Fylde instruments have been built by British luthier Roger Bucknall and his team since 1973. Although not that well-known to North American players, Fylde guitars are very popular with English guitarists, and the company’s citterns and bouzoukis are legendary among Celtic musicians. Named after Shakespeare characters, Fylde instruments have a distinctive aesthetic that sets them apart from American instruments. I recently had an opportunity to spend some time with a 1988 Fylde Caliban, owned by Bay Area guitarist Bruce Victor, who is half of the duo Noctambule, with Peghead Nation Irish Mandolin instructor Marla Fibish.
The Fylde Caliban challenges preconceived ideas of guitar design. At first glance, the guitar’s “grande bouche”– style elongated soundhole and distinctive cutaway shape might give the impression that it is a Selmer-style Gypsy jazz guitar. However, the guitar has a standard flattop-style pin bridge (albeit a distinctively shaped one) instead of a tailpiece, and a look inside reveals double-X bracing, which, while somewhat unusual, is more like typical flattop design than the ladder bracing found on Selmers. Fylde was among the first builders to build steel-string guitars with cedar tops and on this Caliban, a cedar top is matched with Indian rosewood back and sides. In another departure from the norm, the instrument’s back has a three-piece design similar to a Martin D-35.
Because Bruce plays primarily in CGDGCD tuning, he had the guitar set up with a custom set of strings that included a very heavy sixth string. Since I also play in this tuning, I chose to leave the Caliban that way for the demo. I found the guitar to have a really cool and distinctive tonality. Its strong midrange gave it a penetrating voice, with excellent note separation, ultra-quick response, and great sustain, especially on the open bass strings.
At a time when most guitars follow a familiar template and tonal ideals, it’s refreshing and fun to play an instrument whose maker thought outside the box without reinventing the wheel. The Fylde Caliban is such a guitar, and I can’t wait to get my hands on this one again! Fyldeguitars.com