Alumni Special: Tim Stark

Luthier to the stars!

Tim Stark – luthier to the stars. He studied Musical Instrument Technology here at LCoM in 1998, when the call from Hugh Manson, of Manson Guitars, came through with a job offer.

Fifteen years later and Tim is a world-renowned luthier creating the most unbelievable technically ambitious guitars (is ‘guitar architecture’ a thing?) for stars like Dave Grohl (The Foo Fighters), John Paul Jones (Led Zeppelin) and Muse’s Matt Bellamy.
 
We managed to grab him between Kaoss Pad setting and pick-up placing, for a chat about how he got into music…
 
 
What was your earliest musical experience?

That would be courtesy of my Dad. The first music I remember hearing was The Who’s Tommy. I remember my dad belting out Pinball Wizard and thinking that I’d never heard anything like it in my life. I was probably four or five years old at the time. That’s when I really started listen to music more. I had a really old knackered Walkman that I used to make tapes on.
 
Who/what motivated you to pursue a career in music?

Music has always been part of my life. My dad played various instruments. He was a bass trombone player in the army for a few years. My mum played guitar for a bit. As we got older, both my brother and I became musicians. We started on recorder I think, and progressed to Violin, before I took up the trumpet. That was my main instrument for years. Guitar was always part of mine and my brother’s life though. Especially when the whole Nirvana thing broke, that was huge for us.
 
Whos your greatest inspiration?

My wife and son – I became a father a couple of years ago which is the most amazing thing that’s happened in my life so far. My wife puts up with a lot. I’m always bringing work home and going on about guitars and stuff. She keeps me very grounded. She’s amazing!
 
What attracted you to the course and Leeds College of Music?

I built my first guitar for my A-level coursework at secondary school. I came to the end of my A-levels and didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I was sat in the careers library one day, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a book with a half built guitar and violin on it. It turned out to be a prospectus for LCoM.
 
I applied and got in. I had no idea you could go and train to do something like that. Ted Lee was the course leader at the time. He was a great teacher. Huge amount of skill and knowledge and very funny too! I learnt a lot from him.
 
What was your favourite thing about living and studying in Leeds?

It was my first time living away from home, which was both scary and amazing. I loved Leeds. For me there was so much to do; lots of great live music on, great independent record shops and really friendly people. I had a blast!
 
How would you describe the challenges and joys of being in Leeds?

I was lucky. I was doing a course that I absolutely loved. I had a few friends from back home who were also studying in Leeds, and I made some great new friends. The only challenge was adapting to a new life away from home, which didn’t take that long, Leeds is such a fun, buzzing city.
 
Who/what would be your dream collaboration?

I’ve been extremely lucky with my career so far. Working for Manson Guitars has allowed me to work with some amazing musicians from Matt Bellamy (Muse), Mike Kerr (Royal Blood), Steve Howe (Yes/Asia), Seasick Steve, Ben Harper, and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters),to name a few.
 
But if I could choose anyone to build a guitar for, it’d probably be Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I’ve been a huge NIN fan for years. The have a big guitar sound and I’d love to build something for him that pushes the guitar to it’s limits.
 
How has your career developed since leaving LCoM?

The Manson’s repair tech, Rom Dobbs was leaving. He had previously completed the Musical Instrument Technology course at LCoM in the early 90’s before working for JHS for several years, then Mansons. When he left Hugh (Manson) called the college and asked for suitable candidates. I overheard someone talking to Ted Lee about it, so I asked for the details and contacted Hugh. I went for an interview a couple of weeks later, and to my utter amazement, I got the job!
 
I was expecting that at all, so I had some big decisions to make. This is now my 15th year with Mansons, and I’m now the head luthier for the Manson Guitar Works. I’ve been lucky to tour the world as a guitar tech for bands like Foreigner, Yes, Asia, Ben Harper, Seasick Steve and Wolfmother as well as building guitars for people like Martin Barre (Jethro Tull) and Baz Warne (The Stranglers), and Matt [Bellamy, Muse] – I’ve just finished a huge order of guitars for him this year for their current world tour. Eighteen guitars in five months! It’s been a busy year so far, and it’s getting busier each day.
 
How has your study at LCoM aided your career so far?

The college definitely set me on the right path. Without the knowledge I gained from my first two years, I would never have been able to start the job at Mansons. I was in at the deep end there.

The week I started work, Rom left for his new job in Oxford and Hugh went on tour with John Paul Jones for two months. So I was on my own.
 
What has been your greatest achievement?

That’s a tough one. I’ve been so lucky with what I’ve done, it’s hard to say. I’m proud of where I took the workshop before I became a full time builder at the Works. Guitar wise, probably the bass I built for Mike of Royal Blood. I designed that myself from the ground up. It was a great project to work on.
They’re a great band with a bright future ahead of them.
 
Where would you like to be in five years?

I’m pretty happy where I am to be honest. Aside from starting my own company, I don’t think I could improve on what I do now. Working with the artists that I do and doing the thing I love on a daily basis is amazing!
 
If you had one piece of advice for a prospective student, what would it be?

Without doubt, listen to your tutors. Take as much info in as you can, and ask as many questions as you can. What you learn at Leeds College of Music can set you up for the rest of your life. You never know where it may lead you! And most of all, enjoy yourself whilst doing it. If it isn’t fun, it ain’t worth doing!

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Find out more about Tim and his guitars on his website.

Find out more about the premium guitars made at Manson Guitar Works here.

And read Total Guitar 268, which includes a detailed look at Muse frontman, Matt Bellamy's custom Manson Guitars.


 

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"The college definitely set me on the right path. Without the knowledge I gained from my first two years, I would never have been able to start the job at Mansons." – Tim Stark

Matt Bellamy by Jarle H Moe

Above: Matt Bellamy of Muse with his Manson Mirror guitar, hand-built by Tim Stark. Photo by Jarle H. Moe.

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