Stan Francis obituary

Other lives: Pioneering Liverpool guitar maker and folk musician

My friend Stan Francis, who has died aged 91, was a pioneering Liverpool guitar maker and folk musician. In 1960 Pete Seeger, then one of the leading figures in the US folk music revival, was seeking a powerful 12-string guitar.

He was impressed by a guitar made by Stan, and came to Liverpool to order one. The new guitar (Stan’s No 10), with its distinctive triangular sound-hole and large black scratch-plate, became part of Seeger’s public persona.

Stan’s parents, George, a lorry driver, and his wife, Louisa (nee Baxter), a confectioner, moved from Manchester to Liverpool when Stan was five. George was a skilled engineer and woodworker, who read widely and played the banjo. Stan inherited all these skills and interests.

After attending Alsop school, Stan became an apprentice at Camell Laird shipbuilders, then worked as an engineer in the merchant navy and for companies in Liverpool before retraining in his early 20s as a draughtsman at English Electric. He married June Love, a nurse, in 1950, and had two daughters, Andrea and Pam.

Stan enjoyed singing and playing the banjo and guitar, and became a participant in the Liverpool folk music scene. He met Tony Davis and Mick Groves of the Gin Mill skiffle group in 1957, and joined them and Tony’s wife, Beryl, in the original lineup of the Spinners folk group, which went on to a long and successful career.

Stan soon realised this life was not for him, and left after a few months. But he remained a regular figure in Liverpool clubs, and put in another serious stint as a performer with the Liverpool Fishermen, led by the author Brian Jacques, who appeared frequently all over the north west in the late 1960s and early 70s.

In the mid-50s Stan also developed his interest in making instruments, beginning with a guitar-shaped mandolin, completed in 1957. Then came several six- and 12-string guitars. At the time, demand for good-quality acoustic steel-strung guitars exceeded supply in the UK, and Stan soon had a waiting list, which included Lonnie Donegan, Tommy Gilfellon, Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones, Tom Springfield and Seeger.

Stan’s main interest lay in instrument technology. He did all his work in his garden shed, and made no effort to develop his guitar-making as a business, or repeat successful models. Thus when Seeger ordered a further 12-string in 1966, Stan produced an experimental guitar with an ingenious but untested system of internal bracing. It had a round sound-hole and bore little resemblance to the No 10. He started making mandolins again in 1966 (he made 18 altogether), and completed a total of 71 guitars, the last in 2009.

Stan retired as a design engineer at Unilever in 1993. He had no interest in celebrity and preferred the company of his many colleagues, local musicians, friends and collaborators, among whom he was greatly valued.

June died in 2014. He is survived by Andrea and Pam.

Alan Ward

The GuardianTramp

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