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Honorary Degree Orations

 

Rob Armstrong

Public Orator, Dr Eddie Norman presented the Honorary Graduand at the Degree Ceremony held on Monday 17 December at 3.00pm

Chancellor, Vice-Chancellor, Lord Lieutenant, Honorary Graduands, Ladies and Gentlemen and Graduands:

Rob Armstrong started making guitars in Coventry in 1970 where he still works. His understanding of fine instruments is founded on both established traditions and experimental work. Rob works alone. Each instrument is unique, and handmade using basic tools, responding to differences in the properties of the woods. Rob uses seasoned tonewoods –spruce, cedar, pine, mahogany, rosewood, maple, walnut, and ebony. Each guitar has a beautiful, musical sound, and Rob has made over 780 guitars in his 37 guitar-making years. He now aims to complete about 15 commissions a year – leaving time for development and consultancy for Loughborough University.

Rob has made guitars for some of the finest acoustic musicians. George Harrison, Bert Jansch, Gordon Giltrap, Fairport Convention, and the Albion Band. All guitar heroes for my generation. His is an extraordinary talent. In 1989, many of these musicians made a tribute CD entitled Master Craftsman. They wrote:

This recording came about because (these) musicians … believe that Rob Armstrong is one of the finest, if not the finest, craftsmen of instruments in this particular field …
It is our way of saying thank you Robbie – for making such varied and beautiful instruments …

His enquiring approach has produced unorthodox instruments including long scale guitars, baby guitars, and double necks … You may have seen the guitar like a cornflake packet or ‘Pudsey Bear’, made for Children in Need, or the ‘Poppy’ guitar for the British Legion. I particularly remember the steel-strung acoustic made from polystyrene packaging, displayed at the Royal Academy in London to some astonishment at Dr Bernard Richardson’s lecture.

Bernard Richardson, of Cardiff University, is a foremost authority on guitar physics and a guitar maker. His words put Rob Armstrong’s talent in its rightful context.

Because no two pieces of wood are alike, even … from the same tree, the maker has to fashion each piece of wood in an individual way to exploit its maximum advantage … there is no substitute for the sensibilities of the skilled craftsman who has learned through long experience how to extract the required vibrations from carefully chosen and carefully fashioned pieces of wood. It is these makers who are the key to the future prosperity of the instrument. 1

So in 1995, when Loughborough sought to establish methods for making low cost, high quality polymer guitars – an unlikely goal perhaps - we knew where to turn. Rob immediately recognised the design and tonewood conservation opportunities that polymers offered. The project is now a success story and we share with Rob a patent on the new technology. Its many Innovation Awards would not have been won without Rob’s knowledge, tireless curiosity and generosity.

Rob is a modest man, whose life’s extraordinary achievements are founded on self-taught skills, hard work and a sustained spirit of enquiry.

Therefore Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you, and to the whole University, Rob Armstrong for the degree of DOCTOR OF TECHNOLOGY, honoris causa.

 

1 Richardson B. (1994), ‘The acoustical development of the guitar’, Journal of The Catgut Acoustical Society, Vol.2 No.5, Series II, pp1-10 (p.10)

 

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