Interview with Tim Kill Custom
by Matthew Nigro
TWIE | The Weissenborn Information Exchange
Aloha Tim! Thanks for talking with us, I really appreciate it, and I am happy to finish up right where Aron Radford left off. I know he was planning an interview with you so this is long overdue.
First off, I just want to say it is quite an honor and I really love your work, and I have always been in awe of your craftsmanship. With that said: How long did it take you to reach this level of mastery? Can you give us some insight into how you got started woodworking and building instruments?
I began my interest in instrument making as a 16 year old after purchasing a book by Melvin Hiscock, ‘how to make an electric guitar’. With my grandfather’s help we built a bass guitar together. This cemented my love for the craft.
Who has had some of the biggest effects on your career as a builder? Is there any one person in particular that made the most impact, and if so could you talk a little more about that?
Regards to inspiration I draw from no-one in particular but learning from James Cargil in my early career and Ben Puglisi who is a double bass maker have definitely inspired me on who I am today.
Out of all the guitars you build, what percentage would you say are Lap Steel in design or a Weissenborn Style Acoustic Lap Steel?
The percentage of my lap steels fluctuate regularly but around 30% at the moment. Hindu stani slides and steel strings are very popular at the moment.
What inspired you to start building Weissenborn Style Guitars? Was there a certain artist that may have had an impact on this?
After seeing Ben Harper in Australia I would have to say hearing the sound was definitely inspirational.
When did you build your first weissenborn?
I built my first weissenborn almost 20+ years ago. I do keep records of all my instruments, it would be very interesting to go through my catalogue to see the first one, as I have built over 350 instruments.
Can you talk about some of the artists that have played your instruments (specifically the Weissenborn Guitar) and how that has had an impact on your creative ability and your business?
Definitely having some higher profile players helps promote my business. Having younger players and having your instrument accessible to up and coming artists is important to me as a maker. Seeing them being played on stage or hearing another musician create music is still one of the greatest feelings.
There seems to be a growing community of Weissenborn players and artists growing out of Australia, could you tell us a little bit about that?
Australia seems to have an abundance of great players especially in the blues and roots scene, being such a multicultural country musical genres tend to flow through.
What about the wood in Australia? I know here in Hawaii we are blessed with Koa, I love the fact you tend to stick with Australian Blackwood, which is a close cousin to Koa, as they are both acacias. Can you tell us more about the wood choices and how you may source them? Do you try to source everything locally?
I source most of my timber locally occasionally overseas depending on client’s requests. I think Australian has some of the nicest tone woods in the world.
Do you ever use Hawaiian Koa? How does it differ on a tonal level with the Blackwood?
Koa vs Blackwood is an interesting one, I have done blind testing and to the untrained ear you would be hard pressed to tell the difference. Construction has a huge influence over the tone of an instrument.
How do you dry your wood?
I keep a steady stock of timber that sits for 5-7 years in advance.
What do you consider the best tonal wood for your Weissenborn soundboard?
Best tonal wood hands down is old growth Tasmanian Blackwood from a certain region.
Could you please show us some pictures/examples of some of your most challenging builds or custom work and talk a little bit about the process and the challenges you may have faced along the way?
Challenging myself has become a part of my regular worth ethic due to my customer clientele, requesting weird and wonderful concepts.
I have to ask because deep down this is my dream guitar – How did you get into building Chaturangui Guitars aka the Hindustani Slide Guitar? How long does it take to make one of these instruments? Can you indulge us on how the sympathetic strings function on the instrument? Seems like a lot of knob twisting!
Harry Manx was a huge influence and help with starting me on a path of building these Hindu stani slides. I often get asked how long they take to make but it is something that I never focus on due the in depth nature of the instrument. The basic fundamental concept of the instrument is derived from the Indian Sitar and Sarrod.
What is your favorite instrument to build and why?
My favourite instrument to build is always something new and different. The more creative the better as I get to be innovate and test my own personal craft.
What type of finish process do you prefer and why? Do you generally stick to one type of process? How does it affect the sound?
I have come full circle with finishes and realised how much of an effect they have on tone. Less is more in regards this and I have developed a finish that allows the instruments to breathe and show their true tone.
Now compared to the Traditional Weissenborn – is there a certain era you may have modeled your weissenborn builds after? Have you made any needed improvements to the structure of the build?
My instruments a loosely based on a traditional Herman Weissenborn and other like-minded instruments, incorporating different bracing patterns/carbon fibre and other modern and traditional techniques have made my instruments structurally sound with even tone, increasing depth of the instrument and bass response which I feel is very important.
Any goals or future plans for your business? Expansion? New Models?
I have had many opportunities to expand my business but I feel strongly about losing touch of why I started becoming a Luither in the first place, which was to keep things small, enjoy life and not work too hard. I have a lot of other interest outside of instrument making and I never want to be consumed by a career that I truly love. It is all about balance.
Is it entirely up to you? Do you handle all the aspects of the business? How do you balance business and building?
There are lots of instruments that I have in the pipe line and I’m sure will come to fruition. I work by myself and occasionally have help by other Luithers wanting to learn or expand their skills, I find this quite rewarding and always learn new things myself.
I noticed you are building resonator guitars as well. Could you give us some insight into the build process? Where are the cones from?
I would like to expand on my resonator guitars but at the moment only build to order. I feel that these instruments have huge potential for design advances. The cones I like to use are beard, national and a locally sourced version in development.
Besides, building guitars, what else do you enjoy doing? Are there any other hobbies?
I have a young family and enjoy doing everyday family things. I race historic motorcycles and have a healthy vintage motorcycle addiction.
On a personal note, how is life in Australia?
Life in Australia I can’t complain, I think it’s one of the best countries in the world we are very lucky down here.
Could you tell us about your location and do you believe your environment has an influence on your creative designs? If so, how does it play in?
I live in Cockatoo which is a small town on the foothills of the Dandenong Ranges and is surrounded by trees. We have some of the tallest trees in the southern hemisphere.
Lastly, What inspires you Tim?
I have inspiration in abundance I think, because I am a creative person and my career and other interests are also creative it reproduces motivation and inspiration. It is a cycle that enables me to be imaginative and inventive, I feel extremely fortunate.