“He approached life with a gusto, intensity, a wicked sense of humour”: 12-string acoustic maestro and prolific guitar designer Paul Brett has died, aged 76

Paul Brett
(Image credit: Vintage Guitars)

Paul Brett, the 12-string acoustic virtuoso turned guitar designer who collaborated with the likes of Arthur Brown and folk-rock legend Roy Harper, has died, aged 76.

Born in London, latterly of Pwllheli, Wales, Brett was in many ways a renaissance man of guitar, enjoying a portfolio career that saw him grace Roy Harper’s 1966 debut album, Sophisticated Beggar, playing lead guitar with the Strawbs, Al Stewart, Lonnie Donegan, and the Velvet Opera, before striking up a formidable collaboration with Vintage Guitars, with which he designed over 20 signature guitars.

He was a prolific session player in the ‘60s and ‘70s, whose solo career established him as one of the top 12-string players in the world. Brett's his Earth Birth suite was a landmark work. 

Brett was a collector of guitars, amassing over 150 rare acoustics, and a collector of art and memorabilia. He worked in A&R and was a talented composer and arranger, writing themes for TV. He will be remembered for the guitar but Brett was many things. He was a journalist, writing for Melody Maker and the NME. On occasion he would also turn up on television, appearing on the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow and Flog It. 

He formed a record label with Tom Newman Virgin Records co-founder and producer of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, and in 2020 produced a new recording of Oldfield’s classic by The Children Of Ireland. 

Brett’s biography reads like a man who is restless to get on with it and start a new adventure. The most recent of these includes his Fret-Dancer Series for Vintage Guitars, which was released in tribute to his late friend and collaborator Johnny Joyce – Joyce was a player similarly capable of getting a tune out of a 12-string guitar.

Paying tribute, Paul Smith, managing director of John Hornby Skewes, which owns and distributes Vintage Guitars, said that Brett straight talking and sense of humour endeared him to all.

“Everything Paul did in his storied life brought pleasure, positivity and enlightenment to all who came in to contact with him and he approached life with a gusto, intensity, a wicked sense of humour, and a propensity for ‘telling it like it is,’” wrote Smith. “His last project for Vintage, the just released Fret-Dancer Series, was created in memory of Paul’s old twelve string aficionado buddy Johnny Joyce, who passed away twenty years ago to the day of Paul’s passing and will be a fitting and enduring memorial to them both.”

Brett’s designs were influenced by the Depression era acoustic guitars, and they came in all shapes. From the small-bodied, travel guitars such as the Vintage Viator and the parlour-sized VE8000PB-12, to the classy roots stylings of the Vintage Paul Brett Statesboro 12-String.

Following the success of Earth Birth, Brett was signed on a four-album deal with RCA, and went gold in 1980 with Romantic Guitar. He released a in instructional DVD, 12 String Guitar & Beyond, and somehow amid all this he found time to go fishing. 

Brett died on 31 January 2024, following a coronary illness. He is survived by his partner of 42 years, Michele Breeze.

Jonathan Horsley

Jonathan Horsley has been writing about guitars and guitar culture since 2005, playing them since 1990, and regularly contributes to MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitar World. He uses Jazz III nylon picks, 10s during the week, 9s at the weekend, and shamefully still struggles with rhythm figure one of Van Halen’s Panama.