Eric Roche is mostly associated with Lowden Guitars and used a Lowden almost exclusively since 1992. In 1998 Eric became the official endorsee of Lowden Guitars in the UK. His main instrument was an original O10 model that has been highly modified to accommodate his playing style. The instrument has a Cedar top and mahogany back and sides.
He also played an O23 (Walnut back and sides with a Cedar top) and an O25 custom model (Redwood top with Rosewood back and sides). Each of these guitars is fitted with a Fishman natural One undersaddle pick up.
Because of excessive wear on the O10 guitar top due to some of the percussive techniques, a clear Lowden style scratch plate was applied just below the sound-hole in 1999. The area just above the sound-hole has been reinforced on the inside with a series of “mini-braces”. This is to protect the top against some of the percussive sounds Eric achieved on this part of the guitar with the heel of his right hand. Some of the wear and tear on the top helped to create new percussive textures. For example the area just below the neck on the cedar top had worn so much down below the original surface level that it produced a sort of “guiro” or even “record scratching” sound when played with the nails. This sound features particularly in “Hamam/Norwegian Wood” and his live version of ” Smells like Teen Spirit”. See the diagrams for an explanation of the complex pick up systems on the Lowden O10.
Eric commissioned British guitar maker NICK BENJAMIN to build a smaller guitar. After numerous design meetings and discussions, Nick came up with a 14 fret OM model. With a neck built to Eric’s personal specifications and Nick Benjamin’s usual guitar body dimensions, the guitar is a unique blend of building traditions.
Nick picks up the story:
“Eric ordered an Orchestra model guitar in Cedar and Indian Rosewood from me in 2002. He had been looking for a smaller instrument to suit his more intimate pieces and he fell in love with a twelve fret Treble 0 guitar I had made but after much deliberation decided he needed the extra two frets! Thus I set out to create a fourteen fret Orchestra model which got as near as possible to the sound of that twelve fretter. I varied the strutting slightly from normal and used wood as similar as I could and the result was about as close as is possible in my opinion. A fourteen fretter will always have a slightly quicker attack than a twelve due to the different proportions but I think this has actually made for a guitar that is more versatile for Eric’s playing; giving a little extra separation over a twelve fret guitar.”
The guitar has been recorded for Erics transcription and recording of Pat Metheny’s “A Map of the World” for Guitar Techniques magazine (March 2003). The Benjamin offers an interesting contrast to his Lowden concert pieces. You can visit Nick Benjamin at Benjamin Guitars