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.
Jack Kerouac grew up in Lowell, Massachusetts, on the banks of the Merrimack—not too far from where we are right now. Apparently, he was a pretty good high school football player and went on to Columbia on an athletic scholarship. As much as the young Kerouac wanted to be a football star, what he wanted most was to just get the hell out of Lowell. It was a typical New England mill town that had seen its best days a half-century before Kerouac was born, and to him, New York city seemed like a better place for an aspiring writer to be. Of course, the rest is history, and the genesis of the “Beat Generation” (a term that Kerouac neither coined nor endorsed) began.
I’d been through two “Beat” phases myself. The first was in my late teens, naturally. It was right around the time I’d discovered Ornette, Parker, Miles and Monk. I was devouring Ginsberg, Burroughs and the like; while staying up way too late with my friends; drinking and discussing life, love and the nature of existence. On the Road and The Dharma Bums were required reading. I think every kid with a dream goes through this phase. Well, unless your dream is to be an accountant.
Lately, I’d noticed that my apprentice Jim had been setting the Pandora in the shop to a channel called “On the Road Again” which at first I thought was a Willie Nelson thing. Jim has done his share of changing addresses. He and I have talked about the strange urge to ramble on, that comes from an addiction created by moving households often. But then I noticed that a little library was growing in one of the shop’s cubbies.
I’d failed to make the connection between the Kerouac biography on my desk and the subtle musical program in the shop space. Once apparent that the hint wasn’t sinking in, the library began to grow. I smiled as I realized that the slow, solitude of a workshop in the woods is a million miles away from the hustle of NYC. Our space is antithesis of what Kerouac initially wanted for himself. Yet, at the same time it is the lost Americana that he spent his life seeking.
Jim in the shop doorway, with more books.