What do Paul McCartney, The Spice Girls and Pete Townshend have in common?
They’ve all released albums using instruments made by the talented hands of Roger Bucknall.
The music fans among you will need no introduction to Bucknall.
He is the man who started a guitar business from a tiny basement in St Annes 40 years ago.
Four decades on, at the age of 63, he is one of the most respected and celebrated instrument makers in the country.
In fact on the day we speak he has just finished a guitar for the Young Ones/Bottom comedian Adrian Edmondson.
“That’s what I mainly do these days – make one-off custom guitars,” said Bucknall.
“People, usually well known musicians, ask for a special instrument and it can involve 70 or 80 emails sometimes and quite a few meetings to decide what they want.
“That’s the thing that keeps me going, keeps it interesting.”
By rights Bucknall should never have to pay for another drink again around Blackpool, for few have done more to publicise these parts.
He named his guitars Fylde and considering his instruments are played all over the planet, it’s not a bad advertisement for the area.
“It was funny really,” said Bucknall, when I ask why he went for Fylde. “I was in partnership with a chap called Bob Astley at the time.
“We couldn’t agree on a name but back then we were making our guitars in a little workshop in St Annes and Fylde seemed quite appropriate. I’m not likely to change it now.”
Bucknall grew up in Birmingham, where as a young child he was “always watching and learning and trying to make things”.
He made his first guitar out of plywood and a fishing line at the age of nine and after finishing university in Southampton, got a job designing tape recorders, where he met Astley.
“He came from St Annes and encouraged me to move there to start a guitar business,” said Bucknall.
They rented a unit on the Crescent, under Ernest Flowers gents outfitters.
“It was on the bridge, more or less over the railway line,” recalled Bucknall. “It was 1973 and we were in a one-room basement. It was tiny, the size of a bedroom.
“I have great memories, though it was quite lackadaisical as a business. From what I remember we spent a lot of time playing pool.”
But the guitars Bucknall produced were of such high quality that orders increased and the business moved to bigger premises in Kirkham.
“I have very happy memories of that period because it was when I started making guitars full time and getting orders from some big stars,” Bucknall said.
Artists like Martin Carthy, Mick Jones and Gordon Giltrap began using Fylde guitars, then word spread and rock n’rollers such as Townsend, Mick Jagger and Cliff Richard began placing orders.
Why? I ask. What made Bucknall’s guitars special?
“Well quite honestly at the time there wasn’t a lot of choice,” he explained.
“There were a lot of foreign imports, a lot of American guitars, but they were easily available and they were expensive for what you got.
“I offered an alternative to that and I was in the right place at the right time. My guitars suited the music emerging, a lot of fingerstyle acoustic guitarists.”
By the end of the 70s Bucknall – who was no longer working with Astley but remains good friends with him to this day – had 15 people working for him and was producing around 1,000 guitars a year.
Then, at the start of the 80s, due to personal issues and a change in music tastes (all synthesisers, no guitars), the business faltered.
Remarkably Bucknall simply became an expert at something else – producing snooker cues and cases.
All the top players began using his products. When then world champion Steve Davis wrote off his Porsche in a crash, the car was a mangled mess – but his case, made by Bucknall, and the cue inside were unscathed.
Alex Higgins and Dennis Taylor were among those who used his cues before, in 1992, with the acoustic guitar making a comeback in the music world, Bucknall sold his snooker business and decided to return to his first love.
“It wasn’t an immediate success because although I still had a reputation for the standard of my guitars, I had to rebuild the business,” he said.
“But again it was right place, right time. Acoustic music started to come back strongly and not only were my old customers becoming well known again but there was a whole breed of new players.
“I was in an ideal position to help them because I really do know what the guitarist needs and how to make the pieces of wood into something suited to them.”
His clients agree.
Bob Dylan has played a Fylde guitar, Paul McCartney used one on his last album. Rather more bizarrely, Fylde guitars feature on all the Spice Girls albums (“do you have to mention that bit,” jokes Bucknall when I ask him via email to confirm that fact).
His business is more streamlined now.
He left Kirkham in the mid 90s and moved to a workshop in a secluded spot in the Lakes near Penrith.
And these days a man who has produced around 10,000 guitars in the last 40 years tends to concentrate on individual customers rather than supplying music shops.
“Physically I can’t do some of the heavy work now, I’ve got arthritis, and so that’s one reason why I’ve changed the way I’m doing things,” he explained.
“I’ve deliberately scaled it down in the last five or six years because I’m not getting any younger and I don’t want to be running around as fast as I used to.
“I have two assistants who do a lot of the heavy work for me, sanding and shaping wood, and I concentrate on the finer stuff.
“I spend a lot more time now with the artists themselves. It is very important for me to actually communicate with the artist and try and make what they want, rather than just being at my bench.”
The cheapest guitar Bucknall makes will set you back £1,800. The most expensive standard guitar is around £4,000, while his custom-made instruments cost a lot more. It takes an average of three-months to make one guitar.
Bucknall says he can’t imagine ever selling his business, and is making plans about how it might continue when he’s no longer around.
He has two children and two step-children, though none have followed him into the guitar-making world.
“I want the business to carry on but I don’t quite know how yet,” he added. “There will be a way to keep it going... but I’m not worrying about it too much because I’m not intending to die just yet!”
A fascinating man who has become a figure known the world over because of the beauty of his instruments, Bucknall says farewell and then, I imagine, settles back at his workbench to put the finishing touches to yet another of his fine guitars.
* Bucknall’s autobiography Wood, Sweat and Tears is available from www.fyldeguitars.com.