Justin Time

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Monday 3 December 2012

The Realm of the "Would Fairy"

Dear concerned neat freaks,

Well, it's official, I have been cleaning up the shop. I have been meaning to do this for some time. I keep thinking I will take the time to do it on Thursday, then the Weekend, then September and here we are in December and I have spent the last three days removing wood plane shavings, sawdust and assorted scraps as if it were an archaeological dig. The good news, I can actually see my floors, I wish I would have done this earlier. The great news, among the tailings and shavings of the last seven months worth of lutherie, I have been reunited with the following sundry items: two wood chisels, at least a dozen pencils, an ukulele nut that fell into the void, several guitar saddles, bunches of little bits of shell, turquoise, and little bits of exotic woods I had cut for inlaying but were lost in the floor detritus, rulers, squares, my favorite scraper, micro screwdrivers, drill bits and a host of other goodies. I really wish I would have cleaned this sooner. It is so nice to go into the workshop and not have to rationalize about when I will finally get around to cleaning up the ankle to shin deep wood remnants in parts of the shop. I really wish I would have done this sooner. Have I mentioned I can safely navigate to my dartboard in the back corner which I affectionately titled my "research and development center"? I really wish I would have cleaned the shop sooner. A couple of months ago a friend who visited mentioned that I needed an assistant. My response, "I have one in here somewhere I just haven't seen them for a while (with a hearty ha ha)." On a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, my friends visual cue of admonishment reached a solid nine point five. I really wish I would have cleaned my workshop sooner. Don't get me wrong, I love having a clean and organized workshop. I just love to build instruments more. When it's all said and done; I always seem to embrace the wabi-sabi of a messy shop because all the musical instruments I complete are made of wood not would. Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to create a new "Bermuda Triangle" within my workshop floor. For now, the would fairy will have to wait a couple of months before it can chastise me again. Cheers, Justin

Tuesday 23 October 2012

It's time for a new bookmark..

I have a small confession. I am a bit of an eccentric. I have received many bookmarks over the years as gifts. Graduation gifts, birthdays gifts, souvenir gifts from far off journeys. Lot's of bookmarks. I love to read and am quite a voracious reader and I have used them all over the years, but, I did have one I used more often then the others. One of my favorite quotes is Hemingway's, " There is no friend as loyal as a book". I would extend that to also include a bookmark. My favorite bookmark was a leaf I picked up years ago on a hike in the Angeles National Forest. It has become increasingly fragile with all the years and books that it has witnessed. I remember picking it up and having a fellow hiker remark that there were actually some really pretty leaves just back there. That is precisely why I chose this leaf. I quietly have used this leaf that was deemed "un-pretty" to devour and re-devour some of the greatest books known to man. this diminutive, brown and broken leaf has visited many pages over the years from authors like Shakespeare, Kipling, Bradbury, Tolkein, Doyle, Tzu, Twain, and legions of others both fiction and non. About six or so years ago I had a silent fit as I realized I had inadvertently sent my leaf to the shelf of my public library when I failed to remove it from a book letters from the artist Charles Russel I had just returned. I kept meaning to go check the book and recover my leaf but it was not to be and sadly I just forgot over time. A couple of months ago I thought I would read that book again (Good Medicine: The Illustrated Letters of Charles M. Russell) to help draw some inspiration for an instrument I was building for a traditional cowboy singer. Much to my surprise, There was my leaf! It was a little more crumbled but still intact. I am not certain if it was marking the same position I had it, but there it was in all it's glory. A leaf that had traveled from Los Angeles to Texas and found it's home among the letters of a great Western artist was finally home. Or was it? I read the book again and returned it to the library a couple of days late. I felt a little melancholy about keeping the leaf. After all, it had moved on and so had I. I don't have any way of knowing how many other people have read that book since I returned it with my leaf bound within the pages. The fact that the leaf was there was a real surprise. I still think of that hike where I picked up that leaf. I could have picked up any leaf that day but for some reason I found "my leaf". It was not a leaf of vibrant fall color or an unusual shape - Just a mottled brown leaf that looks like so many others. That leaf was my guide for many a journey within the pages of so many different books. It served a great purpose and my hope is that it will continue on and outlive me as it already has my fellow hiker of that day. I read most of my books on a kindle now. I really like the bookmark feature that always takes me back to where I was last reading. That feature, however, is no crumbly leaf rescued from a hiking trail 1500 miles and 13 years ago. I remember using that leaf as a bookmark when I read Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching for the second time. I placed it carefully next to the page that wisely instructed, "When people see some things as beautiful, other things become ugly." I sometimes think about that leaf when I bookmark a page on my kindle. Happy Trails leaf!

Thursday 18 October 2012

A Haiku About a Venerable Cedar Tree

I was up in the Lincoln National Forest a couple of weeks ago and thought of this Haiku about a very beautiful and venerable cedar tree I shared some time with. I sat beneath this marvel playing Robert Visee's Bouree several times to the accompaniment of the breeze singing sweetly through its boughs. I love trees.

Older then any human

Always saluting the rising sun

With green fingers raised high

Please visit my lutherie website

as well as My Luthier's Facebook Page

Wednesday 17 October 2012

In Search of imperfection

People often ask me why I choose to build my instruments with Texas, Australian or other strange and sustainable timbers. Perhaps the best way to start this post is to describe what wood is not. It is not the same stiffness (even within the same log), nor is it the same density. I think of timber more like a fingerprint. While there are similarities there are also differences even within the same tree. People have a great deal of opinions about acoustic instruments that are really not based on facts but more on myth. So the idea that wood is not uniform within a species, or forest, or even the same tree is the greatest challenge to many of these misconceptions.

The thing I love most about working with wood is the amount of imperfections to deal with - just like people. Every human is different and unique and I think that is a great way to describe timber as well. You could develop computer technology that cuts the most uniform pieces (factories are doing this right now) and assemble them together with the staggering digital accuracy of a car manufacturer, but in the end, due to variances in stiffness these instruments would all be different from each other. In some cases very different. The vast majority of an instrument's sound quality comes from how it is built, not the materials. To express this concept I thought I would share a couple of stories from some of my luthier heroes. The legendary Spanish luthier Antonio De Torres proved this in 1862. Torres decided to challenge a popular misconception and built one of his guitars with paper mache back and sides. It was no surprise to him that he was able to coax this guitar to sound like his others. Roberto Benedetto proved this again in the 1970s when he went to his local big box home improvement store and bought some inexpensive boards full of knots and went on to build a guitar from them that sounded like his other guitars. Whole forests full of endangered trees have been chopped down because of an insatiable lust based on myth and not on fact. There are plenty of very average or even below average guitars constructed of Brazilian rosewood to support this.

One of my favorite parts of constructing an instrument is hand carving the braces to adjust the voice and sound. I am sure that even as I type some enterprising soul is working with great speed to accomplish equipment to take into consideration stiffness, flexibility and density when computer shaping braces and soundboards. The day will come that someone will be able to press a button and kick out such an instrument from some digital system that is deemed perfect. But for me? I will still build by hand; maybe that's why I love listening to vinyl and hearing people perform live. Cheers, J

Tuesday 16 October 2012

How To Quickly And Easily Write A First Blog Post In Only Four Hours

Yes, this is a blog and yes I am a guy who still uses really old chisels and wood planes for a living.  Upon the realization that my luthierie website hadn't been updated in at least 5 months; I decided it was not only time for an update but even a restart.  I have spent the last few days delving into the world of css, directories, widgets and assorted other lingo that can't be modified with sharp chisels.  Thankfully I took the advice of my bride and selected a new package from my web host that was designed to be user friendly and a "no-brainer".  I deemed this a success as I feel I have lost quite a bit of my brain putting it together.  And now, a blog?  


The Blog – Day 1:     I have just spent the last hour wracking my brain for a clever first post.  I should really be gluing braces on the top of the classical guitar I am building, but here I sit contemplating the idea of "you only get one chance to make a good first impression".  Since the blog is new and I don't have any followers it really should be easy, shouldn't it?  I keep having this nagging feeling that I will look back at this first post with horror at the lack of depth, content, direction, soundbite quality, and any other "bloggy" sort of a terms I have not yet discovered or learned to violate.  


30 minutes later:  Okay, so I just got back from my writing break where I glued and clamped the braces to the soundboard on instrument No. 149 which is currently sitting on the bench in my workshop.  This is where I should be writing the incredibly witty, obnoxiously insightful, brilliant tidbit that came to me while concentrating on one of my favorite parts of building an acoustic instrument.  I thought of using a play on words, like "such and such is truly bracing" (acoustic instruments have struts and braces that keep the string tension from pulling them apart) and then a manly Ha Ha – but no, that is really bad and makes it sound like I am trying too hard.  How about, "something something, a close shave" (a plane shaves wood - if you are not a wood worker you would have to have this explained so I think this is also a total dud and make me sound like I am desperately trying to be clever).    I could wax poetic about how using a sharp chisel is a zen like meditative experience (it actually is for me) except that also is not how I envisioned my first post.  


10 minutes later still:  So, in the end I am going back to the idea of "you only get one chance to make a first impression".  So.... Hi, my name is Justin.  (imagine me sharing a good firm handshake with you - none of that gripping a dead fish type).  I build guitars, ukuleles, mandolins, Irish Bouzoukis and assorted stringed renaissance instruments.  I live in West Texas and decided I would jot down updates and random musings that filter in to what is left of my brain after building my website.  Nice to meet you and see you around!