Even though Longfellow doesn’t believe aluminum guitar makers will make an impact in the mainstream industry, he feels he has something uniquely different to offer.
In the town of Hanwell, located in the West London borough of Ealing where he grew up, metalworker/artist/luthier Pete Longfellow creates one-of-a-kind aluminum guitars out of his small workshop that’s a scant 200 yards from Jim Marshall’s (yes, that Jim Marshall) first shop. It’s the same borough where the Rolling Stones came together at the famed Ealing Club—one of the main hubs of British R&B—and where it was common and “no big deal” for the teen-aged Longfellow to sit with the likes of Keith Moon and Peter Townshend at local pubs. “Music was all around, and I watched it and bought it and have done it ever since,” says Longfellow.
Longfellow got his career started with a mechanical engineering apprenticeship as a toolmaker. He then went on to run a metalworking shop helping and instructing postgraduate, art and design students at the Royal College of Art in London, where he still is today. It’s in his home workshop where he works on guitars and other commissions. In fact, he first started building aluminum guitars simply because he wanted to have an instrument to play in his workshop when things were quiet, one that he could play without having to worry if it got “knocked.” And because Longfellow was already a fan of resonator guitars and their use of aluminum for the cones, it made perfect sense for him to “have a go at an all ‘ally’ guitar.”
Longfellow, who learned about guitar building from Jon Free of Black Guitars and legendary tech Stuart Monks, knew that past attempts at aluminum guitars had a reputation for easily going out of tune. But through his experience in working, welding, and sandcasting aluminum, Longfellow didn’t really feel that aluminum should have this affect, since he was aware that the metal has little chance of expansion or distorting, and that it shrinks less than one percent when going from molten to cold. “I knew of aluminum’s qualities of resonance, so I thought I’d better get at it,” he says.
Though his first attempt by using a cutdown aluminum pipe with a plate welded to it for a neck didn’t quite work out, Longfellow was encouraged by its looks. After some initial trial and error using cast aluminum for the necks of his first few instruments, he found that even with relieving the weight somewhat by machining the necks with CNC, he still couldn’t get the guitars to balance the way players are used to. Since then, he’s been mostly using wood for his necks.
Longfellow says that he doesn’t make two guitars the same and that his favorite is “always the last one I made.” He admits that it can sometimes be difficult trying to think of shapes beyond those from Fender, Gibson, and Gretsch, but that he does try to make his shapes more sympathetic to the material itself. “I am influenced by the great shape of the Gretsch lap steel,” says Longfellow. Be it something fashioned from one of the classics, a way out there design, or one of his new amp casings, Longfellow has found a way to craft a wide assortment of instruments from this highly resonant material.
The luthier prefers to make his own bridges and fittings as much as possible. Even though Longfellow doesn’t believe aluminum guitar makers will make an impact in the mainstream industry, he feels he has something uniquely different to offer. “My guitars have a good, strong sound with nice sustain. My customers like that and their look,” he notes.
The Scallop is the second instrument Longfellow built and he has no plans to part with it. “Its shape is just my version of a traditional semiacoustic ‘jazzer’,” says Longfellow. This early model has a cast aluminum neck topped with a rosewood fretboard, with a custom tailpiece designed and built by the luthier. Outfitted with a trio of vintage Hofner pickups he pulled from a guitar found on eBay, Longfellow says that the Scallop has a strong acoustic tone unplugged and really delivers a vintage sound when amplified.
The name for the Burner was inspired by the name of the company that manufactured its trio of pickups. Loaded up with Burns Tri-Sonic single-coils, each has a dedicated volume pot while the fourth control knob serves as a master tone. The Burner’s maple neck is topped with a rosewood fretboard, and the all-aluminum body is sealed with a matte lacquer finish. For good vibrato measure, Longfellow dressed the Burner with a Bigsby B70.
This design draws inspiration from a Charvel Surfcaster and gets its name from the Tufnol material used for the pickguard. Longfellow says that most manufacturers don’t vary the styles of control knobs and usually settle for standard issue, so he decided to make his own by casting resin knobs to match the visual style of the guitar. In keeping with the aesthetics of a Surfcaster for the electronics, the luthier loaded up the Tuf with a pair of SLD-1 lipstick pickups from Seymour Duncan.
Longfellow has built many Tele-styles in his career, but this one in particular has a maple neck with rosewood fretboard, a Tufnol pickguard, and a custom bridge made by Longfellow. The aluminum twang machine is outfitted with Bare Knuckle Blackguard series pickups in both the neck and bridge positions.
“You can’t improve on the classic shape of a Strat, but I tried to put my own mark on it,” says Longfellow. This version, which just recently sold, has a cast-aluminum neck crowned with a rosewood fretboard, and features special appointments like the vintage-style, chicken-head knobs and a bridge handcrafted by Longfellow. This axe is loaded with a pair of Seymour Duncan SHR-1 Hot Rails single-coils in the neck and middle positions, and a Seymour Duncan SH-PG1B Pearly Gates in the bridge.
Oyster Lap Steel
Longfellow is proud to say that he “ironically” sold one of his previous lap steels to a player in Honolulu, Hawaii. The Oyster model lap steel shown—his most recent—sold via eBay to a player in Germany who reports that he’s pleased with its strong tone. Longfellow constructed the fretboard from Tufnol, which was then inlaid with aluminum wire and discs. For electronics, the Oyster houses a single Gretsch Electromatic lap steel single-coil located near the neck.
Pricing and Availability
Longfellow enjoys working with customers for custom builds and encourages them to choose and supply pickups and/or other parts. “This shows their commitment to standards and keeps costs down,” he says. The luthier prefers commissioned, custom work and welcomes inquiries through his website, but noncustom builds can be found in some of the guitar shops along London’s famed Denmark Street, and occasionally on eBay. Longfellow is equipped and set up to build approximately 50 instruments per year and the average turnaround time for a custom build is about four weeks. Base prices range from as little as $320 for a lap steel and up to $950 for a more detailed build.
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.