Thursday, March 21, 2013

Carving Maple

     I have finished the outside of the top plate and started the outside of the back.  The back is maple and it is very hard to carve.  You can see in the picture what my hand looks like after several hours of carving.  I've included a picture of the shavings on the shop floor so you can see how much material has to be removed.  I've also included a picture of the finger plane, which I do most of the carving with.  That and a chisel are the weapons of choice.
     I haven't had a great deal of time to work on this guitar.  My real job is getting in the way.  I've had the busiest last couple of months in years.  I'm booked up through April.  That's a good sign the economy is picking up, but I miss having the time to make these guitars.
      After talking to my friend, who I'm building this commission for, he decided he didn't want the top I'm making because of the sap line in it.  So, when I get his deposit I'll order more wood.  My plan now is to make two guitars at the same time.  They'll both be 16" bouts with mounted pickups, but I'm going to make one with f holes and one without.  The one without will have a rear access panel that can be removed to put in a sound post.  Violins and cellos have sound posts.  It is a dowel that fits under the bridge and connects the two plates together.  The idea being that when you play with a lot of volume it evens everything out.  Instead of braces in these two guitars, I'm going to carve the braces into the wood and leave the middle thicker than normal.  This is to compensate for the mounted pickup, which makes the guitar's voice more electric and less acoustic.  He also wants a short scale, 24", fretboard.  I think I'll put a 25" on the other, but I haven't made up my mind yet.
         I've been doing a lot of walking lately.  In the cold and in the dark.  It seems to be good for my soul.  I've tried to stay present and not let my mind wander.  Sometimes I'll focus on one sense.  I may try and just listen.  I can hear the peepers and the creek, the cars on the road, my feet on the gravel, the mocking birds and robins,  the wind in my ears, my breathing, and even my heart beat.  The world is full of life.  Here's something from the Katha Upanishad.

Know the Self as the lord of the chariot,
The body as the chariot itself,
The discriminating intellect as the charioteer,
And the mind as the reins.
The senses, say the wise, are the horses;
Selfish desires are the roads they travel.
When the Self is confused with the body,
Mind and senses, they point out, he seems
To enjoy pleasure and suffer sorrow.

When a person lacks discrimination
And his mind is undisciplined, the senses
Run hither and thither like wild horses.
But they obey the rein like trained horses
When one has discrimination and has made the mind one-pointed.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Carving the Top Plate

   I was able to get a lot of the top plate carved and sanded today.  I'll have the outside finished in another 4 or 5 hours.  While I was carving with the violin plane I hit a vein of dried sap.  When I finally got it down to size, I found that it has a definite imperfection in the grain.  I emailed my friend who is commissioning this piece and asked him if it would be acceptable or not.  I haven't heard back yet.  Some people are very particular about imperfections, but to me they add to the character of the wood.  Either way I'll use this top for a guitar now, or later.  Things are going a lot smoother this time around, but I still may have to start again making a new top plate.  Here are some pictures.  You have to envision an f hole cutting through the middle of the blemish.

Here's a little passage from the Tao.

Thirty spokes join one hub.
The wheel's use comes from emptiness.

Clay is fired to make a pot.
The pot's use comes from emptiness.

Windows and doors are cut to make a room.
The room's use comes from emptiness.

          Having leads to profit,
           Not having leads to use.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Holding Cradle

    Today I thought I would start carving the plates.  I have the 16 inch top and back plates already glued and cut out.  I did that about a year ago.  I bought three sets of tops, backs, and sides and went ahead and joined them all at the same time.  So I thought I would start today, but I forgot that making a 16 inch archtop is different than a 17 inch.  Consequently, I had to make a holding cradle and two clamping cauls.  The holding cradle is what I put the plates in when I carve them.  It gives me something to clamp to the bench and hold on to when I'm using the violin plane and the chisels.  The clamping cauls will be used to join the back and sides to the top plate.  I have included pictures.  The cradle has the white laminate on the top of it.  I've also included pictures of the spruce top and maple back, so you can see where it all starts.  I've got to play tomorrow night at Gaudalupe's if it doesn't snow, but I should be able to start carving Thursday.

      Here is one of my favorite poems.  It was written by Stanley Kunitz who wrote poetry until he was 100 years old.  If you click on the link you can listen to him read this wonderful piece called Touch Me.

Summer is late, my heart.
Words plucked out of the air
some forty years ago
when I was wild with love
and torn almost in two
scatter like leaves this night
of whistling wind and rain.
It is my heart that's late,
it is my song that's flown.
Outdoors all afternoon
under a gunmetal sky
staking my garden down,
I kneeled to the crickets trilling
underfoot as if about
to burst from their crusty shells;
and like a child again
marveled to hear so clear
and brave a music pour
from such a small machine.
What makes the engine go?
Desire, desire, desire.
The longing for the dance
stirs in the buried life.
One season only,
                           and it's done.
So let the battered old willow
thrash against the windowpanes
and the house timbers creak.
Darling, do you remember
the man you married? Touch me,
remind me who I am.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Starting Again

    I went to see some old and dear friends this past weekend.  We went to see Orrin Evans with a group called Tar Baby.  It was in Durham at a small private club.  The show was excellent.  It was the kind of jazz that I'm starting to love.  I don't confess to understand it, but there is something freeing about it.  The compositions are written and structured, but the solos are open to a great deal of interpretation.  Sometimes, and always when Oliver Lake was soloing, it was free form; from the Ornet Coleman school of thinking.  Sometimes Orrin would play out, and sometimes almost old school bebop.  Shaking his head with a big smile like Ray Charles.  Eric Revis was very charismatic and did most of the speaking.  His bass playing was very sold and funky and his compositions were my favorites.  I was disappointed that Nasheet Waits wasn't there, as he was on the billing.  But the drummer that played was excellent.  I have come along way playing jazz, but I see how much more there is.  What I play seems difficult to some, but I understand it.  Those that I would like to play with on the local scene, I understand, but am a year or more behind the curve.  But this music I saw this weekend was beyond my understanding.  I would try, if I could, to sit in with them, but I don't have a reference point of where to begin. I love the mystery behind what they're doing.  Maybe to fully understand it would make it mundane.
      While I was there I went to a very upscale music store.  The kind that locks the door and you have to knock to be let in.  They had a special room of acoustic guitars.  Two walls of flat tops and one wall of archtops.  I was able to play a used $15000 Buscarino.  It was perfect!  Not a flaw.  Working with Brad Nickerson I've seen perfection first hand.  I realize I still have a long way to go.  There is no substitute for 30 plus years of experience.  But I will say that Buscarino's guitar looked better than mine and played as well, but I think my last two guitars sounded better.  Of course that's my biased opinion.  Eventually I'll begin to make them as cosmetically perfect as they should be, but then they won't be as cheap as they are now.
      Having said all that, I have a new commission.  So, tomorrow I'll start working on the next guitar.  This one looks to be a 16 inch.  The details haven't been worked out yet, but I'll post them and pictures as I find out.
      Thanks for listening and here is another Rumi poem to give you insight and hope.

There are guides
who can show you the way.
Use them.

But they will not satisfy your longing.
Keep wanting the connection with presence
with all your pulsing energy.

The throbbing vein
will take you further
than any thinking.

Muhammed said, do not theorize
about essence.  All speculations
are just more layers of covering.
Human beings love coverings.

They think the designs on the curtains
are what is being concealed.

Observe the wonders as they occur around you.
Do not claim them.  Feel the artistry
moving through, and be silent.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Taking a Break

     I'm taking a little time off before I start the next guitar.  Maybe a week or so.  I had Michael's guitar in for a set up Friday.  I adjusted the truss rod, filed a few frets, and made a knob for his volume control.  I had to cut the stem off the volume pot to make a low profile knob.  I think it turned out nicely.
      I've seen two movies worth noting in the last couple weeks.  They are both movies that speak of life as we get older.  The first is out on video.  It is Robot and Frank.  A story set in the near future that deals with what it's like to begin to lose memory.  It asks the question, "What is family and what are real friendships?"  The other movie Donna and I went to see yesterday.  We are celebrating our 30th anniversary this year, so we went to Asheville to eat and see this movie.  It is Amour.   It's a French language film that is up for best picture at the Academy Awards.  It is a devastatingly beautiful picture.  It is one of the most heart wrenching, horrible things I have ever sat through, and will go into my top ten list of best movies.  It is a very slow, quiet film.  You can hear the bombs going off in the theatre next door and the people in the rows in front and back quietly weeping.  It is a story of two retired music teachers and the gradual deterioration of one of them.  There is almost no music in it, except for the occasional, beautiful, solo piano piece, which is always cut short, almost immediately.   I don't recommend the picture for everyone, but for those of us who've been together for decades, I think you should see it.  And for those of you that wonder what love is all about, this is it.  It's as close as I've seen to being a physical demonstration of I Corinthians 13.
       The prayer for the day comes from one of my favorite books.  I read it every year at Christmas time.  Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol."

"I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.  I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future.  The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.  I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.  Oh, tell me I may sponge away the writing on the stone!"

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Test Drive

       Yesterday was a crazy, long day.  I had to work in Asheville at a jewelry store.  It is in that new little village they built off of I 26 where the new Biltmore theaters are at.  We had a very complicated, carpet installation to do and ended up working until 5:00.  I had to be at City Lights Cafe, in Sylva, ready to play by 7:00.  I made it home by 6:15 and Donna told me our son, Lukas, had totaled his car that afternoon.  That's right, I don't have a cell phone.  They cost too much.  Anyway, he was fine.  Just a little sore, thank God.  I left home and got to the gig about five minutes before we started.  Needless to say I was exhausted.  I had decided I would test out the new guitar and see if it played and sounded good.  It took me a few tunes to get my focus, and then the sound of the instrument caught my attention.  The sound is very large and rich.  It has a darkness to it like Fall.  The way you feel when the summer air first turns slightly cool and the humidity is gone and you know a change is coming.  It seems to love to sing sad songs.  Don't get me wrong, we played plenty of fast swing tunes, and it's voice was wonderful, but I can hear this guitar in a year as an instrument that has a voice to sing ballads.  What I mean by that is, it takes a year or so before the guitar opens up and becomes what it will be.  And to play a ballad properly you need an instrument that will sing; like a voice.  That's why a sax, or a piano is such a good choice for a lead instrument.  I think this instrument is just as good.
           Having said all that, there's a buzz on the G string on the fifth fret that I need to fix.  I could raise the action and be done with it, but I love the way it plays, so I'll file some frets and fix it.  Maybe tomorrow.  Chris, you better come get this instrument before I fall in love and decide to keep it.

            Here is the prayer for the day.  This is another prayer I have spent months meditating on.  If you spend time with a prayer, or poem, it becomes something else.  It becomes a part of you, or you become a part of it, or you become a part of the person who wrote it, or they become a part of you, or perhaps you catch a glimpse of what we're really all a part of.

This morning, as I kindle the fire on my hearth,
      I pray that the flame of God's love y burn in
      my heart and in the hearts of all I meet today.

I pray that no evil or malice,
      no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.

I pray that indifference and apathy, contempts and pride,
       may not pour like cold water on the fire.

Instead, may the spark of God's love
        light the love in my heart,
        that it may burn brightly through the day.

And may I warm those who are lonely,
         whose hearts are cold and lifeless,
          so that all may know the comfort of God's love.

from The Ortha Nan Gaidheal

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentines Day

     It is finished!  I spent the day Saturday sanding the guitar with 1200 grit sandpaper, which is like sanding with a rag.  It took me all day to sand and polish it.  My neighbor was putting decking boards on his new deck and finished up about the same time I did.  It is amazing how long the sanding and polishing process takes.  I bought some foam pads for my drill and used them to put on the three different polishing compounds.  I think it turned out better than what I could do by hand.
      The evenings this week were spent fitting the pickup to the finger rest and then wiring the pickup to the volume control and jack.  I always forget how to do that and it takes me longer than it should.  Yesterday I cut the hole for the jack and installed the pickup.  Today I made a volume knob and set the action.  I hope to play it tomorrow night at City Lights Cafe for their Valentines weekend dinner.  I thought that would be a good way to make sure everything is working properly and the action is set comfortably.

       Here is the prayer for the day.  Another thought by Rumi.

There is a path from me to you
that I am constantly looking for,
so I try to keep clear and still
as water does with the moon.