UCHIDA GUITARS | Mitsuhiro ‘Micky’ Uchida
Uchida-san is one of the most humble builders I have never encountered and yet his guitars are unbelievably spectacular. I managed to speak to him earlier this year when he very kindly filled me in on his biography and current work. My recorder wasn’t working on that day but I have filed this profile under interviews to keep the blog neater.
Uchida-san is one of the most respected Japanese luthiers but you have probably never heard of him. Incredible craftsmanship with absolute humility has been his Modus Operandi since 1972 when he began his adventure in luthiery by apprenticing with Toshihiko Nakade. Nakade-san was a classical luthier- building only high quality classical guitars, favoring cedar and brazilian rosewood.
Shortly after, he mastered repair work and quality control at the famous Kohno guitar factory- again famed for their high end classicals guitars. He applied his knowledge teaching and supervising at several factories in Nagoya. Not content with his skills, Uchida-san was soon in Europe, first at BSA stringed instruments in Germany and then at the fledging Lowden guitar company. Although Micky had been trained building classical guitars, he was a great Pierre Bensusan fan and was keen to learn steel string construction.
His talent impressed George Lowden who offered him the post of factory manager. During this period, his roles included teaching, quality control and was recognized as the Teaching officer, Key worker by HM Government in 1988. George remembers that era well, commenting that ‘We worked closely together from that time onwards. Micky concentrated on filling in any area of the factory which needed it and sharing the burden of training and quality control, while I concentrated on productivity, jig design and general management. Izumi (Micky’s wife) actually carried out final assembly and set up of the guitars as well.”
It was over the next few years that Micky helped to develop and streamline the Lowden line. Despite Lowden’s checkered financial history, it is testament to Micky, Izumi and George that the Lowden line has survived and flourished. In addition, many of the craftsmen who learnt their trade at Lowden attribute their skills to Micky and George’s guidance. Dermot McIlroy remembers that ‘Micky always told me to find my own path, try different ways of doing things.’
In 1990, Micky retired from Lowden guitars and began building his own line of instruments and in October 1991, returned to his native Japan, setting up a workshop in the Nagano prefecture. He hasn’t looked back since.
Currrently, Micky builds about 10 instruments a year with a strong preference for African Blackwood and Brazilian rosewood back and sides. Currently, his line up includes steel string guitars, piccolos and harp guitars offerings with each built around several distinct shapes and dimensions. A recently delivered Travel guitar to Eric Clapton is being worked up to a standard model.
Micky tends to build very specific customized guitars for his customers. His unique designs include a thin, elongated headstock, multistring instruments and elaborate, ergonomic cutaways which twist in several dimensions. These elements have given Micky a reputation for being a cutting edge luthier with old world skills. Despite the fact his customers span the entire globe, spotting a Uchida is extremely difficult. I have only seen and heard 2 in my entire career compared to over dozens of prewar Martins. Uchida guitars are characterized tonally, by balance and a startingly rich bass and treble responses. The detailing and workmanship are top notch as well, purfling was flawless and the wood spectacular.
I am sure many readers are already reaching for the cheque-book, do bear in mind that Micky-san already has a waiting list until 2010 and you’re going to have to beat me to the phone….
“The Complete History of the Lowden Guitar…” George Lowden 1993
“The McIlory story…” Dermot McIlroy 1999
Micky Uchida- many thanks for Uchida-san for taking the time to speak to me!
©2008 Terence Tan.
Pictures by various- provided by Mr. Shiro. Do contact me to resolve any issues.