Happy Holidays!

I suppose I will begin this post with the same sentiment I have used to preface the past few: apologizing for my lax writing schedule, or lack of schedule all together. It has been a busy couple of months for me.  My time has been taken by working on guitars, finishing ukuleles on a deadline, and mopping melted freezer water from my dad's floor. Oh, and on Thanksgiving, with only several hours warning, I was tasked with making the turkey...

For several months now I have been working on a copy of a Gibson Nick Lucas guitar. There are several reasons it has taken significantly longer than any other guitar I have made, but the most significant one is because everything is different from how I had been making Martin inspired guitars. "Well, the only thing that is consistent about Gibson is that they are inconsistent," Herb told me as I struggled to find correct measurements and patterns for this guitar.  My dad has made them before, but despite being the borderline hoarder he is, he somehow didn't save patterns for this kind of guitar. Luckily I have a pretty awesome friend, Mike, who made me this neat label, helped me find great measurements, and shared a little back story on ol' Nick Lucas and his guitar shape of choice.


 I felt more alone on this build than I ever have, figuring things out on my own and working by myself while my dad was traveling abroad. In school I would always check my understanding of class material by making myself quizzes and see how much I could do without consulting my notes. In this situation, I was curious how much I leaned on my dad as necessity versus availability, and while working totally on my own was stressful, I found I knew a lot more than I thought I did. Still, when he returned, it was really nice to have his encouragement and knowledge just a worktable away. As I sat in the spray room, perched on an upturned finish bucket, my dad held the Gibson book open for me to the page that displayed the correct sunburst. I sat for hours working to make each side look exactly like the picture, and he stood right there, despite having work of his own he could do, encouraging me with each squeeze of the spray gun.

Another thing that has kept me busy is that I have been commissioned by Santa to make some ukuleles in time for Christmas. It was kind of fun being an elf, I mean I already have the height for the job, but it was a bit stressful knowing I absolutely had to get things finished by a specific date. I enjoyed trying out new techniques and ideas, trying out a double pearl soundhole and playing with stain colors on maple. Here is a picture of a little soprano, and as I don't even know the recipient so no surprises should be ruined.



Finally, on Thanksgiving, my dad's refrigerator broke leaking water all over the floor, melting everything in the freezer, and causing near catastrophe. Nick and I drove up on Wednesday, but because the forecast predicted snow, my aunt Shirleen asked me to take the turkey on with me in case she couldn't get out early enough in the morning. And then it snowed and I had to make it. Luckily it needed to thaw, but the rest of the fridge and freezer contents did not fare as well. We ended up piling everything in a cooler and letting it freeze outside in the 25 degree snowy weather hoping no varmints would pillage it while we mopped up puddles every now and again.

Not to toot my own horn, but I am a pretty good cook. However, turkeys have always been the job of a parent or Shirleen while I busy myself with lesser things like sides or desserts. Like guitar making when I was younger, only coming into the shop and seeing the process in pieces, I have only seen bits of the turkey prepping process. I remember something gross we don't eat coming in a bag where the stuffing goes, and lots and lots of salt and pepper being sprinkled on everything but that is about it. When I cut away the plastic covering the turkey, I had only vague ideas on what needed to be done. I put the phone on speaker, and Shirleen instructed me on preparing the turkey. Our conversation went something like this: "Make sure you season the inside too." "What is a gizzard?" "There is a neck, and it is where?!"

It turned out surprisingly better than I thought, but really, as much as I hate to admit it, I know that butter is usually the secret to making things taste good, so when it doubt, just add more butter. My aunt Pat says that I should be prepared because since I did such a good job it will be my responsibility for all future Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I am not sure I am quite ready for the responsibility, but I guess it is good to know I can do it. Kind of like putting a Nick Lucas together. With enough concentration and attention to detail, I can do things (mostly) by myself.

I hope you all have an excellent holiday filled with family and love and I wish you the very best and happiest 2015.








Trick or Treat

This past month I have been so busy making instruments that I haven't been able to write you any stories! (Kind of) seriously though, I have made 3 ukuleles and finished a couple of guitar bodies! All while my dad left me in charge of his shop while he galavanted through France. Hm, I typed that because it sounded like fun, but imagining my dad doing anything resembling galavanting doesn't seem quite right....so in the spirit of honesty, let me rephrase per his recounting of the events: My dad reluctantly flew to France to attend a friend's birthday party, and while there, he played music at multiple venues and as usual ended up having a fun time, though all the high quality wine and unprocessed food hurt his stomach. I am going to go ahead and assume that France did not provide for him the culinary delights offered by a KFC or Cracker Barrel, much to his strong dismay.

Anyway, back to me. I received a request for another story about my Granny, and with Halloween coming up I had hoped to incorporate something honoring the holiday. I don't usually do anything particularly special other than making Halloween inspired pizza because our neighborhood is inhabited mostly by retirees, but I like to spend the day (and days leading up to Halloween) watching scary movies while I cut inlays. Or perhaps while I write you a story. (I am currently watching a documentary detailing the true story of the Amityville Horror if you were wondering.)

Fall in Rugby is incredibly beautiful. By October the leaves are proudly waving a final goodbye from their high branches, shrouded in brilliant color, making the hills behind my Granny's house look as though a forest fire is fast approaching. My favorite years are the rare ones when the red and orange leaves prevail and overtake the slightly less beautiful brown and yellow. This year was one of those years. On her birthday, Harper and I walked back in those hills of my Granny's property, exploring the old wood granary, graying with age, where I used to sneak in and teeter across the grain and corn cobs used for animal feed. I would pretend that the large open room next to the drying bin where, years before my existence, tobacco had been hung from the rafters, was my house on the prairie, complete with a lean-to that braved harsh winters. (Laura Inglalls Wilder was one of my favorite authors at the time.) The thick branches of the apple trees nearby were heavy with fruit, and reminded me of when I walked into the house, the rooms would be filled with the warm and welcoming smell of baked apples. When I was tall enough to reach I would sneak one (or twenty) of the dried apple chips my Granny had placed on the rack above the stove.
My Granny's backyard, the granary is on the left.

Several times during these fall visits I remember I was able to help choose the pumpkin for the Jack-o-Lantern that would sit on the front steps. As we gingerly stepped through my Granny's garden, trying to avoid the vegetables growing in rows, my dad instructed me to check each side of the pumpkin I chose, making sure there were no flat or discolored spots other than on the bottom. A lot of times we would discover that there were no perfect, non flattened, non discolored pumpkins, so my dad would change his tune and say that these spots were ok because we really just needed the sides of the pumpkin facing outward to look presentable.  We would then take the pumpkin into the small room off the kitchen, sitting it on newspapers covering the little black and white speckled table under the window. It was always my job to scrape the insides out, and pick the seeds from the gooey orange guts. I remember always complaining about my job. My dad's job was to carve the pumpkin, as he is much more of an expert with a knife than I will ever be (though I am proud to announce that I have been preferring to use a pocket knife for more and more of the guitar making process these days). Plus I was maybe 4 years old or somewhere around there, so it was probably not most responsible option to give me a knife. Maybe someday I will tell you what happened when I was eight and tried to remove brownies from a pan with a knife. But maybe you can just imagine. It was always my decision where to place the triangle eyes, nose, and snaggletoothed mouth, and to decide how many teeth the Jack-o-Lantern had. I would decide depending on how many teeth I had lost recently. I never questioned why we only carved the traditional face until my dad noted it when I called to ask for some good Halloween stories. He said that was just always how he carved it, and how his dad carved it; that is just what a Jack-o-Lantern looks like. Good enough reason for me, though I am currently considering using Leah's idea of wielding a dremel to make the coolest looking Jack-o-Lantern ever, but that is a story for another time.

I only spent a few actual Halloween weekends at my Granny's house, but as I recall, nothing too special happened as people lived so far away from each other that trick-or-treaters would typically assemble at their elementary school or somewhere similar to fill pillowcases and orange plastic Jack-o-Lanterns with candy instead of driving door to door. The only evening visitors to my Granny's house each year would be Lauren and Leah. These days, every year my dad buys a bag of candy in the guise of providing for Halloween visitors, but I know he secretly wants it for himself because he never sounds all that dismayed when he tells me that no one came by and now he has all of these fun-size Snickers bars sitting in the shop.

When I called to chat the other day, my dad told me that when he was younger the kids were more into the tricks than the treats. I imagined knocking over mail boxes, toilet papering someone's house, but these were country tricks I had never heard of. He told me he participated in placing hay bales in the middle of streets so cars couldn't pass. Dirt roads, he assured me, where cars were already going slow. He said the serious kids would chop down a tree to cross the road to school so no one would be able to attend the next day. But that trick rare as it was hard work since you couldn't use a chainsaw for fear of being heard and were left to hack away all night with an axe running to hide each time a car passed. He also told me of a trick he knew of but of course had not participated in, where kids took to placing a fresh cow pie on the seat of a neighbor's tractor, then waited for them to come help one of those poor folks who got stuck behind a tree or in a hay bale. You can probably imagine what happened next. He also said turning over outhouses was a popular trick. My dad absolutely loves practical jokes so I have trouble believing that he has not been the culprit for some of these antics, but sure, let's just remember the fun, safe, happy Halloween times I had in Rugby because you know I can't even make the mongoose work in the shop.

Meeting with George Gruhn

Sometimes I worry that the folks in the guitar world won't be too quick to accept me without my dad behind me showing me the way. Lately I have been taking more steps on my own to find out. When Nick and I visited Nashville earlier this summer, I met with George Gruhn, one of the most knowledgeable folks around when it comes to guitars. After everything I had heard; good from my dad, somewhat mixed to downright scary from most everyone else, I had no idea how I would be received walking in to his shop all by my lonesome, with only a big fiberglass guitar case to shield me from whatever I happened to encounter.

Walking in to the large white building, I was a little bit nervous, but the two employees helping patrons on the first floor were incredibly friendly and quickly buzzed up to George's office that I was waiting for him. I had called George a few days prior to ask if he had time to check out a couple of my guitars and he was very friendly and seemed excited to visit with me even though my dad wouldn't be joining me.

I brought my #18, a 12-fret Brazilian Rosewood Dreadnought, because as I was working on it, my dad said as I glued the top together, "This is the one you need to show George. He loves 12-fret D guitars and I have a feeling this one is going to sound really good." I also brought my #19 curly maple 000 because it is more what I like to do, so I could talk to him about marketing local wood, smaller body guitars as well.

In George's office, located on the second floor of his shop, I sat in an antique, hand-carved chair wedged between several terrariums that housed large, wary looking snakes that could probably constrict the life out of me were they so inclined. I watched as George lifted my guitar from its case. "Very nice, I love 12-fret dreadnoughts. Don't worry about the snakes, they are all very docile," he assured me. After plucking out a few tunes he told me that the only problem he could find with my #18 was that it wasn't his. I decided to take that as a compliment. He and one of his guitar buyers played each guitar in turn and seemed to enjoy them both. After a while George asked if I wanted to go to lunch. I said sure.

"Good, because Freddie needs some lunch too," George declared as I raced to follow him stalking out of the room. Freddie, a bearded dragon, lives in another terrarium in George's office situated front and center so you can't miss it as you walk through the door. As I mentioned in a prevous post, I have met Freddie before, and remembered George plopping him in my lap and promptly leaving the room for what I could guess was almost forever. I wasn't sure what to do with him sitting there, he isn't really a creature to be petted, and after a while my dad commented that he was smiling despite my stiff unwelcoming posture. I couldn't decide whether Freddie was enjoying our visit or if he was preparing to eat me.

George drove me to a greek diner across the street from his shop, the sign out front boasting that it has been featured on the Food Network show Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives. As we sat down, George asked the waitress to bring him some left-over greens, "not a salad, no dressing!", but just some veggies in a to-go box for his bearded dragon. Upon seeing the girl's confused look, he pulled his phone from his pocket and proceeded to swipe through photos of Freddie, as a proud grandfather might when presenting his grandchildren to an appeasing stranger. I wasn't quite sure what to do, so I studied the menu items furiously. The waitress returned soon after with a styrofoam box filled with greens. "Oh excellent! Freddie can eat for a week on this!" George exclaimed happily.

After our food arrived it was back to guitar talk, and I appreciate very much all of the kind words and advice George offered. One of my favorite things he said about my instruments is that my instruments have a soul within them. I see that my dad is able to do that with his instruments, and if I have learned to do that from him, I am exceptionally proud. To me, each of my instruments is a living breathing thing, and if you consider external elements such as humidity expanding and contracting the wood, it is essentially doing just that. To have someone who has seen and played many amazing guitars be able to find a soul within my guitars was a big deal for me.

All in all, I enjoyed my visit, making another small tentative step into this world of guitars that seems so daunting to me. I think the main reason for that is because I care so much more about the construction, the journey of each instrument, and what I get from doing that work than I do from actually having the finished product in front of me. Each time I finish a guitar I am very proud to see it and have it and share it with people, but there is always a sadness to knowing that the journey is finished. I guess if I look at my job as a whole, the journey will never be finished and it is comforting to know that my guitars are enjoyed and that the love I put into each will continue even when the work is finished.

Gone Fishin' (part 2)

Summer in Rugby is one of my most favorite times. Perhaps it is because during my childhood that is when I spent the majority of my time there, filling my summer breaks from school with country shenanigans. Or maybe just because that is when nature is at its most content. Everything is colorful and blooming, gardens are filled with fat, nutrient rich produce, leaves are proud to display their bright green surfaces, animals enjoy their time in the sun, and Wilson Creek runs full and strong.

It is difficult to get my dad to do much of anything with me if it doesn't take place in his shop, or at least has a guitar involved. Last summer though, I got him to take me fishing up in the mountain behind our house, telling me stories of when he went with his dad when he was younger.

I was reminded of this story when on Friday evening my husband and I went to a fancy restaurant, even nicer than my dad's go-to gourmet haunt, The Cracker Barrel, if you can believe it, and I was deciding between two entrees. After consulting with Stewart, our server, he warned me that the trout entree for the evening had its head and tail still intact, in case that would be a problem for me. In my typical, endearing (maybe?), unfiltered fashion, I proceeded to tell him about the time Leah and I caught a trout from the creek and bludgeoned it to death with a stick, then attempted to fillet it following directions we found on Youtube. We then proceeded to bake it intact because the flimsy knife and large plastic plate adorned with Christmas scenes proved to be inadequate for successfully butchering a whole fish. (You can read a more indepth account in a past blog entry titled Gone Fishing, if you really want to.) He went away, probably filled with pity/concern for my poor husband, assuming I am definitely insane, but also hopefully with the understanding that I a head-on trout for dinner is the least of my worries. If you were wondering, I decided to order the grouper entree because I am obviously already an expert on catching and preparing trout.

Anyway, I asked my dad to go fishing with me, and he heartily agreed, much to my surprise. We dug out the fishing rods Leah and I had been using earlier in the summer, and set about finding bait. My dad said he always dug worms from a special spot in Granny's yard, right next to the branch. (That is Rugby talk for a small stream, not the appendage of a tree.) We loaded up a shovel and went to digging holes in her yard near the bank. I am not sure how many earthworms we actually found, but they filled a styrofoam coffee cup pretty sufficiently. After gathering our worms we headed out to the creek (the bit of a water network that is a step bigger than a branch). My dad told me he used to catch minnows in the branch and use them in lieu of worms, but it takes significant patience to do that, and neither of us felt it would behoove us to work all day to catch little fish in order to catch more fish. We just wanted to go straight for the big prize.

As I plunked my line into the water and proceeded to wait on the bank, my dad told me that his dad showed him how to fish long ago. It isn't just throwing a line into the water and hoping for something to bite, there is actually skill and strategy to it. (I thought my strategy of plunking was right, but apparently not.) Apparently, using a method works though, as my grandfather could catch ten fish when everyone else would be lucky to catch one. The game warden, John Emerson, lived just up the street from my grandparent's house, and apparently, he wasn't the best hunter. He knew my Grandfather Walt was, so he would always invite him to fish or hunt with him every chance he could. He would 'confiscate' any game over the limit that my grandfather had procured, citing official game warden rules of course. My grandfather would happily oblige since Mr. Emerson would often fail to ticket him while hunting or fishing alone, and my grandfather brought home anything over the imposed limit. Mr. Emerson would be sure to take two or three fish from my grandfather's catch though, just to teach him a lesson.

My dad instructed me to crouch behind rocks, and, "don't let the fish know you are there." I didn't really understand because how is a fish going to see me when I am perched quietly, albeit precariously, on a rock above white rushing bubbly water? "I don't know how, but hey can," he assured me. I don't typically associate my dad with acts of stealth, except maybe when he is unleashing the mongoose on some poor gullible victim in his shop, so I was impressed to see him slither between the boulders lining the creek with surprising ease and expertise. I followed his advice, slipping behind a mossy rock and tossing my line into the water. After a while lo and behold, I caught one! When I triumphantly looked up to show my dad, he had already caught two fish, and was proceeding to clean them on bank. That was where Leah and I went wrong, you are supposed to bust out your trusty pocket knife and dig out the fish guts right there on a rock, not take the whole fish home in an emptied salt and pepper kettle chip bag. After he cleaned my little fish for me, we caught a few more and headed home, deciding we had a sufficient amount for dinner.

I baked the trout, heads and tails and all, in a pan filled with fresh onions, zucchini and squash from Herb's garden. Aside from my other trout catching-to-eating adventure, it was my favorite dinner I have ever made. And those who know me, know I can make a pretty delicious dinner. So maybe the main reason I love summer in Rugby so much is because I am surrounded by amazing fresh produce, and if I want, I can pluck my dinner straight from the creek with (hopefully) only a bit of struggle. The extra work of preparing my own food is worth so much more to me than having the money to purchase similar ingredients from a store. I know it hasn't always seemed like a luxury for my family to have to tend to a garden and take care of livestock while living on a farm, but I am so thankful my Granny, Aunt Shirleen, and my dad have taught me how to do that so I am able to fully appreciate where my food comes from.


Gossip

"Did you see that car that just went down the road?" my Granny asked her friend Lola. "I haven't seen it before, wonder who they are visiting." Every morning when I stayed with my Granny I would hear one side of this conversation, only varying in type of vehicle and the driver's assumed business in Rugby.

There were two phones in Granny's house. One hung on the wall in the living room, just within reach of the large scratchy floral print chair that faced the TV, its cord curling to the floor and back up to the receiver. The other was an old black rotary model that sat on a small antique table facing the one window in my grandmother's room. There was a small chair tucked underneath the table.  The window looked out over the front porch, yard, and the road beyond the garden. I used to love playing with this phone because you could put your finger in a hole, pull it around in a circle and let go, where it would make a delightful ringing sound. From this phone my Granny made her important morning calls.

Every day she had a rotation of female friends whom she called, or who called her, detailing the community gossip of the day. A lot of the time the topics would include gardening and trips to town along with the curiosity over a new vehicle on the road. Also, obituaries were a pretty big deal.

I mentioned in my last post that my dad's Granny would never miss the Grand Ole Opry or the obituaries on the radio. The same can be said of my Granny, about the obituaries anyway. Every day at noon, right before her 'stories' she would sit and listen to a little black radio, roughly the shape of a loaf of French bread; not a baguette, but those smaller fatter ones typically used for garlic bread, adjusting the antenna to be sure she heard every syllable. I remember the radio well, it sat in the living room also within reach of the large scratchy chair. Every day gloomy organ music wavered from the speakers before the announcer would read through the list of community members who had passed on. I knew never to disturb Granny during the obituaries because it seemed of dire importance that she hear each name read off. My aunt told me the other day that once when I was very small I accidentally knocked the radio off the table, and worried I had broken it, ran to tell Granny, "I'm sorry, I think I broke your obituary."

My dad told me that Granny Ollie (his granny) would also listen to the obituaries religiously. He said that sometimes the radio would happily announce that, "Today we are blessed with no deaths." She would look disconcertingly at the radio and grunt, "Huh." and switch the program off. I suppose that just meant there was less fodder for conversation with her friends later, not that she was particularly upset that no one died that day. My dad also joked that maybe she felt the need to listen to be sure she wasn't on it.

It seems kind of ridiculous that these ladies would pay so much attention to the deaths of their neighbors, or if a foreign car drives through their tiny pocket of the world. I think though that it is an incredible display of community that isn't often seen this day in age. I remember someone not from here complaining to me that they attended a fundraiser at the rescue squad and were not received as highly as they expected to be, given the amount they donated to the cause. My reply was that this tight knit community is not driven by money, so it is not necessarily possible to buy your way in. You have to be a respectful neighbor, take notice of the odd visitor, and maybe even listen to the obituaries.

My Dad's Story

Typically I prefer to tell my own stories rather than someone else's, but I feel that this story is leading up to my own experiences so I will let it slide. It seems everyone in the guitar community has something to say about George Gruhn. Usually it isn't terribly positive or kind. Because of this, I have always been a little bit scared of him, but after hearing my dad tell me about his experiences with George, I found a respect and friendship I hadn't gleaned from anyone else's accounts.

My dad met George at the Galax Fiddler's Convention many years ago, probably around 1965. He told me that what initially caught his eye was a "hippy-looking" man walking through the crowd with a Martin D-45. Of course he would notice the guitar before the person, but that is just how my dad works. I think guitars speak to him more clearly than people do. He told me he had never seen a D-45 in person before, so nothing was going to stand in his way of seeing that guitar. After that initial meeting, my dad said he saw George at Galax and Fiddler's Grove each year. One thing that stood out to him was that George started wearing a lot of diamond rings. That probably made George stand out to everyone in a crowd of old time and bluegrass pickers. But, that was the point, my dad said. He guessed that by donning diamonds, George established himself as a real "wheeler-dealer" when it came to buying, selling, and trading valuable instruments. It must have worked, since he now is one of the most well known guitar dealers in the world.

Not too long after my dad and George met, George invited my dad to work in the little shop he was starting in Nashville. Not wanting to stray too far from his family's farm in Rugby, my dad reluctantly agreed to come help out for a few days at a time every month or so. He also told me that since he worked on the farm, he was able to avoid being drafted so he didn't want to leave the farm permanently.

The first night he went to work in Nashville, he stayed with George. When he walked into his house, my dad noticed two glass terrariums on the floor housing several large snakes. The terrariums only had a meagre covering, if any, much to my dad's concern. "Don't worry about those snakes, they don't get out that often," George told my dad. My dad closed the door to his room, hoping to keep the snakes out, but then noticed there was a crack between the floor and the door large enough for the snakes to slither through if they so desired. He stuffed his flannel shirt into the crack in case one of the snakes decided that night was a good time to go exploring the guest room.

George stayed with my dad in Rugby once too. Instead of driving back to Chicago following the Galax Fiddler's Convention one year, my dad invited George to stay at my Granny's house. My dad and George pulled up to the house, and my dad told him if he needed to go to the bathroom, the outhouse is just up that hill, pointing into a pitch black night. George stuck his head out of his car and said, "Wheeere?" (My dad, imitating George, says it with two syllables. I encourage you to do the same.) When I met with George a couple of weeks ago I asked him what he thought of my Granny's house and he said, "It was very nice, except they didn't have indoor plumbing! Your dad just peed off the front porch!"

After my dad's visit to George's house, he decided to stay with his cousin Peggy from then on when he drove to Nashville to work for George. If you read the post about the corn cob baseball, Peggy is my dad's cousin Tex's sister. She is also Lauren and Leah's aunt. When I asked my dad why she was never mentioned in stories about his adventures with Tex he replied, "Because she's a girl! We didn't associate with girls."

Every Saturday night in Rugby, my dad and his parents would gather around their radio and tune into the Grand Ole Opry. My dad said listening to the Opry was his favorite thing to do, and often he would walk up to his Granny's house and listen with her because she had a nicer radio. "Granny Ollie's favorite things to listen to were the Opry and the obituary program," he told me. I remember that my granny also would listen to the obituaries every day without fail. I guess that was just the thing to do.

Back alley between the Ryman and Tootsies
After my dad had been working for him a while, George took my dad to the Ryman Theater, where the Grand Ole Opry was recorded. Without a second glance, Mr. Bell, the back door security guard, let George and my dad right through, as George supplied most of the Opry members with instruments. along with other Opry greats, my dad was introduced to Sam and Kirk McGee. Sam was the oldest member of the Opry at the time. My dad told me that being able to meet him and his brother was the biggest deal to him because Sam especially was a great guitar player, and my dad had learned guitar tunes from listening to him on the radio each Saturday night. The next time my dad wanted to go back to the Opry, George told him to just go on, but my dad was concerned Mr. Bell wouldn't remember him, so George scribbled a note vouching for my dad on the back one of his business cards and sent him along. Mr. Bell let him right in.

My dad got to be pretty good friends with Sam McGee, who would pick with him backstage every time he came to visit. He taught my dad the tune "Wheels", which I remember him playing at a concert with one of my guitars once. I find it really amazing that music can bring such history with it. At the time, I just listened to and enjoyed the song, but now knowing my dad's story wound within the notes, I feel so so much more connected to it, and honored that he chose that song, and played it on something I made.


Sam invited my dad to play a tune on the show with him, but my dad chickened out. He told me that might be his biggest regret in life. He was also invited to join Sam's band, but the $52 that the members earned from playing on the Opry every two weeks wasn't much of a paycheck, and my dad again insisted on heading back to Rugby to help his parents with their farm work.

I asked my dad if he worked on any cool guitars while he was helping George. "Yeah, Neil Young, Steven Stills, Elvis.." he said nonchalantly. He told me that Neil Young's D-28 herringbone guitar came into the shop with a bullet hole just to the right of the end pin. Apparently it had been shot through the bottom and when exiting, the bullet blew the top and pickguard to pieces. That had already been fixed, but my dad fitted a patch of ebony to cover the "entry wound". He added an inlay of a broken arrow within the ebony patch. He told me that a few months ago he watched a TV special with Neil Young, who was playing that guitar, the little ebony patch visible from the stage.

So, George might have a bit of an odd personality, but so does my dad. While they go about interacting with people in a different way, I think that they understand each other on a level that us normal folks can't totally comprehend. From listening to each of them talk to me about the other, I hear such a mutual respect that makes me proud to know them both, and to have given a little bit of access to their secret club.


Nashville

I will begin this entry by apologizing for my several month hiatus from the blog world. In my defense, I have several entries written, but have not felt satisfied with the writing or content enough to share them with you. For that I am also sorry. I want to tell you something really great, and this long, cold winter has left me sticking it out with my head down, just plugging along working on guitars, waiting for the amount of daylight and warm temperatures to lengthen.

Last December, I traveled to Nashville with my dad, and during the drive, he regaled me with great stories of his time working for the legendary guitar expert George Gruhn, experiencing downtown Nashville when he was younger, and odd adventures regarding George’s other interest, reptiles. (These stories will be shared in an entry soon to come.) After hearing those stories, I had been so excited to experience this same energy and see the places he spoke of.

Unfortunately, the trip did not quite live up to my expectations, so I left feeling a bit frustrated with the situation and the trip in general, despite the incredible hospitality and kindness from Christie and Walter Carter, owners of Carter Vintage Guitars, their employees, and of course my best good friend Mac Wiggins. Ask me about it sometime, I will try to explain what upset me in a bit more detail. But after that trip, I vowed to come back to Nashville and have an absolutely amazing time. Last week I did exactly that, and I absolutely cannot wait to tell you about it.

Nick and I loaded up my Subaru with ukulele and guitar cases and headed west on I-40 with Nick Offerman's book Paddle Your Own Canoe blaring from the speakers. Come on, everyone needs a little advice from Ron Swanson, no?  I was a bit apprehensive heading to Country Music Central without my dad this time, but during that last visit I hadn’t been able to show my work to George, and when we visited his shop in December George had requested that I do so. The day before Nick and I left Asheville,  I had apprehensively called George to ask if he would like to see a couple of guitars if I brought them. The anxiety was there because with the exception of my dad, no one I know has had particularly positive things to say about George Gruhn. Luckily, he was very friendly and at least seemed excited for me to bring my guitars by, so I made an appointment for the next day. The story of how that meeting went can wait for another entry as well since I don’t want to overwhelm you with a ridiculously long post right out of the gate.

The evening we arrived in Nashville Nick and I went to dinner with Clay Cook. Clay, if you don't know already, is an incredible guitar player whom I had met few weeks prior to our trip. He randomly walked into the shop saying, “Zac Brown sent me with a gun for you dad. Where should I put it?” Since this was the Friday during Merlefest, I was alone in the shop, trying to glue a neck into a 0-41 sunburst guitar, which is a tedious and important maneuver that I hadn't yet done by myself. I was a bit nervous to be completely unsupervised during the process, but as my dad left that morning he called over his shoulder, “You’ll be fine, just remember to measure twice, cut once.”

I recognized Clay from pictures Christie Carter posted via her facebook page, as when he comes to check out the amazing guitars at her shop, it is definitely an event worth documenting. If you hadn't already deduced, Clay plays guitar in the Zac Brown Band, and is seriously one of the most amazing musicians I have heard in a while. He is also good friends with John Mayer, and was the catalyst behind my opportunity to meet him, which as you know, was a super huge deal for me. I tried so hard not to sound crazy and ask him a thousand questions about John Mayer...tried and failed maybe. He might think I am insane.  

Anyway, I am so glad I got to meet Clay that quiet afternoon in my dad’s shop, because I had the opportunity to find out that he is a super friendly, great guy, who says nice things about my guitars. He happened to be in Nashville the week I was visiting, so we planned to meet up for dinner when Nick and I arrived. 

After we went to dinner at an awesome sushi restaurant Clay recommended, we stopped to see Zac Brown’s new Southern Ground Studios. Now, I will try not to bore you with what interested me the most during that visit, but I will tell you, the floors in that place are insane. Every square foot of that recording studio is covered with the most beautiful flamed koa, maple, and mahogany planks I have ever seen. Apparently Bob Taylor provided boards that were too small to make guitars, so they were used as flooring. I kind of cried a little bit with each step I took. The pristine equipment and the cozy wood-paneled sound booths, smelling faintly similar to my dad’s shop, were all incredible, but I had a difficult time getting over that floor. Think of the beautiful ukuleles that will never come to fruition….Luckily, the events that followed were a tiny bit cooler than the floor. 

As we were concluding our tour, we ended up in the kitchen having a beer with Rebecca Wood, the wife of Oliver Wood (of the awesome band, The Wood Brothers) and a film crew who were following Dave Grohl, the drummer for Nirvana and lead singer and guitar player for The Foo Fighters. "Hey! You guys want to come hang out a while? Dave is coming by with some chicken," Rebecca said to us as we walked into the kitchen. "Dave who?" we wondered...After a few minutes of chatting with the other folks in the room, Dave Grohl walks into the small space with several huge bags filled to the brim with Hattie B's fried chicken. After everybody started passing around the styrofoam meal packages, he mentioned feeling a little bad for buying so much because there was no line when he arrived, but as he took the chicken, he noticed a line forming as the kitchen tried to catch back up to their demand. I am not much for fried chicken, but I guess when Dave Grohl brings it to you, you can’t really say no. I will admit it was some of the best chicken I have had in quite some time.

The next evening, Dave told us, he was playing an unadvertised show at the Blue Bird Café and Clay graciously invited us to join him. Now, just so you know, Dave Grohl is Nick’s John Mayer, so I think he was just too excited to say much to him. I understand the feeling of meeting someone you think is so talented you don’t really know what to do in their presence, but I am really excited for Nick that he got to shake Dave's hand and hang out with him a little bit. I personally don’t know too much about Dave’s music, but apparently Nick had to replace his Nirvana CDs several times due to wear. The significance of Dave’s kind invitation really hit me when Nick said he could get out of a work gathering to attend the next night’s show and Dave replied, “Well, as we used to say in Nirvana, you can always work later.” Oh right, he is kind of a big deal...

The show at the Blue Bird was better than I expected, seeing as I had no idea what to expect really. The cozy atmosphere of the tiny cafe, set in a strip mall between a massage therapist office and a dry cleaner, that really set the mood for a great, no frills, real show. It was an amazing balance of Dave’s music with my affinity for acoustic guitar. I enjoyed the humanity he brought with his performance, it felt as though he was speaking to each of the audience members individually, as his tone and manner was just the same as when we were eating chicken with him the previous evening. I found it kind of odd but exhilarating to hear songs I had heard on the radio, such as Learn to Fly, Everlong, and Times Like These. My favorite song he did though was called Friend of a Friend, which Dave wrote for Kurt Cobain. The story that led to the song was sad, but so endearing. Also, I very much appreciate his talent and dexterity as he learned that song on Kurt’s left-handed guitar.

I would say those first few days really highlighted our trip, but we also explored downtown, experienced a show at the Ryman Theater, found some beautiful historic buildings, walked down Broadway with its multitude of retina-burning neon signs, and judged the unappealing outfit of choice for young ladies: super short denim shorts with cowboy boots. It became a game for us to find evidence of this unfortunate fashion statement, typically preferred by girls running in hoards trailing a tiara-veiled bachelorette. All in all, we had a great time, Nashville was a kind place, full of super folks. Can't wait to go back and hang out with my new friends! 

Me with Clay Cook at the Blue Bird Cafe


Double Fun Day!

DeeDee keeping watch from her peghead.
Yesterday was an exciting day in the shop for me! I drank out of a coconut (I will explain that later), played several rounds of You Are My Sunshine and Cripple Creek with my dad, oh, and strung up two instruments! That is a first for me, having two projects finish up on the same day. It was interesting to string one up, then move right on to the next one. I felt a bit as though I hadn't provided my little ukulele baby with enough attention, however, since it is going to be living with me indefinitely, I figured it would be alright if I went ahead and concentrated on a new guitar for a while.

I have named my new White ash guitar DeeDee. The new owner asked me to inlay the likeness of his wife's favorite goat (DeeDee) into the back of the peghead. Even though the inlay sort of resembles a cartoon of a goat, I promise that is really what she looks like in the photographs that were sent over. What do you think, does she look like a goat to you?

I always get so excited about hearing new guitars, but this one I was especially eager to hear because I have never heard an ash guitar before. I must admit that it sounds surprisingly lovely, with waves of energy bursting from the soundhole. To me, it sounds strong, confident, and playful. Now I know, describing the way I hear something is kind of ridiculous since, as I learned in perception class at NC State, we all take in external stimuli differently, so what I hear is never going to equal what you hear. You'll just have to take a visit to the shop and see for yourself! Before Thanksgiving would be best as it will be headed home after that.

I love that each instrument I build (or my dad builds, or Martin, etc.) has a personality all its own that you can pick out from the first strum of the strings. The sound I hear in my ukulele is very different than the peppy ash guitar. To me it sounds mellow and laid back, just how I would picture someone relaxing in a hammock on a beach in Hawaii. Instead of being built from Hawaiian koa however, I chose a beautiful set of blistered maple that I stained dark to bring out the bubbles within the grain. I sanded the pieces that make up the body quite thin, similar to the thickness of the top and back of the 1920s Martin ukulele my dad has that sounds incredible. I figured maple would likely be the strongest material to withstand such thin pieces, and I have always enjoyed the sound of maple instruments, so now here we are!

The bridge needs a little bit if explanation. I want to practice what I preach, and stay away from unsustainable/illegal materials when possible, so to tell you the bridge of my ukulele is made from ivory might cause a look of skepticism to cross your face. Let me set the record straight. My dad met a woman at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop one of the many summers he has been teaching there. She sent him a carved African statue made from an elephant tusk. We aren't sure exactly how old the statue is, but when my dad's friend hosted a Peruvian exchange student, the student's father, who had been working in East Africa, presented her with the statue as a gift. It was brought into the US well before the ban on ivory and has never been sold or bartered.

To be delicate, the sculpture did not exactly boast the cutest face you'd ever seen carved into something.  According to my dad's friend, her grandson was scared of it, so she put it away in a closet after it sat, displayed in her living room, for several decades. Her children had no interest in inheriting the artifact, so she sent it along to my dad, hoping he would be able to use it to make nuts and saddles for guitars. She hoped for something good to come of the statue for which a majestic elephant had sacrificed one of its tusks many many years ago. After the statue glared at us from a shelf  behind the bandsaw for several months, my dad finally decided to make use of it. He offered to give me a piece to make an old-timey pyramid bridge for my ukulele. I think these bridges are one of the most beautiful, elegant pieces that can be added to a guitar and figured a little one for a ukulele would look extra neat. "You reckon an African spirit is going to come haunt us if we cut this thing up?" He asked. I was not sure, and am still a little concerned that I might have a cursed ukulele on my hands, but I think it is worth the risk. The gift of this sculpture has brought joy and happiness to me, as now I have a beautiful ukulele that sounds and looks way too good for who it is for. ;-)


                         




Corn Cobs and Baseball

It is interesting to think about how I sought entertainment as a kid versus how a kid today keeps busy, and even more interesting to listen to the stories of how my dad used to. Coming from a place with no video games or TV, not too many kids his own age to play with, and only a pocket knife and farm animals in the general vicinity I know from experience that it was probably difficult to find things to do in Rugby. My dad was definitely more inventive than I was. In honor of the Red Sox winning the World Series, I am going to write a little bit about one of my dad's childhood pastimes because he seems to get such pleasure from telling shop visitors about it.

By the time I came around, my Granny's farm had shrunk to include only low maintenance animals; a few chickens and grazing cows to keep the field grass from growing up, and for a short time, the hateful turkey/my dad's bestie, Smedley. When my dad was young, the farm had, accompanying the chickens, milk cows and beef cows, horses, mules, sheep, ducks, and a pen full of pigs.

As I may have mentioned before, when my dad was young, there weren't many folks around Rugby who were my dad's age, and just like how I used to run around with my cousins, Lauren and Leah, my dad would run around with his cousin, (Lauren and Leah's uncle) Tex. A lot of times they would take over hog lot and take nibbled corn cobs from the trough with which they would play a game aptly dubbed corn cob baseball.

The object of the game was to hit the cob out of the hog lot and that feat would procure a run. The difficulty of the game was to actually hit the cob. The bat was usually a plank of wood about two inches in width, into which my dad would whittle a handle. Most of the cobs sent its way would shatter upon being struck, but every now and again the batter could hit the cob directly on its end and send it flying. Since there was no catcher or umpire, the cousins figured out a method to cut down on a lot of arguments that tended to arise regarding balls and strikes. They hung an empty paper fertilizer bag on the fence behind the batter, and if the cob hit the bag, which made a 'big racket' the batter was issued a strike, and if it didn't he was awarded a ball.

According to my dad, he had an advantage on Tex. Since he had the home team advantage and was able to have access to the hog lot and the corn cobs every day, he would practice for hours throwing a curve ball...er cob. He said he got it just right so Tex was sure it was headed right toward his head, but at the last second it would curve and hit the fertilizer bag. "That really burt Tex up," my dad said laughing, clearly proud of his skill.

The way he describes his game, it sounds like such a fun way to keep entertained on a little farm in the middle of nowhere. I mainly piled together sticks and other bits of kindling that I found in the woodshed and pretended it was a town or something.

This year I watched some of the World Series with my dad. It started out that he was watching it and I was just there, pinning recipes on Pinterest or something, but I became curious when he would get excited about something that happened on the screen. He explained plays to me, and when 'ol' Beardy' did something good, and I actually began to appreciate the game a little bit. The way he explained the baseball games to me was similar to the way I heard him talk about his corn cob game. He was so excited about it and I felt lucky to share that time with him, enjoying vicariously something he has loved for his whole life, almost as much as he loves guitars. I even watched the last couple games of the Series at home in Asheville, something I would never normally do, just because I felt like it was still something I was doing with my dad, and even though he wasn't physically there, it felt like he was.

Set-up

When I feel like a guitar is finished, it is never really finished. I guess the feeling of it being 'done' happens when the finish is buffed out and shiny, the neck is glued in, and the tuners are wound tight with strings. It is rarely the case that you're done after all of that.


Stringing up an acoustic instrument takes so much longer than I ever think it should. Before you can string a guitar, for example, a shiny Koa 0-42, holes must be drilled through the freshly glued on bridge so that bridge pins can snugly fit into the body of the guitar. I will tell you that holes drilled into an almost finished, shiny, clean guitar is just my least favorite activity. I can definitely feel my blood pressure increase with each turn of the drill bit as it digs deeper into my guitar top. Next, I have to drive little files into those holes to make slots for the strings so they don't bund or cause buzzing under the guitar top. The stressful crux of that operation is keeping the tiny serrated daggers in the slots within bridge holes and keeping them from sneakily popping out and gauging a hole in the top of the beautiful guitar. Lots of times I use one of Herb's bridge removal tools, a piece of cardboard with a bridge shaped hole cut out of it, to keep from hitting the top if I were to slip with the file. Thanks for that invention, Herb. 

After the strings are tuned up on the instrument, it has to make the right sounds. If I cut the slots wrong into the fingerboard, that won't be the case. So far, that hasn't happened to one of my instruments, as I am severely meticulous when it comes to making fingerboards, due to this exact reason, but I always check every note anyway. After making sure each note is correct on the fingerboard, it is time to check for buzzing. In order to reduce the chance of the strings buzzing, all of the frets must be even so that the strings hit at the right spot on the fingerboard rather than hitting a high fret closer to the soundhole. Now that we have a fret press rather than having to hammer each fret into the fingerboard slot, the job of filing the frets even with each other is significantly easier. When I would hammer the metal, it would never end up even across the fingerboard, leaving little humps on each fret to be filed down. Even though it is a bit simpler, I still look at the arced piece of metal onto which a strip of sand paper is affixed with disdain as it is never a fun task to scrub it across the fingerboard of a finished guitar.

The thing about all the extra work that comes with finishing a guitar or a ukulele is that I feel even more attached to this thing that I have made, a lot of times feeling as though it is a living being I am adopting out, hopefully to a loving home. And I worry with each one that it won't go to as loving a home as I would wish. That is typically not the case at all, as most folks who order a custom instrument know how to care for and love what I have painstakingly made. This time was no exception. I can tell just as the case is first opened when someone really understands what I want for one of my guitars, and I think my latest 0-42 is going to be a very happy guitar. It's new owner Roger's face lit up almost as much as Ralphie's did when he received his Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two Hundred Shot Range Model Air Rifle. Hopefully Roger doesn't put his eye out with his new guitar though. I am usually so sad to see all of my hard work head out the door, but this time I was so happy to experience how glad it's new owner was to have it, and I know it will be well loved and have a great life.






Binding

Have you ever wondered why guitars have binding on them? I have, because, you know, I am a luthier, and I spent the better part of today adding pearl around the top of a Koa 0-42. I assume the reason for the traditional ivoroid wrapped around a guitar body is there because it protects the instrument from damage to the sides, and it also covers up any issues that may make a perfect fit of the top and back impossible. I am less sure about the ornamentation such as herringbone or abalone that winds around the top next to the binding other than the increased fanciness it provides.

I was thinking it might be interesting to read about how I go about adding binding and purfling on my guitars. If that doesn't sound interesting to you, go ahead and skip this post. I will try to write something more witty and entertaining for you next time. For folks interested in the construction of a guitar, this is a pretty interesting, albeit difficult, process that isn't always appreciated since it is not the most glamorous task in the guitar shop. (Just wait till I get to finish work.)

My dad has a silver, clunky router that looks like it was manufactured in 1978, maybe earlier, sitting in the top trough attached to one of the carpeted benches that snugly clamps guitar bodies ready for work. This router is special and is only used for the sole job of routing around guitar bodies to make space for binding and purfling. It has black electric tape wound around the orange cord where it emerges from the machine because it has twisted into frays from overuse. I worry every time I use it because I am pretty sure that this time will be it's last trip around a guitar, but it makes it every time, wheezing and overheated as it might be.

In order to get perfect binding on a guitar, you first have to cut the perfect groove. As badly as I hate adjusting, and testing, then adjusting again, that is what it takes. After several short runs on a test block of maple or spruce that I find behind the bandsaw, I finally get the right depth for the binding. Then, I route the space for the purfling, adjusting the router to cut less from the sides and more from the top.

After the groove is cut, it is time to glue on the binding and purfling. I prefer to use wood binding usually, so in those cases I use wood glue to attach the pieces, but this Koa 0-42 I am currently working on calls for ivoroid binding, so Duco cement is the best adhesive for that material. Along with the binding this guitar also requires that I add abalone around the top. In order to do that I have to fit a strip of three black and white stained maple lines on either side of a strip of teflon that is later removed and replaced with abalone. The most frustrating thing ever about the teensie tiny lines is that one of the black lines is thicker than the other, but not very much so it is just about impossible to figure out which is which. And it is important because the thicker line always sits next to the abalone. It is not always evident which line is thicker so I spend a significant amount of time checking and rechecking the lines before I glue them to the body. Just about every guitar that requires me to glue on these lines fills me with anxiety until I scrape down the binding flush with the guitar top and see for sure that I passed the test.

Can you tell which line is thicker?


With 42 and 45 style guitars, the purfling also runs around the neck and into the soundhole rosette. Now, I just want to tell you that this task took me all day today so I now understand the reason my dad typically prefers not to make guitars with such ornamentation. After measuring and routing the space, the dreaded tiny black and white lines must be perfectly joined together with a 45 degree mitre joint. So, on top of making sure the lines are siting the right way, each one must fit perfectly together. That is eight, count them, eight dreaded tiny lines that must line up around the neck and flow around the body. This work reminded me of a tedious surgical procedure, you know, minus the stress of potentially killing someone. After the lines are glued in, the teflon is removed and abalone must also be perfectly joined together. While struggling to match the lines, I asked my dad, "Is anyone seriously going to look this close?" "Yep." He answered.





The first work I ever did on guitars was putting the abalone in the space around the body when I was visiting during breaks from school. I remember enjoying that, but I never had to do the difficult mitre bits. I would snap the thin abalone strips into the space between the black and white lines with a satisfying click. I remember when my dad let me put the inlay into the guitar he was making for Eric Clapton, and while I knew it wasn't the most difficult job, it was still so great to be offered the position. I am glad I was provided that opportunity, because the feeling I had doing that, my dad trusting me to do satisfactory work, has been something I constantly strive for now in my current work as a luthier. And I have to do all the jobs these days.


Look what I did today! 


Falltime=Apples

Cooking is one of my favorite pastimes. I am not entirely sure from where that interest stems, but I would like to think my Granny had something to do with it. I remember marveling at the outcome of requests for snacks such as pickles or french fries. I would expect, of course, for her to pull out a jar filled with limp, artificially colored pickles, the likes of which I see in the grocery store. But that was never the case. She gathered cucumbers from her garden, made her own brine with what she had, and they were always the most delicious pickles I had ever had. Usually a bit different each time. A lot of times I would simply request cucumbers sliced into spears with a sprinkling of salt on top. I think that was just about my favorite snack. And the fries never came from an Oreida bag. She would take a potato from the potato bin sitting below the window in the kitchen overlooking the back porch. She would then cut and fry the starch in a cast iron pan. I am not sure if I appreciated her hard work at the time as much as I do now, but I am sure I never loved or appreciated anything she made more than the apples.

Granny's apple tree
Every fall, Granny would gather apples that fell from her apple tree, which is still growing between the old cellar house and my dad's very first shop. She would then peel them. Have you ever seen someone who really knows what they are doing peel an apple? I have forever been amazed at this practice, and a few days ago while I was hacking the peel from some apples I was using to my one of my favorite fall brunch items (apple upside down biscuit cake), my thoughts returned to her and how she could peel an apple so perfectly without ever breaking the peel. Her small silver paring knife would glint in the light as she slowly and expertly peeled the apple, starting from the stem, and trimmed the peel in a beautiful spiral until it fell to the table in a single piece. Thinking back on it now, I can so clearly see her wrinkled hands, the back of the knife pressed hard into her thumb as she guided it slowly around the apple. The way she did that reminds me so much of how my dad carves on a mahogany guitar neck. I wonder if she enjoyed doing that as much as I know my dad enjoys whittling.



After she peeled the apples, she would slice them and spread them over a rack above the stove to dry. I remember looking at that rack, wires woven together to make quarter inch squares, and imagining it was something magical. It would always excite me when I walked into her house and saw the rack, sometimes filled with apples already, sometimes not. Either way, I knew something great was in the works. I tend to remember that production each year fall rolls around. My dad just said Granny would growl at him any time he would sneak a slice from the rack before they had dried. I always remember her looking the other way when I did it...


Apples still grow on the apple tree at my Granny's house.


Because I love fall food and apples are a huge part of that, here is my recipe for apple upside down biscuit cake:

Apple topping:
3 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 C brown sugar
2 or 3 peeled granny smith apples (But really, any apples you have will do. I have made this with the red and yellow colored apples from the tree that grows outside my dad's house, and it was delicious.)
A pinch or two of fresh grated nutmeg

Biscuit cake:
1 C flour
1/4 C granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
5 tbs unsalted butter
1/2 C buttermilk

Fist, see if you can peel an apple without breaking the peel. Apparently it is good luck if you can do it. My Granny was pretty lucky :-)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees

In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and add brown sugar and a few grates of nutmeg. Stir to mix until sugar is incorporated, then remove from the heat. Add apples. If you'd like, you can simply arrange the apples in an aesthetically pleasing manner and leave it at that. I prefer to mix the apples in with the brown sugar mixture, then just make sure the bottom of the pan is covered with apples. I have tried this both ways, it is good no matter what. Set the pan aside.

In a medium bowl whist together all dry ingredients, then add butter and using your hands work the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles course meal. Add the buttermilk and mix just until incorporated. Pour the biscuit dough over the apples. It is not necessary to completely cover the apples, but try to spread the mixture evenly over the apples, spreading the dough out to about one inch from the sides of the pan.

Bake the cake in the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Let the cake cool a bit before inverting it onto a plate or cookie sheet. Replace any apples that stick to the skillet.

I hope you enjoy this lovely fall treat! It is great for dessert or breakfast/brunch. If you try it, let me know how it turns out! (And if you were able to peel an apple in one piece.)



(I'm Still) Buzzing Just Like Neon

Harper and I were walking down our little road earlier this morning and among the light morning haze I felt a breeze. It was the breeze of impending fall. You know, when everything still looks like summer, save for a few overachieving trees dropping their leaves when everything else around them is still green, but there is that undercurrent of moving air that carries with it the slightest tinge of chill. I know it's coming, and while I do enjoy fall, I also know it is just a precursor to the most dreaded (by me) of all seasons.

I used to enjoy winter very much, but then my body started to dislike it, contracting a syndrome called Raynaud's, which basically just means that when there is a possibility of it being a bit chilly outside (or inside or anywhere) my body thinks that I have wandered deep into the backcountry on top of some extremely high altitude mountain that would require the aid of sherpas and therefore solely focuses on keeping only my vital organs warm, lots of times leaving my fingers, feet, and toes to fend for themselves without any blood at all. So, if you notice that I wear a lot of down vests and UGG boots in weather that seems not to require such drastic puffy clothing, the reason is that my body can't tell the difference between what the temperature actually is and what it would if I were hanging out on the top Everest. So...my point is that while I enjoy fall, and all of the festivities that fall within those colorful months, I am not too keen on the impending wintertime. Let's focus on fall then.

Even though I am not in school anymore, I still get that feeling that fall is the time to start new projects with enthusiasm and join a lot of groups and fill up my calendar with social obligations and sign up for trail races so I can relive all of the autumns that I ran cross country. I didn't particularly enjoy the cross country season since I was far more successful at track an field, but still for nostalgia's sake, I go on longer runs and falltime is the very best running weather, most often with a soundtrack packed full of songs written and performed by John Mayer.

I like to feel nostalgic about music. Does that ever happen to you? When a CD by an artist that you just love comes out and you listen to it repeatedly until you get kind of tired of it, and then when you listen to songs from that album months from then, you remember how it felt to listen to them when you first purchased the album? No? Maybe that is just me...Well, to me, fall sounds like John Mayer. I have preferred to listen to his music above most anyone else's for about twelve years now. And it seems like many of his records have come out in the fall. So, now when I listen to 'Something's Missing', or 'Back to You', or 'Neon', I think of the year that I most often listened to those tracks, with my earbuds stuffed in my ears, providing for me a soundtrack on my way to sociology class. This fall, Paradise Valley is providing such a great musical background to my life. My dad, who has quietly and patiently listened to just about every John Mayer album on repeat in the shop even says this new album is good. (That's really saying something since when I have asked for a visit/personal concert with John Mayer for Christmas just about every year for the past 10 years always says, "That's just about the closest thing to nothing you can get!")

I have always imagined what I would say to John Mayer, were I ever to meet him, but I never thought I would actually get to say those things. And, I mean, if we are being honest, I still haven't said those things to him even though I had the chance last Wednesday evening at approximately 7:47pm. It is times like these that I am so thankful that my dad is as successful in the guitar business as he is. I don't always love it since it requires me to constantly share his attention with the world, but just right now, that is ok. Otherwise I would not have met Christie Carter, one of the owners of Carter Vintage Instruments, who is kind of amazing if you don't know, and so is her shop filled with great old Martins and Gibsons, and the occasional Henderson guitar. I feel a kindred type relationship with her because there aren't many ladies in the guitar business, so it is a breath of fresh air to get to chat with her instead of the typical shop full of middle aged retired men. I mean, no offense to those guys, but a lot of times it is painfully obvious that I have nothing in common with them except that they really like guitars and I make them. Anyway, Christie managed to get me a few backstage passes to John Mayer's concert in Charlotte, and I just about couldn't handle the excitement as the day slowly approached.

I had a feeling the conversation I would have with John would go similarly to a disastrous one I had with a professor as NC State once. He was one of my very favorite professors, and I enjoyed his classes very much. I always like to set myself apart from the mass of students taking the same class as me, so I would occasionally visit during office hours and say hello before or after class. Well, on a very chilly (for Raleigh) late fall morning I headed to campus, and on my way I grabbed my bottle of Pellegrino out of my car because I love Pellegrino almost as much as I love John Mayer's music and was hoping to drink it on the walk to school. On the way, I noticed that, after being in my car all night, my bottle was frozen. Boo. After class, I noticed that my professor also had a little bottle of Pellegrino as he stood outside of our classroom. "Hi Dr. Kallat! I love Pellegrino. Mine's frozen." I proclaimed with no offer of the backstory that statement required.  Suffice it to say, an awkward silence ensued as my embarrassed friend dragged me from the scene.

This is what I feared would happen when I spoke to John Mayer because, while I don't typically get very star struck when meeting very talented musicians, I did after all ask for a visit with him for Christmas and I had imagined all sorts of things to say to him in the decade that I have enjoyed his music more than anyone else's music. I just hoped to get out that I liked his guitars and that I made them and that he was awesome. It was not as disastrous as my Pellegrino mishap, but I wish we had had more time to chat about guitars since that might be something that would set me a little bit apart from the image of the deranged fan that I actually am. I forgot to tell him how much I love his little Martin 0 45 that he has been playing a lot lately. He said he had heard of my dad's guitars, and I did remember to tell him that I also made guitars and that I preferred to use sustainable wood. To that, he replied that he thought that all guitar wood is sustainable because the wood is preserved forever into an instrument. I started to respond but he stopped me and said, "Just agree with me." And I said, "Ok. Since you are John Mayer I will agree with you." Then we snapped a picture commemorating that moment and I now have another great memory to add to my John Mayer soundtrack of fall.

I can't even help being that excited. Natalie did a better job of not looking insane...Oh well.

Galax

It is currently 1:13 on Sunday morning. I figured I would start this blog post while listening to the competition results of the Galax Fiddlers Convention. The voice crackling over the air waves reminds me of so many August nights that I spent running between jam sessions barefoot looking for some debauchery amid twangs of guitars and banjos. (Side note: my dad just won second place in the guitar competition.)

When I was younger, I used to love going to fiddler's conventions with my dad. Most of the time I would stay up way past any normal hour for bedtime, and eventually fall asleep in a friend's camper listening to the folks huddled in tight circles playing bluegrass tune after bluegrass tune.

Heading to conventions like Galax, I always had a family of friends that I rarely saw outside of such gatherings. After my dad pulled into a parking spot at each festival, I would race to find my friend Liza, and while I had no idea where she lived, or what she did in her real life, we would continue on seamlessly where the last festival left off, talking and playing and finding things to do while our parents played music together.

I was obviously pretty into Aaron... (Photo credit: Cheryl Davis
One particularly special family was a huge part of my festival family. Gary and Cheryl Davis are two of the kindest, most thoughtful people I know, and one summer, while at Galax, my dad allowed me to spend several days with them. To me it felt like a year, and every second was the greatest second of my life. Gary and Cheryl have two sons, Brandon and Aaron, both of whom were twice my age at the time of my visit; I was six and Aaron was 12 and Brandon was 14. Even though there was a pretty significant age gap between us, they always let me join in playing with them and shared their Duck Hung Nintendo game with me. Cheryl took me everywhere with her and made me feel so special to be included in their lives. I will always cherish that time with them, and the Galax Fiddlers Convention set into motion the opportunity for me to get to know them, and other great folks, while my dad was busy being stopped every few steps to chat with fans and friends.

Me with Cheryl Davis (Photo credit: Cheryl Davis)
Galax this year :-)

I learned very early on not to hope for any meaningful time with my dad while he was at these events as every one is the same. I would ask if we could go somewhere, typically places along the lines of the sno cone booth or the funnel cake maker (he calls them Funeral Cakes), and he would always oblige, but we would rarely make it before I grew bored of listening to him chat with each new person he encountered. Now, I haven't been to Galax in several years, and this year something really strange happened. I got to hang out with my dad little bit. I announced to whoever was listening at the time that I wanted to go watch the bluegrass band competition, and my dad offered to accompany me. We made our way to the stage, and made it in record time. I figured we would just stand, or go sit in the bleachers because the area in front of the stage was filled with camp chairs and folding nylon recliners. To my surprise, he said, "Oh, just go pick out some good chairs that nobody is sitting in. If the owners come by, they will tell us." So we did. And only got kicked out once. With each band, my dad would say, "They are gonna win something." Or, "Hm, maybe their sound wasn't set up quite right. Good job anyway though." It is great to hear how encouraging he is of his peers and up and coming musicians. I love that about him.

Me and my dad in our stolen camp chairs. 
I had a great time meeting new Galax friends and felt so happy to see the new generation of kids running around barefoot, and learning to love this type of music. There are some incredibly talented people who all convene at this one big festival, and I am so lucky I get to call them my friends.


New generation of Galax goers. 



Inlay day!

It is no secret that I love inlay day. But like all of the skills I have acquired while learning how to build guitars, my first few attempts weren't ideal.

I remember when I was young and wanted to spend time with my dad, I would think of objects to ask him to help me make. Even if it was a somewhat ridiculous request, he was always able to figure out how to do it. He did most of the work,  but then attributed a lot of it to me when we were done. These projects included such things as small wood boxes, jewelry, a roll top bread box that "we" made for my aunt and uncle, a cribbage board, cutting boards, a mortar and pestle. When I was in middle school, we made a chess board for my mom; my dad cut the pieces on the table saw and let me arrange them on the board. I got to help pick the wood, curly maple for the white spaces and deep red cherry for the dark spaces. I carefully arranged them, and glued them to the maple base, taking care to checker them accordingly. We then added a dainty black line, typically used for guitar purfling, around the edges and used an S-shaped router bit to carve a fancy edge around the board.

Most of my tasks during these projects were menial; sanding, arranging, and then sanding some more. I remember  once I asked to make a box with a little E inlaid on the top. My dad handed me the jeweler's saw and let me to go town. After an hour or so and several broken pieces of pearl, I cut out something kind of resembling an E. At the time, my dad failed to mention that there was a little machine that would cut a pretty little space for my E to fit into the wood, so I went at the box top with a pocket knife. Miraculously, with no flesh cut or blood spilled, I managed to dig out an unfortunate little hole for my sad little E. I still have that box sitting in my room at my dad's house. I look at it sometimes and think of how much I have learned since then. It is encouraging that through the guitar skills I have acquired, I also have been provided with limitless possibilities of the things I can make. One or two Christmases ago, Nick wanted to make a present for his parents. When we decided to make wooden spatulas, I took on the role my dad typically filled, and then Nick sanded. It was nice to be able to do something together, and I was proud to have shared the same knowledge that was previously passed to me.

Speaking of acquiring new skills, I just finished cutting an inlay for the fingerboard of one of my dad's guitars. The super neat thing about it is that half of the inlay was already done! Charlie, a jeweler who lives in Independence and periodically brings us delicious Thai food wanted to contribute some of his skill to his guitar. I have mentioned him in a previous post, as he is also a very talented engraver who visits the shop every now and again to help my dad hone his engraving skills. Anyway, the filigree-type inlay he did was beautiful, I just hope my abalone accents compliment his skillful work. So far I have only dabbled in the art of inlaying metal, trying it on a cutting board and one fingerboard, but his work, as well as the new tool and sheet of silver he brought gifted me, has inspired me to keep experimenting! The only downside to this method is how long it takes to hand file the inlaid pearl and super glue instead of just putting it on the sander because of the delicate nature of the metal inlay. When I finally finish filing this thing, I will be sure to update this post with a picture!


Phone picture from the inlays I cut (not yet inlaid) while sitting on my deck in Asheville. 


My first attempt at metal inlay on a recent wedding present.


Roscoe Plummer

I have to attribute the delay of this weeks entry to one Chio Garza. She and her (super awesome) fiance Chris came to visit me and Nick earlier this week, thus distracting me from writing you a story. Chio has been my friend for ... I don't think I even want to admit how many years, suffice it to say we met in sixth grade. She came with me to Rugby once and I remember being extra jealous because even my cousin Lauren thought she was cooler than me. But, she is, so in hindsight, that is ok.

Anyway, speaking of visitors to Rugby, I want to tell you about one that I never had the pleasure of meeting. People always come to my dad's house without much warning, and rarely with any type of invitation. I always find it a little bit rude, especially because it is my and my aunt Shirleen's job to clean up after they go, but my dad just kind of lets it happen and is fine with it either way. I have never understood this level of hospitality, but it seems that it has been engrained in him since he was young.

One recent afternoon I was sitting with my dad and Shirleen on my dad's porch. We were reminiscing about my Granny's Sunday dinners, and my dad mentioned that when he was young, he would always have to sprint to the dinner table when Roscoe Plummer was at the table, for fear of missing the opportunity to grab some lunch before Roscoe cleaned them out.

"Roscoe Plummer? Who is that?" I asked him. He told me that Roscoe lived a "few hollers over" but his only brother refused to let him stay with him in his house if he didn't contribute monetarily, so he would meander from family to family of the community of Rugby, exchanging room and board for meager work. My dad and Shirleen spoke of him kindly, they obviously enjoyed his visits to their house. Apparently, Granny and my grandfather Walter would let Roscoe stay for several days at a time and housing and feeding him while he worked on a project.

My dad said that typically Roscoe was not the most reliable farm hand, often working days on a task, such as mending a fence, that would take my uncle or grandfather a day or so to complete. Even though he wasn't the strongest worker, my Granny still cooked all the food they had, and Roscoe was obviously not shy to claim his share of the reward, if not a little bit more than that.

After a little bit of research, I found that Roscoe served in World War I and, according to my dad, "wasn't quite right in the head" so he was unable to keep a job or support a family. He did receive a small disability check from the government, but not enough to do too much with. I suspect that Roscoe suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, and did the best he could to serve his community despite his affliction. My dad said Roscoe would often bring a small piece of candy or a toy for him when he arrived at my grandparent's house, for which my dad was always ecstatic. He said that even though Roscoe ate most of my dad's share of food at the dinner table, he would still look forward to the next visit. Roscoe had an old pistol like the cowboys had, that of course my dad coveted, and would regale him with stories and excitement that my dad hadn't yet imagined.

Hearing about this gentle vagabond and how the community not just tolerated him, but appeased and supported him warms my heart. I love that even though my family didn't have much to give, they still provided all that they could. My dad carries this trait with him, donating infinite amounts of his time and work, as well as his home, to visitors every day. I admire him so much for that, because not everyone is kind enough to give so wholeheartedly to this world.

Tappin' that Ash

I worry a little bit that when I get better at building instruments, I will have less to tell you about. The stressful, albeit entertaining, disasters, the elation over actually doing something well...Eh, you're right, I will probably never get that good to not have any stories. How lucky for us all!

This past week, I have been finishing up a ukulele as well as working on a 000 guitar and neither have provided all that much stress. My dad was off teaching a workshop and left me in charge of things while he was gone, and the last time he did that, I forgot to glue the bridge plate onto the top of my guitar before I glued it onto the guitar body. I then spent the entire night worrying about how to remedy that instead of sleeping. After several hours of pondering how to go about righting that kind of serious oversight, Herb walks in the shop and goes, "Well haven't you ever paid any attention to what I do here?! About 90% of my time is spent removing and putting in bridge plates. Of course you don't have to take the whole top off!" So, now I know, and all the fretting (hehe, guitar joke) was for nothing because it turns out I could (fairly) easily glue the bridge plate into the top without significant hassle.

Simple curly maple rosette and purfling, rosewood binding 

This 000's top has a bridge plate, and small braces around the soundhole, and I even remembered to sign it and make sure the kerfing was fitted perfectly around the back braces before the body was glued together. After I tightened that last clamp though I was pretty sure I had to be forgetting something. I had to have, right? As far as I can tell, everything is in order. Odd to do something right once in a while, and boring as now I have nothing to tell you about, other than obnoxiously hinting that I am awesome and super good at guitar building now... Just wait till my dad sees it and finds some significant step forgotten...Until then though, I have decided that I am awesome.


Speaking of awesome things, I will say that this new ukulele that I just finished is pretty neat. The wood is White ash, again provided by the amazing Dean from Electric Hardwoods. He sent me home with this beautiful piece of ash (haha) that he and his employees had been using as a coat rack. After I sawed pieces for sides and glued together a back and a top, everyone in the shop enjoyed making ash jokes. After listening to the surprisingly strong residual ring produced when he tapped on the surface, Harrol exclaimed, "Wow! What a great sound that comes from tapping that ash!" Similar jokes ensued just about all day, but the fact remained that, aside from the eye catching grain, it was a promising piece of wood that would also produce a great tone.

Another neat thing about this ukulele is that I had free reign to make it however I saw fit, using any materials of my choosing. The ukulele is going to be featured as part of an exhibit promoting the history of instrument building at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History along with instruments made by several other local luthiers. Well known folks like my dad and Audrey Hash are among the lutheirs chosen to display instruments for the exhibit, so I am pretty lucky they decided to include me as well. The only downside is that when they came to take pictures I was still wearing Tiffany blue colored nail polish since I was fresh back from Asheville. (I try to cover the guitar stain, black superglue, and saw marks on my nails while I am in Asheville among regular folks so as not to appear homeless or scare anyone.) I think it was difficult for the exhibit designers to conceal those, so my picture looks kind of like I am napping rather than working. I really was doing something, probably really important. Here is a link to the museum's webpage, there you can find information about the exhibit and other neat goings on at the museum. They also have a facebook page, so once you are done liking my page, go like theirs too!

Photo (and borrowed ukulele) courtesy of Mac Sumner
The ash really does sound great now that it has been bent and carved into a ukulele, and of that I am very proud. I have not heard of anyone else, at least not around here, using such a wood to make a guitar or ukulele, and it is so exciting for me to be able to find new and different materials that are local and sustainable so I can help open people's minds about acceptable types of tonewood. This one is a doozy and I think if you heard it, you would want an ash instrument too! All the cool kids have one.








Decided to try metal inlay for the soundhole rosette. 



Ukulele favorites

The last two ukuleles I built might be my all time favorites. For now anyway. Even though I say that after pretty much every build, these are a little more important because of who they were built for. Usually the super extra special ones are reserved for my family members, like my mom's curly maple ukulele, cousin Matt's Koa cutaway guitar, or Leah's ukulele; my very first one. But the interesting thing about numbers eleven and twelve is that neither was for someone I have known for any significant amount of time, and even though they were not for my super close friends or family members, I was excited to put a little extra love in there anyway.

Of course, I met both Steve and Lucas through my dad, but unlike most folks who filter through the shop who are solely focused on obtaining a Wayne Henderson instrument, they both stopped long enough to talk to me too. Lucas and his grandparents have become frequent visitors to Rugby and I now consider them good friends to my dad, so it was super flattering that they always include me too. Lucas is the most positive, extraverted person I know, and I definitely had trouble believing he was 16 when I met him. Not just because he laid on a pretty heavy slather of flirting, but because he was completely devoid of that cape of insecurity and brooding most teenage boys shroud themselves with. It was Lucas who introduced me to Zac Brown, got my dad to play on stage with him, and of course the most important thing, somehow convinced John Mayer to write me a little note (with a heart!!) on his Born and Raised CD cover saying that I had built a great guitar. (I might have wet myself a tiny bit when I read that, but that is beside the point.) Also, because I assume we are all friends here, I will also unnecessarily share that I had already bought that CD twice because I pre-ordered it on Amazon but it didn't come fast enough so I bought another copy at Target the morning it came out...Now I have three, so if you missed buying this album, let me know because I might have an extra...Aaaanyway....

For Lucas, I knew I had to make something worthy of such a great guy, and that was the challenge of this build. The ukulele I ended up constructing was made from Hawaiian koa wood, as it is traditional, but also the most beautiful wood I know of; I figured it would be difficult to make a uke that would not get lost among his flashy personality, so the fanciest wood was used. I also added pearl inlay around the top and soundhole, and designed and cut a pattern of curly cues for the fingerboard. I was pretty proud to have worked on this ukulele completely alone; my dad did not even test it after I strung it up to make sure I had set the strings up right. When I work on an instrument, sometimes it seems that everything falls into place just as it should, and like this time, the ukulele played perfectly the first time I strung it up. Maybe that is something that happens normally for other folks, I know it does most always with my dad, but I like to remember what he always says when I mess something up, "Well, you always gotta learn how to fix stuff. That is more important than getting it right."

I apologize for the quality of these pictures-forgot my camera at home and had to use my telephone...























That little tidbit of advice came in handy upon the finish of ukulele number 11, as when I strung it up, expecting just as great a sound as the koa uke, there was something just a little bit off. There was a little buzz on one fret on the bottom string, and it was infuriating me that I couldn't get it out. That is the most frustrating thing about hammering frets into the fingerboard as opposed to using the fret press, which I often do because I can't find the straight metal piece that needs to be affixed into the press since ukulele fingerboards are straight (as opposed to the curved piece used for curved guitar fingerboards). Also, I haven't figured out how to change the thing even if I had been able to locate it. Hammering the metal makes for the frets to not always be uniformly pressed into the fingerboard, and the uneven fret is that is usually responsible for the string buzzing after it is strung up. Eventually we got it straightened out, but not after a little more frustration and a lot more filing of the frets.

Mockingbird on heelcap of Steve's guitar. 
I was so excited for this ukulele to turn out perfectly on first pluck of the strings because it was made for my friend Steve. He had an order in for a guitar with my dad for several years and ended up talking to me occasionally along the way. We ended up emailing back and forth more frequently as his wait time dragged on, but he never pestered me about getting higher on my dad's list which I so very appreciate, so I began to trust that he was actually interested in talking to me. I knew for sure when, after discussing a mutual affection for the novel, To Kill A Mockingbird, he sent me a collector's edition. If you didn't already know that it is my favorite book of all time, please consider that my dog's name is Harper Lee. I am definitely a winner.

Steve asked if I would do the inlay on his guitar if it ever came into production, and I am happy to say that I was able to do that, and inlaid a little mockingbird on the heelcap. That mockingbird design, that mostly just looks like a bird, but I tried anyway, is also inlaid in larger form on the headstock of his ukulele. The other neat thing is that I copied the style of guitar he was getting from my dad, which was a 00 42 with Brazilian rosewood. This was my first attempt at a 42 style body, inlaying pearl around the neck as well as the top and soundhole of the ukulele. The only difference between my ukulele and my dad's guitar is that his guitar has a slot head peghead, and the ukulele has a solid peghead. I bet you are wondering if I used Brazilian rosewood, which contrasts my belief to use local, sustainable materials, and the answer is yes. Wait, wait. Before you think I am sacrificing my beliefs for ol' Steve, let me share the little backstory of this wood. The wood I used was one 2x2 plank reclaimed from a Porsche factory, where it was slated to be made into gear shifter knobs. When the company moved, someone brought a pile of the planks to my dad's shop and he bought them. I feel like this is an acceptable source of Brazilian as it was already cut and saved from being burned. I will continue to use these planks as otherwise they are likely fated to end up sitting on a shelf for eternity since no one really wants a four-piece back. Sure turned out pretty though.

4 panel back.
Buddies! 

























Steve, who lives in Los Angeles, came to Rugby to pick up his two new instruments and while he was visiting, I took him to explore a little bit of the back country sticks of Rugby. Even though we were caught in a bit of a thunderstorm, we tripped along the trails of Grayson Highlands and I enjoyed each drenched step. Hopefully he and his three LA friends who joined us had as good a time as I did. It was truly a treat to get to visit and spend time with him and his friends Eric, Trish, and Ian.

Side note, Steve is one of the biggest supporters of my blog, so if you enjoy reading this, be sure thank him for encouraging me and pestering me to keep it up. I also thank him for becoming such a great friend and supporting me in this somewhat ridiculous endeavor of making instruments instead of working as an environmental advocate at a nonprofit somewhere. It is always such an exciting day when I meet that rare visitor who actually cares what the weird girl in the corner  of my dad's shop is sawing on over there. Steve, hope my ukulele did you proud!

All brazilian uke pictures courtesy of Steve. 




The Goat Man

There is a fellow named Frank who lives nearby. He likes to stop in the shop periodically to check on his guitar order and remind my dad that he is still patiently waiting by offering him fresh eggs, mason jars of honey, and goat's milk feta cheese from his farm. Frank is a goat farmer. Aside from the occasional bit of straw stuck to his boot or the shoulder of his fleece, you would have trouble telling Frank that is a goat farmer, as he is very knowledgeable about many things, most of them having nothing at all to do with goats.

When he first ordered a guitar from me, I didn't quite know what to make of him, but I gladly accepted the goat's milk feta and honey. He is obviously very smart and I was a little curious as to how this fellow, who prefers Arc'Teryx to Carhart, came to be a goat farmer in the rural North Carolina mountains in the first place. Turns out, he hasn't been a goat farmer for that long, as several years ago he was the president of the Chicago Transit Authority, he was besties with then Mayor of Chicago, Richard Daly, and his wife ran many political campaigns, even working with Hilary Clinton. Frank was even nice enough to ask Hilary to sign the picture of her shaking hands with my dad when he received a National Heritage Award and we all tromped up to Washington to rub elbows with the political elite. In all honesty, I was too short at the time to reach any elbows of note so I mostly just hung around the food table.

Anyway, this post is being written to tell you about the guitar I made for Frank. The neat thing about him, other than leaving a high-powered political position in Chicago in order to become a goat farmer in the mountains, is that he was very interested in having an instrument that I would enjoy building, and encouraged the use of sustainable materials and whatever else I might want to do. His guitar is the third of mine that has been constructed with oak, and I ended up using a beautifully curly piece that I got from my new friend Dean, who lives up in Haysi, VA. If you missed that post about Electric Hardwoods, go read it. You will learn about Dean.

The only downside to that set of wood is that it smelled a little....how do I put this delicately? Like turkey poop. How do I know what that smells like? Well, it just happens to be my dog harper's favorite poop to roll in, not that she is particularly picky, but she seems especially proud of herself when she trots over to me covered in streaks of the smelliest feces you can imagine. That's how I know. My dad and Herb speculate that the wood was reclaimed from the side of an outhouse or something, but from wherever it came, the stench in it's wake was pretty rough. Especially when it was sprayed with water, which happens during several steps in the guitar making process. I hoped fervently that the six or seven layers of catalyzed varnish I would eventually spray on it would quell the odor. Several folks pointed out that it was a fitting smell for a goat farmer as it didn't stray far from what feta cheese smells like. Frank claimed not to notice the smell much, so that was lucky. The smell did diminish as I worked down the wood and sealed its pores with wood filler and varnish, so crisis averted. Mostly.

It is always exciting to be asked to do new things; different sizes of guitars I have never done before, or an ambitious inlay, or a new type of wood. This guitar was just about the opposite of that 12 fred D I was working on alongside it, but it provided just as many new skills as the bigger guitar. Frank asked me for a left handed 00 guitar. I loved the small size (no dropping!), and was excited to learn the differences between making a left handed and right handed guitar. Turns out, there isn't much, except for the two bottom braces on the top of the guitar were opposite sides, and obviously the strings and the bridge were opposite as well. It ended up being easier than my dad predicted for me to remember and carry out such tasks, maybe because I am left handed and it made more sense to me, or perhaps because I am still so new at the building process that I haven't adopted a specific muscle memory for the craft. Either way, it was really fun. Bring on some more exciting builds like this one!

Tree headstock inlay. 

Frank testing her out! Also, Frank's niece Gretchen made the pickguard when she visited from Vermont! 

Showing off the back wood.

He asked for an acorn to be inlaid on the heel cap so everyone will know it is made of oak! 

Lovely match to the sides. Koa binding and end piece.

Koa rosette and binding. 

I can play just as many chords on this thing as a regular! Maybe I am ambidextrous. Or should be playing left handed... 




Hello again friends!

Hello again! After a bit of a break, I am back to tell you some more stories of the shop life here in Rugby. It has been such a busy spring, I have barely had time to brush my hair. (Well, let's face it, I still probably wouldn't do that even if I did have the time...) But thank you so much for being patient and still wanting to read what I have to say! I figured I should get back to it when one of my dad's friends asked if I was still updating my blog or her computer might be broken because she has not received an update notification recently. Woopsie. On the upside, I have gotten a lot of work done, finishing two new guitars and also two ukuleles. It is too bad I wasn't able to tell you immediately how much I enjoyed working on each of those instruments, and watching them come to life, but I will tell you a little bit now, starting with guitar #11:

Guitar number eleven is one of the very few dreadnaught sized guitars I think I will ever build. It is a sloped shoulder 12 fret style, and for goodness sake, did it want to jump on the floor any chance it got. My hands are not large enough to handle such a wide body and there were several times that I thought I had ruined weeks of hard work after it slipped from my fingers when I attempted to slide it into an empty slot in the shelf that holds unfinished guitar bodies. Once, I completely lost grip on the thing and it tumbled full forcedly into a basket of pointy clamps that sits on the floor next to the shelf. My dad's no-nonsense friend Don was there to witness that slip and in his typical gruff tone, said, "Well you've done it now, I guarantee you busted a whole in the side of that thing." After much scrutiny of every inch of that guitar body, I could not find so much as a ding in the surface. I suppose that is another great attribute to using oak. It sure is durable.

Even though it was too big for my little hands to deal with a lot of the time, I do love so much how this guitar turned out. I attempted my first sunburst top, which turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be. My dad has always said I would probably be really good at spraying sunbursts because most of the art I made growing up included heavily shaded abstract images. I even used to change the gradient within the black lines of a coloring book page with a crayon or colored pencil.

Turns out, this is a kind of different skill set.  The spray gun that usually houses finish is filled instead with black stain, with a couple of drops of brown just for a little bit of depth I guess. Then you have to attempt to evenly spray a gradient into the top of the guitar, which, if you think about it is kind of like spray painting a pristine, clean white wall. Maybe Banksy would excel at such things, but I was definitely not super excited to go spraying black stain all over the top of my beautiful guitar body. Needless to say, there was little room for error and if you look closely, you can tell I am not an expert at this type of work just yet. My dad said that is good though because the old Martins aren't perfect either, and that is the look we are going for anyway. So I guess I will go ahead and mark this attempt as a success.

This guitar turned out so much more beautiful than I would have imagined. The deep colors of the shaded top paired with the saturated color the oak was stained was surprising. The wood that Mark, the owner sent for me to use was, if we are being honest, not the prettiest pearl in the bunch...I even asked him if he would mind if I used a different set of oak that I bought from the lumber yard in Asheville. It boasted big bold light colored stripes set in the darker wood that looked like those marking a Bengal tiger. Luckily I sanded that set a little too thin for such a large guitar and ended up using his wood after all. (Don't worry, my set will be used for a smaller body guitar or a ukulele) When I circled on the first few dips of stain, the wood transformed into the most figured, beautiful piece I had ever seen. My dad was equally amazed at the transformation, as no one saw that coming. The finished product ended up being significantly more exciting and fun than I anticipated, the dropping episodes aside.

I am so honored to have been asked to build a guitar for the fellow who ordered this instrument. He really knows what he is talking about when it comes to quality and sound, and when he came to pick up his finished guitar last week, he seemed pleased with the outcome. Sometimes it feels like I am sending something equivalent to a child or a beloved puppy off to an adopted family, hoping so hard that my baby guitar will be well cared for and loved as it should be in its new environment. It is always such a relief to know for certain that they will be, and in this case I am certain.


Wood straight out of the box from Seattle




Note: The light in the spray room makes the guitar look a lot more red than it really is,.



My dad testing her out.

I apologize for the quality of these last few pictures-I might have left my camera in Asheville and had to use my phone...