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Alistair goes the distance for special 9-string project

An exciting 9-string project that spans three continents has reunited an Irish guitar manufacturer with a Canadian artist whom he first met on a chance meeting in Donegal over two decades ago.

On Thursday, September 17 Alistair began his latest journey to China where he will have one of his unique Emerald Guitars decorated with Eastern philosophy-influenced art by Canadian artist Kristel Ouwehand for a Chicago-based customer.

Founder and driving force behind one of the leading carbon fibre guitar companies in the world first met the artist in 1992. Kristel was travelling the world, financing herself through painting, and was invited by the Hay family to stay at their home for a few days upon their encounter on Main Street, Letterkenny.

While they did manage to stay in touch for a little while after, contact was lost at one stage, but thankfully re-established through the internet a four years ago. Kristel had left Alistair’s home leaving him with a painting which had a profound effect on him and became a symbol for his own personal journey.

Alistair said: “She came and stayed in our house for a few days and in return she painted a picture of a horse for me. It was a beautiful picture depicting the horse with a flowing mane and tail galloping in the wind and it has held pride of place ever since.”

Amdo Art Project

Kristel went on to settle, first in Northern India and then moving on to China where she worked with Buddhist monks, learned the way of their art and recently set up the Amdo Art Project in the monastery town of Xiahe, Gansu (Facebook: ‘Amdo Arts Projects’).

Having found each other again on the internet, Alistair and Kristel decided they would love to work on a project together some day, if the opportunity arose. Four years later, an Emerald Guitars customer contacted Alistair requesting a custom-made 9-string guitar.

As if this wasn’t unique in itself, the customer also said that he would like his 9-string to feature Eastern philosophy-influenced art. This prompted Alistair to contact his old friend. “We started talking about the design and I realised that it wasn’t something I could do. Instantly, I knew it was Kristel who would have to do this. I called her and I also spoke to the costumer and he said ‘If you can take the guitar to China in person and have the artwork done, go for it’.”

And so visas were applied for and flights to China were booked for Alistair and his media manager, Greencastle man Alan McLaughlin, to take the guitar to the monastery town where Kristel is running the art project. “What’s so exciting about this project is that it’s a lot of different life experiences of mine coming together to allow this to happen. It’s bringing a story full circle; that first connection with Kristel, all those years ago, reconnecting with her in her home in China and creating a very special piece for one of our customers,” said Alistair.


In the history of Emerald Guitars there have been a select number of instruments that have marked milestones in the Donegal company’s story. This began with the very first Emerald Guitar to be given to someone, which just happened to be American rock legend Steve Vai, to the new most famous guitar in the world, Chinese-American pop star Wang Leehom’s Chinese dragon guitar, simply known as Bahamut.

Alistair has also had the privilege to build instruments for world-famous acts such as legendary rockers Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams, and many more. “I have always said we are not a company that makes guitars, we’re a company that makes stories. We always work with our customers to make a memorable experience and create something special for them,” said.

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