Peter was my apprentice master, back in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Nowadays, there’s a much more open attitude towards sharing information and experience, but in those days, instrument making skills and information were jealously guarded – no one was going to share their precious secrets.
Add in the fact that NZ makers were isolated on a small group of islands lost at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s no surprise that most of our luthiers were forced to “invent the wheel”, many of them achieving superb results – people from violin makers Edward Burr and Ian Sweetman, to harp maker Kim Webby and harpsichord and forte piano maker Paul Downey.
Peter was no exception. He started off as a cabinet maker of enviable precision and discipline, making guitars at night – sometimes all night. A move to Auckland in 1973 brought him commissions from Split Enz players Phil Judd, Mike Chunn and Wally Wilkinson. His own battle to learn drove him to teach and mentor younger makers like me.
And a wave of excitement about Early Music, around the time I started my apprenticeship with him, led him into making rebecs (a three stringed bowed instrument), violas da gamba (a beautiful tenor viol was photographed by Brian Brake for Craft New Zealand) and a lute for the American virtuoso Karl Herreshoff – a magnificent and highly complex instrument with a neck extension rather like a theorbo, that lost Peter a lot of sleep.
Pete has always been a keen folk musician, with a NZ wide reputation.
Early in my apprenticeship we formed a country-bluegrass-harmony group called Gentle Annie. As the band evolved, I got excited about playing a five-string violin. And Pete got excited about making one for me. Once again, we had to nut out – almost from scratch – how to make it work, both acoustically and physically.
The result was great! And I had huge fun with it, once I got used to hurtling over to the G string and finding a viola-pitched C string there instead.