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  • Writer's pictureCathy Henderson

Synergy of sound and sip

Updated: Aug 29, 2019

We speak of ‘harmony’ and ‘balance’ in fine wine – it is no wonder then, the synergy that lies between music and wine. Both are art forms and individually handcrafted pursuits, particularly in their making.

Each guitar is handmade, with a unique rarity and value, and there is that individual interpretation brought into the composition by the player. Similarly, every wine is unique in its formulation, from the materials in their making, to the original touch provided at the hands of the winemaker; no two wines, or handcrafted guitars, are the same. There's quite an interesting correlation with wood chosen by cooperages, to impart that something extra in the structure of wine (additional 'notes'!). Guitar-makers, or luthiers, craft individual guitars for the consummate musician using wood specially matured, sometimes over 30 to 40 years. One of the most rare is that made from Brazilian rosewood (endangered). The care taken with wood selection has a direct resonance with the musical intonations created by the wood and grain used in the handcrafted guitar instrument – from the handle, where the stringing is done, to the top, curved part where cedar is frequently used, and against which the strings rest for acoustic purposes.

The personal touch

‘There is something incredibly personal about the guitar – the direct pressure from fingertips onto the strings. You also hold it close against your body and can feel the reverberations,’ James Grace, guitarist and classical musician says, ‘and the classic guitar is standalone – you don’t need other equipment to make the sound. There is an intimate connection from immediate touch, and the way in which the instrument rests and hugs against the chest.’ The majority of luthiers are European: James’ favourite is by Australian Jeff Kemp. The backs and sides are made of Brazilian rosewood with the backs arched in the same style as a cello. This is achieved by laminating Brazilian rosewood with a special resin to a critical thickness, allowing the desired stiffness with no internal bracing. Kemp uses cedar for soundboards almost exclusively, as he prefers, ‘the warmer, darker sounds inherent in cedar’.

Hands on

After spending two years in Doha, in the Arabian state of Qatar where he taught guitar at an International Music Centre, James returned to South Africa, Cape Town, which he calls home, and was appointed head of classical guitar studies at the University of Cape Town. James loves to cook! From risotto to casseroles, ‘I want to make simple dishes where I can get stuck in and make everything from scratch. Pastas and pesto – definitely something where I can use a pestle and mortar... I like wholesome food with raw, original ingredients, and, of course, I like to cook with wine!’ A favourite is Herold Wines, well-recollected from a playing gig in Oudtshoorn.


James’ personal interest is in independent record labels and the authenticity of recorded albums. Interesting for this country: as a developing nation, this for once works in our favour as we don’t have the bandwidths and technological capabilities for downloads that other countries have. In studio recording, the quality of sound is unsurpassable. And, of course, you cannot personally sign a download! James has recently released his fifth solo album, World Café, under his own record label, Stringwise Records. James is in the final stages of setting up the Stringwise Young Artists Trust, with the aim of assisting young artists from across the country to produce their own albums and offer bursaries for overseas study.

Of mentors and a medal

James’ mentor in the UK, Carlos Bonell, made a huge impact in terms of emphasising the individual touch each person brings to the making of their music. As a brilliant business mind, Bonell also reinforced for James the ‘business’ of music, that of how to market oneself and put out a presence at shows and concerts. James studied at the Royal College of Music in London as a Foundation Scholar with Carlos Bonell. Upon graduating he became the first guitarist in the history of the college to receive the Tagore Gold Medal, an annual award presented to the most outstanding student. James notes,

‘One can be taught all the theory and principles, but when it comes down to it, it is your gut feeling and your personal take on a piece of music that brings it to life.’
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