The New Vintage

This month’s Vintage Guitar Magazine features a review of my Tulsa Korina guitar. It’s a short piece that lays out the basics of what is essential about the guitar. The reviewer, Tom Guerra, got all the points of interest dead-on, so it was a joy to read. You’d think I’d be jaded, but I still get a thrill when people like my work.

Although the bit about being a “legendary luthier” has been used before to describe me, I’ve never been comfortable with the title. I feel as though there’s a bit of exaggeration going on—with both terms. In contrast, I am proud of the headline. The New Vintage. It describes what I am going for perfectly. And  even more profound is what it means in the context of all my work.

Almost 30 years ago I devised an ad campaign for Hamer Guitars called “Modern Vintage” and the phrase became synonymous with the brand. Since then it has been appropriated by companies that probably were not even in business then. Most of the tactics and ethos of our little company were new for the time. What we started has been ground into a meaningless barrage of boilerplate ad copy that I never saw coming. “Made for musicians, by musicians.” What a concept. “Time honored craftsmanship, the most exquisite tone woods, and state of the art hardware…” The jokes practically write themselves.

Custom Shop meeting

So, here’s to you—the marketing men and women of the boutique guitar world. When all the hipster hyperbole is sliding into the ditch you can pivot to bragging about how your CNC accuracy and SolidWorks 3D plotting makes you the NASA of the garage builders. Meanwhile, I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always done. Hey, I’d better steal that New Vintage™ phrase before somebody else does. Thanks again Vintage Guitar for truly making my day. And that’s no exaggeration.

Turning Up the Wick

It has been a very busy few months here in The Workshop. The response to our Tulsa model variants has resulted in a massive uptick in the amount of work to do.

I’m still pressing on with the Artist Proofs—trying out ideas I have for future options on my Team Built guitars. The German carve top has proven to be a home run, and the number of customers requesting the back carve is up too.

Figured Korina back carve

Right now, I’ve got the “Espresso” Tulsa in the paint room, getting its first coats of nitro. It features a bookmatched  top of roasted (torrefied) curly maple. The idea and name came from the color of this piece of wood. I’ve had it in my shop for about three years, and up until now I hadn’t thought of what to do with it. The inspiration came when I used a dark filler on some mahogany for a client who wanted a tobacco shade. When I saw the result, I immediately knew what I was going to use that maple for.

The torrefied maple top
Espresso Tulsa’s mahogany back with German carve
The Espresso Tulsa no. 1 takes shape

The thing about this torrefied wood is that even though I had glued up the top several years ago, it was still perfectly straight and dead flat in every direction! As skeptical as I was before, I’m convinced that this stuff is extremely stable. In the case of pure white maple, the color change is really drastic, so it’s not for everyone, but it’s perfect for my coffee-themed build.

Rooms Full of Stories

bench-2016
My workbench is a wonderland of ideas and inspiration

I love guitars.
I love books.

I don’t play guitar as much, or read as many books as I would like—but that it even more special when I do. I truly savor those times.

When I play—and it’s good—it’s like worlds far away. It’s a story of fantasy where everything in life is good. Even when it hurts. Time stands still in that “speeded up, slow-motion” sort of way. You feel the notes and chords inside you.
Books take you where only minds can go too. You make the stories your own by the way you see words inside your imagination. Words like notes.

That’s why I want rooms full of books and guitars. I just want to have them near me for when they are needed. For safety. For transport. To live more fully and feel more deeply.

Tulsa Korina
Tulsa Korina

Every time you pick up a guitar, it tells you a little bit of a story. It tells you of its history and its life. It helps you tell your own story—every chapter a little different from the one before and the one after. Sometimes you play a passage over and over again, just to feel the way it moves your imagination.

Subtle, joyful, bittersweet. In a way only you can understand.

Hell’s Half Acre Build Completion

The HHA build has been underway for a number of years—yes, years. But it’s finally completed, and the wait has been worth it. A lot of other guitar builds and various projects kept me from dedicating my time to “The Acre” but I alway knew I’d return to this patch of ground.

Acre Body_01

Now it’s time for a new owner to start writing the rest of the story. In the meantime, I’ll do what I’ve done with every signature guitar (and Artist’s Proof models too) which is to invite players of all kinds to pick up and play Hell’s Half Acre. Because a guitar’s story doesn’t end when I finish it, I want musicians to handle and perform on my guitars, even before the next owner gets it. Life is experience, even for an instrument.

Acre Full both

 

Acre Control Plate

Acre Controls

Acre Head Back

Acre Head

Hell’s Half Acre: Vintage Guitar Wiring

The Hell’s Half Acre build has been over five years in the making. During that time there’s been a lot of stops and starts, and a lot of waiting in the wings while other projects received priority. All through it “The Acre” hasn’t complained. It knows that this is part of its story—the pre-history built right into the guitar.

This week I had some time and applied it towards the completion of this wonderful instrument. The cellulose faux tortoise shell material I got from my friend Paul Chandler was the perfect stuff for the pick guard, backplate and truss rod cover. Cellulose is highly flammable, so you have to be careful not to heat it up on a sander or saw. The final fit is done with hand files because this guitar is a one-off and doesn’t conform to any tooling that I have.

filing pickguard

Before loading the electrics, the control cavity gets coated with some defense contractor-grade shielding paint. A friend of a friend works for Pratt & Whitney, so I didn’t have to buy the minimum order of 20 gallons. This is the stuff that big corporations and the CIA use to block communications in safe-rooms. I figured it would be fine in an electric guitar. It goes on like pudding, so I have to use a special tip on my spray gun. Honestly, I only use it because I can, and it looks really nice.

Shielding paint

This guitar gets one of my prized Centralab rotary (blade) switches from 1953. It came out of some old telecommunications gear I bought at auction. One can only imagine the conversations that have passed through this piece. I spent about an hour and a half cleaning and aligning the contacts, then adjusting and lubricating the spring mechanism. It should be ready for at least another 50 years of duty.

switch refurb_1

I love the look of the brown phenolic circuit wafer, and it has a lovely (and rare) old Bakelite switch tip that will look great on the guitar. The new versions of this switch are not built to this standard any more, and I enjoy finding and repurposing these.

IMG_2747process

The electronics are twenty-year-old NOS potentiometers from CTS, and the tone cap is a Sprague Black Beauty that was pulled from some vintage equipment.

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I realize that 1930s materials and wire, 1950s switchgear and 1990s potentiometers don’t line up exactly with the 1860s theme of Hell’s Half Acre, but every decade is capable of raising a little hell, right?

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a video about the inspiration and build of this guitar.