"Golder + Houlder = Shergold" - Sound International 1980
Robin Millar examines the history and growth of Shergold and reviews the Modulator 12-string. (Pictures: Roger Phillips)

(Original scans)
Golder + Houlder = Shergold 'Romance is the privilege of the rich, not the profession of the unemployed.' - Oscar Wilde.

This is perhaps something many so-called professional musicians should bear in mind - a cautionary parrot sitting on the left shoulder when one is taking afternoon tea (or anything else that comes into range) with an old mate, or with someone else's mate, instead of rushing out to look at the classifieds before some other hopeful clinches that coveted job as rhythm guitarist in the Shambles. It is also something that, I think, musical instrument manufacturers should consider when adopting principles of design and pricing. It's all very well for us to wander past the panes of glass gazing covetously at those gold-plated violet sunburst jobs with the four-figure price tags - but are these jewels of the orient going to do a better job of getting us where we want to be, or will they merely soak up piggy's insides which should have been disgorged only for the rent man's evening meal?
I think, in basic terms at least, that the people at Shergold guitars have got their attitudes right on this one, although there are a few areas in which I think they themselves might look a little more carefully at the realities of modern life in The Music Business, where the recession is elbowing out glamour and self-indulgence to make room for a bit more common sense. As an aside to this, I should say that I reckon that ove the last couple of years, musicians have developed a much clearer view of the real world of 'making it' and I think a lot of Auntie Glorias, who have always felt that little Johnny should have stuck to his technical drawing, would be surprised to learn just how hard little Johnny is working. Anyway, down off your soapbox, humble scribe, and back to Shergold.
This company is at what they feel to be the culmination of a suprisingly long and colourful history. This may surprise a lot of people who thought they just sprang from nowhere into the waiting arms of Mike Rutherford. Don't those slim, polyurethaned necks remind you of anyone? Fender, a little, yes. Think again, old boy, a little closer to the old homeland this time. Aaah, of course. Burns! Right! These very same good people were sculpting out Jim's pioneering Bisons, TR2s, Sonics, Trisonics and the rest while most of us were still wondering why daddy had a handle on his bottom. If you look at and play a modern Shergold for just a few minutes, you'll wonder why you hadn't guessed before. The real secret is in the necks.
Millar (left) joins Houlder and Golder to survey handiwork Burns had a well-deserved reputation for producing fairly low-priced guitars with an uncompromisingly bright, toppy sound, but with a beautiful, slim and very fast neck. Copying the solo from Crossroads (Clapton not Hatch) became a remote possibility rather than the impossible dream. These neck were carved and moulded by Jack Golder and Norman Houlder. The two worked with Jim Burns for 20 years and, even when the company was taken over by Arbiter, the Baldwin guitars were the continuation of the same work. Then, some 12 years ago, Jack and Norman decided to set up on their own. Here begins a mystery. Three times the patient Jack has explained to me and my witless colleagues how they combined the names Golder and Houlder and got Shergold... we have considered undergoing psychiatric observation, or perhaps we have been unconscious victims of drug abuse, but we are no nearer to understanding this etymological poser. Perhaps Allen and Heath should have considered 'Streathall', or Rodgers and Hart 'Shortshag'. This magazine launches a monthly find-the-S competition in November's issue. 500 Sglpftzw guitars could be won.
Ah yes, I remember. 1968 and S-hergold Ltd were underway, producing necks and bodies for more than one ill-fated newcomer to British guitar making. First came Hayman: now much sought after, good quality copies of famous name axes. They went down the tube. Then came Ormston - no, not a new town off the M26, but Jim Burns' next project (and middle name). They went down the tube, too. Then say a Hi y'all to Ned Callan, Notting Hill's answer to Nashville. Interesting fact number 41. These guitars were an early effort by one Mr Peter Cook to make a name for himself (or for ole Ned, whoever he was). Peter, as you all know, make marvellous hand-crafted top-notch instruments from a hut - sorry Peter, workshop - at the bottom of his mum's garden. But Ned Callan, too, went down the same tube. This left our heroes literally lumbered: hundreds of prepared necks and bodies which were destined never to have their resin squeezed by a single arpeggio, and which are to this day lounging around on the shelves at Romford, Shergold HQ. Along with them was enough prime, matured timber to provide Francis I another stab at the Armada. What to do? Arson is illegal, and suicide was unfashionable in the era of peace and love, so Shergold decided to have done with luckless brothers-in-trade and go it alone.
They made their first, er, instrument that year. In fact they made several of them, all the same. I suspect one of them may be that thing with which Uhura bursts into song every 20 episodes or so of Star Trek. Jack describes is simply as an electric solid double bass, but as the photograph above shows, that is a little like calling Salvador Dali 'a bloke who paints pictures'. I shall not dwell on these contraptions except to say that they are not still making them, but the band on the QE2 are still wowing the pools winners with one from Southampton to the Seychelles. Shergold guitars began to follow and the company quietly went about building good, well-priced instruments and a bit of a reputation. Then, along came Mike Rutherford.
'I want one that comes apart in the middle,' he said casually. Several months round-the-clock development and a couple of thousand quid later the now famous Rutherford de-mountable double-neck was ready. This really brilliant device looks to all intents like a normal double-neck (if any idiot thinks that double-necks look normal anyway). The turn of a hidden screw and a gentle tug and voila! Two guitars for the price of, er, about seven. Concealed by a bevel are little built in multi-pin connectors, male and female, which unite the electronics of the instrument when joined, but allow separate operation of the two parts when parted. Rutherford was so pleased that he publicised himself and the guitar together quite unprompted by Shergold - in fact while Jack and Norman were on a well-earned holiday. Rutherford was promised a unique instrument, and so the double necks publicly available today, though similar in most respects, are not de-mountable - unless the owner decides to take the Black And Decker and Meccano to it.
The workshop Although the company has grown steadily since them, and they are now producing around 30 guitars a week, the team is a small, close one, and Jack and Norman like it that way. New guitars are designed as a common effort, round-table process. In fact, I do fell that this may be the one reason for Shergold's slight lack of flair design wise. They perform well, but I wonder if someone with an eye for a good body - back lads, not all at once - shouldn't have a go at, if nothing else, a bit of streamlining. However, the one thing that the teamwork does produce is a guitar with a real ability to work. All the bits and pieces are right for their job in relation to their neighbours, and [the] teamwork of components gives a result sympathetic to a player who wants their guitar to be an extension of interpretive and emotive powers, rather than just a piece of machinery.
Shergold could try to bring out some warmer qualities in their humbuckers which, although very responsive, are wound for brightness and clarity, rather than for a full tonal range. That having been said, it may well be that the new active model, and the active module available on the Modulator, will provide the solution. In any event, these guitars are so fantastically cheap for handmade instruments, starting at just over £200 retail, that any kind of nitpicking I'm doing is normally reserved for top-of-the-range US and Jap instruments at three times the prices.
Sensibly, Shergold are now marketing necks as a separate product, and they are really good indeed at this. Priced well below Fender and Music Man alternatives, they should make a real impact. I stole a random guitar from the shelf while no-one was looking, and those with stamina may like to read the brief review that follows.
I wish Shergold every success. They are constantly trying to improve in all areas of their production, ant the wealth of experience and years of refinement have resulted in a large range of individual instruments which I think many players may unwisely have overlooked. Mind you, Oscar Wilde was a very funny bloke.