Friday, September 3, 2010

Weathered Electrics

Here's the beginning of a project that I don't expect to see completed for quite some time. I had a bit of a trans-cendent vision when driving back from the Lute Society symposium in Cleveland this summer. Passing countless farms and fields I was struck by the wonderful colors and textures present on the fence posts and barns. It solidified an idea I've had brewing in the back of my mind for a while.

I've always been attracted to objects that show a heavy patina from use and age. The leather of a well worn baseball glove. The polish that develops on a tool handle from much use. I'm not much of a fan of modern synthetic finishes and their bulletproof gloss that locks wood away in suspended animation. In thinking about music and what it means to me, I'm reminded that it's the human quality and variation that makes it exciting. In a world where AutoTune can smooth and polish the human voice into robotic uniformity, I cling to old recordings and live music to grab hold of something inherently truthful.

A while back I recall reading about a guitar that had been commissioned by Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fashioned from a plank taken from the walls of a ramshackle cabin that was the birth place of blues legend Mckinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters. "How exciting!" I thought. The emotion was immediately replaced by a feeling of real disappointment when I finally saw the instrument. I was picturing a weathered gray body, fissured and cracked, bleached by Mississippi sun and scoured by floods and rain, a real embodiment of the place and conditions where the blues was born.
Instead, luthier John Bolan had produced a slick looking white guitar, with racy pinstripe and rockstar-ready shape. I'm sure it sounds great.

I purchased a beautiful plank of quatersawn Douglas fir. I know that Doug fir is a staple in dimensional lumber used for house framing in western parts. We don't see much of it around here. For our framing, spruce is the mainstay. Douglas fir is incredibly tough stuff for a softwood. It has a neat texture.

I glued up blanks using Gorilla Glue, a polyurethane adhesive which is excellent for outdoor projects. Waterproofing is important, given the treatment I'm going to subject it to. My choice of body shape hearkens back to the first mass-produced solid body electric, the Fender Telecaster. I've made a few small stylistic changes to the shape. Also, I've never understood why Leo never went back to update some of the comfort issues he addressed in the later designs. I've gone ahead and increased the radius on the edge and planed a relief chamfer where the forearm contacts the body.

And now, into the gravelled area of our back yard which at one time served as a dog run. I've let it go fallow for two summers, and it's become rather untamed. I'll let them sit there, turning occasionally, to soak up sun, rain and snow until I feel they're properly aged. (Interestingly, this hearkens back to the days when I turned bowls. Unsuccessful examples occasionally went outside for a few years to weather, and they ended up looking great!)

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