In Focus: Pratley Guitars

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In Focus: Pratley Guitars

Pratley Guitars 2
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

Played by musicians like Steph Strings, Josh Teskey and John Butler, Pratley are redefining the Australian guitar landscape as we know it.

Pratley Guitars have made their home on the picturesque Gold Coast on Australia’s east coast. With a devotion to Australian tonewoods and a unique take on guitar design, Pratley Guitars’ Martin Pratley took the time to dive into his own ethos, workflow and inspirations.

Played by musicians like Steph Strings, Josh Teskey and John Butler, Pratley are redefining the Australian guitar landscape as we know it.

Martin, thanks for taking the time with Mixdown. Pratley Guitars has built up a reputation for world-class guitars. What inspired you to start your own company?

It all began with a passion for acoustic guitars and the creative process of crafting them. I was intrigued by how a simple piece of wood could be transformed into something that comes alive in the hands of a musician. After making a couple of guitars, I started getting inquiries to make or modify instruments, and in 2002, I received some media attention for a new guitar design I created. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new way of life as a guitar maker. By 2004, I had officially founded Pratley Guitars, marking the start of my dedicated journey in this craft.

Read more features, columns and interviews here.

Can you break down your journey to being at a point where you could start Pratley Guitars?

I’ve always been fascinated by how things work and come together. My father, who was a builder with a background in joinery, inspired me from a young age. In high school, I did well in wood class, and that success fuelled my passion even more. I’ve always admired well-crafted wooden furniture and tools, whether it’s the feel of a wooden baseball bat or the beautiful woodgrain of an antique dining table.

Being a guitar player with a deep love for music, it felt natural to combine these two strong interests. My skills in design and furniture making, along with my ear for tone, provided the perfect foundation for becoming a guitar maker.

What makes your guitars so special?

Our guitars stand out because of the extensive design innovation I’ve invested in them over the years. I wasn’t satisfied with making acoustic guitars the conventional way, which often led to common issues. I aimed to create a more stable, great-feeling guitar with a rich tone that embodies our unique design, rather than merely replicating others. If you were to pick two main points it would be our bracing design and our neck joint/cutaway design. 

What is Pratley’s ‘unmistakable character’?

The character of our guitars aligns with our mission statement: to produce world-class instruments with unique design and character while maintaining a classic appeal that will endure. I design our guitars to function better, but I try to make sure not to lose the style and timeless beauty of a classic acoustic guitar.

Australian tonewood

You’re very committed to Australian Tonewoods. Why is that?

I’m drawn to Australian tone-woods because they offer a fresh and distinctive option in the world of lutherie. Their unique qualities, including tone, appearance, and availability, make them particularly appealing. Additionally, I take pride in supporting local materials and showcasing the craftsmanship of our region. In contrast to the widespread importation of tone-woods by many guitar companies, we primarily source our wood from Queensland, emphasising sustainability and a connection to our local environment.

Pratley guitars

How do you think your experience building stomp boxes influences your work building guitars and vice versa?

My exploration into crafting acoustic stomp boxes originated from interactions with musicians who wanted to incorporate foot tapping into their performances for rhythm. This was during the early 2000s when I was actively involved in designing and building acoustic guitars. I am one of the co-inventors of the modern stomp box.

The idea for these instruments was sparked by my observations of acoustic guitar body design and the influence of electric guitar pickups. Additionally, I extensively studied drum kits and the various mic’ing techniques employed in recording. As someone with a diverse musical taste, I’m often inspired to create new designs, although I admit it can sometimes be a distraction. 

Thanks again for your time – you’d surely have a story or two about attempts or different designs that didn’t make it to the production stage. Can you share a story or two?

Absolutely, there are plenty of stories. One that comes to mind is our P-Link pickup interchange system from 2016.

I designed a system for quick-change electric pickups, which initially generated significant excitement in the guitar community. Our video demonstration quickly went viral, garnering half a million views on Facebook in just two weeks and receiving extensive coverage from major guitar-related media outlets. Despite the initial enthusiasm, the project stalled within 4-5 months due to a lack of capital. Without the necessary funds to continue, we couldn’t sustain the momentum, and the initiative came to a halt. However, I still receive occasional emails from interested individuals.

For local enquiries, keep reading and shop Pratley Guitars at National Music.