Ian Pattison Stringed Instruments

Ian Pattison loves music – the playing, writing, learning, listening and most importantly the sculpting of new instruments. His taste in music encompasses a broad spectrum and is reflected in the diversity of instruments he builds. Ian Pattison makes stringed instruments,including handmade guitars, mandolins, banjos and more.

“Seeing and hearing an instrument that I have crafted find its voice through its new owner is for me a feeling beyond description.”

Ian’s studio of stringed instruments was 30 plus years in the making and includes not only the status quo….but pieces that are unique and one of a kind. It his attention to the fine details that complete the artistic craftsmanship and ensure that his instruments are timeless and in some cases family heirlooms.

“All of my instruments are individually hand crafted by me from designing, selecting all the materials, hand shaping the parts, inlaying and applying the finishes.”

Several of Ian’s instruments include special woods which have personal significance to their owners. For example, wood from a client’s backyard apple tree that was destroyed by a storm was able to be used for the head stock laminate and rosette on their guitar. Another example is the curly maple body on the fretless bass guitar that was made from the wood of a tree on a client’s property that was destroyed by a tornado. These features are important personal touches that are incorporated into the custom design of the instrument for his clients.

Banjos have been close to Ian’s heart since he was a young boy listening to his Uncle strumming folk songs on a four-string banjo. He began playing banjo in 1974 and built his first banjo in 1980, which is still the primary instrument he plays to this day.

“I have an equal love for resonator banjos and open back, and have built a variety of sizes of both ranging from 6” heads all the way up to 16” heads. I use a variety of woods in constructing my banjos, personal favorites being maple and walnut for their look, feel and sound.


But I can, and do use any woods necessary to achieve the look, effect and sound required for any given instrument. I incorporate a number of different tone rings for the different sounds they offer, including wooden tone rings which I make in my shop from a variety of materials. Again, creating a different variety of sounds.”He fell in love with the sound of the mandolin when he heard the David Grisman Quintet. “That first Quintet album broke in 1975 and that is when I built my first mandolin, out of personal curiosity and subsequently by request. I have built ‘A’ style and ‘F’ style as well as flat top with carved back mandos but I am drawn to the clean shape of an ‘A’ style and the sweet sound they produce.”

He built his first acoustic and electric guitars in 1978 while attending Roberto Venn School of Luthiery. As of early 2014 both instruments are alive and well. The acoustic guitar has a cedar top with mahogany back, sides and neck with the Roberto Venn modified fan brace. The electric is a red gummed carved top and back with a walnut neck, and the picks were made at the school. Both instruments are still playing well and sound great. He continues to build both acoustic and electric guitars and has guided a number of students through their own guitar builds as well.

While attending Roberto Venn School of Luthiery Ian had the pleasure of working beside William Eaton, a teacher at the school who built a 36 string harp guitar. This learning experience opened his eyes to building instruments “outside the box” and helped him a great deal when he was approached to build some hybrid Malian instruments for a group of musicians from Africa who were touring Canada. One of these instruments, the N’Goni is actually the forerunner to the banjo.

“My curiosity and broad taste in music have allowed me the freedom to build a variety of instruments and I enjoy the challenges each one presents.”


Find out more about Ian Pattison, listen to audio files of his instruments being played, and see more of his handmade instruments on his website.

If you know other “Notable Artisans” for us to write about please let us know at admin@ArtisanOntario.ca