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?
Down to the scale-model of a city known as Hartford, Connecticut I went. Trading a perfectly good afternoon in the woods for the grit of the ‘hood and the concrete bunker of the Webster Theater. It takes a lot to coax me out of the home-20—but seeing my old friend Gavin Menzies and the boys in The Cult is a lot of coaxing.
After a thorough tour of the gear, including a few choice licks on Billy Duffy’s new Nash-built “Esquire” we repaired to the tour bus for some catching-up, cold beer and general mischief.
I’d planned to wimp out after a few Cult Classics, but happily, my car was blocked into the staff parking lot. Oh well, I guess I’ll have to call in sick tomorrow.
Everything happens for a reason, and I just relaxed and had fun with it. Gav’s old buddy Lenny from Huntington Beach was there with a homemade Calzone and the hang was just what the doctor ordered.
I never tire of the sound and fury of a full-blown rock rig pumping out rock rhythms in a small theater. and the pinball rebound of the Cult’s chugga-chugga repertoire truly turned the Webster into a Sonic Temple. Instead of feeling trapped there, I felt delivered. This is why I do what I do, and it’s good to realize that.
A double-dose of P90 and Filtertron-through-tube-amps-on-ten was still ringing in my ears as I dragged my ass into the shower at 10:00 AM, but hey, I’m the boss. Anyway, I was really working—dreaming of a new guitar I want to build.
Wind in the woods brings consequence. On the way up to the shop today the road was littered with leaves and boughs—nature’s way of cleaning house. Trees are all around us in life, and in what we do. Trees are the source of great instruments and home for countless animals. We’re always aware of the crashing of trees and branches when the weather gets a little rough around here.
In the perfect reflection of my car’s hood I saw it fall towards me. I flinched instinctively, but it wasn’t a tree branch—it was a red-tailed hawk with a wingspan as wide as my windshield. For about a hundred feet we flew down the road together, the great bird just a few feet above the road a car length ahead of me. It was as though the world was in slow-motion and the space between seconds became like minutes, until the hawk banked off into the trees and disappeared.
Once inside the shop, I mixed up some of the waterborne lacquer I’d been using on Anthony’s guitar and got down to business. We’d both decided that a satin finish was the way to go, so it will be interesting to see how the flattening agent works with this paint. After decades of pushing the envelope to create thin, yet glossy finishes, I’ve decided that I don’t care for them any longer.
I’m the first one to admire a custom-car paint job, but the patina of age on guitars that have been played and loved speaks of the experience that they have absorbed over time. There’s just something about the satiny sheen of an aged guitar that makes it a musical instrument, and not an appliance. Stepping away from my past obsession with ultra-shiny guitars feels good—like taking flight.