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.

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