PJD Guitars – Leigh’s Story
I’m proud of everything we’ve achieved so far at PJD Guitars and, as the company expands, want to document our journey. This is actually something I’ve thought about doing for a long time, but I’m more of a making-things-with wood person than a sit-at-a-computer person, so it’s taken me a while to get going.
I always saw myself as having my own company, building a cool brand. But life doesn’t always take you straight where you want to go. And that’s okay. Things happen for a reason.
PJD Guitars is based in York, but I used to work as a Sound and Video Engineer at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, the same place where my dad, Philip John Dovey – the PJD in PJD Guitars – was a Master prop maker. Working in such a place was amazing, but the thing that sticks with me most is the instruments. I got to work with some of the most talented musicians in the world and was lucky enough to see and hold some of their instruments. They blew me away.
I’ve always had a fascination with guitars. From the moment I first saw a Fender Stratocaster I fell in love with them. When I was eight or nine, I was given my first electric guitar, but it wasn’t until I was at secondary school that I started having lessons – I learnt to play on a classical acoustic because they didn’t give electric guitar lessons at my school.
It was electric guitars that held my heart, that I was obsessed with, and to be fair, still am, as you can probably tell. When I was about 14 my dad found me a tutor, Pete, and my obsession grew. He was amazing and his collection of electric guitars mesmerised me – I can still remember staring at them all hanging up in his home studio.
My dad had a little workshop at the end of our garden, basically a 10 by 12 foot shed with a load of tools in it. He passed away when I was 21 but I remember him making stuff in that workshop – he even made a staircase for our house once – and it was where he taught me my woodworking skills.
I founded PJD guitars in 2010 but began making guitars a few years before that, in my dad’s workshop. I started buying parts off the internet, a neck, a body, some pickups, a bridge, and had a go at putting them together and selling them on. And I thought, how hard can it be to make a guitar from scratch? Turns out, it was pretty hard! It’s been over 10 years and I’m still learning, still developing my craft.
My first attempt to make a guitar body was me gluing together pieces of MDF which I accidentally left out in the rain – it soaked up the rainwater and swelled up like a balloon – so that was the end of my first guitar!
Happy to say we’ve come a long way since then.
The main reason I came up to York was to actually build another business with my ex-girlfriend. We’d started a little company down in London, building ukuleles, alongside our day jobs. I was building the instruments and she was doing all the business side of stuff.
My mum wanted to sell up and move out of London too. She’d been to York when she was younger, but I’d never been.
By Chance, I saw York on a property website as a suggested place to move to. I visited, and fell in love with the place. Now I’d never want to live anywhere else.
The relationship with my ex didn’t work out but I’m a great believer in things happening for a reason and the fact that I was in York, aged 30, with no job, no girlfriend and very few friends around to distract me gave me the time and the motivation to go forward with PJD guitars. I still remember the conversation with my mum when I was unsure what I was doing and her telling me ‘you’ll have to go back to your guitar building’ like it was the most obvious and common-sense thing in the world. I was nervous, but she was right. That was exactly what I needed to do.
For the next 8 months I spent 7 days a week working in our double garage workshop that my mum had helped me set up, researching and developing, designing and creating the prototypes for the St John, the Woodford, the Carey. All the time on my own was a gift. Had I still been in London among all the people I grew up with, I’m not sure I’d have managed to dedicate so much time to my guitars.
When I began designing guitars, I knew I wanted to build a brand, to go to trade shows, to meet new people, to talk to musicians and other designers, to be part of the industry, right in the middle of it.
I feel very lucky to be living my dream, but it’s been a lot of hard work. Though the work has changed – I’m not making every single part of each guitar myself anymore – what I’m creating is the same and just getting better.
PRS Guitars has been an inspiration to me. The owner, Paul, is still involved in production and he said something once which really got to me – that the guitars his team makes are better than any he can make on his own.
It was difficult at first, going from a one-man band to a bigger outfit, difficult to let go, especially of the assembly bit, as that’s such a delicate stage and I’d worry about other people damaging the instruments.
But PJD guitars is more than just me, it’s about a team of us creating beautiful instruments, everyone’s involved and everyone’s proud of their work. The team is amazing – we’re making some really amazing guitars and they are what makes it happen.
Someone recently asked me what my motivation for PJD guitars is and it is simple. I want to keep creating top quality, British, handmade guitars for people to play and enjoy, to never compromise on quality and to be the brand that people turn to, a brand they feel connected to, and part of.