Making Progress

First, I want to thank so many of you for commenting, supporting, lifting me up when I was feeling a bit down the last time I wrote. While it wasn't my intention to solicit such kind words, I appreciate them more than you can know. After hearing so many stories from lady friends who have had similar experiences, I know the bigger issue of inequality won't resolve overnight, but I felt I wanted to address that it happens, however unintentionally, in more places than we care to see.

The past few weeks have felt like the opposite of the weeks prior. I have had visitors stop by the shop specifically to see me and what I am working, received Facebook messages from folks asking me my opinion on how they should attack certain guitar projects of their own, a good friend played one of my guitars at an incredible show she did with another great friend. Oh, and there was a little story on that that national NPR show, All Things Considered...

Walnut sisters
For the past couple of weeks I have been working on a batch of three guitars, numbered 39-41, which I know is ambitious but I want so badly to make instruments for everyone who wants one that I hope to step up production a little bit. If you were wondering, the three guitars are a koa OM-42, a Claro walnut 000-41, and a Black walnut 0-41. The system of doing three at a time has been working just fine so far but I have yet to get to the finishing stage. The sanding, spraying, and then sanding some more gets pretty tiring with just one, so I'll let you know how this turns out when I try to work on three. Perhaps I should try to find some sanding interns or something...Write this up: Seeking determined, detail oriented person with literally nothing better to do to than hand sand between seven (or more if you mess up) coats of finish on a batch of homemade guitars. It's harder than it looks, so must be attentive and able to learn. No pay, probably no school credit either...but I'll let you play with the mongoose that lives in the shop which is, in my opinion, a priceless experience. Only for a few minutes though because there is all that finish to sand.

My favorite part about these three guitars is that their owners asked me to cut intricate inlays for the fingerboards of each one. It required more difficult work and time, but I always enjoy coming up with new designs that compliment each of my customers. The owner of the Black walnut 0-41 I am working on sent me pictures of her favorite ceramic pieces featuring art nouveau vines and decoration along their bodies. I used the pictures to draw inspiration for a vine climbing the fingerboard.

As far as media coverage goes, it is difficult for me to grasp the reach of NPR's show All Things Considered. I listen most days, but that's just me, sitting in my corner making instruments. Audie Cornish is just telling me stories, right? Who would listen to one about me if I weren't there to hear? It was especially unnerving when several minutes after our story aired my phone was beeping and buzzing with messages of friends all over the country saying they heard it. In all honesty. I didn't hear it until the next day because the Roanoke station chose that time slot to work on their fund raising efforts. It was pretty overwhelming to know so many of my friends and family, not to mention the strangers I had never met, heard it but I had no idea how crazy I sounded.

The thing is, most news stories that I am in are really about my dad, where I just happen to be standing nearby. I was completely surprised and amazed to hear that story and especially to hear Vince Gill say such kind things about me and my instruments. (What?!!) I want to thank my friend and fellow Roanoke Catholic alum Desiré Moses for her excellent job of reporting (and for her skilled editing to make me sound less like an idiot than I actually do in real life). I honestly can't thank her enough for coming down from Roanoke and spending the afternoon at the shop with us.

So the guitar progress is on pause for a week because I am home working on a little ukulele, and then am headed to San Diego this weekend to attend the 2016 Fretboard Journal Summit. I am going to tell some stories of working with my dad and learning how to build guitars. I am also excited to visit with fellow builders, hopefully learn a thing or two, and most importantly, meet new friends. Come hang out and be my friend!

Girl in the Guitar Shop

So if I am being honest with you, the past couple of weeks haven't been the easiest. While I am so proud of my accomplishments and feel empowered in my job most days. every now and again, like the tendrils of gauzy green chemical vapor that seeps through the forest floor of Fern Gully, waves of doubt sometimes creep into my day. Typically it isn't terribly difficult to push aside and simply ignore my feelings when the Tuesday loafers treat me as though I don't matter. I cling to the knowledge that my dad does value my work and opinion and he has come to rely on me to help him out in the shop whether they see that or not. Every so often though, especially when the Tuesday crowd of old men rolls in, I don't really feel as though belong in my dad's shop. Not as an equal or a useful piece of the puzzle anyway. I am sure they don't mean it how it comes across, perhaps it is a generational thing or something, but a lot of times the shop visitors treat me as though I am either not there or just something to placate; "Aw how cute, the poor little girl want's to try to use a table saw."

Now, even though I am on a roll of frustration, I am going to pause for a moment to make one constant exception. Even though he comes in crotchety every Tuesday, upset that his table is cluttered with junk, even though it always is, Herb Key is always kind to me. He comes in before everyone else to find me trying to get my work done before the crowd descends. He always takes extra time every week to share with me what guitar he is working on and how he plans to fix it. All he really needs to do it say, "I am doing a neck set on this old Gibson," when I ask what project he has for the day but he doesn't. He shows me the handmade tools he has finagled to make the job simpler for himself, explains in detail how he plans to execute his job, and shows me how to turn on the water steamer without burning myself. He always takes time from his job to share tidbits of Gibson trivia, neck reset tips, and little ideas to make repair work exciting. I appreciate very much that he always treats me with respect and kindness. That being said, not many other folks are in his same boat.

In case you were curious, here are a few of the things that have recently knocked me down: First, someone accidentally (I hope) burned the $200 worth of buffing pads I had just brought to the shop from Asheville. The guitar I was in the middle of fitting a top on was unceremoniously moved from its table and dumped in several locations with absolutely no care. (With the explanation when I returned from breakfast from my dad, "I moved the stuff with your name on it because I needed to sharpen my tools." I suppose if the guitar was stamped with Wayne Henderson's name he woudln't consider touching it) He also walked up when my dad was checking out a guitar that very clearly had my name inlaid on the headstock and said condescendingly, "Oh, Jayne, did you make that?" Next, a group of local luthiers and their friends visiting on a not so distant Tuesday treated me with as much regard and respect as they would a hangnail they had just removed and flicked away. Finally, a man stopped by the shop selling guitar sets and jacked up his prices to double their worth. I can only assume the reason is because he thought he could hoodwink a stupid little girl who doesn't know the going price for a warped set of slab-cut cherry wood.

After all that and a little bit more in a couple week span I had simply had enough. I felt deflated, like one of the tired wrinkled balloons we stuff into the sound holes of our guitars to block the inside bodies after seven coats of finish. I thought perhaps I should quit and find something else to do more suited to my educational background and gender. This story gets better though, I promise. I am finished complaining. Luckily I have an awesome cousin (more like sister) named Leah and she pulled into the shop parking lot just in time. She didn't have to try terribly hard to convince me to play hooky for the rest of the afternoon.

She drove us, along with two kayaks, some crinkly bags Doritos, and two chilled tallboys of Corona out to the bank of the Little River and shoved me, sitting in her yellow boat, out into the meandering water. (She let me have her comfy, easily maneuverable, creek boat similar to the ocean kayaks to which I am accustomed and she took her uncle's sit-on-top that she wasn't used to paddling. Side note: If you don't paddle, I feel the need to let you know that such an act is similar to offering me a Porsche while leaving her happily behind the wheel of a Yugo.) We floated down the river enjoying our snacks and laughing as we periodically spun, paddling helplessly, when our boats snagged over hidden rocks and branches rising a bit too high beneath the water's surface.

At one point Leah decided she wanted to get out and skip rocks. She slowly moved through the knee deep water searching the riverbed for flat round rocks ideal for skipping. After a few attempts she deemed 'bad' (they only skipped three or four times over the water...she is an expert, you see, expecting more like 15 skips per throw) she set out to catch minnows instead. "Look! There's one! Ooh there's a bunch! A whole school! Maybe they will just swim into my hands!" she squealed. "Yeah maybe," I halfheartedly answered, more interested in finding a shaded spot to park my kayak without having to submerge my clunky 12 year old Chacos into the dark river water. I looked over and watched her standing silently hunched waiting for an innocent minnow to swim unknowingly into her waiting trap. I managed to hook my boat to a bit of rock slightly less dappled with bird feces than the rest of its mass, dipped my toes into the crisp flowing water and watched her play. Floating in my spot that day I felt immensely more relaxed than I had the several weeks prior. While Leah patiently waited for her minnow, I thought about how lucky I was to have such a strong, smart, capable 'sister' to emulate. Sitting there on that river I reminisced of all the times she demonstrated to me that I can do whatever I want. She dressed as the pirate instead of the princess in dress-up when she was five, she played basketball and ran cross country instead of cheering for the boys who did. She plays guitar in the jam circles with the old men instead of sitting quietly alongside their wives.

You see, Leah would never let those guys in the shop belittle her. She would never stand for that. I wish I were as strong as she. But I realize now that I am. I know how to do something not a ton of women can do; I know how to safely use a table saw; I know how to sharpen my pocket knife (and use it to pick the stain from beneath my fingernails); I know how to do a neckset; I know how to make a guitar. Now please read that last sentence again. Don't think I am saying I can do those things because my dad knows how to do those things. He taught me, yes, but I now know how to do them in my own right. Please treat me as though I do.

I made this guitar for my good friend Mac. 
Playing with my good buddy Mac and my hero, Leah.


Gah! How does time move so quickly?! I honestly thought perhaps I had missed a few weeks to write to you, but not this long...again. I feel like I have a pretty legitimate excuse this time though as I was finishing a 45 style guitar by myself while my dad was away teaching at a music camp. He was around long enough to show me some important steps, but the final steps were on my own. Let me just tell you, if inlaying all of that pearl sounded difficult, then you probably don't even want to know about the rest. But, I'm going to tell you anyway.

So the sparkly part is only a small aspect of what is needed to make a guitar adorned along all the edges of all surfaces of the body with thin strips of abalone shell. Since I went into it in detail in an earlier post I will only remind you that I used real, flat pieces of abalone that I painstakingly ran through a tiny table saw to make little strips and installed them with my tender fingers into the channels left by the removal of Teflon strips. Until now I hadn't fully grasped the difficulty of installing the Teflon.

On each side of the Teflon are three strips of wood veneer of varying thickness. I also wrote about attaching binding in a previous post so if you want to know more about that process, you can read about when I made a 42 style guitar here. The 45 process is a bit more involved since it requires adding the same pattern, well almost, to the edges of the sides and back, not just the top. The new pattern on the back and sides goes, from the edge facing in toward the body to the binding, white-black-Teflon-barely thicker black-white-black-binding. Getting that thicker black line set up is the worst part because it is such a small difference that I put it in absolutely positive that it is correct, then come time to scrape it down and it is flipped. Those are just the worst days.

So my dad showed me how to glue the wood veneer strips to the telfon before adding it to the guitar, since, as he well knows, doing each one separately is extremely difficult and time consuming. The teflon sheet with a small groove cut along its length sure doesn't look very intimidating and as my dad showed me I thought, well this is easy, go away so I can do it, I don't need help with this! Boy was I wrong. "You got your lines flipped." "There isn't enough glue-the lines aren't fully stuck together, that is going to give you a world of hurt when you're putting it on the guitar." "Watch out, that joint needs to be perfect or it is all you'll ever see." The warnings came in alarmingly quick succession after I took over the helm. After a while I wanted to throw that benign looking piece of plastic on the floor with moderate force and walk away. After quite a bit longer than I feel appropriate, I finished installing the Teflon around the lines. Then I had to glue those to the strip of ivoroid binding. Then I had to route a space in the side and, along with the purfling I made for the top and back, glue it to the edges.

Before all of that though, I had to figure out how to mire the joints around the end piece of ivoroid because on my dad's old Martin 0-45 that I was using as a template had angled joints on each side of the piece. How did they do that? I had to inlay the piece with the attached lines and Teflon before I cut the groove for the binding the binding so I couldn't do it all together, which would have made the task easier. After maybe 3 more hours than it typically takes to install an end piece, I finally got the joints mitred how I wanted, and fit the edge of my binding/purfling combo snuggly into them.  Now I fully understand why my dad has a ton of orders for a 45 and they go untouched or, if the customer is pushy, the bodies sit on the highest shelf where they go forgotten, or probably more like ignored.

1922 Martin 0-45. "Make yours look like that."

Joints are the worst

To take a break from the ridiculously tedious work I had been doing we hosted a Fourth of July party at my dad's house. Our friends Marci and Andy, who have stood as pillars of the community of Rugby for several years now, were the instigators of the shindig, and they invited everyone they knew to come watch a fireworks display shot off on the top of the hill across from the house. They surmised that the folks who couldn't get out of their house to attend the party could still see the show from their porch or window. They were probably right as I watched them open their trunk to $1300 worth of Tennessee fireworks. Next to the low riding car our friend Mac was firing up his patented Jimmy Buffet Margarita Machine....

There are a lot of parties at my dad's house, but this one was really special to me. There weren't droves of people I didn't know giving me 'why are you here' looks when I am walking by without an instrument in my hand. The attendees were friends I see separately all the time when I am out running or down at the store. I wave to Sarah as she passes by to carry the mail, and Howard as he mows Evelyn's lawn across the street. I greet my great Uncle Rex as I go pick raspberries at my Granny's house. I haven't seen everyone collectively in years though. It seemed like all of Rugby came out to celebrate with us. It was heartwarming and so exciting to me to see so many folks from my childhood and to see that their lives had progressed happily, so many introducing me to their growing families and grandchildren.

A gaggle of kids ran past me playing a game I didn't recognize. "Do you remember when that was us?" my cousin Lauren asked me. Boy do I. I remember we would gather a big group of kids, seeking out the ones standing bored by their parents sides, and play hide and seek tag, do gymnastics in the grass, one-upping each other until we couldn't. We would sometimes sneak over to the big old barn next door after telling stories of it being haunted. Occasionally, depending on the season and which party, some friends and I would take a sheet out to the hayfield and smush some of the tall grass down so we felt secluded (even though we were still mere feet from people sitting in circles playing music) and just stare up at the stars. "Look! That star is moving!" my friend Taylor said. "Well it's an airplane," I countered. "No, it's a star and it is really moving!" "Oh" "I was just messing with you, we learned in psychology about conforming and because I told you that star is moving you legitimately think it is." "But it is!" I insisted. I am not sure why I remember that conversation so vividly, but many nights when the sky is Rugby so bright I can see the Milky Way I think of that time he said that. And I think I can see a moving star. Fine, psychology, you win. I miss the days of feeling like we were part of an exclusive club, nobody could touch us and we were just in our own bubble of friendship, having more fun than anyone at the real party.

It is interesting to think of time passing, considering everyone there at that party. I went from feeling too young to hang out with the cook kids, to being the cool kids, to being too cool for anything but hiding in my room, to joining the party and hanging out with the adults. Maybe someday I will be able to watch my kids progress the same way. I hope so.

It wouldn't be a Wayne Henderson party without guitars...

A Henderson in Spain

So fair warning, this one isn't going to be about guitars. Or my Granny. Or my dad. I am going to tell you about my adventure to Spain because I figure if you read the last post you might be curious as to how my time out of the shop went. The only thing though is that the guitar plays a role perhaps equivalent to the Apothecary who sold Romeo his poison in Romeo and Juliet. He was quite pivotal in the grand scheme of things but really he only had a few lines.

I stuffed my Apothecary in the overhead bin and off across the Atlantic we took. After lugging him in his bulky black case through three airports, onto two planes, and into a taxi, we arrived in Costa Adeje, a small beach town to the south of the Canarian island of Tenerife. After instructing the driver, in the limited Spanish I retained from four years in high school, to drop us at a hotel nearby my friend's apartment (lucky for me, hotel is the same), we were left on the side of a busy one way street packed on each side with people dressed in beachwear ambling by on scooters, bright hotels, shops filled with nicknacks, and restaurants boasting their offerings on huge multilingual menus accompanied by pictures. After taking in the view I wasn't quite sure what I had gotten us into.

Sunset from our first night in Tenerife
A quick traveling tip: if you stay awake for the 30 hours it takes to travel to a new place and wait to sleep until it is appropriate where you are you'll go to bed and sleep for 12 hours and wake up with no jet lag. Maybe that is just something I do, and being exhausted isn't the most fun, but it has worked for me so far! I mean, I couldn't tell you what we did that first night in town. I know we found the beach (not too difficult at 100 meters from our front door) and a beautiful promenade showcasing the sun descending over the water where we passed more never-ending restaurants selling the same food (I assume it was the same, evidenced by the signs out front with the same stock photo of a steak, a wood fired pizza, and a shrimp cocktail) each place differentiating themselves by only slightly different decor and name. Little Italy was adjacent to Bob's American Grill which sat next to The Fun Pub. After working on the other side of the cruise ship/tourism industry for several seasons in Alaska, such artificial looking storefront-type places and people heartily peddling boat excursions tend to give me hives. I was sure though that if we made a little extra effort we would be able to find the behind-the-scenes real experience of Tenerife.

Our first full day on the island we decided to take a hike. The closest mountain I found from perusing Google Earth sat about four miles east adjacent to a town called Los Cristianos. We decided to walk there instead of finding a cab because I didn't want to whiz past an experience were there one to be had along the way. We hoped that we could find something suitable for breakfast on the walk that wasn't the "Traditional English Breakfast" pictured in each restaurant we passed. For some reason, the times I have traveled to Europe previously I made a habit of eating croissants for breakfast. I don't eat them often at home, but if they are around when I am exploring somewhere new I will go for it. Croissants are ridiculously filling for how small and airy they are (I assume it's all that butter, but let's not think about it) not to mention delicious (again, that butter). Lucky for me there were  bins of freshly baked bread and pastries offered in almost every HiperDino, which at first we thought were sketchy gas stations on just about every corner, but most turned out to be really nice grocery stores.

After walking through the bustling marina of Los Cristianos and past more tourist attractions, restaurants, and beach clubs, we arrived at the base of Montaña de Guaza where its tall rocky cliffs jutted into the sapphire colored ocean. We found a trail leading up the side and set out to explore the quiet, unpopulated mountainside. Because the island was formed by volcanic activity, the terrain changed quite dramatically whereas our Blue Ridge mountains, which were formed by glaciers and plate movement are a bit more calm and rolling.When we arrived at the top of the first bald we were surprised by the dusty arid terrain, where the rocks clinked under our feet, a sound similar to champagne glasses following a toast. Having expected a more dense sound, I bent down to examine a rock and noticed it was pocked with holes throughout its surface like a sponge. I think it was the first time I saw pumice in its natural habitat, not resting on a shelf of someone's shower waiting to scrub the excess skin from their feet. I was also amazed to see evidence of abandoned towns dotting the landscape. The area had been terraced and landscaped with rows of rock walls while an old irrigation system ran along our path toward some dilapidated buildings. After exploring the mountainside a while longer and being careful to steer clear of the huge outcropping of cacti near our path we decided to head back toward the ocean. On our walk back down the mountain we stopped and sampled the local San Miguel beer that was offered at every beach front restaurant. I am not the hugest fan of beer (don't tell anyone in Asheville or I will get kicked out) but after walking eight or so miles under a hot sun, that one euro pint of beer was one of the most refreshing beverages I have ever had. 

So we rented a car. I thought because the island is so large and seeing the non tourist parts would 
require transportation other than our feet and motor coaches that it would be a good idea. Boy was I wrong. I mean, not really, but it was not the cake walk I had expected. They drive on the right side of the road so I figured we would be fine. Also, I feel like I can understand enough Spanish to read road signs but it turns out that was just not enough. Turns out Google does not work as well on an island off the coast of Africa as it does buzzing around a city in the US because our GPS would often give us a specific direction while the screen depicted a different instruction. We spent a good deal of time practicing U-turns on busy Spanish highways and making multiple circles on the map. The other thing that Google didn't really mention before we set off on an adventure into the hills away from the main tourist drag that the majority of the streets are single lane but two-way and are incredibly steep.

We stopped to have lunch at a place called Otelo, which boasted the best Canarian style fried chicken on the island, but in order to get there we had to fight our way up the steepest hill I think our little car has ever tried to ascend. (That is until later) Once there though, the view was incredibly beautiful, nestled into a craggy mountainside overlooking Costa Adeje and the ocean beyond. As promised, the chicken was delicious. It was served with the traditional dish of wrinkled potatoes which are salty boiled potatoes which were originally cooked with sea water. After our big lunch we thought we were strong enough to go search for some wine as we had heard there were great wineries on Tenerife. 

View from our lunch spot on the deck of Otelo

We entered the address for a winery in our GPS and set off on more turn-arounds and multiple trips around the roundabouts. We eventually kind of got there, but not before several wrong turns and missing one winery by so far that we arrived after they closed so we had to go on to the next one. I thought choosing the straightest path that Google offered on the GPS instead of her suggested route riddle with switchbacks would be a good idea for us. Boy was I wrong. After thirty minutes of clutching the armrests with white knuckled hands and sitting tipped back in my seat in the manner of a dentists chair, we slowly made our way up the single lane road through a town called La Escalona, each if its roads becoming narrower and more steep the higher we ascended. It is the second to last town on the way toward Mount Teide, the 10,000ft high volcano by which Tenerife was created. I was just waiting for a huge motor coach filled with tourists to come barreling down the road ahead of us and knock us into oblivion as had almost happened earlier, but on a regular mostly flat road. As we inched higher and higher in our poor little Volkswagen Up! I wondered who in the world lived in this town and what in the heck did they do there? 

We finally made it up to the winery, but it took a while for my blood pressure to normalize after the ride. We looked back from where we came and the clouds obscured our view of the ocean. Walking quietly with Nick through the evenly spaced rows of grape vines I have never felt to insignificant. We stood on the edge of a field on the side of a mountain on an island in the middle of the ocean. The feeling reminded me of an exercise my seventh grade teacher had us practice once. She told us to imagine ourselves sitting in our chairs. Consider where they were in this room. Where the room was in the school. The school in the town. The town in the state. The state in the country. The country in the world. The world in the universe. It was a humbling practice to think of yourself as such a small aspect of everything. It is always nice to have a reminder that we are part of something so big it is almost impossible to fathom. I am thankful for to have had this experience and enjoyed taking the time to really appreciate it.

At the bodega we were led into a tiny room set up with glasses and a bar on top of which stood gleaming bottles. No one else was there so we chatted with Frank, our pourer, and sampled the majority of the wines offered at the winery. They have a surprisingly wide distribution, producing thousands of bottles per year. Following the tasting and purchases of a few bottles, Frank scribbled a map on a Bodega Reverón napkin to a delicatessen in Los Cristianos which he said was his favorite spot for food on the island. A deli? Really? We promised to look it up when we got back to civilization. After winding back down the mountain, turns out Google was right, the two-lane road with switchbacks (that ended up making the mountain seem way less steep) was a much safer and easier choice, we set out to find the deli. After a long while of searching where my phone claimed the store was, we finally found it on a little side road a block from the address. (Frank's map consisted of a square, two straight lines and a wobbly arrow.) We decided to try a sampler of freshly cut ham that and a few slices of cheeses that had been made on the island. I like fancy food, but I will say that my favorite dinner while we were on vacation was the cutting board spread of ham, cheese, baguette and bowls of mojo, my new favorite traditional Canarian dipping sauce, while sitting on our little terrace drinking the rosé we got from that mountain. 

After several days of extra walking we managed to explore bits of the island that were off the beaten path and we ended up finding some incredible adventures along the way. I am so thankful to my new friend Tommy for his hospitality and for waiting three years for one of my guitars. I am also thankful that my job allows me to meet so many great people and explore and learn in so many more ways than just building guitars. 

Me with my new friend Tommy as we were leaving and he was arriving home. 
Now it is back to reality. This coming weekend is my dad's annual music festival at Grayson Highlands State Park. Please stop by and see me (and some awesome bands and a guitar competition) if you can! All proceeds from the festival go to scholarships for kids hoping to learn to play. 

My favorite beach, Playa Del Duque
On a walk

The waves were pretty serious

Playa de Güímar


Sunset from Costa Adeje

Black sand beach near La Caleta

My favorite town, La Caleta

La Caleta

La Caleta and Costa Adeje in the distance

Paella in Madrid

Scrapes and Scratches

Can't wait to finish up this tenor uke! 
One thing about working half the time in Rubgy is that there is another part of my time spent at home in Asheville typically performing the less physically demanding aspects of my job. I do have a little sander and I do still occasionally cut myself or file my fingernails when I am doing inlay work but generally I focus on the business side rather than the actual guitar and ukulele making. The thing I like about this set up is that it leaves room to wear open toed shoes, put on a dress, primp, and paint my nails. Though sometimes the nail polish is also functional. Not in the way that I make up when my dad protests as he sees it and I tell him that it makes my fingers easier to see so I keep them out of the table saw, which he appreciates, but to camouflage black super glue and stubborn stain stuck underneath. In the case of this week it is covering a now very sensitive flat spot made by the sander. When I look at it though I don't see pain or frustration, but I do see a beautiful ukulele that I thought needed a straighter neck angle so I sat the whole thing on the sander. Just like the time I sanded almost through the top of one fingernail when I let a neck slip as I shaped its heel, I will probably think twice before sitting my ukulele on the coarse grit sander.

I get an odd pleasure from bringing home little scrapes and scratches on my body. I typically walk in my door with marks on my arms from carrying wood planks around, or a sanded fingernail or two that needs evening up with clippers, or this particular time, a thick scab on by leg from when I moved a pattern and a hefty plank of maple I hadn't noticed leaning agains it tipped in my direction and accosted my shin bone. These minor afflictions to my body serve as evidence that I have done done something useful with my time and I like that.

Of course, I hope never to procure a lasting injury any more serious than the tiny scar on my right middle finger from when it came into the line of fire of my hand powered, millimeter-wide jeweler's saw blade. I do make absolutely sure to keep my hands free from direct contact with any motorized saws. I wish I could still ask my dad to make the cuts I need on the table saw or slice me a set from a large board of walnut with the re-saw, but I am proud that I can now do it myself. I do however respect the saws and quite literally each time before I turn any of them on I take a minute to be thankful for the use of my fingers and consider what would happen if one or two got tangled up in the blade. Before I push that green button to bring the machine roaring to life I find the orange safety handle gathering dust on the shelf, as I am the only who uses it, to ensure that my hands are always far from the moving blade. I also find it important to consider where my hands will be in correlation to the blade as I push the wood through. Anyway that is just a side rant. My point is simply to respect the machinery and be careful of the big saws!

Now that I have been working on my own without feeling the need to ask my dad to help with the big saw cuts it really makes me happy to be able to be helpful to him for a change. He gives so much of his time so freely. Not just to me, but he stops what he is doing and provides his full attention any time a visitor stops in or when the phone rings, which it does almost constantly throughout the day. For some reason or another, he has agreed to make ten guitars before his festival next month. Some for payment to the bands coming to play, one for a raffle to be held on the day of the festival and some for folks traveling from far distances that, last winter when the task wasn't imminent, he agreed to finish in time for their visit to Rugby.

My dad always says that he asks me to do his inlay work because he has done it long enough that he is tired of it and I am still young and eager so he asks me. I am pretty sure, though, that his least favorite part of the job is finish work. The way we finish our guitars is to spray seven or eight layers of catalyzed varnish onto the bodies and necks and sand them flat between each coat. The work is time consuming, dusty, loud, and smelly so I can understand why he'd prefer not to have to do it. Lucky for him, on top of the inlay I feel privileged to get to cut for his instruments, I don't mind finish work and was more than happy to be asked to help get these guitars done in time. I just tied on my purple apron, strapped on my respirator mask, slipped on my ear protection and got to it. Not the most glamorous job but I do have pink filters on my mask.

So many guitars to finish, so little time! 
After finishing my own guitar that I am delivering to the Canary Islands later today, I sprayed and sanded all of the finish on three of his guitars and added layers to the ones he had sprayed. It feels really nice to feel useful and to be able to give him something after so many years of only being able to take. We also spent the majority of last week in the shop alone. Few visitors, other than Tuesdays, no gigs to go play, just time to focus on a common goal and be able to have that elusive relationship that I have wished for for years, where my presence is needed rather than tolerated. It isn't just that I want him to give me something but that I get to give too. So perhaps that is why those little nicks and scrapes are important to me. There is evidence that I hung out with my dad and we both enjoyed it.

# 36, Black walnut
I mentioned going to Spain later today. As the culmination of my time at home my husband and I are headed out to the Canary Islands to deliver the Black walnut OM-28 I just finished. I am not sure why, but the ones that go the farthest are the ones that sound the best. I wish I could keep this one to show what a local wood guitar can sound like because the wood that makes up this guitar absolutely couldn't wait to become a musical instrument. It might also have something to do with the fact that I did this one completely on my own, no checking, no trading inlay for a neck set, no direction other than my own judgement and my own decisions. I do want to share that as I (carefully) ran the neck through the table saw to cut the dovetail, never has one come out so cleanly that it fit into the body exactly how I wanted it to. Other than when I cut the dovetail for Doc's guitar, for which I had help, I have never achieved such a feat. I typically have to measure, rasp, sand, whittle, and measure some more to get the joint to fit how it is supposed to. Anyway I just wanted you to know that because it felt like a week where I saw progress, which I feel is something to stop and appreciate. Like when you practice a new skill and it is horribly difficult for the first long while and you don't see much change and it doesn't feel like anything is happening but one day you can just do it? That is what this felt like. I know it won't be a regular occurrence, but I am so thankful it happened this time.

So off we go to Spain! I will see you in a week and can't wait to tell you about our trip. My nails are painted (not just to cover up that flat spot), the ugly dark scab has finally detached itself from my shin so I am ready to wear dresses. I can't wait to get back into the shop and make more evidence that I have a job I absolutely love, but for now, vacation.

It's always good to make sure you have a good tester around.

The General Store

Ok, so I had no idea it had been so long since I had written you a story. None at all. I thought I had missed maybe 2 or 3, but not this long. I apologize for that and will do my best to keep up better. It is a busy time when what feels like one month is actually three. Woops.

I am on a roll. My guitar body is glued together, I am halfway through securing binding onto its sides. While I pull strips of tape from the industrial dispenser, nicking my knuckles on its angry serrated edge in the process, I am planning what I need to do next. Around 11:45am, my dad walks into the shop and says, "I want some breakfast. Want to go to Sarah's?" I check the time and while I have been working for several hours, my breakfast having been consumed at breakfast time, I say yes. I stop what I am working on and go.

I used to say no thanks when my dad asked me to accompany him to get breakfast at his favorite local general store because I didn't want to eat at that odd time between breakfast and lunch. I now understand he goes for so much more than just breakfast. Fox Creek Trading Post has been in operation for generations and one of the things I love about it is that, like Rugby itself, not much has changed. The shelves lining the walls that reach all the way to the ceiling are still piled with goods, clothing, and toys. I found a doll dressed as a nun, some dusty cigar boxes on a top shelf and a sign advertising shoe polish among the dishes, aprons and canned goods lining the dining area in the back of the store. Sarah Teitelbaum runs the old store and while she isn't originally from here, which is typically comparable to sporting a scarlet A in the eyes of locals, she has made herself a spot in the history of this tiny pocket of VA. It doesn't hurt that she's "good lookin'" (my dad says) and that she treats everyone who comes through her door as though they are the most important person in the county, but she has created a gathering place where folks can congregate and hear the scuttlebutt. I love that like generations before us, we still crave that sense of community and we are still fiercely protective of it.

Cigar boxes on the shelves of Fox Creek Trading Post
I remember when I was young Vivian Osborne ran the local store. My Great Uncle Cone, a man who had one of the most wrinkled faces I had ever seen, would sit quietly by the window closest to the wood stove and smoke most of the day away. He and his cronies would gather in the back of the store every morning for coffee and then the guys with jobs would leave only to return as soon as they were finished for a game of Rook or checkers. "My dad used to love to come in here. Every day after he got the farming and drove the school bus, he would come in here and play cards with his friends," my dad told me once. I remember being somewhat frightened of the posse of old men, thinking that their dealings were secret and probably important so I best keep my distance.

Old and new.
When my dad and I walked in to Vivian's, he would ceremoniously present me with one dollar to spend in the store. While he opened his wallet he would always tell me how he had never seen a dollar at my age and then would proceed to point out all the things he could have purchased with a dime. I always wanted a scratch off lottery ticket and my dad would make a big show of saying I was too young and there was no way Vivian would sell me one. While my dad chatted with his neighbors, I would tentatively approach the counter, which obscured my view of what was hidden behind it as it rose to exactly my eye level. The scratched laminated pad sitting atop the counter advertising the tobacco products offered, yellowed with age, curled up at the edges closes to me. Vivian would wait patiently for me to make ask her for a lottery ticket. Eventually I would and she would allow me to choose which one I wanted, usually the most colorful one. I would walk away ecstatic, as though I had gotten away with something, though in hindsight, she probably had a standing arrangement with my dad. He would give me a penny to scratch with, but I never used it, opting for my fingernail instead. It was so much more satisfying, scratching that shiny later away to reveal the prize underneath.

When my dad was young Vivian's husband Van Osborne ran the store. He said it was just the same as when I was growing up, the old men sitting around playing checkers and cards, discussing things like price you could get for tobacco and how high the price for chicken feed had risen. Last night when my dad and I sat by ourselves in his shop I asked him what he remembered about the store when he was  young. He said, "When I was young you couldn't go anywhere else but the store because driving to town was reserved for special occasions. You could get whatever you needed there. People would even come in and ask for haircuts. Van would gesture to the barber chair he had sitting in the back room and he would cut their hair. Once a man named Brack Davis, probably some kin to us, walked in and pointed to his tooth. Didn't say anything, not that I heard anyway. Van gestured to the barber chair and Brack walked over and sat down. Van took a pair of pliers and yanked that tooth out! You never saw so much blood. Brack spit a few times into the coal bucket, said thank you to Van, settled up, and left. That was when that store was in the building where my old shop used to be. Another thing folks used to do was have shooting matches. They would get a circle of cardboard and draw lines facing out like spokes on a wheel and attach it to the wall with a nail. Everyone would write their names on the wheel and then someone would spin it so fast the names would blur. Then someone would shoot at the spinning wheel and whoever's name it hit got the pot. Uncle Cone told me that during wartime when there weren't any bullets to shoot and the guys still wanted to play that game, they would do it with a knife. There's a big ol' hole where the knife blade would hit the wall. It is still there in the wall of my old shop."

Sarah needed a table for her coffee pot,
my dad went home and made her one
We pass a few other little stores on the way out to Sarah's. I think the reason for that is because she not only appreciates that sense of community, she builds and nurtures it. She doesn't mind that a fellow with nothing better to do comes in every morning and sits by the counter all day buying nothing but coffee. She is happy to oblige all of our requests from breakfast at noon to a sandwich on her menu that, without prompting, she always remembers exactly how I like it. Guys come in on their lunch break and she offers them the chicken and dumplings she just made from scratch, the barbecue she smokes herself, or a fresh sandwich.

When I asked Sarah about running that store she said, "I love that this store has stood here and served this community for so many generations. Jerry, the guy who drives the school bus came in recently and told me that he bought his first suit in this store with his grandfather in 1945. The other day I found a dusty old ledger on one of the top shelves and I found where he had bought that suit for $15. Now his grandkids come in here. How many generations is that? 6? I think that is just great." It is obvious she isn't in this for profit, though I'm sure she must make some given how many folks she serves every day. She puts thought and love into her cooking and provides excellent service. Those are two things that are greatly lacking around here now that our grandmother's have passed on. Now if you own a freezer and a deep fryer, you're in business. I think most everyone can see how hard she works to serve the community before she serves herself and thats a big reason why, in the time of high mobility, we prefer to drive a bit farther to see her and her helper Judy, her daughter Allyson as well as her parents who live down the street from the store. I hope that one day I will be able to bring my kids in there and present them with some money while telling them what I could buy with the dollar my dad used to give me. It was always worth so much more than the monetary value.

The general loafers.


Last week my fingers hurt. For several days, the pads on my thumbs, index, and middle fingers ached where I had pushed abalone pieces through a tiny table saw, then rubbed the side of each piece on 120 grit sandpaper in order to fit them into channels in the top, back, and sides of a guitar. After a while of fitting, breaking, and gluing the pieces I started to think nobody needs a 45 style guitar. I mean really.

A few months ago I agreed to help my dad with a copy of a Martin D-45 so I could learn how to do the extra pearl work involved in order to make them myself. The way Martin describes their models is with a number following the size (D for dreadnought, 0, 00, 000) corresponding roughly to the amount of ornamentation involved in each model. For example, a 17 has no binding, 18 has simple wood lines next to the binding, 28 has wooden herringbone purfling next to the binding. A 41 style guitar has abalone shell set into a channel winding around the top and in a ring around the sound hole of a guitar. A 42 has that same abalone as a 41 as well as a line surrounding the fingerboard where it overlaps on the top of the guitar. A 45 style guitar has the 42 style top as well as abalone around the back, sides, along the end piece, and where the neck joins the body. And in this case, my dad added two stripes along the backstripe as well. If you want to read more about my experience with binding, you can here

My tiny table saw.
To make this guitar a bit more special than his typical 45, my dad asked me to use real pieces of abalone, not Abalam, the long sheets of veneer layered together which are much easier to work with and also easier to come by. So for hours I sat at the tiny table saw and ran countless abalone pieces through, slicing off pieces a couple of millimeters wide. I made use of the 120 grit sticky-back sandpaper I bought a while back and stuck a piece on a stool next to me. I scrubbed the pieces across the paper, sanding the bottom edge off of each piece so it would more easily fit into the channel I had created by removing the teflon strip that was initially glued next to the binding.

The sides were the most challenging channels to fit abalone into as, if you haven't done the math, the abalone strips are solid and straight, while the side of a guitar is a curved surface. I broke the pieces every eighth inch or so, and then glued the broken piece into place with superglue, then repeated the breaking and gluing as I wound around the guitar. Along with perfect mitre joints where the pearl meets an edge, there are also special joints where the end piece meets the sides. Each piece of abalone is filed into a point then notched into the abalone running along the side. Doesn't sound all that difficult, eh? Well you're wrong. It took a while to make sure the angles of my notches and the pieces they fit into matched exactly to there was no space between the joints.

Look close, I am kind of proud of those joints.

Now, while I was feeling sorry for the state of my fingers, I asked my dad what he remembered about making his first 45 style guitar. It is his number 7, the one he was so proud of and eventually sold to moonshiners for $500 and now has a bullet hole in its back. He told me that he looked at a songbook he borrowed from one of my uncle Max's  coworkers featuring photographs of Red Smiley and Don Reno and Red's D-45.

The fellow who lent my dad the songbook was named Jim Poe. He bought the first 42 my dad made, his #5 guitar, for $50. At that time my dad hadn't seen a 42 or 45 in person, but his cousin claimed the pearl was surrounded on both sides with gold. Thinking back, my dad said he must have thought that because the lacquer had stained the light colored wood pieces that line the abalone making it appear gold with time. In any event, my dad ordered 1 mm thick brass strips from a wood supply company to glue next to the abalone. When it arrived in the mail he realized it was way too thick. He held a grinder between his knees and attempted to grind the brass down to the right thickness, significantly burning his fingers in the process. That guitar it still around, with brass lines flanking its abalone.

At the Galax fiddler's convention shortly after my dad finished that guitar he was able to see a real D-45. He saw George Gruhn walking through the park with it slung over his shoulder and my dad chased him down to look at it. "I thought it was gold around the abalone!" My dad exclaimed. "No, I think that's wo-od." George answered in his signature lilt. Now that he saw one in person, he felt more equipped to make a D-45 of his own.

During a trip to Ray's Hardware in Jefferson, NC my dad discovered a box full of abalone shells. Ray had been trying to sell them for ashtrays, but no one seemed especially interested in them. He sold several to my dad for almost nothing. Daddy then cut the shells into smaller pieces with a hacksaw, then used a file to shape the pieces into flat squares. From there he filed them to the shapes he desired. He then used his pocket knife to whittle the channel for the lines and pearl to fit into the guitar. He glued one set of wooden lines, then glued the pearl in and filed it to fit, then glued the second set of lines. Now we glue everything at once, making space for the pearl with a strip of teflon. He cut his initials out of the extra abalone and whittled a space for it into the headstock veneer. He told me that if you look closely you can see where the pieces are broken because he didn't have a jeweler's saw, or any way to cut the spaces from the middle of a design so everything was cut and pieced together. I looked though, I honestly can't see breaks in that D....

You can more easily see the notches in the abalone of #7.

There's a reason that people flock to Wayne Henderson as being a master at what he does and it has nothing to do with how generous, kind, or patient he is. Those things are just perks. I think what is really incredible is what he was (and still is) able to do with what he has, because for most everyone, there is no way they could figure out how to make a D-45 with completely raw materials and a pocket knife. Especially not one that looks so similar to the factory constructed Martin, and one that sounds, to this day, better than most guitars I have ever heard. No matter how painful or difficult the task, or the number of pieces of abalone I run through the tiny table saw, I will always appreciate that my dad didn't have anyone standing behind him to fix it if he messed up. His experience will always be more difficult than whatever it is I am complaining about. I guess he didn't know it then, but his hard work made it possible for me to realize my day isn't really so bad.

My daddy with his #7 guitar, circa 1967.

No Dancing, Pt. 2

The dilapidated barn next door to my dad's house slumps into the earth, the ground in front of it scarred deep by tire tracks of semi trucks and littered with the limp carcasses of Douglas fir trees. The paint hanging from its walls is dingy and chipped, the silo is rusted, and it is used for nothing. Occasionally it houses insecticide to deter pests from interfering in the growth of the rows and rows of Christmas trees planted within the surrounding fields. I remember when it wasn't like that.

When my dad first moved into this house, Kate Tucker's house, I marveled at the proud white barn accented with red trim that had once accompanied this farmhouse. The large barn was used to milk dairy cows, its rows of gleaming stanchions spanning the length of the vast cement floor. At that time in my life, everything looked like a gymnastics apparatus, holding potential in each curve and crook to flip and tumble upon. I don't remember much from Jurassic Park 2, but I do remember a young girl lithely knocking out a bloodthirsty dinosaur by flipping around a pole hanging from the roof of a barn. "Don't you mess with any of that stuff, it is for cows," my dad would always warn after I implored him to explore the old barn with me. So, the dairy cow harness gymnastics stayed safely in my imagination and no bones or equipment was ever broken. Walking up the creaky stairs in the corner, I found myself standing in a hay loft, the chestnut floor still littered with golden straw. The huge square window once used for transferring hay to and from the ground now simply stood open, allowing the warm summer breeze to waft through.

Kate Tucker, the original owner of my dad's house and that barn, might have been the coolest lady who ever lived in Rugby. She and her husband Breece built this house in 1939 and lived here tending their dairy farm until their deaths. They were well respected and probably the wealthiest folks in the county. They worked hard, they were involved in the community, helping their neighbors when they could, and would often donate a significant portion of their money. In a time when women's roles were strictly defined, Kate defied those roles. She almost always wore pants when such a thing was almost unheard of in Rugby, she served as the postmaster for the Rugby post office for a time, and joined her husband in running their dairy farm.

But one day Kate Tucker messed up. She and her husband did not attended church services weekly as most everyone else in Rugby did. They went occasionally though, which seemed to appease most of the community members who took such things very seriously. (Probably everybody except the moonshiners.) While welcoming them when they attended, the church on the corner cast a skeptical eye towards the Tuckers, perhaps expecting they would only sporadically adhere to other church practices as well. A while back I told you that the Rugby Rescue Squad doesn't allow dancing during their gatherings and benefits and the reason is that some church leaders believe dancing is an expression of evil and leads to evil acts. Well, Kate Tucker did not heed that warning.

In that hay loft of the big and bright barn, Kate decided to have a party. She invited her friends who could play music to bring their instruments, and invited anyone who wanted to join her to come. Friends flocked from near and far, kind of along the lines of a Wayne Henderson patented post-festival party. And everyone danced. They danced into the wee hours of the evening.

When the church caught wind that Kate had hosted a barn dance, she was excommunicated from their services. Just for dancing.

Here's the part of the story where suppressing acts of love, kindness and happiness doesn't win in the end. Kate never mentioned it, but she also didn't forget how the church on the corner excluded her for holding a barn dance. Because she had no children, when she passed away, everyone in the community was interested to see where her wealth would be distributed. She bequeathed $300,000 each to three local churches, and only $10,000 to her ex church, specifically to keep up the cemetery in which she was laid next to her husband. Here's another reason I think we would have gotten along: she also loved her three large dogs enough to leave $10,000 to their continued care following her death.

I have quite a few more stories about Kate which I look forward to sharing with you. I used to worry that she haunted this old house, and when my dad would go out to his shop, when it was in a little building about a mile away, I would cower in my room, listening for sounds of a ghost. Now when I am alone here in this house, I am proud to imagine that she is here with me, watching over her house and reminding me to be a strong woman. That it is important to stand up for my beliefs, even if they might not be shared by everyone around me. Be kind, inclusive, and supportive of others.

In closing to this post, I want to apologize (as usual) for the lag time in my posts. If you read this and want to read more, please let me know that! I never know if anyone actually reads what I write so I tend to focus on other tasks (like guitar building) that I am more consistently reminded need my attention. Also, do you enjoy these old stories or would you prefer to know more about the my daily tasks as a luthier? In any event, thank you so much for reading and supporting my work. I hope you had the most amazing holiday season and wish all of you the very best for 2016!


There are so many things in my life for which I am incredibly thankful. One of those things is that my dad has bestowed upon me the knowledge and ability to make beautiful hand crafted guitars that people want so badly they are willing to wait several years for me to make them one. I can't believe that is the case, and because of that each instrument is as unique of each person ordering one. My most recent projects were no different, however, there was a bit of a setback that required me to remember how thankful I am for my dad. Even though he caused it.

A week or so ago I finished two guitars, both 000-18s, in record time. I worked on my own, made no mistakes I had to go back and fix, and didn't feel the need to ask my dad for help or review after completing difficult elements.  Not even when fitting the dovetail joint on the neck into the guitar body which is usually a challenge for me as there is no cheating that angle, no option of covering it with an artistic flourish. All in all, the guitars took 14 days, though had my dad not 'helped' they likely would have taken 12 days.

Seven coats of finish had been sprayed on each guitar body and each neck, everything had been buffed out and sported a glossy sheen. All that left to be done before stringing the guitar was frets, which in hindsight, I should have pressed into the fingerboards before I started the finishing process. The reason I didn't was because I wanted to be sure the fingerboard was at the perfect angle after all was said and done so I waited until I was ready to glue in the neck.

My dad and I work on different schedules. I get out to the shop and start working by about 7:30 am, and work until 6 or 7 in the evening. My dad comes in around noon, and works until 3 am. I walked into the shop that morning, bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready to get on the task of fretting the fingerboard. If I finished that by noon, I knew would likely get these two guitars strung up that evening. I walked over to the table where I had left the necks the night before and stood staring at the table for a few minutes. Have you ever had that feeling where you know what you are supposed to be seeing, but the view just doesn't measure up? Like the first time you see a picture of a Platypus. Something's not quite right. Sitting on the granite table was my shiny neck, cut lengthwise down the entire neck, my peghead veneer clamped to an unfinished neck blank.
Sometimes I think of my dad like Santa because occasionally, when I am having a particularly tough time with something, I will give up for the night and go to bed. When I head back out to the shop in the morning the element that had caused me stress will be sitting there finished. This is what I assumed had happened the night before, only this time I was surprised with coal instead of a present. There was a note. It read, "Sorry about your neck. I was trying to be helpful and put in your frets. The fret squeezer pushed into the truss rod [groove]." I read through it a couple of times while I processed this information and though it made me sad that I had a pretty serious setback on my hands, I was mainly concerned that my dad probably felt really bad about breaking my neck. I knew it had to have been my fault if the groove cracked inward like that. After digging the truss rod out of the old neck it turns out the groove was deeper than where the rod sat which surely caused the neck to crack when pressure from the fret squeezer was applied. Sometimes weird things just happen. One thing I have learned from my dad is that there is not much use to get mad, just start a new one. We had a new neck made in record time and I only ended up losing a day or so anyway. The two guitars turned out sounding clean and bright and looked beautiful. It always warms my heart to see my clients love what I make for them and these two guitars did not disappoint.

Vintage lettering like my dad's #52.

White oak back and sides, Carpathian spruce top

Me and Jim
Me and Emory
Finally, I want to take a little side bar and share how thankful I am for all of the teachers I have had in my life. Well, most anyway. The best part is that they have done so much more than teach me their respective subjects, they have taught me lessons of life in general and, indirectly, how to successfully operate a small business. I remember thinking in math class in high school, as I sat in those small salmon colored desks with the table attached for right handed people thinking, "I am never going to need this information right here, let's get to art class." But every time I fit a neck, cut fret grooves, or glue and shave braces I think of my high school math teachers Laura Roarke and Beth Derringer. They championed for me to succeed in math even though I despised most of it and for their unwavering encouragement I am so thankful. I guess my point with this last thought is that while you might not be able to see it while you're in it, be thankful for the people who teach you things, even if they break your guitar neck and make you start over. There's always a positive lesson in there somewhere.

No Dancing, Pt 1

Do you like to dance? I do, sometimes. Every now and again the mood strikes me and I just gotta dance. The right song pops up on my ipod when I am alone in the shop and after I secure the piece of binding I am currently gluing to a guitar body I will go to town, simply enjoying the music and expressing my happiness. Happiness that I am here, doing a job I love, and that I am getting to make something neat that someone will cherish when it is finished. Then my dad walks in and I pretend I was just taking an innocent walk around the workbench I never use...Where was that tape we use for holding binding as it dries? I thought I had seen a new roll sitting on this corner over here...

When I was young, I read everything. Anything I could see that had a word on it was fair game. I would sound the words out in my head and proudly announce them to anyone near enough to listen. One of the first signs I distinctly recall reading was hanging in the Rugby Rescue Squad building. When the community would have a gathering, they would drive all of the emergency vehicles out of their garage bays and set up rows of tables in their place. The ladies cooked all day and brought trays of food: chicken and dumplings, barbecued pork, bowls piled with green beans and collard greens plucked from their gardens that morning and simmered in pork fat all day. Banana pudding, strawberry layer cakes, peach pies with flaky buttery crusts. A murphy bed style stage covered in brown astroturf-type carpeting was pulled down and microphones set upon it. My dad and other local musicians played music during the festivities. Hanging just to the right of the stage was a handwritten sign, always hanging slightly askew, that proclaimed "No Dancing". 

I remember asking my dad why no one was permitted to dance along with the music, as I was pretty much an expert flat-footer at the age of 6 and couldn't wait to show off my amazing moves. Most especially the one I had just learned where I would bend my knee and hold my foot out behind me and frantically twirl it in a circle in hopes the rotations were in time to the beat. When you're six years old and dancing in front of a crowd of adults, that's the money move right there. After some research, YouTube has just informed me that the move is called the Haywheeler. I have attached a simplified version I found if you want to practice it yourself. Make sure to move knee-height valuables and check the whereabouts of your kids and pets first. 

My dad told me that dancing wasn't allowed because the local religious leaders said dancing was a sin and that it was an expression of the devil. I remember thinking that seemed a bit farfetched to me as I enjoyed dancing to express happiness and it didn't seem to hurt anyone, but I was petrified to upset anyone or get in trouble, so abided by the rule. I found subtle ways to dance around the injunction a bit though (see what I did there?), bouncing on the seat of my aluminum folding chair while my dad played his guitar from the stage, and always adding extra pep to my steps as I circled around the cake walk. 

I feel like the Dixie Chicks said it best, because Some days you gotta dance/Live it up when you get the chance/'Cause when the world doesn't make no sense/And you're feeling just a little too tense/Gotta loosen up those chains and dance!

Next time I will tell you about how a prominent member of the community, Kate Tucker, defied the No Dancing rule, and got the last laugh. 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle!

I have sort of an odd confession: I really, really like tin foil. I don't use it that often because I read somewhere that using aluminum with food products can give you Alzheimers, but on those occasions I feel it is necessary, I excitedly pull out the box. I always try to keep the sheet as smooth as possible when pulling it from the roll. I carefully slice it along the box's serrated edge, ideally without snagging the sheet and causing a wrinkle. I think there is something incredibly clean and fresh about a newly unrolled piece of tin foil that I simply can't get over. Maybe though, my love for new tin foil stems from memories of my youth. Staying with Granny, I was rarely allowed to pull a fresh length of foil from the roll and rather I was asked to take the crumpled piece waiting primly on the oak buffet to be reused.

My Granny saved everything for reuse. And, really, I mean everything. Aluminum can tops, wrapping paper, pickle jars, and the pickle juice...and always tin foil. I remember trying to press the wrinkles out of the foil with my fingers, and after what felt like hours of work, it still never flattened to the consistency of that fresh piece. She would also cut up my dad's glue stained jeans and make pot holders from them, make shirts from cloth feed bags, and quilts from old shirts and threadbare pillowcases.

While I begrudged reusing such products, especially the tin foil, I am thankful to Granny for showing me to better appreciate the seemingly insignificant items we apathetically consume each day. Actions such as hers help in turn to reduce waste which I have now learned, after paying a lot of money for an environmental law and policy degree, is exceptionally important to the health of our environment. I am also thankful that her example has taught me that just because we may have a new roll of tin foil, it is not necessary to use it if you have a perfectly good piece that still does the job.

The other day someone brought me a Red spruce top that was too small for large body guitars, and after sanding it down, I saw that its color wasn't perfectly uniform across the surface. Some folks might see these characteristics as flaws, but I don't. This top is special in its own right, and because a three hundred year old tree was cut to produce this set of wood, I feel that it deserves to be appreciated and used. The grain within the wood is tight and the board is stiff, which my dad taught me are ideal characteristics for a top that will produce great sound.

I decided that a perfect use for this set of top wood would be for a Nick Lucas guitar because its significant sunburst will cover the color differences on the edges of the top. I have paired the top with an incredibly flamed set of maple back and sides, who's curl will be amplified by the stain that will be sprayed on it. I can't wait to finish this instrument, and just wanted to tell you how special the wood in it is to me. I like to think my Granny would be proud that I appreciate and use every set of wood I have and am able to see potential and beauty in something that perhaps not everyone would.

 Don't overlook something just because it isn't perfect. Sometimes you can still make something amazing with it.

Granny's Garden

As summer is winding down here in the North Carolina mountains I can't help but think of the vast harvest of my Granny's garden. When I was young, as my dad pulled the car down into her drive, I would typically see my Granny bent over, tending to a vine filled with vegetables. That memory brings the nostalgia flooding in. Picking late summer tomatoes, finding the perfect squash, and pulling the dry husk from a cob crowded with golden corn kernels is only a snippet of what I remember from those times spent in the patch of tilled earth lining the long drive in front of her house.

I wish I had appreciated it more then, and had known better than take it for granted, but Granny worked for all of the food she provided for me. When I requested a snack at her house I wasn't offered a shiny, crinkly bag of chips as I would have preferred, but instead I ate crisp leaves of lettuce resting in a bit of vinegar, bumpy cucumbers sliced into spears that she sprinkled with salt, and juicy tomatoes to accompany buttery biscuits. I would give almost anything to be able to sit on the porch right now with a plate of salted cucumbers and look up to see my Granny in her garden.

Granny Ollie
My dad told me a story once about Granny Ollie (Granny's mom) in her garden. He said she had patience that most everyone else lacked and was able to keep moles out of her garden when most neighbors were not able to do so. Catching moles digging in the garden is a feat as if you walk within ten feet of them they will feel the vibrations of the ground and will immediately stop digging and will hide. No mole was going to outsmart Granny Ollie though. She would stand out in the garden and wait until one dug nearby. Once she used this practice in my Granny's garden. She was likely in her seventies, perhaps even early eighties, at the time she came to help with the moles but she still stood as motionless as ever, with the Henderson family's 16 gauge single barrel shotgun poised for action. After standing silently for several hours, BANG! off went the shotgun, shooting a cloud of dust about ten feet high, completely engulfing Granny Ollie. When the dust cleared, there was a foot wide hole in the soil directly between her feet that contained what was left of the mole. She gathered the pieces to show the other moles they had better watch out. Sometimes I don't understand my family, as it seems their main concern is eliminating the pest rather than considering they might hit something important. Like that time my dad saw a mouse jump into the grill of his car and his reaction was to shoot at his car with ratshot. "I got him though!" was his response when I asked him to repeat the part where he shot a gun toward his own car.

If I had to guess, my dad's three favorite things to eat are watermelon, biscuits and gravy, and a ripe tomato minutes from being picked from the vine. When he was growing up he said his favorite time was late summer when the tomatoes were still abundant and the pumpkins were ready for picking. Granny would roast the pumpkin, scoop out the inside, and whip it to the consistency of mashed potatoes. She would serve the pumpkin with freshly baked biscuits and sliced tomatoes. My dad said that was one of his favorite meals. Growing up I don't recall there being a day in summer and early fall when a bowl of sliced tomatoes didn't rest in the center of the round oak dinner table, covered with a scrap of cloth between mealtimes.

It isn't just the memories of delicious food from Granny's garden that I am thankful for. Through that garden I was taught to appreciate the importance of where my food comes from and the hard work that is put behind cultivating it. Granny would hand me a bunch green beans and I would sit on the porch swing snapping the ends from each bean and dropping them into a bowl of cool water to be boiled for Sunday dinner. She taught me to pull the dry husks from golden cobs of corn, taking extra care to remove all the silk from between the kernels. I learned to step carefully over seedlings and that spreading ash from the wood stove over potatoes would keep bugs from eating them. I like to think because I was shown that there is such work behind our food, spending an hour making my own pasta or making pie crust for a lattice pie is invigorating rather than something too time consuming to try. And cutting a tedious design from pieces of pearl will yield far more satisfaction when I am finished than the difficulty it took to cut it.


The things I have to do for work. Last week I used the excuse that I had two ukulele orders from folks who lived in Alaska to fly up and visit one of my all time favorite places. Of course I needed a helper to carry on one of the ukuleles so I enlisted my husband Nick to fill that job. We drove to Charlotte, reluctantly subjected my beloved instruments to the x-ray machine and TSA scrutiny, stuffed them into the overhead bin and were off to Alaska.

Not super happy about the rain.
Our first stop was Juneau, the great town in which I had worked and lived for two summers during undergrad. First as a kayak guide, then for a glacier guiding company. The trip got off to a bit of a rocky start (foresight pun, get ready), as while Nick and I were hiking along the west edge of the Mendenhall Glacier to check out the amazing ice caves, I slipped on the steep, rain soaked bedrock (see what I did there?) and somehow managed to rip a nickel sized hole in my palm and several small but deep cuts in my pinky finger. We chose to walk the two miles back to the car since I didn't have anything besides my other hand to hold my new bloody skin flap shut and I knew the hike would become more dangerous and steep as we advanced toward the edge of the glacier. I hiked out feeling sad and dejected. Seeing the incredibly blue ice caves was one of the most awesome and rewarding things I did while I was living in Juneau.

We had high hopes for a more exciting and fun second day, but the rain was relentless, and continued throughout our stay. That second morning Nick wanted to go for a run, so I took him to a flat marshy trail by the airport that runs along the float plane runway (a little lake type thing with docks placed every few feet) then opens into marshland along the Mendenhall river, where the runoff from the glacier makes its way to the ocean. I decided I wasn't in the mood to run, so I meandered down a smaller trail that wound to a point out by the river. The salmon were spawning and it is always exciting, and a bit sad, to watch them fighting their way up the stream. This time of year salmon carcasses line the shore and make for a serious stench.

In the distance toward the water I saw what I thought to be a person in a large coat (I didn't have my glasses on) scanning the marshy grassland, then bending down as if to clip a dog to a leash or something, then standing up and looking around again as if they were a lighthouse having to shed light across the entire area. As I walked along my little path I noticed the person kept doing this, and, while a little confused I didn't pay them much mind. I figured I would see what they were doing as my path lead back up to the larger trail. It looked as though it would intersect with theirs in a hundred feet or so. I then realized that it wasn't a person doing toe-touches in the middle of the marsh, but rather it was a black bear searching for salmon to eat. Eff. I didn't want to continue along my little path since it took me right by the bear, so I turned and swiftly walked (calmly, kind of) through the grass toward the closet spot on the big trail where more folks were exercising. The problem with this plan, I quickly discovered, was that the ground was getting mushier and the grass was getting higher and higher. At first the fronds brushed my waist, and many were knocked down no doubt by bears walking through, but now the grass stood as high as my chest, with my XtraTuf boots splashing through foot-deep puddles, the bottom of which I couldn't see. I thought, which is worse: hanging out by a bear or getting stuck in some kind of Alaskan quicksand in grass so deep no one could see me as I was consumed by the bushes? I managed to power through my panic and scrambled up the bank, trying to calm my racing heartbeat. A fresh blister rubbed into the back of my heel because I hadn't packed enough tall socks, I decided it was time to go sit in the car to wait there for Nick to finish his run.

The third day in Juneau I was able to deliver my Brazilian rosewood ukulele with Alaskan star inlay to its owner. While still impeded by a day of heavy rain, I didn't hurt myself or offend any wildlife so I considered it a good day. Joel met us at Northstar Trekking, the glacier guiding company I used to work for and for whom he is now in charge of helicopter safety. It was neat to show Nick where I worked, and hang out with some of the folks I knew from seven years ago. One bittersweet thing in particular. Mike, one of the helicopter mechanics that I remembered from my time at Northstar was working in the hangar and his awesome dog Pilot sat overseeing the mechanic work. After hanging out with Pilot a while, I was struck by a memory. On one of my last days working that summer, Mike got a new puppy and brought him in to work a couple of those days. I remember playing with him every time I saw his adorable face and even took a picture one day before getting back to work. So now I have that picture along with this one I took with 7 year old Pilot.

Aside from the nostalgia, I am also grateful that I got to know Joel a bit, as he is kind of a badass and even more importantly, just a really great guy. He has an infectious positive energy and obvious love for his job which always makes me happy to see. He let us check out the Northstar helicopters, sharing bits of behind the scenes information, letting us in on some fancy lingo, and eagerly snapping pictures of us pretending to be pilots.

Being that Joel is a helicopter pilot, and an awesome guy, he flew down to help fight the fires currently raging in Idaho. Given the dangerous circumstances of such an endeavor that worries me but I so admire his dedication to his job and appreciate his service. His ukulele, which he named Aurora (couldn't have picked a better one myself), made the trip with him, hopefully providing a little bit of stress relief and happiness to these busy days.

As I have said many times, watching someone open the case and see the instrument I have made for them is one of my all time favorite parts of the job and this time was a great one. It makes my heart swell to see that I have made someone happy with my work, and that their expectations have been exceeded in ways they didn't realize they could be. Now, I know this won't always be the case, but on those times when it is, I want to reiterate how truly honored I am to have been able to play a tiny part in my client's lives.

On our final day in Juneau the clouds eventually gave up and parted enough for us to get to go for a helicopter ride and glacier trek on the Mendenhall. I was so excited to be able to get that close range view I had planned for our first day. Finally, Nick could see why I love this place so much; the majesty of the mountains, the intensity of the landscape, the unparalleled beauty of a glacier ice.

After downing our last two Alaskan Ambers since we didn't have any room in our checked bag, we hopped on a plane heading for Anchorage to deliver the second ukulele. My friend Randy met us at the airport and took us straight to a pizza and beer establishment called Moose's Tooth. He knows me pretty well I guess. I have known Randy just about as many years as I have been alive, and I remember being baffled when he up and moved to Alaska after living in North Carolina his whole life. Turns out his wife Rebecca, whom he had recently married, had worked in Anchorage previously and had just been offered her old job so off they went. I am so glad Randy found such a great partner. While we hung out at their house, my favorite thing was watching how well they complemented each other. They are so supportive of one another's interests and it just makes me glad to know Randy is truly happy living in the Great White North.

Photo courtesy Randy Pasley
The ukulele I made for Rebecca mirrors the guitar my dad made for her some years ago, and both have an eight point star quilt square on the peghead. I think it is fitting that the star symbolizes deep family bonds for Rebecca. It was a great honor for me to see how the ukulele I built would fit into their family. To me instruments are just as important as living beings, providing their versions of happiness and love just as their dog Ola Belle does for them, or my dog Harper does for me. Rebecca and Randy both took turns playing the new uke, plucking their individual styles out on the strings. I even strummed along with Randy's rendition of Freight Train. (As we all know, that's my jams)

The next morning while our hosts headed to work, Nick and I decided to explore the nearby town of Whittier, Alaska. Because we misjudged the amount of time it would take for us to drive through the timed single-lane tunnel to Whittier, through which the train also passed, we ended up just making it to Portage pass. We hiked to the Portage glacier since we missed out on hiking to the Mendenhall while in Juneau. The weather turned out to be incredible, warm and sunny, and the hike was one of the more beautiful things I have seen.

All in all it was an incredible trip. While I left Alaska minus two ukuleles and several layers of skin in multiple spots on my body, I gained so much more. With us on our trip home, we brought tons of pictures, new friendships, the coolest pair of hand-knitted socks you could ever imagine, 35 pounds of salmon, 24 Alaskan beers, 4 tasting glasses, a glow in the dark pint glass, and exceptional, lasting memories.


Pretty much every day I am thankful that I get to make things and people like those things enough to buy them so I can pay for things. It doesn't feel like a job really, just a super fun way to pass the time. Then there are those rare days when everything goes wrong I would rather pull my teeth out with the fret nippers that try to right those wrongs. Times like, when I spray seven coats of finish on a ukulele then somehow manage to knock a little hole down to the wood in the side of the neck. Superglue and respray time. Or when I take extra precautions to make sure there is enough room for the bushings that surround the tuners because I know the pressure can crack the finish on the headstock, only to watch a crack begin to run slowly but surely down the peghead. Respray, resand, rebuff time! Then to have the exact thing happen again (on multiple tuners) even though I had taken even more precautions after taking the time to repair the little cracks. Where are those fret nippers.

The most important lesson my dad has taught me in my luthier journey is to be patient. There is no such thing as perfection, but keep working and redoing things until it is as close as it can be. Mistakes happen, and things don't always go how you expect them to on the first try and that is ok, just fix it. No one exercises such patience like Wayne Henderson though. While I try to emulate his calm, 'we will just fix it' attitude when things like this happen, I tend to fall a bit short, at least for a few minutes before I collect myself and make a new plan. I am a type A planner, you see, and when my plans break and my contingencies have been exhausted as well, I tend to freak out, or at any rate, have to take an extra beta blocker. 

This week has tried my patience time and again but I am quite proud to say that I only took several minutes to decide on a new plan and dealt with each situation as it came, mostly because I had no other choice. My dad has been teaching a guitar class this week and hasn't been working in the shop so I have had to fix my own problems without the 'we will fix it' safety net usually set in place for me. The reason I had such and unusually tight schedule is because these particular instruments are heading to their new homes in Juneau and Anchorage, Alaska. I typically set a tentative timeline for finishing instruments once I begin them, but in this case the timeline was set by Alaska Airlines so things had to be completed on a certain date. 

If you don't know this about me, Juneau, Alaska is just about my very favorite place on this planet. (Maybe only slightly second to Haw Orchard Mountain in Grayson Highlands State Park.) One summer in undergrad, as part of my Outdoor Leadership minor I was working toward at NC State, I decided to apply for a plethora of outdoor jobs sprinkled all over the country and was then hired by a kayak guiding company based in Juneau. That summer and the summer following when I returned to work for a glacier guiding company were truly the best I have ever had. I grew as a person, learned my limits, and met some of the best people I could imagine. I am so excited to head back there next week and show Nick where I used to work and play. The time couldn't come any quicker though, now that my ukuleles are (finally) ready to go to their new homes. Hm, maybe my dad's rule of practicing patience will prove to be helpful in many aspects of life.

Stars of the Alaska flag on 12th fret
A year and a half or so ago I received a request for a ukulele from a fellow who's signature included at the bottom of his message said he was from Alaska. That piqued my interes for obvious reasons, and it turns out he is in charge of the helicopter safety for the very well respected glacier guiding company I used to work for. We missed each other by several years so he had no idea my connection to Juneau when he randomly came upon my work via my website. That is one of my favorite parts of my job, I never know when I will meet someone incredible, or have an opportunity to make something for someone with a shared interest. A few weeks ago I finally I set about making a ukulele that paid tribute to our mutual love of southeast Alaska. The time has finally come that I am able to deliver it, so Nick and I are flying up a week from today to do just that. Hopefully we will get to take a little walk on the Mendenhall glacier while we are at it. 

For good measure, I made another ukulele for some old friends whom I have known just about my whole life, but now live in Anchorage. I figure Nick and I might as well visit there while we are at it. I made a copy of my friend's OM-18 that my dad made for her several years ago, complete with the eight point quilt square on the headstock. I worked a trade on this ukulele, as I have been paid in fresh caught Alaskan salmon and halibut for the past couple of years. While this ukulele sounds great, I think perhaps I have come out on the winning end of that deal. 

Before you go, I want to share a little something with you. Below is an excerpt from an email I sent to my friends and family the week in May that I began working in Juneau that first summer. I was searching my email for 'Alaska Air' to send my itinerary to some friends, and this one popped up as a potential match for my search. While it has nothing to do with guitars or ukuleles, I hope you enjoy a little snippet of my time there, so you can more fully appreciate my excitement upon returning to the great white north next week. 

I started my job on Friday. The weather was chilly but not too cloudy. I had about 5 minutes to learn how to drive a trailer and be a tour guide. Saturday was my fist official day of work.That day I shadowed a seasoned guide leading a group then she had me lead the second group. The cove we paddle to amazingly beautiful, with a fantastic view of the Menedenhall Glacier in the distance. The water is definitely freezing since it is primarily runoff from the glacier, but the sun really warms up the air

As I lead my first group of tourists across the water, I attempted to rattle off some Alaska trivia. Unfortunately the only information I have retained so far are the strange random bits since I had about the time one spends picking out paper towels at the grocery store to learn the tidbits from a sheet of paper the company provided. So, now these people are aware that the whole of Alaska can hold 420 Rhode Islands...And Douglas Island (the smaller island running parallel to Juneau proper that we set off from each day) is named after the Bishop of Salisbury. 
Kayak guiding
I have met some interesting people so far.  The hairdresser of the US Olympic synchronized swimming team called one of her swimmers and handed me the phone, positive I would enjoy speaking to an Olympian (though the swimmer and I were equally confused but it was fun). Another rather ornery older man was removing his spray skirt and his trousers accompanied it. I am fairly certain I did not get a tip from him. I did however get a generous tip likely due to pity from the folks who watched as my $150 sunglasses tumbled down my back and into the 37 degree water, so that is good. Note to self: purchase floaty things for sunglasses with tip money. 

Yesterday the esteemed raft guides were not available to drive the chase boat, an unnecessary piece of equipment that is mostly there for the client's peace of mind, so I had to do that. Driving a motorboat around was a new experience. I learn I don't enjoy boats with motors very much. The Life of Pi, the book I had borrowed from the library downtown and what was enjoying while waiting for someone to overturn so I could race the chase boat gallantly over to them and pluck them from the water, dropped into the unpleasant mixture of gasoline and water that permanently sloshes in a vestibule next to the steering column of this ghastly vehicle. I am quite sure the library will not accept a book returned sopping with gasoline, therefore I will have to purchase it but won't be able to finish it without getting high on fumes. I have decided that, while more labor intensive, kayaking is significantly more enjoyable to chase boating.

Anyway, all little blips aside I am enjoying the new adventure here in Juneau. The weather has been amazing so far-it is beautiful and sunny at the moment. I hope it stays like this for a while but I won't get too comfy just in case it takes a turn for the rainy and cold. Perhaps then I will find a more pressing need for the rubber boots I was ordered to purchase immediately upon touching down in Juneau. Looking forward to more excitement as my adventure here continues!

Fritz Cove, my office as a kayak guide. We would paddle from the beach one the left of the picture to the islands and river on the ride side of the picture. The river is murky colored because it is 37 degree glacier runoff which is filled with silt. 

Ice caves at the Mendenhall glacier. Representing a Henderson Festival shirt. And my sunglasses that toppled overboard...

The Giant Firecracker

Under a quickly fading clouded sky, Nick and I filed up a thin dirt path, winding through a field completely alight with fireflies. We decided on a whim, after an afternoon of fun snacks and great company, that we wanted to further celebrate our Independence Day by seeing the best fireworks display in the area. We figured there was no better spot to do such a thing than from the south terrace of the Biltmore Estate. From there it is possible to take in incredible mountain views for miles, with downtown Asheville in the foreground. We ascended to the house along a section of one of my favorite running trails and walked up the large stone steps separating the house from the Italian garden. From our perch on the huge stone terrace we saw colorful bursts of sparks beginning to fill the sky. Still, as we watched a magnificent show from the most beautiful spot I could imagine, I found myself wondering what we would be experiencing had Nick and I had decided to drive up to Rugby and take in the show my dad and our neighbor Andy had concocted. If only just to be sure they didn't blow themselves (or anything else) up in the process.

Nick waits for the fireworks to start at the Biltmore Estate
See, when my dad was a young boy growing up surrounded by mountains and farmland, guitars weren't his only area of interest. He would use his pocket knife to whittle his own toys and his imagination to improve on the occasional store bought toy. One particular instance was when he acquired a pack of fire crackers. You know the ones, they come in a big red pack all strung together and Kevin McAllister threw a bunch in a bucket to scare Marv away from his kitchen door.

My dad figured if he could see how those fire crackers were constructed he could make a large explosive device that would be bigger and better than the generic store bought ones. He carefully opened the red tissue and removed the powder from within several firecrackers. He then wrapped the powder together into one mass as large as a grown man's index finger. Unfortunately, after about twenty attempts, none of his homemade mini-bombs made more than a fizzling noise. He speculated that the wrapping was not as tight as the original packaging had been, and worked to improve his design. He stuck with his project late into the night. He and my uncle Max were the only people still awake in the house; Granny and my grandfather Walter had retired to their room upstairs hours earlier.

"That is never going to work." Max exclaimed. My dad persisted, unruffled. He wrapped the paper tighter than he had on the others and admired his handiwork. Max, expecting the same fizzle to occur, took the giant firecracker from my dad's hands and nonchalantly lit it with the butt of his cigarette.  He threw it into the coal bucket that sat next to the tall thin stove on which Granny used to heat water in a heavy cast iron kettle. I remember that stove and bucket well. I would marvel at the black chunks of coal stacked in it, just waiting to be fed into the mouth of the stove, its coiled handle dangling like a nose off the front.

BANG! The firecracker went off that time. "You never heard such a noise!" my dad told me. "Whats going on down there?" My grandfather drawled, still half asleep. My dad said he blamed it on Max, answering, "Oh nothing. Max lit my firecracker and threw it in the floor." I asked what the consequences had been for such antics and my dad told me that they didn't even come downstairs. "I guess they were used to my shenanigans, I was always doing crazy things like that." (Remember when I wrote about the time he sat in the rafters of the barn to ensnare chickens as they strutted by or when he hid a metal sign under a thin layer of snow and watched the dogs (and my Granny) slip on it?)

I am glad the fireworks display Wayne and Andy put on last night in downtown Rugby turned out to be simply a good show; nothing that would require my grandfather to get out of bed for. The horses next door, however, might have decided to leave town. I hope you all had a safe and happy 4th of July full of family, friends, good food, and safe fireworks.

Spring Updates

Spring has officially sprung in the Appalachian mountains, and I have thrown from my shoulders what feels like a heavy blanket of weariness, thickening as the cold winter months wore on. Harper and I have been thoroughly enjoying our runs again. Everything looks new and fresh. I always take a little time to marvel in appreciation at the saturation of colors now donning the landscape around me; how green the grass is, how beautiful and alive the mountains are again. Having been so busy with all of the marveling, I want to apologize for the lack of posts. Over the past few weeks I finished four instruments, made a trip to Nashville, and then rewarded myself (and Nick and Harper) by taking a quick but relaxing trip to the beach. New spring energy is just my favorite!

The coolest thing about my job I think is the fact that with each instrument I make, I also have the opportunity to meet an awesome person to go with it. These past four instruments have included with them some amazing folks. I like to think that with each build, I lose and instrument but gain a friend. This batch was no exception. EmiSunshine and her awesome parents came to pick up her ukulele. When someone comes to get an instrument from me or my dad I think the instrument is the smallest part. I like the experience of getting to know someone and showing them around in my life a little bit. I think that is why I hate shipping guitars so much, not necessarily due to the potential for damage to the instrument, but more due to missing out on that connection with my clients. Instead of just coming to get her uke and leaving, Emi, her parents, my dad and I ended up taking a drive up to the park, visiting the wild ponies, and taking rides around the block in my dad's old Thunderbird. It was a nice visit, and so fun to get to know them a bit better. More about that in a minute.

Next, a customer, Tim, drove with his wife Mary and dog Theo up to Rugby from Raleigh to pick up his walnut 000. My favorite part of making instruments is when I get to see someone's reaction when they open the case. (Check out the video of Emi's on her facebook page) With the exception of Emi, it is usually quiet, but being able to feel the excitement and happiness radiating from the person just makes me happier than I am able to describe. Tim's reaction was no exception and I had no doubt this guitar would be heading to a good home. We had a lovely afternoon sitting on the porch enjoying some wine and cheese while Harper and Theo lounged under the cherry tree.

I also enjoy that people want to give me things from their lives aside from money for the instrument I made them. Tim brought me a new knife, a beautiful Case with blades of damascus steel-a knife my dad is pretty jealous of, which is kind of awesome. (He hasn't had much to say about my favorite pink polka dotted Case knife, though I have caught him using it a few times.) Tim also brought me a turkey call he made, which is so neat. I had told him that turkeys live up on my mountain in Asheville and he thought I might want to try to make friends with them. He was right, as I had been scratching a knife across a plate to try to talk to the turkey roosting in a tree about eye level from our deck. Nick stood watching, probably questioning his decision to marry me. Now that I have my turkey call, I can retire the plate. The other day a big Tom was strutting around the yard nearby so I ran inside and grabbed my turkey call and ran back out to call to him. He puffed up at my answering screech a couple of times but didn't seem overly interested in me. I also am not sure if I should find it endearing or concerning that none of my neighbors thought it odd that I was skulking around stalking turkeys...

Several weeks ago, Nick and I drove to Nashville so we could watch EmiSunshine play the ukulele I made her at the Grand Ole Opry. Of course, while that was my official excuse for going, I made sure to stop at my favorite restaurant, Silo, and as usual it did not disappoint. Go if you are in the area, they make some great farm to table deliciousness. What also didn't disappoint was the Opry visit. I felt fancy since I knew the first person we encountered backstage. It was George Gruhn walking down the hall.  I got to have a nice visit waiting for Emi to go on, George, Nick, and I sat in an empty dressing room and talked about business and guitars for a while. We then visited with Emi and her family before they went on stage.

One thing I'd like to address is what I see when I am around Emi and her band, which is also her family, most by blood. I have noticed that some folks have suggested via her facebook page that she is a 'cash cow' for her family, and I have also been asked several times if her situation is along the lines of a pageant child. Now, I know that I am no one of consequence, but from what I know of this family I want to say with absolute certainty that EmiSunshine absolutely loves what she is doing, and is incredibly talented at it, and that is why she does it. Not only that, but my favorite thing I saw at the Opry was how obvious it was that her parents were there solely to support her and what she loves to do.

I remember noticing it when they first came to my dad's house in the winter and we were all just hanging out. There is such palpable love there that it makes me a little sad knowing that not everyone gets to experience such strong love and support from their parents. Talking to Emi's dad Randall backstage, I told him that I was so glad this is a family affair. He has such a strong connection with his daughter and I am incredibly happy for them because I didn't get that opportunity with my dad when I was little. I think a lot of that shows through at her shows, but I know I am lucky to be able to have such a close view. Even if you don't see it as much from the nosebleed section, you don't have to. It's there.

On our way out of town, Nick and I stopped by Carter Vintage Guitars to see what Christie had hanging on her walls. She showed us some amazing rare Martins and Gibsons before I walked over to peruse the ukuleles hanging in the middle of the main show room. I was so excited to see a 1940s Martin tenor ukulele, that I didn't even notice that one I had built was hanging right next to it. I feel honored that my work was included in her incredible inventory. I am even more proud that it sold a week after it arrived, and went to someone who can't wait to play it and love it as I hope for all of my instruments.

Tomorrow I head back to Rugby for some hard work before my dad's festival on June 20. I am working on #28 guitar and ukulele, a match pair that just happen to have the same serial number. I put the ukulele body together while I was home in Asheville, so hopefully that will give me enough of a head start to be able to finish these up in a few weeks. I hope to see you all there! Along with visiting with yours truly, there will be some absolutely amazing artists playing, EmiSunshine included! If you want more information, visit  

Photo Credit: Alisha Hamilton
Dressing room #1
View from backstage
George Gruhn

E.C. Ball

View from the top of Quillen Ridge.
Springtime is one of my favorite seasons, everything looks new and full of hope. The trees are dotted with bright green buds that always bring an image of Bob Ross grinning into his paint palette declaring, "Let's put some happy little leaves on those happy trees!" And when I am in Rugby, spring is my favorite time to run up Quillen Ridge. The first mile and a half of the gravel road, popping out a short ways from the Rugby sign, is a bit of a climb, but after that the harsh grade gives way to rolling hills with peeks of incredible views.  The road winds between the trees, providing glimpses of sparsely habited property.  Harper and I trot past several old houses that were abandoned long ago; one tired tattered house in particular brings thoughts of my heritage, and the incredible folks who have lived in this tiny corner of the world.

My dad talks a lot about E.C. Ball. He was a musician who played guitar in a band called the Rugby Gully Jumpers with my grandfather, sang gospel songs with his wife Orna, drove the school bus, and lived up the holler on Quillen Ridge in Rugby, VA. I never gave him significant thought until I really started to listen to the stories my dad tells.

EC Ball's home today.
The first and most important thing you need to know about E.C. is that he had a 1949 Martin D-28. No one else in the community could afford anything of that caliber and my dad wanted nothing more than to make a guitar just like it so that he could have one too. E.C. was incredibly proud and protective of his guitar and no matter how many times my dad asked, he was never allowed to remove the strings and peek inside to see how it was made. E.C. would sometimes let him play the guitar, only sitting on a box in the middle of the Rugby store, with anything that had the potential to scratch moved away so the guitar had no chance of getting dinged.  He was allowed to play the guitar for a few minutes, and E.C. would only occasionally teach him a new lick. "He was kind of crotchety, and not a very patient teacher, so I learned my own style just like he learned his own style from listening to records of Riley Tuckett of the Skillet Lickers,"  my dad told me.

I asked what E.C.'s job was,  curious if he was just a musician or if he did something else for income as well. My dad told me that he was the bus driver for his high school. My dad never took the bus so he didn't have anything much to add about that aspect of the job, but he said the bus drivers would drive in the mornings then stay near the school all day, walking down the hill to the store to loaf a while, then walking back up the hill to play horse shoes at the school, then driving the kids back home in the afternoon. My dad told me, "I was really good at horseshoes, they would let me play with them sometimes, but I would whoop them." He said the old men took their game of horseshoes very seriously and would never let kids play with them so the fact that my dad was invited to play was a big deal.

Like my dad and I, E.C. also enjoyed working with his hands. The agriculture teacher at the high school was also assigned to be the shop teacher, but he never stepped foot in the shop and never taught the kids anything therefore the shop was left empty most of the time. Of course the exception being for the occasional curious student, one of whom shoved a broom handle into the jointer to see what would happen and now lives without a pointer finger. The local men would dabble in woodworking in the unoccupied shop, and E.C. would be a regular visitor, making small furniture, gun racks (one of which he made for my dad), and little accents to hang on his home. I knew which house was his because of the two diamond shaped decorations adorning each side of the door of his now dilapidated house. While the current state of the house brought some sadness, I felt special that I knew E.C. made those in my dad's high school wood shop.

EC, his fingerboard and my dad's first inlay job.
E.C. was also interested in guitar work. Every time I walk down the hall to the kitchen in my dad's house, I pass a display of EC Ball's fingerboard from that old Martin. (My dad has the rest of the guitar in his collection, but the fingerboard was removed at some point and he was able to get it back from the repair shop where it was taken off.) I have always looked at the display with apathy, but now I appreciate the significance. E.C. redid the inlay on his guitar himself, sanding down mother-of-pearl buttons from his wife's church coat and filing them to the shape of those typically found in prewar 45-style Martins and inlaying them in place of the typical 28-style inlay markers. I also noticed a little ECB inlaid in the space between the 18th and 19th frets. "I did that," my dad told me, "it was a huge deal that he trusted me enough to finally be allowed to take the strings off and inlay that for him."

Since I enjoy inlay work, I like to think of E.C. as a bit of kindred spirit in that respect. He had a preacher friend who saved and saved and eventually was able to buy himself a brand new D-28. He asked E.C. to custom inlay the fingerboard to match the '49 Martin, and E.C. happily accepted. Halfway through the job, he accidentally inlayed one of the large pearl pieces between the wrong two frets. In a panic, E.C. took the guitar to my dad's shop and asked if there was anything to do to fix it; was there anything to fill the hole in the fingerboard that wouldn't be noticed. My dad said, "No, I don't think there is anything in the world that would hide a mistake like that, but leave it here. I will look at it and see if I can get it fixed by tomorrow morning." The fingerboard had binding on it, so my dad simply removed the ebony from between the frets and replaced the whole piece, covering the seams with the binding on the sides and the frets above and below the piece. He then put the inlay in the correct spot. "I've never seen a grouchy old man as happy as he was then," my dad said when E.C. came in and saw the repair job my dad did. He looked at it a while, then asked if my dad wouldn't mind just going ahead and doing the rest of the inlay job. I keep that little anecdote in my back pocket just in case I ever need to do a similar repair.

There's so much more about E.C. and Orna Ball that I haven't touched on and even more that I don't even know, but these are the memories and stories I want to tell.  I'm sure I could scare up a follow-up post in the future. The songs and biography you can probably find online somewhere; will tell you that E.C's wife Orna and my Granny were first cousins. The stories I like to know are ones of mundane daily experiences. I love that in this tiny place that is so insignificant in the grand scheme of the world, there have lived so many talented, incredible people to share their immense gifts. I am so proud to be part of and inspired by this community and I don't take one step up Quillen Ridge for granted.

E.C.'s house today, featuring the diamond shaped decorations he made himself.

Detail of E.C.'s home decorations.

Downtown Rugby featuring the old store my dad played E.C.'s Martin.
Check out this video of one of EC's original songs! 

Working From Home

There's a magnetic type of energy that seems to surround my dad's shop, attracting swarms of curious visitors each week. They bring treats for my dad, ask questions about production, and always want to help with some aspect of guitar building. While I typically enjoy the excitement that visitors tend to bring, it is nice just to have some time to have the shop to myself to focus solely on my work. Most of you know that my dad works until well past midnight every day, so when I am there I make sure to get up early enough in the morning to have several hours to work on my own. I always take time to enjoy the silence before the storm, as I like to think of it. I like that it is quiet, unless I am the one making noise, I feel productive and am not stopping production to chat, or move pie and a barrel of cheezy poofs from my workspace.

Working at my house in Asheville is somewhat similar to the silent shop mornings. The only visitors I get are Harper coming to remind me she is bored, maybe a bee wandering up from the woods beyond my deck to see what is happening, or an occasional neighbor. I have been home for the past few weeks and have been cutting pearl, putting together ukuleles, and inlaying fingerboards. Oh and writing blogs :-)

Last week, on my deck, I shaped braces, shaved kerfing, and fitted the top and back onto a soprano ukulele. I am really excited about this particular ukulele because I am making it for a good friend. When it is possible, I like to take time to get to know someone I make an instrument for, at least little bit, because I think that makes the instrument more of a collaboration, and less something I just make. I have found that the best partnerships are when I am given artistic license to make what I know the person will love, adding little touches for them, but keeping the artistry for myself. This mutual trust is sometimes difficult to achieve, so when it happens, as in this case, it is a truly positive and exciting experience.

Signed uderside of soprano top for my friend Kyler.

The koa for this ukulele is a piece left over from my #16 guitar. I am so glad I was able to use it because that piece of wood is more special than most, with curls radiating out like sun rays through the grain. I am a firm believer in wasting as little materials as possible, this incredible wood especially, and sopranos allow for that more willingly than larger instruments which I enjoy.

Kyler's initials, inlaid in the
headstock of his ukulele.
While I miss working with my dad, and having his vast guitar knowledge and building expertise just feet away, it has been great to get to work on my instruments on my own time, then go for a run with Harper at the Biltmore Estate every day. Once we run past the lines of people on Segways winding their way down the paths surrounding the winery, we are generally alone to enjoy the scenery and history of the property. The only thing missing is a visitor or two to perk up a lonely afternoon. Will you come visit me in Asheville when (someday) I have my very own shop here? I sure hope you will.

Robert Frost

Something I feel I haven't expressed enough in the stories I write to you is how lucky I feel to get to do my job. Not just because I have the opportunity to hang out with my dad, which is something I hadn't done much until I started working with him, but because I get to meet some truly amazing people. The folks who trust me to build them a guitar are pretty much the best people I have ever met. The neat thing is that I get to know people beyond our mutual affinity for guitars and ukuleles. A shared love of To Kill a Mockingbird, appreciation for how much we love our dogs, or goats or catfish...To me, building someone a guitar is a very personal business. I attempt to meld what they imagine with what I want to make for them. Small custom touches, however, require me to know something inherent to my client's character. I like to think it is a trust in me to appreciate what I am told enough to turn that into a tangible part of the instrument I am making for them.

A specific example of one of these personal touches comes in the form of a tiny acorn that I inlaid on the fingerboard of a guitar now owned by a fellow named Mike. He told me that his most cherished book is a limited edition copy of a book of poems by Robert Frost, and stamped into the cover is a small acorn.  He hoped I could incorporate the design in his guitar somehow. Upon hearing about his admiration for Mr. Frost's work, a memory bubbled into my conscious thought; I recalled a face full of snow as I attempted to walk on snowshoes for the first time, which happened to take place at Robert Frost's house.

Robert Frost Farm, Ripton VT
During my time at Vermont Law School, I served as an intern for the Green Mountain National Forest. One of my favorite days while I was working with the Forest Service was the day I rode along with one of their law enforcement officers. After tracking some tree poachers, testing to make sure the correct trees were cut during a logging operation, and slipping down a snowy hill clutching to maple saplings in order to dig through illegally dumped trash, my reward was to visit Robert Frost's cabin. That February in Vermont was still a bit snowy, so in order to navigate the several feet of snow that covered the ground, Officer Mike (not the guitar orderer Mike) strapped my boots into snowshoes. "Go give em a try!" he encouraged. I took one step up the bank toward Robert Frost's house and due to the unwieldy nature of snowshoes, I promptly fell face first into a 5 foot drift of snow. I don't even think Mike laughed half as much as I would have had it not been me upended in the snow, struggling to right myself. Anyway, after practicing a bit more, we walked around the property and checked out the house. The property reminded me of home and my Granny, holding the same magic quietness of Rugby. I thought Robert and I probably would have had similar ideas of an awesome spot to hang out.

Testing out some snowshoes. It didn't turn out well.
When I delivered the guitar I made for Mike, he gave me a copy of that book of poems he referenced during our first phone conversation. The books are so pristine I have been reluctant to mess them up, but the other day I decided to carefully remove the delicate packaging and see what poems were in there other than the popular ones I already knew. While perusing the beautiful prose, one poem jumped out that solidified my suspicion that Robert would have loved hanging out Rugby. This particular poem, the power of which nearly knocked the breath from my lungs, is called Ghost House. (I have included it at the end of this post.) For me, the words paint such a vivid picture of loss and time gone by; I can't help but see my Granny's house become clear in my mind, once full of life, but it now sits lifeless, letting nature retake its claim on the land.

Frost's line, 'The footpath down to the well is now healed' especially reminds me of summertime with my Granny. Every time I visit now I search in vain for the path behind her house nestled between two hills that lead to the reservoir of the spring, the water from which is directed into the house. The path I am thinking of was barely wide enough for our feet. I remember walking one foot in front of the other, pretending to balance like a tightrope walker, careful to stay only on the dirt, avoiding any grass that leaned in my way. There was a black pipe sticking from the ground bubbling the overflow water from the spring's reservoir. As we sat recovering from the uphill climb, my Granny would always say, "That there is the best water there is. It is even better when you drink it straight from the mountain." We would both take sips from the pipe, savoring the cool clean water that really does taste better than any water I can remember drinking. I would lay down, my face pressed to the large cement slab that covered the reservoir and just listen to the water gurgle far below. The cement would always be warm, having been heated by the sun all day. Though it isn't anything of consequence, it is a fond memory. I am thankful for Mike for providing the kindling to spark that little memory from happy summers past.

I know in business folks who purchase the goods I provide are called clients. That doesn't sit quite right for me though as I really consider each person who trusts me enough to make them something that hopefully will remain part of their lives, to be passed down to their children, a friend. With each instrument I make and send to someone, a little bit of me goes with it. There is no way for me to separate my work from myself, so to me, business is extremely personal. I take comfort in the fact that I gain a new friend with each instrument I make and I want to make sure you all know how thankful I am that you allow me to have that opportunity.

Ghost House

I dwell in a lonely house I know
That vanished many a summer ago,
   And left no trace but the cellar walls,
   And a cellar in which the daylight falls
And the purple-stemmed wild raspberries grow.

O’er ruined fences the grape-vines shield
The woods come back to the mowing field;
   The orchard tree has grown one copse
   Of new wood and old where the woodpecker chops;
The footpath down to the well is healed.

I dwell with a strangely aching heart
In that vanished abode there far apart
   On that disused and forgotten road
   That has no dust-bath now for the toad.
Night comes; the black bats tumble and dart;

The whippoorwill is coming to shout
And hush and cluck and flutter about:
   I hear him begin far enough away
   Full many a time to say his say
Before he arrives to say it out.

It is under the small, dim, summer star.
I know not who these mute folk are
   Who share the unlit place with me—
   Those stones out under the low-limbed tree
Doubtless bear names that the mosses mar.

They are tireless folk, but slow and sad—
Though two, close-keeping, are lass and lad,—
   With none among them that ever sings,
   And yet, in view of how many things,
As sweet companions as might be had.

EmiSunshine and Smedley

I have been working on a neat ukulele this week. Not particularly special in terms of specifications, just a koa tenor style ukulele, but what is special is the recipient. Her name is EmiSunshine and she is kind of the cutest little girl I have ever met. She is an incredible singer, songwriter, and entertainer, but most of all she is just a kind energetic girl who loves that she gets to sing and play a ukulele.

EmiSunshine checking out my #7 guitar, built for Doc Watson
Emi, followed by her parents Randall and Alisha, walked into the shop on a foggy, sleety morning in January. I had a feeling we would be buddies just based on the fact that they have an accent as thick as my dad's, paired with a deep appreciation and respect for old guitars and vintage country music. And then Emi made my ukulele sound better than I can. After we spent an afternoon hanging out, eating barbecue cooked by my awesome cousin Becky and playing a little bit of music, I felt like I had known them forever. I think it is because their goodnatured demeanor fit perfectly with the laid back, simple character that defines Rugby. After listening to some new songs and talking about old guitars, what I didn't expect to have in common with Emi and her family was an ornery turkey situation.

Emi and her mom Alisha testing my uke
Have I ever told you about my dad's turkey Smedley? Well, I remember him as a feather headed monster, quite a bit larger than I was at the time, with a beak more dangerous than sticking your hand in a snapping turtle's hole. I was told to stay away from him, and though he never did anything to me I would run as fast as I could to the house if he ever caught sight of me outside. Anyway, before I knew Smedley, my dad would don a motorcycle helmet and leather riding jacket and box with Smedley out in the yard. I am told Smedley enjoyed it, but I am skeptical. On the other hand, I have never been in a situation where I wanted to box with a turkey.

While Emi and I played with Harper (Harper wouldn't dream of pecking anyone's eyes out) Alisha told us about their turkey Mr. Turk. It seems he has a similar mean streak that afflicted Smedley. When she drives up to her house he sees her coming and hightails it (ha!) to confront her before she heads into the house. She says uses her purse as a weapon or a shield, but he typically manages to chase her from the car to the house until she is breathing heavily behind the locked door. "I know something you could do to get even with him," my dad said. He then proceeded to tell us the story of how he thought he killed Smedley.

Wayne and Smedley
Granny's house has a chimney constructed of stacked gray rocks that handles the smoke from the woodstove in the kitchen. I remember the chimney being another area that my Granny would suggest I avoid because the cracks between the rocks were ideal for bees to make their hives. One day after a particularly brutal boxing match, my dad took a biscuit from the kitchen and sprinkled its crumbs out by the chimney. He then encouraged Smedley to come over and enjoy a little snack. He then went into the kitchen and pounded on the wall, expelling angered bees from their hives within the chimney. At first Smedley didn't seem to notice the bees, and my dad began to wonder if turkeys were immune to stings, or perhaps his feathers served as a sufficient shield. After a while though, that turned out not to be the case as Smedley forgot about his biscuit crumbs and twitched his feathers and jerked his head around to find what was afflicting him. He then took off toward the granary, a cloud of bees in pursuit above him. About halfway to the granary he flopped over into the grass. My dad said, "I thought, oh Lord, I killed ol' Smedley dead as a hammer." He waited for the bees to dissipate then walked out to check on the poor turkey. As he laid his hand on Smedley's limp wing, Smedley shot up and took off running into the woods as fast as his legs would carry him. My dad said he didn't see him again until lunchtime the next day.

Hopefully Alisha will have better luck with Mr. Turk and won't have to resort to a motorcycle helmet for protection from his wrath. Ornery turkey advice aside, I am so glad EmiSunshine and her lovely family came to brighten up a dreary winters day.

Harper, EmiSunshine and me