On the Fringe

In the margins, on the fringe, away from the mainstream and lurking in the shadows of popular culture. Those phrases describe the people I respect and admire most. You could say that I’ve unconsciously—or consciously—modeled my career after those people. I’ve never wanted to be a household name, and I don’t care if everyone knows my work. The important thing to me is to do good work and build cool shit. Grandstanding is against my nature, and in the past when my job required me to be the face and voice for an organization, I did the job reluctantly. I saw it as part of the way we all put food on the table. It provided everyone in the shop a chance to continue doing what mattered.

Hamer guru tour at Lighting Joe’s
Hamer guru tour at Lighting Joe’s

Our traveling roadshow was a harbinger of what others do today. I liked meeting the dealers and the customers, but after each appearance was over I would go back to my hotel with a migraine—the reward for strong-arming my natural shyness. When I started my first guitar blog in October of 2005, I had to do it against the wishes of the parent company’s vice president, who didn’t even know what a blog was. He went home, asked his kids, and then told me it was a bad idea. I did it anyway and paid for it myself. My intent wasn’t to elevate myself, but rather to share the stories of how the crew and I made—cool shit. Those pages told of the daily life in our shop and turned the spotlight on the key people who worked there. It was the first time any of them got the credit they deserved, but were denied by policy. I’ll admit that I did get a sense of vindication when a few years later, Premier Guitar magazine called it “essential reading” for those in the industry. At that point the marketing pukes put a link on our main website and I almost immediately started to lose interest. I had 11,000 people coming to look, and yet I wanted to derail it. When I left, they struggled to emulate what I had started, and it didn’t end well.

So, is this some sort of failure complex? Possibly. The Woody Allen line from Annie Hall comes to mind: “I would never want to belong to a club that would have me as a member.” More likely, I just don’t like crowds. I prefer to meet people one on one and make a real connection. And that’s what the blog felt like. I could talk about what I wanted and share with a few weirdos who got it. As soon as it was a “big deal” it was serving the wrong purpose. I prefer to interact with the kind of souls that look to the details and make the connections offered up by references rather than have it all laid out for them in easy to understand WOW soundbites.

One guy who gets it—Steve Mesple of Wildwood Guitars
One guy who gets it—Steve Mesple of Wildwood Guitars

In my present shop I have only myself to praise or blame. I post when I wish and don’t worry about trying to please everyone. My monthly column/blog Esoterica Electrica is the result of just being myself, and the good people at PG have given me a lot of freedom to explore subjects from my own perspective. I get to ask the questions that most people aren’t asking, because that’s where the cool shit is. In the era of the long tail, I don’t need to kiss the ass of the same old, and I’m assured that there is sufficient traffic for me to continue. And now, as this incarnation of my Workshop Blog has served millions, I still consider it comfortably small potatoes.

My guitar building continues unhindered by the constraints of the corporate hand that often strangles itself. Occasionally I collaborate with my compatriots from the now-shuttered old shop, but mostly I work alone. I have a manageable work schedule that allows me to write, photograph, travel and meet interesting people who inhabit the fringes like me. I’m happy that people like you hang out with me in our virtual meeting spot, and I do appreciate the nice emails and enjoy answering you questions. Oh yeah, I also get to make cool shit.

Cherry Nitro on Sakura Guitar

Yesterday was a beautiful New England spring day—blustery and crisp. I took the time to walk around the property and allow myself to be open to all that was around me.


Earlier in the day I’d spoken to my friend Tony who was in New York wrapping up a week of filming. Tony is an amazing, creative cinematographer, and it was great just to catch up and just jam on some ideas. One of Tony’s favorites is photographer William Eggleston, whose work reminds us that there are no ordinary moments.


We continually and systematically narrow focus until we run the risk of becoming insensitive to the wonder of everyday life. So, in that spirit, I went out into the woods to undo my focus. It wasn’t long before nature was speaking to me and I envisioned a new project. More on that in a while.

Back in the shop I went about the job of masking off the Sakura’s fingerboard edges and headstock faceplate. Those would be the only areas not painted red. The lacquer was already mixed and in the cup so it was just a matter of wiping the guitar down with cleaning solvent and tack rag before having a go.


I had the choice of laying on multiple coats to darken the color, but I chose to stop when I had a nice even coverage. The guitar had the pale hue of those time-faded SGs and Juniors that I love so much—fini.


The color is going to look great contrasting against the nickel colored plates—I love how the grain of the mahogany shows through. My feeling is that a low-gloss topcoat treatment will really highlight the metalwork rather than compete with it.

Next week I’ll start building up the nitro clear coats after the color has a chance to cure. Have a great weekend everybody, and take some time to enjoy the moment.

A Crow Reminder

Monday morning, and we’re back in the shop ready to take on a slew of new stuff. Over the weekend I was reminded of The Crow guitar when I saw Jim Carroll’s last novel, The Petting Zoo. I like to read on the airplane, and a friend offered me the book for the trip home. Right there on the cover was a big black crow.


Carroll is best known for his autobiographical book, The Basketball Diaries, which of course was later made into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio. More than just a celebrated junkie; Carroll’s work in poetry, prose and music spanned over forty years of ups and downs, from New York’s lower East Side to San Francisco.


As a singer and songwriter, Carroll burst onto the world stage with his 1980 release Catholic Boy, and its single People Who Died. That song has been covered by quite a few artists, including the Drive-By Truckers. Carroll himself died at age sixty from a heart attack—reportedly while working at his writing desk  in New York, in 2009. Such a loss.

Seeing the book made me think of when I’d played with Carroll on Back to the Streets, a tribute a tribute to Don Covay, many years ago. It was a cover of  “Long Tall Shorty” and it’s not what you’d expect from Jim Carroll. He was a fan of Covay’s work, and I think it’s a good track from a very interesting guy. The rhythm guitar is a Strat into a Vox AC 30 and for lead I used a Chaparral straight into a 50 watt Marshall.

I’m going to put on some Jim Carroll music, and get back to work.