I enjoy having visitors to the workshop play my instruments. I feel as though each musician leaves a little bit of themselves with the guitar. The process is to roll the camera and then put the guitar in their hands and see what develops. Here’s my friend Mike getting greasy on the Crow.
Visitors to the Workshop are always a welcome diversion especially when they entertain the camera with their prowess on my guitars. But recently I’ve been prone to taking guitars on the road. Regular readers of this blog and corresponding Facebook page will already be familliar with my build process. I put a massive amount of forethought into what I call the “pre-story” of each instrument. I employ 1930s wire, 1950s switchgear, old-growth wood and old world craftsmanship to build a soul into each guitar. Still, the most important part of any instrument’s life is the experience it gains by being played. In this connection, I have ventured out into the world and allowed my creations the luxury of being stroked and spanked publicly. These instruments are not vintage, nor are they new. They are not used, as in second-hand. They are becoming experienced. Every player who caresses my instruments imbeds a bit of their being into the guitar.
With that in mind, I met up with Steve Kimock for a little soul searching. Every scratch on these guitars is a badge of honor.
Since my childhood, the electric guitar has called me in ways I simply cannot explain. From the first strains of “Greensleeves” that shook the camp gymnasium windows, to the feedback drenched nights at Chicago’s Electric Theater—I was hooked. Similarly, my builds are formulated in a part of my brain that defies concious explaniation.
I imagine dusty boots walking railroad tracks, birds of prey and the jumble of words racing down antique telephone wires. A sixth sense that connects the delta with those who live in the city. The Crow is a messenger, harbinger and scrappy traveler. Like the touring musician who lives by his wits and intuition, the crow is alive in all of us.
I’ve spent a lot of my life cutting corners. Carrying two bags of groceries at a time to save steps, or taking a back street to clip a few precious seconds off a trip to the store. We all do it. My hobby is racing sports cars—the ultimate corner cutting exercise.
At age thirteen I devised jigs and fixtures to hold brass tubing in place while soldering them into slot-car chassis to be sold at a local hobby store. A succession of factory jobs building things like film inspection machines, splicers, mechanical scales and grain moisture testers introduced me to the big-time of cost-cutting time management. Even my promotion to purchasing agent at nineteen taught me the ideas of maintaining a lean inventory and shaving pennies off an order. Later, my studies with Japanese Kaizen gurus Yoshihisa Doi and Hajime Oba took this to an even higher level. You might say it’s in my blood to look for a better, faster, cheaper way.
Today, I’m beginning my second day of testing pickups for the Sakura guitar. Every build goes through this process because every guitar is different and unique. From experience, it’s easy to whittle down the choices before I even begin. Still there are variables that only ear testing can address. I have a test rig that holds a pickup in place under strings to give me a baseline along with measuring the impedance and inductance. Because the Sakura guitar has steel plates on both front and back, the inductance will be important. Still, the final ear testing in the guitar will be the final exam.
When I talk to people about what I do, the thing that always surprises them the most is how much time it takes. In a one-click world where the emphasis is continually on saving time and cutting costs, this kind of patient work is almost viewed as quaint. I could just put a pickup that was deemed “good enough” in the guitar and assume that the customer will change it out anyway. But that would be a waste of my skills. I just remind folks that I’ve already cut enough corners for several lifetimes.
Without resorting to my usual long-winded spiels bristling with cultural tie-ins, I’ll just say “happy Thanksgiving” to all of you. Hopefully, this holiday finds you with much to be thankful for. I’ll be spending the day with my wife Carla and our dog Heidi, the resident optimist. I’d tell you about how I wish that I was more like our canine friend, who greets each day with joy and a wagging tail—but I digress.
Yesterday, a hawk flew past my window. I was able to grab the camera and got a pretty average photo. Behind the shop, the hawk settled down for a snack of fresh chipmunk. I was really surprised by its size—so much larger up close than they appear when winging high overhead.
Later, the dog alerted me to a familyof deer bedded down for a rest about twenty yards from our back door. Just seeing all the creatures here makes me happy. A good way to start the proceedings. Later today, friends will join us for dinner and conversation. I have to return some books to Jim, and want him to borrow Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory, if he hasn’t already read it twice. Maybe we’ll get to jam a little too.
Because this is the Workshop blog, I’ll leave you with some images of something else I’m extremely thankful for. The exquisite hand engraving for the Sakura guitar done by Heidi Roos.
It is difficult to capture in a photograph, the way that hand engraving catches the light. The human touch leaves each fine stroke beveled differently from the next in subtle ways that give the images life.
This is a good look at the spot plating technique. The cherry blossom is real rose gold, and the leaves are done in green gold. The background is a brushed finish of nickel plate. Here you can see the superiority of handwork over the more common photo-etching process on production examples. This is where the time (and money) goes.
The staggering amount of detail of this piece just blows me away—more than I’d hoped for. Heidi just knocked this one right out of the park.
After the holiday I’ll get some shots of the back piece which is even more stunning. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving everyone.