For readers of this blog, the idea that The Crow would travel in a tweed suitcase inspired case will come as no surprise. Although tweed-covered cases are a vintage stalwart, the connection here is double deep. I first made the association while reading Kerouac’s On The Road. Carla and I were on a road trip of our own when she photographed me holding my 1940s vintage suitcase. I’d found this beautiful relic in a shop in New Hampshire and just had to have it. It wasn’t until I saw the photo below that I fully connected the dots.
Crows are scavengers, messengers and harbingers. Like Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty, crows traverse the landscape living on their instincts. The hoboes take to the rails as the crows take to the sky—searching for tomorrow’s answer and a meal. When I saw the photo of the suitcase, I knew that my guitar had to have a case that incorporated this spirit.
My search for the correct vintage tweed covering came up short. After being assured by phone that the material was an exact duplicate of the lacquered tweed that was used on both vintage luggage and guitar cases (not to mention amplifiers) my material arrived looking pale, sallow and somewhat less than authentic. The only thing to do was to lacquer and age it myself. I cut a few pieces into sample swatches and started mixing up some amber and brown tinted nitro lacquer.
I started the process slowly, wanting to use as little tint as I could. It took about a half day to get it exactly the way I wanted it—the balance between the number of coats and the yellow to brown ratio. I was almost there, using the actual suitcase as my guide. Finally, a little bit of indigo tint got it just right. That’s the final swatch on the bottom left. Now it’s a matter of spraying out all the material after it is cut to fit the case. The lacquer color and sheen will make it look like it’s already lived a lifetime of adventure on the road. When it’s done maybe I’ll drag it up to the old farm for a portrait.
Much was made of the so-called super moon a few weeks back. Out here in the woods, most every appearance of the moon is pretty super looking. I did go outside the shop and shoot a few photos of the event as the moon peeked through the trees.
I’d forgotten about the photos until last night when I was sorting through the desktop looking for something else. When the image popped up on my screen I was immediately struck by the emotional feel and how it related to The Crow guitar. Can’t you just see a huge black crow flying under that moon? Maybe when the guitar is complete I’ll stick it up there and take a photo.
Today I’m leveling the first lacquer coats on The Crow, and spraying the first coats on Sakura. Using a hard rubber block, I’m sanding with 400 grit paper. The first level is the most important because it is the foundation for everything else. I like to take my time and I always follow the exact same pattern.
Once I’m done, it’s time for my signature on the headstock faceplate. The plate is made of black ebony, and no color will be used on it because I like the grain and streaks of color to show through.
Here’s a look at the carved maple back with the black stain. When the guitar is finished, this and the ebony headstock face will be the only transparent areas. I like the idea of a little surprise on the back of the guitar.
After a couple of gloomy days that saw a few inches of snow fall, the sun is breaking through again. Of course the sunshine makes us feel better and the workshop is humming with electric activity. The Crow guitar is sanded and ready for its first coats of nitro clear. I’ve stained the figured maple back with a black transparent stain that I think will go nicely with the main finish that I have planned.
While the stain is drying, I’m collecting all the electronic parts that I want to use. This build will feature authentic recreations of the Charlie Christian pickups, which my good friend Seymour has created in his lab. The Christian pickups are completely different from any other type, and the resulting tone is incredible. Here are my notations in the Crow’s journal—I’m including a scrap of the #42 wire as well.
I use a unique mounting trestle machined from 6061 aluminum. Here’s my drawing of the part that will go into the journal. I had a friend down the road help me machine the parts on his Bridgeport. The oval mounting holes will allow the pickups to be adjusted transversely relative to the guitar’s center line. Stainless steel hex socket screws will allow height adjustment from the rear of the instrument, keeping the front of the guitar clean and uncluttered.
This is the resulting part which will be attached to the bottom of the pickup.
Gotta get back to the paint room and start spraying.
With the main components of The Crow guitar completed, I spent some time getting the ancillary parts assembled. My Signature Guitars each have a singular theme and I want the parts of the guitar not only to be appropriate for the build, but to be unique as well. The binding on the guitar is an Italian cellulose “faux” tortoise shell, backed by an off-white ivoroid purfling, so I wanted something that would match. Off the shelf parts proved to be a disappointment so I decided to make my own. I’d located some Asian Buffalo horn pieces that were stained a deep amber brown, so I thought that making some of the parts from it was worth a try.
A lathe is on the shop wish list, so I had to use a drill press for the meantime. Here I’m using a file to rough out what will be a strap button. I started with a piece cut to approximate size and rounded enough to get into the chuck.
Once I get the shape, I cut off the button just under the flange and then sand everything smooth down to 2500 grit. The next step is to drill a hole for the mounting screw that will hold it onto the guitar.
I’m going to thread it only slightly, relying on some Devcon for the ultimate bond. I also decided to put a small abalone dot in the center, this matches the side markers on the fretboard.
The switch tip for the pickup selector should follow the theme, so I turned a shape I liked on my makeshift lathe, using finer files as I go.
Center drilling required the fabrication of another set of wooden “clamps”, and after finishing that I used a bottoming tap to put the proper threads inside the hole.
The last step was to use a progression of buffing compounds to bring it to a finish that would compliment the rest of the hardware.
The tip really looks great on the switch and it adds to the exclusivity of the build.
The result is a matching set of buttons that are unique not only to this guitar, but cannot be bought from any supplier. That’s all in keeping with the idea behind each signature guitar I build.
Fuzzy white branches like tarantula legs of soft snow blanketing my view from the morning window. Otherworldly and calming.
Sipping my espresso, black and deep, while I let my subconscious wander in the reservoir of guitar experience and memory. It is my process.
The notebook, pen, coffee and guitar. What more do you need?
A black crow silhouette on the evergreen above the shop.
Why am I sharing this process? Why not just post photographs of finished guitars—shiny and proud?
In the words of Martina Navratilova, a consummate athlete who won fifty-four Grand Slam tennis titles, “the moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.” When someone who knows what it is to cross the finish line first says this, I imagine she knows a thing or two about how to get there.
So, this is the quiet time when I let my thoughts spill out onto the paper. I am living for the moment I am in.
I am reminded of Kerouac’s “Method.”
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside your own house
- Be in love with your life
- Something that you feel will find its own form
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Blow as deep as you want to blow
- Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
- The unspeakable visions of the individual
- No time for poetry but exactly what is