“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.
While Jim was keeping himself busy building up a neck blank fore a new commission that we’re calling tentatively The Black Dahlia, I decided to get some color on the Tele we’re making for Anthony. Here, Jim is slotting Dahlia’s neck blank for the truss rod. The three piece, opposed grain system used to strengthen the neck is clearly visible. All three parts are sawn from the same board to maintain the integrity of the neck—the grain on the outside pieces are opposed to use the natural forces of the wood to self-stabilize. The center part is a neutral, quarter-sawn piece.
Now, back to that guitar for Anthony. Most times, for color coats I use nitro with tints, or some PPG colors that are suspended in DBC clear. However, this time I decided to experiment with a waterborne acrylic. I’ve had the stuff for a while and thought it would be interesting to try. I got it for a window sill refinish project, and it worked so well that I thought it could be used on a guitar.
The first step was to mix some Golden Yellow Oxide and add a little brown until I got the shade I wanted. I did this into the clear waterborne directly, then cut the whole mix with good old H2O until the viscosity was correct for the gun. The color looked good on the test piece, so onward we go.
I’m using a SATA minijet with a 1.1 tip which is my weapon of choice for most small jobs like sunbursting. I decided to use it for this full-body color job because the Minijet has a thumb-wheel fan control on the left side which would let me control the spray with the unfamiliar water-based material.
I needn’t have worried. With the air pressure at 30lbs. the material sprayed like a champ. Very easy to control and the build was good. I can see if I had used a bigger tip it might have been prone to sag—after all, it is water. The clean-up was a breeze, and the stuff is almost odorless. I’ll let it set up for a day, then I’ll continue with the clear coats.
The color is classic Butterscotch, and on the body it looks great. The only question is whether to use the nitro as I usually do, or continue with the waterborne…