Press Release: West Dean College appoints early 19th to mid-20th century guitar specialist

Dr Nicholas Pyall, early guitar maker and player, has joined the Musical Instruments department as Subject Tutor in the School of Creative Arts at the internationally renowned West Dean College. Pyall specialises in instruments inspired by Viennese guitars of the early and mid-nineteenth century, including those with extra bass strings, and the mid-twentieth-century guitars of the North American 'golden era' of acoustic guitar making. In recent years his passion has led to him studying the instrument's development and societal history. Dr Pyall's PhD thesis on The Influence of Nineteenth Century Viennese Guitar in North America examines the technologic al developments of the nineteenth-century guitar that provided the basis for the emergence of the steel-strung instrument. It investigates changing use, cultural significance and shifts in social association, during this period.

"We have a history of stringed musical instrument making at West Dean going back to the early days and Yehudi Menuhin's involvement with the College," says Francine Norris, Director of Education. "I am really pleased Nick is joining the team, bringing new strengths that will complement the current team and help us to keep developing in the future".

Dr Pyall joins luthier Shem Mackey, Musical Instruments Programme Tutor at West Dean specialising in historic stringed instruments.

The instrument making programme at West Dean was proposed in the 1970s by Master Musician, Yehudin Menuhin, a Trustee of The Edward James Foundation, the charitable trust that runs the college. Today the college offers a Foundation Degree in Historic Craft Practices in Musical Instruments validated by the University of Sussex and a Professional Development Diploma. In addition to learning practical skills, students develop their knowledge and understanding of historical and theoretical influences that affect design, construction, care and repair techniques in a professional environment to encourage a business-like approach. To support the link between player and maker, the programme also includes demonstrations, lectures and playing lessons by visiting professional specialists, as well as visits to public and private instrument collections in the UK and Europe.

The programme has developed to become world-renowned with students taking commissions at the Royal Greenwich International Early Music Festival and Exhibition. Many graduates go on to work at the most prestigious workshops in the world, including J & A Beare, J P Gulliver and John Dilworth in London, Frederick Chaudiere in Montpelier and William Monical in New York, or set up their own specialist workshops.

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Notes to editors

  • In 2009, Dr Pyall was awarded funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of Great Britain to pursue his doctoral studies and the following year was awarded funding to take up a residency at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, as a British Research Council Fellow. History. Pyall is a Senior Lecturer in instrument making and Course Leader for the Musical Instruments BSc at the Cass School of Art, London Metropolitan University.
  • Guitar Stringing in Late Nineteenth-Century North America: The Emergence of Steel by Nicholas Pyall, the Journal of the American Musical Instrument Society (2014).
  • West Dean College is part of The Edward James Foundation, a charitable trust also comprising West Dean Gardens, West Dean Estate and the West Dean Tapestry Studio. Charity No. 1126084.
  • All photography is copyright free for editorial purposes.

Media Contact Information

For further information, high-resolution digital images of filming opportunities contact

Irene Caswell, Senior Media Officer, +44 (0)1243 811301


West Dean College, Chichester, West Sussex, PO18 OQZ