The Crow build continues in tandem with other projects in the shop. I like it this way—dividing my time between creative thought, and the zen-like trance induced by laborious, repetitive handwork like sanding. Each of the Signature guitars that I build starts with the journal—a place for ideas and stream-of-conciousness rants. The good, the bad and the indifferent are all there. As the ideas begin to coalesce into a usable and recognizable form, the journal starts to morph into a set of plans.
Here, I’m laying out the f-hole shape and control locations. After this step, a paper template is made so I can evaluate the placement of the controls from the player’s perspective. Do they fall to hand easily? Are they blocked by each other, or does the bridge get in the way? These all can be tested before going any further.
Once I’m satisfied, the next step is to make a 1/4″ thick router template from the drawing, onto which the spruce top can be pinned. Then it’s to the router I go.
You can see the locating pin holes as well as the control locations. The interior volume of this instrument will be a bit larger than some of my other designs and I’ve reduced the size of the f-holes and moved them inward about 1/8″ closer to center. I’m going for a very old-school blues sound with this guitar, and it’s going to be interesting.
As I’m gathering impressions for new guitar builds, I’m reading Kerouac and driving around the NE for inspiration. It’s fun to just get in the old car and just drive. No predetermined destination, no schedule. From a store in New Hampshire, I picked up a beat up old tweed suitcase from the forties that struck my fancy. We stopped by a derelict farm and Carla took this image of me, my vintage suitcase and the farm. It’s a wonderful shot…
Here’s a quote from Kerouac’s “On the Road”
“Just ahead, over the rolling wheatfields all golden beneath the distant snows of Estes, I’d be seeing old Denver at last. I pictured myself in a Denver bar that night, with all the gang, and in their eyes I would be strange and ragged like the Prophet who has walked across the land to bring the dark Word, and the only Word I had was “Wow!”
The theme for the Crow guitar has been an organic, growing and living process. Crows are messengers, and they are scavengers. As Jim, Ferdinand and I discuss the background behind the writing of Kerouac’s On the Road, we begin to make the connections between the travels of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty with being on the road as a musician in a band. The wanderlust of a new generation searching for meaning, flowing from the Beats to Dylan and the Beatles, Hendrix and beyond. Gypsies on the road, their freak flag feathers in the wind of the rock and roll road-show.
OK, too much coffee. Time for Jim to trace and cut out the spruce top from a lexan template I’ve made and get on with the build.
Meanwhile, the guitar’s back needs to be planed to thickness before it can be carved. In this case, the back is a flamed maple, book-matched and planed to .625″ before I start the carving.
All of the guitar’s parts will be made on conventional woodworking equipment, so the next steps will be to make temporary templates for routing the chambering and center section. I’ve got an idea for the center-block that involves some tuned cavities, so that’s up next.
“There is no percentage in remembering the past”
— Taj Mahal, Take a Giant Step.
For the most part, I view lingering in the past as a cry for help. If you are afraid that your audience will abandon you, the first thing some performers do is dig into the archives for the old hits. I’m not saying that old hits are bad, I’ve had my share of “glory years” but they’re all in the rear-view mirror now.
As time passes, I become more attuned to the different needs and desires of my own motivation. I want to build guitars that have a back-story built in as opposed to building the back story for the second or third time.
Here’s a look at the hand-made book of sketches, dimensions and ponderings that accompanies each “Signature” guitar that I build. It’s a place to draw, doodle and communicate the concept that drives the build. It’s a place to record dimensions and ideas. The pages step through the thought process behind my choices—the true back-story that is built into the guitar. This is one that I’m calling “The Crow”, and when the instrument is finished, the book is hand-stitched, bound with a beautiful cover of original artwork and goes with the guitar.
I bring my experience, my taste and my sense of humor to each project. Serving the client is only one side of the coin; just as fitting my designs into a template dictated by a company policy isn’t my priority any longer. I’m free to express my own desires and esthetics with my own projects. I love what I’m doing and I hope it will show. It’s not such a bad place to be.
All of this comes to mind as I am simultaneously designing new instruments and building a classic “replica” for Anthony. In that regard, it certainly feels better to obsess on someone else’s past than your own.
The question that remains is, can guitar designs that owe so much to a vintage esthetic, move ahead without being purely nostalgic?