Saturday, March 21, 2009

Learning To Crawl

Good discussion thread started by a member over at The Lutherie Community this week – Here’s the link to it

The topic is from a relatively new builder asking about setting neck angle, and/or establishing a standard angle by which he should always build; I won’t paraphrase the responses here, you can go and read it if’n you’re interested: I think the discussion speaks to the big picture answer quite well, and does what any good question should do, and that’s raise yet more questions.

This topic is one that I know could raise quite a spirited debate between devotees of right brained versus left brained Lutherie; is there a formula or set principle which governs prescribed neck angles for a given acoustic build, or is it organically based on that specific build, or somewhere in between?

I’m not gonna answer that follow up question either, by the way, you get to decide; and that friends and neighbors, is the fact that lies at the very heart of what makes building stringed instruments so cool.

There’s also a thread there about Dennis Leahy’s Angelina build. If you look that over, you will see that it would be easy for staunch right brainers to say, “He did everything wrong,” while the Left Side Gang might not be so quick to agree. That said, here’s the fact; very good players I know, some of whom play for a living and are very demanding about what their instruments sound and play like, went nuts for this guitar. Everyone who played it, even folks who watched it get built and did not frankly care for Dennis’ methodology turned 180 degrees after playing her and said, “She sings, she’s beautiful!” One of those folks summed it up perfectly when he said, “I’m not sure I agree with his construction methods, or even if I understand then that well, but who cares; it obviously worked for him, it’s a great guitar!”

That’s what it’s all about to me. One of the things I think we need to take to heart is this, especially when we’re participating in any of the great online communities we share; tolerance for differences is not only important, it’s critical. The writer Robert Heinlein once said, “A society that gets rid of all its troublemakers goes downhill;” and that’s well said.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking scientific or right brain building or builders! If we did not pay attention to the fundamentals of how stringed instrument works, we’d build stuff that does not work and that is surely not our aim. What I am offering up is appreciation and acceptance of diversity in building methodology and concept. I’ve taught a lot of things in my life; skiing, tennis, rock climbing, fire fighting, police work, and sales among them. I can’t tell you how many times some absolutely green rookie said something that made me stop and say “What’d you just say?” The rookies usually think ‘Oh crap, now I’m in trouble,’ ‘cause they assume the teacher always knows and they shouldn’t have shot their mouth off. Fact is, I bet I’ve learned as much from those instances as I ever taught.

I was taught to SCUBA dive in 1974 from an ex Navy Seal who had only been out of the service for 6 months. He was a great guy, but his class reflected his training and experience; if you’ve ever seen video of what they do to SEAL trainees in a pool, our experience was not unlike that. In the middle of one of those classes, I hit the water with a few other students, only I did the classic tuck and roll entry I’d watched Jacques Cousteau’s guys do so many times on TV. When I surfaced, John was looking our way with a very serious expression; he said “Who did that entry?” I swallowed and said “I did”. He gave me a pretty deep look and said, “Very nicely done,” and then went back to what he’d been doing.

However we build, whatever we build, may we never forget to learn.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pickin' with Tommy Emmanuel

Twice a year, every year, I haul my band an hour north to play the Blue Bonnet Cancer Retreat, a very cool 3 day free camp for those fighting or who have fought cancer. They feed ‘em and wine ‘em and dine ‘em and they’re among a group of folks in the same boat. It’s put on by my friend Randy, who’s a Methodist Minister; it is just a wonderful thing, and they love us to pieces every time we play there.

So Randy calls me, confirms the date, and then says “Well, this is awkward, but we have a headliner playing Saturday night who is staying overnight, and he wanted to play one song during communion, and if I know him, he’s gonna want to sit in on all your stuff too; is that OK”

I told him that was fine, no problem, and if they guy wanted back up from us on his cut, fine and if not fine, whatever he wanted to do, and of course he can sit in with us, no problem.”

Randy sounds relieved and says, “Well cool, I’m really glad you’re OK with that. Now, you can’t tell anyone, because if you do, 1000 people are gonna show up here and try to crash this event, but the player I’m talking about is Tommy Emmanuel…”

(Sound of the fur going up on the back of Eben’s neck, combined with jaw hitting the floor)
“Are you shitting me?” I spluttered?

No; Randy has been a fan for along time. Randy had simply emailed Tommy's Manager about the retreat, and the manager told Tommy, and the first thing out of his mouth was, “Can I come and hang out for the weekend and meet these people and play some”

HOLY SHIT!!!! I’m gonna play with Tommy Emmanuel!!!!!

And so we did: yes, friends and neighbors, Tommy sat in with the band for our set, and we with him on a couple of tunes. I have now had the pleasure of turning around and saying, "Take one, Tommy"

I'm still on cloud nine, big time...

And yes, I did put an Aerie in his hands and yes, he played it: He tried a Madrone '32 L-0 and said and I quote, "Fantastic!" I said, "No smoke, Tommy, I can take it, how is it really?" He replied, "This is a beautiful guitar, Mate; you got the magic in this one..." And yeah, I got the cheese shot to prove it! As we said our good byes, he gave me a very intense look and said, "Keep doing what you're doing with the guitars; you're doing the right thing." Now I'd call that a direction worth heeding, wouldn't you?

What a wonderful, kind, and unbelievably talented man;
Tommy, it was truly a pleasure I'll never forget, thank you!

Thursday, March 05, 2009

You Load Sixteen Tons...

And whataya get? Another day older and deeper in debt…

Well, I am indeed older today, 49 as of mid morning, anyway. I don’t recall ever loading 16 tons of anything, other than bullshit, and the last time I shopped at the company store was summer camp in ’71, so I think I’m doin’ alright…

Hmmm, life reflection: Well, I am a better person than I used to be. Still an ass, mind you, but a less hostile, less self-centered one than I was, so that’s progress. I won’t ever be rich or famous, won’t ever play professional sports or have a 30 year career in anything: I guess I coulda, but I didn’t and frankly, I’m fine with that.

Here’s what I would like to do down the line: I’d like to be a great husband, partner and friend to Monica. I’d like to be a good step dad to three fine young men. I’d like to play music semi-professionally for many years to come. I’d like to get a book and a song published. I’d like to make many fine guitars. I’d like to see the world. I’d like to do what I can to make this earth a better place. I’d like to be at peace with myself.

I’d like Cuban Crime of Passion to STOP running through my head.

That’s not asking too much, is it?

Happy Birthday to me, and thanks again, Ma and Pa!

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Market Watch...

Ah the markets…

Investors are “nervous and scared,” the markets tumble, is there an end in sight?!?!?

Yeah, there is, it’s called common sense.

I saw a cartoon in the latest New Yorker that showed a couple talking at a party, and one of them says, “Well, limiting Wall Street bonuses might stifle creativity, but if they get any more creative I’m afraid we’ll go bankrupt.”

That about says it right.

Investors are nervous and scared? They fucking better be, if they’re not, they need to put some serious work in on their investing skills…

When it comes to the markets and Wall street, I quote, Rhett Butler; “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn…” Can’t you hear the markets crying; “But Rhett, where will I go, what will I do?!” I. Don’t. Give. A. Damn.

The immediate responses that come to mind stem from my former profession, take your pick, markets;

Have a nice day, somewhere else, or

AMF, YOYO, (Adios Mother Fuckers, You’re On Your Own)

You have had decades of decadence, years of excess, trillions of waste and greed, illegal, immoral and improper support from countless administrations and congresses, and what have you provides US during all that? Are most Americans better off for your presence and activities? Is our country better off? Is our government better off? Is our industrial base better off? Is the world better off? Is the earth better off?

Rhetorical, I know; the answer to all is a resounding ‘No’. So who or what is better off? The few, the privileged few, the wealthy, the fat cats, the Captains of Industry; just them.

Does what happens to you impact me? Yeah, it does, I grant that.

Because it does, do I want to help you out, bail you out, make it right, shore up the walls? No, not in the least.

From GM to AIG, General Electric to Nabisco, to all of you fuckers in between who have screwed the working people and the country and the earth to line your pockets, I say the following; Go fuck yourselves; die, you gravy sucking pigs. I don’t have a dime for y’all. Jump out of windows, sell pencils from a tin cup, fade away to whatever mysterious Caribbean country you’ve stuffed all your ill gotten booty into.

And when the scum are gone, let us begin anew. Let us again find out what we can do, all of us, one by one and then together. If the industries are gone, let’s be smart and build new ones. It’s a world market, and we’re world citizens and capable, smart, tough, resilient people. What does the world need and want that we can do and make? We’ve risen from the ashes before and ended up better, let’s just do it again.

Truly, it is the tough times that make us change; we never come through the other side the same as we were.

We come out better.