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Stringing it together – the Bunbury musician crafting guitars

If you learn to play a musical instrument such as a guitar, you’ll always have a friend for life.

Les Brooks
Bunbury Guitar Maker

Powerful words from Les Brooks from Bunbury, an avid musician and guitar enthusiast who makes his own cigar box and lap steel slide guitars. Played in a horizontal position on a performer’s lap, they’re a versatile instrument.

”They’re popular with blues guitarists as they have a different sound than a traditional guitar. I’ve been making them since 2006 and I love the intricacy in creating a finished product,” Les explains.

Les stands next to one of his guitars which he has built
Les is a lover of guitars and has been making them for many years

Wired to guitars

One of his first ever guitars was for professional musician Phil Bradley, from the 1980s WA based band The Jackals. Phil, an accomplished heavy rock guitarist, went on to create the band Subtruck in the 1990s.

”I was a bit awestruck when he used my guitar. Phil was so impressed with it, he told his friends and that is how I get my work through word of mouth with people coming to me with commissions.”

I’m never usually doing the same thing on each guitar, I might be assembling, wiring it up or doing the electronics, there are various different stages to each one.

Les Brooks
Bunbury Guitar Maker
Les, wearing magnifying glasses, looks over a guitar
Les magnifies what he’s working on

Each guitar can take three months to complete. Les says you can’t rush them. He spends two or three hours crafting each one and usually likes working on several at the same time which offers him variety.

Guitar dreams

Les lost one of his eyes to measles when he was a young lad and then he developed the rare degenerative disease retinitis pigmentosa. He’s been receiving support from VisAbility, and before that the Association for the Blind, for close to thirty years. Under the guidance of Gillian Fry, VisAbility Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Les now receives specialist cane training.

”Gillian is fabulous, she’s well respected here in Bunbury and also sits on a local support group for people with vision loss.”

Although he was declared legally blind in 1988, he carried on working as a teacher until 2006, when his limited sight made his role difficult. That’s when he turned to guitar making. What kept Les going was to strive for something better each time he crafted one.

”My goal has never been to make masses and masses of guitars but I always dreamt about how my guitars would be utilised,” explains Les.

”Firstly, I wanted to know that my guitar had been played in a recording studio, then to see a professional guitarist on stage with one of my guitars and then witness two people play them. When that happens it’s ticking off my wish-list. ”

Guitar harmony  

Now 59, Les has recently moved house which offers him more space. But as his eyesight fades, it’s getting harder. Although he has templates to work from, the initial cutting of the wood is challenging.

”You can imagine, with my limited sight how tricky that is. This year I’m going to be making more use of the Bunbury Men’s Shed. They have large machines to cut the initial wood which means I can concentrate on assembling it, wiring it up and completing the electronics.”

Three box guitars which Les has made lean against a sound speaker
Les says as long as his eyesight allows, he’ll carry on producing the guitars

A big part for Les to be able to craft the guitars is getting the light right so he can see what he’s doing. It’s not about flooding the area with light, he finds it easiest when minimal light is directed onto the guitar he’s working on.

Musical family

Les has twin daughters in their late teens, who like their father are also passionate musicians.

”They both went to the Rock n Roll High School in Bunbury, which offers expert tuition to musically talented students.”

So when will Les decide it’s time to give up?

”I want to maintain a certain standard and when I’m unable to achieve that, when my eyesight deteriorates further, then it will be the time to give it up. I won’t have any regrets as I will have achieved what I set out to accomplish.”

If you’d like to find out more about the guitars made by Les, visit his Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/ratbonesmusicalinstruments/ . You can also watch a video about Les on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTtexo60U6E

To find out more about Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Services available at VisAbility, visit this page on our website.