Where working in woods is instrumental

Words by Rob Cairns

Brend in his workshop.

Working at the edge of what one knows and the unknown – this place of uncertainty made tolerable by an attitude of curiosity and trust in one’s intuition – is where true creations occur in their primary form.  It requires a letting go or suspension of self-interest, the dictates of the market or the fiat of others.  Here the leading focus is on doing something well for its own sake.  There are many valued  activities and business productions that help make the world go ’round, but it’s those who work at this edge that make the world go forward.  

CopperLine found such a person – a true craftsman at 220 Hildebrand Road, Cottles Bridge in the hills northeast of Hurstbridge.  Brend Bunte is at heart a luthier of bespoke guitars and a teacher of guitar building. 

The maker’s mark discreetly etched in each of his productions signals Brend’s presence in your guitar – an enduring connection.  Every artefact he creates is unique as he meshes the variables of woods, strings, size, construction practicalities, desired aesthetics and acoustic qualities such as tone, resonance and volume in order to match the dreams and valencies of a client.  

So his craft stretches well beyond being about him.  I imagine this tacit and unarticulated sense of hand making something that amplifies the personality of his client, made manifest when they play their guitar, is his superordinate goal.  

His love of making and materials began in Holland, where he grew up assembling model aeroplanes and cars.  He began playing the guitar at age 14, and by about 16 developed an interest in making them.   At 13, parental encouragement led to an engineering education and to a career in precision instrument making.   A mind and spirit of working by hand with materials thereby prevailed and grew, but he longed for something more. 

While finishing his final qualification in 2006, a leap of faith was sparked by his mother in Melbourne who discovered the guitar-building school at Montsalvat.  Brend left Holland to learn under master luthier Chris Wynne at Montsalvat.  He was Chris’ first international student.  By 2008, he had settled in Australia and become a teacher’s aide to Chris.  Thus the course was set for his passion and trajectory. 

Since then, they have also taught together many times in Tasmania, and internationally.  Invitations have included Japan (2018), France (2019) and Spain (2020). The latter two were cancelled because of the pandemic.  However, France is newly back on the agenda. 

We met Brend at his workshop at the end of a sparsely gravelled 400 metre driveway off Hildebrand Road.  It is a large shed in a bushland setting with glorious views of surrounding hillsides.  Inside, there are three work benches surrounded by racks of work in progress, materials, tools and equipment amid insulation and monitors of temperature and humidity to care for the woods.  

Photos by Hank Tyler

He uses almost exclusively Australian tone woods (reclaimed where possible), which are of high quality – something Chris Wynne astonished European connoisseurs with, years before when over there.  Brend showed us many things.  For example his inventive strut-work  patterning (bracing design) on a guitar’s inside, which provides strength while preserving the back’s thinness and integrity – properties that contribute to the quality of sound.  Careful selection and manipulation of wood and grain for this is an art in itself.  “Playing the guitar in” before handover to the client involves precision adjustments – perhaps a little sanding, perhaps something more structural. There is no textbook involved, only learning by doing – feeling, listening, tweaking.

Brend’s teaching methods are also bespoke – fitting them around student interests, learning styles and availability; in class sizes of two, or three at most.  Some find these classes, of making one’s first guitar, life transforming.  Plus there is the satisfaction and attachment to one’s own creation.  It has been said that the quality of the guitar and the experience of making it outweighs the value of spending similar money on a store bought product.

Brend is planning an open day on Saturday, 1 April.  More information is at: gourleymusic.com.au