Christopher Eccleshall obituary

Other lives: Guitar-maker to the stars in the 1970s, including David Bowie and Rory Gallagher

My father, Chris Eccleshall, who has died aged 72, was one of the world’s leading designers and makers of guitars, and the go-to repairer for many well-known musicians.

His focus was custom-built fretted instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, mandolins, mandolas, banjos and Appalachian dulcimers, and his long list of customers included Rory Gallagher, Pete Townshend, David Bowie, Eric Clapton, Paul Weller, the Cure, New Order, the Sweet and the Levellers.

Born in Gosport, Hampshire, the son of Doreen (nee Davies), a secretary for the Royal Navy and amateur writer, and Leslie Eccleshall, a Royal Navy officer, Chris attended Brune Park County High school, Gosport. As a teenager, he made a guitar with his father.

On leaving school, Chris began his career as an apprentice metalworker at the Royal Naval Aircraft Yard at Fleetlands. After hitchhiking for a while, he started working for the well-respected violin maker John Howard-Lucy in Hastings. The following year, aged 18, he started a traineeship at the world-renowned violin makers WE Hill & Sons of Bond Street, London, where he had the opportunity to work on the restoration of the guitar collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum. In 1968 he became the first employee at Ealing Strings violin makers and, realising a few years later that guitars were his passion, set himself up as an independent luthier.

Those early days were a heady time for him. Rory Gallagher was his first main customer; word soon spread amongst the close-knit community of guitar technicians, roadies and those “in the know”. He made a 12-string guitar for Bowie and a star-shaped one for the Glitter Band. The world of this young and talented instrument maker – who would accept a drawing on a napkin as the basis for a guitar due to go on Top of the Pops in a few weeks’ time – must have been a very exciting one.

The musician Rory Gallagher with an acoustic octave mandola and a solid electric mandolin, made by Christopher Eccleshall
The musician Rory Gallagher with an acoustic octave mandola and a solid electric mandolin, made by Christopher Eccleshall Photograph: None

In 1977 he married Antonia Del Mar, a classical musician, and in 1986 they moved to Dartington in Devon. Once out of daily contact with the London music scene, Chris had fewer high-profile celebrity customers – though some, such as Peter Hook, stayed loyal throughout his life. Outside the workshop he spent much of his time performing at music festivals and local pubs, singing and dancing as a member of the Dartington Morris Men, and enjoying a slower pace of life. He and Antonia divorced in 1991.

Chris was a meticulous craftsman and genuine musician, an inspiring teacher of both music and instrument-making, a great storyteller, and a sociable and kind man with a great sense of humour.

He is survived by his children, Michael and me, his grandson, Felix, and his sister, Beryl.

Morwenna Del Mar

The GuardianTramp

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