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Atkin Guitars at Chicago Music Exchange!
Now offering the largest collection of Atkin Guitars in the U.S., CME has helped build a following of Atkin acoustic guitar aficionados over on this side of the pond! Hand-built in the U.K., Atkin guitars are meticulously crafted, paying tribute to particular historical acoustic guitar designs that the luthier, himself, loves to play.
Founded in Canterbury, England in 1995, Alister Atkin has grown what began as a passion project into a workshop of 10 luthiers who use a combination of traditional techniques—coupled with a little bit of modern magic—to handcraft just over 500 guitars per year, imbuing each Atkin instrument with the indefinable qualities that delight, surprise, and inspire players, still, decades after the original guitars they’re modeled after debuted.
Now, as interest in Atkin Guitars spreads across the U.S., nearly a year after adding Atkin Guitars to our own acoustic room in Chicago, CME is expanding its Atkin offering—from core models, to limited editions, to an array of custom finish options! Plus, we’re making even more room for new Atkin models—including the Dustbowl series!
With big ambitions to expand his guitar lines beyond dealers in the British Isles, Alister Atkin, the founding luthier of Atkin Guitars, steers by stars who got their start in the same suburban sprawl he grew up in.
“The Rolling Stones come from the same county as us,” Alister said, “and they grew up 40 miles from us around here. So, the fact that they became so massive—coming from the same type of suburbia we live in—it’s a real inspiration for people like us, who love making musical instruments. I thought: if those boys who lived down the road from me could accomplish that, then maybe we can all grow our own brand of guitars—to be played all around the world!
“While other companies offer some versions of baked/torrefied tops, the reason I began baking the wood, initially, was so that our [Atkin] guitars could travel—to make them more robust, and to be able to withstand changes in temperature in different climates.
Winters in Chicago, for example, or along the Eastern Seaboard, kill guitars; but, by baking the timber, we remove all of the moisture from the woods, which makes them a far more stable building platform. When you do that, there are also some lovely bonuses. One of them is: it replicates timber being seasoned over a long period of time.
“Another thing, I think, that goes a long way—in regard to the particular sound of an Atkin acoustic guitar—is the finish we use. We grain-fill the back and sides, then spray eight coats of thin cellulose. After we sand those down to polish, we put them in the freezer. Then, they go in-and-out of the freezer. Finally, once the wood has settled down, we sort out the geometry of the guitar and put it all together.
“By the end of our process, each guitar has been through a pretty full-on temperature treatment. And I think, when we put the guitars through that, all those good things we love about old touring guitars that have survived those conditions, naturally, are left in the wood of an Atkin guitar—even before our guitars have been assembled! I really believe that has a great effect on the sound of the instruments.”
Among the growing following of Atkin acoustic lovers here in the states, that number has come to include CME’s own Acoustic Sales Expert, Josh Dugue—who traded in a few of his own beloved acoustic guitars to purchase an Atkin White Rice, after a black-top edition of the dreadnought came into CME’s doors last year. We recently sat down with Josh to capture what, exactly, makes Atkin Guitars so special
Q: How do you talk about the different Atkin acoustic models when you’re introducing them to a customer who’s unfamiliar with the brand?
JD: A lot of them are based on Gibson and Martin models. The nomenclature is similar to Martin’s, in the sense that the guitar names are based on the guitar body’s shape and the type of tonewoods used. In fact, I would say it’s even easier to differentiate between them, since there are fewer models.
Some of the body types—including the Essential and D37 series—allude to Martin guitar names; for example: D, OM, 000, 00, 0—they’re all in line with Martin’s naming system. So, a D37 is modeled after a pre-war Martin D-28 from 1937—complete with a V-shaped neck profile and rosewood back and sides.
With some models, the references for some names require a little backstory—like Atkin’s most popular—The Forty-Three—which gets its name from the replicas of Buddy Holly’s banner-era J-45 that Alister Atkin was commissioned to build by the Buddy Holly Foundation. Since Buddy Holly’s J-45 was built in 1943, and those models had more austere appointments than earlier J-45 models, Atkin’s homage to the J-45 is called The Forty-Three.
Mimicry it’s an artisan guitar builder’s best form of flattery. Alister loves Gibsons and Martins so he’s building his own guitars in a way that brings out what he believes are the best elements of those guitars.
Atkin’s Unique Position in the Boutique Market
Q: How do you compare Atkin to other manufacturers making new guitars within the boutique acoustic guitar category?
JD: If you play a brand new Collings, it’s going to sound amazing. It also sounds like a new guitar. Similar to what Atkin is doing with the Essential D, Collings also makes their own version of an aged pre-war D-18. But, a new Collings dreadnought is going to sound new. It’s a little bit heavier, and it’s got a tightness to it.
While Atkin guitars definitely have an aged look to them, as well, I think Atkin is more sonically focused on the sound being old: open, barky, heavy sustain, a nice long decay. It’s like a guitar that has been well taken care of, but also played, for 60 years.
It’s not just that it’s loud—it’s all the other stuff: it’s the attack, with the resonance, with the sustain, with the decay. It’s the full package, and it presents in a way that a real player—or, an aspiring player who has the ear of a player—can recognize and say, “This is the sound that I need. I’m going to play this.”
For either Collings and Atkins, that customer is a player. Everybody that I’ve sold an Atkin to is looking for that distinct quality in a guitar that you mine for when you look through any vintage guitar collection. But, Atkin guitars have a “new classic” sound. You don’t have to lock yourself in a room with any particular vintage collection room to get the Atkin experience. It’s here, in our Acoustic Room, and it’s ready to be played.
Q: What’s it like once a customer has played an Atkin that matches their ideal version of the acoustic model they came in looking for?
JD: It’s never been a negative experience. Usually, one of three things happens: a) That person puts a credit card down and goes, “I’m taking it”; b) they say, “This is very exciting, but I need to do some research, since I don’t even know who Alister Atkin is, and I don’t know anything about this brand,” then, they look it up, and they call me back and go “sign me up”; or, c) they remember it, and they come back, and say, “Oh yeah, you told me about this last time.” Then, when I show them another, they’ll say, “Yeah, these are really great!” Three or four visits later, once that curiosity has taken route, they say, “I should get one.” And then they find a way to make it happen.
Atkin White Rice: An Acoustic Instrument Expert's Go-To Guitar
Q: Have you ever had the opportunity to hear the “new classic” sonic quality you mentioned in a recording of someone playing an Atkin.
JD: Actually, I own an Atkin. I have a White Rice, and that guitar has a big sound. So, when I record myself, the challenge is that it can overtake me. It’s an easy challenge to deal with because the best part of it is that there’s very little work from an engineering perspective, getting the guitar to sound good. It sounds like the guitar sound that you’ve been seeking. No matter what kind of sound you’re looking for, there are enough options in the Atkin offering that that sound you’re looking for exists in the Atkin line.
Q: As someone who sells acoustic guitars, did you know about the White Rice beforehand? Or did you play it and immediately go, “I have to buy this”?
JD: It was a little bit of both having heard about everything Atkin has done, and liking it; but, the decision was almost superficial, because mine is a black-top White Rice. So, as soon as I just saw it, I went, “That is HOT—and, it’s mine.”
I’ll put it this way: it sounded good enough for me to have sold all of my other guitars to buy it. I had had a Waterloo, a Martin, and a Collings. I sold all of them, and have had the White Rice, now, for over a year, since we started working with Atkin.
CME Continues Investing in a Long-Term Partnership With AtkinQ: We've grown the Atkin offerings since we started selling them at CME. By how much?
JD: We started with four to six Atkins in 2021. We were selling out of them monthly, and then we started to build out our offering—just so that we would have them in stock. Right now, we have the most Atkin guitars that we’ve ever had in CME at one time.
But a lot of the ones that we have in stock are already spoken for. I see this as the last year we’re going to have these kinds of prices. Atkin is still only producing somewhere just over 500 guitars per year, but my prediction is that Atkin is going to be one of the biggest brands we sell from the CME Acoustic Room. And I think it’ll be a big brand for artists.
At CME, we have one of the better relationships with Alister, and that’s why we have the largest offering of Atkin guitars in the U.S. We’re hearing that a lot of customers in the U.S. are buying from shops in England because other dealers here are not really investing in Atkin the way CME has, since boutique brand that’s not as well known as some others. Some people don’t want to take a risk on it. But, we took a risk on Atkin—and it paid off.
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