Luthiers too Coole for words

WHEN Fremantle musician Jon Cope needed his beloved 1937 Martin guitar repaired for an upcoming gig he looked no further than O’Connor luthier Ross Coole.

Coole made Cope’s partner Emma Birkett’s ukulele and the couple were so impressed with his work they named their duo Martin and Coole.


Fremantle has a fine tradition of luthiers and there’s a small enclave in O’Connor made up of Coole and near neighbours Rad Brashaw and Simon Rovis-Hermann.

Put the three together and any hope of an interview all but disappears as they talk a language almost incomprehensible to those not involved in the art of string instrument making.

All have been in the business for 30 years or more: “You need to be at it for 30 years or so before people trust you with any seriousness,” Coole says.

• Ross Coole, Rad Brashaw, Simon Rovis-Hermann and Jon Cope. Photo by Steve

A French polisher by trade a career change came after he started playing music and found locally made instruments weren’t up to scratch.

“[I thought] how am I going to get what I want and that was the start of it, aged 16.”

Rad Bradshaw doesn’t play an instrument, but he knows a good one when he hears it.

He repairs and build acoustic and electric guitars.

But don’t bother taking a cheap Chinese import to him: “They are unrepairable. A good-quality acoustic guitar is made to pull apart.”

Unemployed a couple of decades ago he heard renown luthier Scott Weiss was setting up a workshop in Subiaco.

“I walked in and seven years later I left because I wanted to pursue a career building guitars.”

Simon Rovis-Hermann makes beautiful handcrafted classical and 19th century reproduction instruments.

He went to the music conservatory but it was making guitars that really interested him: “[Inspired] by sound and how it works.”

His dad was a carpenter: “So I grew up with timber and tools.”

Cope was elated at the restoration of his Martin to its former glory.

“To me these guys are magicians. Once you play a really handcrafted instrument you can’t go back.”

You can catch Martin and Coole, with banjo maestro Ian Simpson, Laura Mitchell, John Perry and special guests Ziao Xuan, Merlin Ma and Malcolm Mah at the Fly By Night Saturday September 9.


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