Stringing success with Adelaide’s guitar man

By Melissa Keogh

For 30 years Adelaide craftsman Jim Redgate has strummed the right chord with some of the world’s most accomplished classical musicians.

From his southern suburbs home studio in Port Noarlunga the plumber turned Elder Conservatorium of Music graduate designs and handcrafts classical guitars, loved by the industry’s best.

When one of the world’s most talented young classical guitarists, Ana Vidović, was handed one of Jim’s guitars before a performance she was so impressed she played it for the entire concert.

Despite his rise to fame in the classical guitar making world, Jim says he has never felt the need to move his business away from South Australia.

Jim Redgate in his Port Noarlunga workshop. PHOTO: John Laurie.

Jim Redgate in his Port Noarlunga workshop. PHOTO: John Laurie.

“I’m from here, my family is here and I think it’s a fantastic place to live,” he says.

“There’s not really any reason for me to go interstate.”

Jim didn’t grow up in a musical family and didn’t discover the guitar until the age of 15, the same time he left school to become a plumber.

After completing a four-year plumbing apprenticeship, he decided to switch it up by studying a degree in classical guitar performance at Adelaide’s Elder Conservatorium of Music.

Before long his craftsmanship skills crept into his musical interests and he became curious about the makings of a guitar.

“My trade background was always still there and the guitar looked like it would be something interesting to make,” Jim says.

“My father was a tinkerer so I had an upbringing where I was always making things in the shed.”

Jim crafted his first guitar on his kitchen table in 1985.

Drawing inspiration from fellow SA craftsmen, namely the late Bryan de Gruchy, and harpmaker Tim Guster, Jim settled into life as a luthier.

Jim Redgate's South Australian made guitars are highly sought after by musicians around the world.

Jim Redgate’s South Australian made guitars are highly sought after by musicians around the world. Image credit: dmportraitcouture.com

“The guitars that I was building had a bit of an Australian feel about them in terms of materials and colours,” he says.

The modern-style classical guitars are made from internationally sourced materials, in addition to Australian blackwood from SA’s South East and Tasmania.

Jim is renowned for making double top guitars, the sound boards of which are made from two thin sheets of timber separated by a man-made, honeycomb-like material called Nomex.

Retailing between $11,000-$15,000, the double tops are lightweight but powerful in sound clarity, are tailored to the customer and take months to create.

“I’ve never had to advertise, it’s all through word of mouth,” Jim says.

“I tend to make between 12 and 15 guitars a year.

“The finish with the shellac takes more time than building the guitar, but it’s about 100-160 hours all up.”

Jim is also involved in the Adelaide Guitar Festival, a four-day biennial event that is fitting for Australia’s first and only UNESCO City of Music.

The event is curated by renowned Australian guitarist Slava Grigoryan, a proud user of Jim’s guitars.

Apart from influencing the development of the classical guitar with his modern methods, Jim also makes his mark on Adelaide’s live music scene as a member of surf band GT Stringer.

He’s a fan of local trusty gig pubs The Wheatsheaf and the Grace Emily hotels and says they play an important role in supporting homegrown music.

“Many world class musicians are from Adelaide and we definitely punch above our weight in terms of talent,” Jim says.