperately needs a look at the neck, the frets and the tuners. I return home happy.

Ten months later….

Anyone who is dealing with one of the greatest guitar builders will know that patience is required. Especially in Alister’s case. The company is taking off in a serious way, and a guitar builder such as Alister Atkin faces a great challenge: How to produce more guitars without compromising on sound or quality. Alister’s workshop is small and, at the time of our meeting, they were planning to expand next door. This all takes time and effort, and whilst he’s got some of the world’s greatest players/singers on his list of Atkin owners, it’s only reasonable that he gives them priority in terms of repair jobs and custom builds. Anyone who has read the boook “Clapton’s guitar” by Allen St. John will testify to the fact that persistence is required in order to get great builders to turn their attention to your guitar.

So I knew I was going to have to settle in for a long ride when I left her with him in Mannheim that day. Days passed, weeks passed, months passed. At some point I wondered if it had all been a dream, but I nver doubted it had been the right thing to do…to leave it with him. I began to dream about her arriving, and in each dream the guitar became even more magnificent and mysterious than in the previos one. A dangerous thing, for when I finally received a mail that my package from Atkin guitars was on its way, my expectations had become dream-like fantasies of a a magic instrument which would solve all ills on planet earth.

She arrived looking quite the same..apart from the repairs to the neck, fret and tuners. Workshop dust covered some of the guitar, and she arrived in the same, cheap case I had left her in that day. A sense of anti-climax overcame me. I quietly sat her down on the sofa, upright, and went about my daily business, tidying the kitchen and checking that the house was OK before the kids arrived from school. I fetched a new pack of Elixir strings and got to work changing the strings on the guitar.

I wondered if the guitar still suited me? I had only owned her for 6 weeks before letting her go, and perhaps my imagination of how it would be to play her would conflict with reality. I finally picked her up and drove into her with a plectrum on a full G chord, then a C, and a D. I tried a full E and an A. She played with ease – the repair was good. Very good. The sound was booming but controlled. It was all still there. The fretboard looked great, the tuners were smooth, and the action was perfect. The holy grail had returned.

So many concerts had come and gone in those 10 months. Many moments when I had wished to be playing this guitar, but somehow it was meant to be this way. Who knows what would have happened if she had come back ealrier? I just trust in the guitar gods – and I trust in Alister. And I promise to give him a break now!

You can find some great videos and all the information about Atkin guitars at www.atkinguitars.com



Time to risk it

ON Friday we release our CD…we sing in front of friends und new faces in Schopfheim and try to put our heart and soul into what we do.

Foto: Katja Diedrich

There are a few of us out there doing just that at the moment. Our “scene” is quite a a cool place to be right now. In the last year alone I had the chance to play with some great musicians, but I also got to see a lot in concert.

Michael Morrissey, Beni and Sofia, Beuz Thiombane, Oliver Scheidies, Lyndsay Ferguson, Bella and schroeder, Tilo Wachter…. It’s great to see such great performances out there, and to learn from each and every one. Special mention here for Matthias Reinelt (Solo Enterntainer, Singer and allrounder) who got up at my brithday onto the stage und just did his stuff with such a clear sense of purpose that I wondered why I bother trying so hard sometimes to make things fizz, boom and bang the whole time. He just hit the nail on the head with his work on the stage.

And Friday? Well, On Friday our album “Alleingeburt” hits the ground running and we’re looking forward to a big party in the Cafe am Hebel in Schopfheim. A big thank you to Hannes Kumke for the sound he created and then to Katja Diedrich for the astounding pictures. We’ve got a good feeling about this one.

I think we created something quite unique – and so we’re gonna enjoy it for a short while; even if I’m already thinking about how to go deeper in the recording studio. Mr Kumke we’re gonna have some fun now! Seriously though, the last year has seen me play more guitar and sing more than I ever did before. And I got better at it. I’m starting to understand what it is I do…How to play this instrument…how to become one with the song and the words. It’s a great feeling. It’s a bit like being at the beginning of a journey and already possessing the experience of the journey ahead – but not each encounter or moment.

And the risk? Well, to live like we do… to try and stand up every day for what we do, without being arrogant or conceited, and to get out there and live. To get better. And also to be able to leave it all behind…. What?

Yep… The time has come to take a risk and go on a journey. May and June will see us packing the van and heading south. With the kids. With as much and as little of evrything as possible. We’re going to break what routine we have and look to live a little deeper for a while. Then, when we get back, it’s into the studio to capture the rewards of all the practise.

Love to all, Ben