Cult Shop: ‘I’m one of the few female luthiers in the world’
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
A late sun sweeps into the south London workshop as luthier Daisy Tempest puts the finishing touches to a newly strung guitar. Dressed in a boiler suit, she moves nimbly about the space to the whirr of power tools and the light tap of fingers on wood. The workshop is pristine, everything in neat racks, dust swept away. Making instruments is a fiddly process. Any imperfection can alter them.
Tempest was determined to learn this age-old craft as a teenager, and by 26 had opened her own business, Tempest Guitars. Today she is one of a small handful of female-owned luthier brands in the world. Her Deptford studio is now open to the public by appointment.
Tempest puts down her tools and introduces me to the instruments, including extraordinary pieces made in sleek red hardwood or a 5,000-year-old black fossilised oak, inlaid with rich seams of copper. The inlays are inspired by her aunt, who specialises in etched copper printmaking, while 18th-century hand-marbled endpapers, given to her by curator Raymond O’Shea, are curled around the guitar’s soundhole – a decorative feature unique in guitar making.
The recent winner of the Newby Trust craft excellence award, which supports two emerging craftspeople, Tempest benefited from a specialist traineeship, and mentoring from Rosie Heydenrych of Turnstone Guitars. Her handcrafted instruments have earned her a devoted following. Her family has lived in Yorkshire since 1066, practising crafts from woodwork to tapestry, and guitars were a natural choice for her as they combine artistic heritage with a love of music fostered in childhood – her father is a professional pianist and she learnt guitar with her late brother.
For Tempest, guitars are “not just functional objects, but art pieces too”. Her website is part shop, part gallery, featuring mesmeric timelapse videos of each guitar’s creation. In one series of posts, Tempest photographed a guitar’s interior through its soundhole, then digitally transformed the space into an imagined skatepark in collaboration with US professional skater Chris Cole. These playful visuals, often fusing glamour with grunge, have struck a chord beyond the luthier world and inspired a large social following.
Clients and fans ranging from financiers to Game of Thrones actor Iwan Rheon see Tempest’s bespoke creations (from £6,000) as heirlooms, or works of art to display like paintings. Integral to her relationship with buyers is handpicking materials together from sustainable suppliers, from neolithic Suffolk oak to flamed sycamore. Tempest then donates a percentage of her commission to a Yorkshire-based reforestation charity, Broughton Sanctuary Nature Recovery Programme.
“Woodworking is about the reduction of ego,” she says. To excel, you must “make mistakes, learn from the wood, tease out the qualities of every piece… It’s no good to try and ruthlessly subjugate it.” In a sense, it is a process much like learning music itself. I ask Tempest if she still plays. She does, frequently, but on this occasion hands the instrument to me. I’m no guitarist, yet the first pluck recalls a memory of my own mother playing guitar, in a quiet room – a sound that pours over my senses, like liquid.