Lowden's Genesis guitar a masterpiece for US music industry show
A Co Down company whose guitars have been played by Gary Lightbody, Ed Sheeran, Eric Clapton and Foy Vance is set to display its latest instrument at a music industry event in California.
Lowden Guitars created The Genesis guitar as its 20,000th instrument and will take the product to the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) show in Anaheim next month.
Three years ago the Downpatrick firm was struggling to catch up on a large backlog of orders.
But investment from the Growth Loan Fund allowed it to take on 13 new employees and expand its workshop from two to nine units.
The company was founded by George Lowden in 1974. He taught himself the art of guitar making aged 18 and today employs 29 skilled workers to produce hand-crafted instruments.
The company exports to Europe, North America, Canada, Australia and the Far East.
Mr Lowden said: "The Genesis guitar is the most unique piece we have ever created. We have been working on this project for over a year now and not only is it stunning to look at, but the sound it produces is also incredible.
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"A piece of the guitar was sent to an artist in America and he has created a phenomenal piece of artwork, inlaid into the wood itself.
"We've taken our time on this project because I wanted to create a truly spectacular piece to mark such a significant milestone for us.
"We've already sold the guitar to a local buyer and, while I can't tell you how much it went for, we believe it is the most expensive guitar ever made in Ireland and possibly Great Britain."
Mr Lowden said the company has come a long way since it received funding from the Growth Loan Fund.
The loan allowed the firm to begin a five-year plan to tackle its order book and today the popularity of its guitars means there is still a year's worth of orders.
"We've expanded our premises in Downpatrick, created further employment in the local area and developed our production with new jigs and equipment," said Mr Lowden. "We have a good reputation for building high quality guitars and that is something we would never want to compromise by growing too fast.
"Our goal is to continually improve our production methods through fine tuning and innovation to ultimately increase output.
"Next month we will showcase The Genesis guitar and present our new range and designs at the 2017 NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show in Anaheim, California, which has over 100,000 attendees.
"Throughout 2017 we will also continue to visit new markets," he added.
Rhona Barbour is senior portfolio manager at WhiteRock Capital Partners, which administers the Growth Loan Fund.
She said: "George and his team place an emphasis on research and development and are using a blend of traditional and cutting edge techniques to craft stunning guitars."