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.
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…
As the Autumn continues to wind down in chilly and damp fashion, it’s warm and busy in the shop. I’ve been working on several projects for clients, but have some “blue-sky” stuff going on as well. I’ve been messing around with some new pickup ideas, and thought that it would be useful to have a guitar made specifically for the purpose of testing pickups. Back in the ’80s I’d built myself a guitar with rear loading for the bridge pickup so that it could changed quickly without slacking the strings—so I decided to revisit the concept.
After drawing out the design in full-scale, I prepped a blank of mahogany with location holes, found the centerline and did a rough cut on the bandsaw. Here, my apprentice Jim and I are going over the details. I’m going to leave the body to Jim while I prep the neck and work on some pressing design items for clients. Not enough hours in the day!