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.

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Jol

Jol Dantzig is a guitar builder, designer, writer and filmmaker. He has worked for Gibson, Fender, Guild, Ovation, Gretsch, and was a founding partner of Hamer guitars—one of the first boutique custom guitar brands. Dantzig’s work has been played by hundreds of artists including Sting, Steve Stevens, Larry Coreyell, Dug Pinnick, Billy Gibbons, Keb Mo’, Nick Lowe, KK Downing, Glenn Tipton, John Abercrombie, Glen Campbell, Rick Nielsen, Kenny Vaughan, Lita Ford, James Honeyman Scott, Elliott Easton, Andy Summers, Peter Frampton, Martin Barre, Lyle Workman, Brad Gillis, George Harrison, Jeff Ament, Dweezil Zappa, Jeff Tweedy, Nancy Wilson—and many others.

One thought on “On the Fringe”

  1. I have been playing my Newport Custom Pro all week .. oh man that is a beautiful guitar. You know the beauty of a guitar has nothing to do with what you paid for it. I asked one lady “how does this sound?” and she said “like melting butter…” and that is quite a comment. (I think I was playing “Tenderly” .. an old standard). I am preparing for two presentations: “What’s New” and “I Don’t Know Enough About You” both with the Newport Custom Pro. I tend to use the neck more than the bridge and tone .. mellow and bass-to-mid (varies with the size and sound features of the room). I think I must THANK you (Jol) every day of the month. Thank you for this one-of-a-kind instrument. It is great happiness inmy life.

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