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Keeping The Mojo Workin’...

Keeping The Mojo Workin’...

Even the finest musical instruments need expert attention now and then to make sure they remain a pleasure to play. Roger Moss meets Atelier Tupelo’s Eric Buelly, whose passion is doing just that.

Knowledge, they say, is power. Some twenty years of working for a well-known musical instrument retailer in Angoulême taught Eric Buelly a lot, particularly about the fretted instruments which he loves. A guitar player himself, but with a similar enthusiasm for something like a mandolin, banjo or bass, his contact with the people who bought them often extended well beyond the initial purchase. “I got to know everyone, from young debutantes looking for advice or adjustments to their classical guitar, to more experienced players needing urgent repairs. Usually it was work I could do for them myself, and as I became more experienced I was doing more complex repairs,” says Eric. 


That’s putting it mildly, judging by the specialist tools and jobs in progress in the workshop of Atelier Tupelo, which Eric set up a couple of years ago in the basement of his home in Magnac-sur-Touvre, on the outskirts of Angoulême. When he decided to set up on his own account Eric’s ready-made clientele simply followed him, and the business took off. Think of it as A&E for guitars, basses, etc., with a sizeable amount of spare-part surgery and you’ll get some idea of the kind of service he’s able to offer. Not that the treatment is ever exactly routine, particularly for older instruments, as Eric explains: “When someone buys a vintage instrument they’re buying the ‘mojo’ that goes with it – history which something made today just doesn’t have. But buying anything unseen, particularly from an online seller, means it’s likely to need some attention – sometimes quite major.” To prove the point he picks up an old Gibson guitar body minus its neck. “When it arrived from the USA the buyer brought it to me. The original neck/body joint had been broken and badly repaired with screws and resin, rather than traditional animal glue. It took me a day and a half just to get it apart before I could even begin replicating the original taper dovetail joint.”

You have to admire Eric’s patience – “There’s always a way to solve a problem; you just have to find it” – yet his attention to detail, and how it will affect any future work on the instrument, is just as impressive. Picking up the neck which will soon be reunited with the body, he points out two tiny white dots in the fretboard, just above the neck joint. “They mark two holes I drilled to allow jets of steam to pass straight to the glue joint, so it can be released easily, without damage. Once the new frets are fitted they’ll be invisible, and no-one will have the problems I had.” In a perfect world we’d all bring a similar generosity of spirit to our work.

These days Eric’s expertise extends far beyond the realm of repairs and restorations. “I work with RFNVG (Rock & Folk Vintage Guitars, Bordeaux), doing whatever work their newly-acquired vintage instruments might need and examining everything for condition and authenticity – a vital factor in establishing a valuation.” But whatever the age of an instrument, Eric always likes to meet its owner: “If I know how they play I can set things up for a light touch or a heavier attack. But ultimately, I do everything as if it were for me.”

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© Living Magazine - all rights reserved. First published in April 2014