Musicians can't get enough of Marty's Menapia Guitars
HE has been a factory foreman, a carpenter and a fitter of timber floors, but now Wexford man Marty Murphy is in growing demand as a maker of bespoke electric guitars.
Twenty years ago, he was on the staff of WB Nunn, the malt maker in his home town. Ten years ago, he was in demand on the building sites of the Celtic Tiger. Today, he is number one in the charts on the 'Project Guitar' website – here is a man who has finally found his niche, making guitars.
The latest switch of career for the soft spoken resident of Whiterock View in Wexford was not exactly the result of forethought and planning. It was simply the case that the phone calls seeking his services as a self-employed carpenter dried up overnight when the boom burst in 2008.
He was 37 years old at the time and was lucky to have a sideline which he could fall back on. He had always been musically inclined, taking the lead in heavy metal garage bands who practised in private much more than they were ever allowed to perform in public.
Does anyone now recall teenage hard rockers Tempest? Or does the name Point Blank ring any bells? Probably not. Even Marty who played lead with both outfits struggles to remember the details. He calculates it was 17 years ago that Point Blank played their last gig in the Ridge Bar/McDonald's. After that they ran out of places to practise or maybe the bass player went on holidays and never came back. Whatever, his career as performer fizzled out.
All the same, his interest in the music never died. As a chap he lusted after a piece of hardware called an Ibanez 77FP, complete with floral bodywork. He has been to see Metallica more times than he can count and he rates Eddie van Halen as the star of all stars, a man who lights up the world with a customised guitar.
Somewhere along the line, carpentry and music collided for Marty who now relies on his Menapia Guitars business to pay the bills. His first effort at actually making his own instrument was back in the mid-nineties when he constructed a six-string from MDF, just to see if it could be done. He discovered that many of the tools he already had could be adapted to the following in the footsteps of Fender and Gibson.
He built his initial reputation as a repairer of guitars but now offers to make a new piece from scratch, to the specification and decoration required by his ever increasing list of customers willing to pay a four-figure sum to play something unique. His followers are by no means all from the heavy metal camp, with a Menapia guitar just as likely to pop up in a country and western line-up or in a pop ensemble.
Marty's output has beauty. He favours the real grain of timber. Conversation soon turns to talk of exotic woods such biabinga and sapele. Maple is the staple but he has discovered raw materials nearer to base from ash or sycamore trees. Some suitable raw material may be found in the hum-drum surroundings of his local builder's suppliers.
'I like to keep as close to home as possible,' says Menapia man. For him, a good day out is rooting through pallet loads of seasoned sycamore at Lisnavagh House in County Carlow before retuning to his draughty lean-to workshop in Rockview.
Making a guitar is a complex operation. A standard body has five pieces, while the really intricate work goes into the neck, which may have 21. Each component must be precision honed to the exact millimetre.
After assembly, the ritual of lacquering requires endless patience. The results can be spectacular. Marty's standard output includes the Monroe, named after the voluptuous Marilyn. Or there is the Carbara, named after an ancient god of speed, with a thin neck to accommodated rapid finger work.
'This is something I always wanted to do. I was always into the guitar thing. I am fascinated by the custom built guitar,' he confesses. 'I am a timber man – leave the carbon fibre to the racing cars.
'Looks come into it. Aesthetics come into it,' urges Marty Murphy but no-one wants a guitar that is awkward to play. 'The heart and soul is in the neck.' That's where all the real action takes place, like the keyboard on a piano, while the body is equivalent to the place where you put the candelabra for show.
He is delighted to report that one son, Kyle, struts a dad-made bass in a group called Decibel. Other son Craig play Xbox rather than guitar while daughter Sadhbh is drawn to the violin. So her father has dreams of constructing an electric fiddle for her some day.
Maybe soon Eddie van Halen will be on the line looking for Marty. Stranger things have happened and Menapia Guitars is a brand that is certainly growing.