Thursday, March 2, 2017

Setting Up Shop

The past few months for me have consisted of a whirlwind of travel, building a house, making instruments in order to purchase said house, moving, and setting up a shop of my own in the basement. Turns out executing such tasks leaves little time for writing you stories, but I have so many saved up and I can't wait to tell you so get excited. I will begin with building a house and a shop because that has usurped the majority of my time and energy since August. 

Watching the progress of the house was somewhat surreal. I couldn't believe it was my space, or perhaps just didn't want to believe it until it was actually ours. Actively searching since last March, finding a house with shop space in Asheville was proving difficult, and having to obtain the permits to build one into an older house even more frustrating. The more I learned about the process and what would have to be done, the more I felt like one of those dogs running through an agility course, though not a lithe Border Collie, but perhaps a pudgy, aging dachshund that can't quite jump high enough to make it through the hoop or all the way up the see-saw. When it seemed just about hopeless, my dad called one muggy June evening and told me he had spoken with a guy who came into the shop who just happened to be building houses in one of my favorite neighborhoods in Asheville. He has been after my dad for a guitar for a while so in exchange for one, he said he would happily work with me to build a house that had everything I needed, without having to beat out a myriad of other people making higher and higher offers as we had previously been doing. (Sitting in my lovely, finished house now, I am still wondering if I am dreaming.)

After several months of picking paint colors, floors, tiles and countertops the house was about ready to move into. Each time I visited the house, I would walk down to the basement to see the shop space. Unlike the rest of the house, which would have a new element each time, the shop was always the same. Just a cement room with double doors out the back and two big bright windows on the adjacent walls. It didn't matter, it was my space and unlike any of the other options I had looked at, I would be starting out with a suitable number of electrical outlets (36!) and almost excessive lighting. 

On my birthday, the day before we closed on the house, I took my usual tour, walking upstairs, admiring the backsplash I chose in the kitchen, then walking down to the shop. When I opened the door, instead of an empty cement room, I found beautiful sturdy cabinets and a built in counter, a work bench and several machines standing at attention against the walls. While always wishing for one, I have never gotten a surprise gift on my birthday and I was a bit overwhelmed with how excited seeing a bunch of shop tools made me. My dad's friend Chris and his builder Chuck had spent the previous day building it out for me totally unbeknownst to me.

Standing in my new shop on my birthday.
 It turns out setting up a shop isn't the easiest thing to do. The small number of tools I do have, I placed in the same drawers my dad has his in so I can feel a little more at home. Every time I reach for a tool, I have to think, oh wait, I don't have those clamps, or I don't have enough of those clamps. They are three hours away in their drawer at my dad's shop. Then I have to go take a trip Home Depot and see if I can find something similar enough to my dad's to work. Now I know I am pretty dang lucky to have my dad, his friend Don, Chuck and Chris, and everyone else who wants me to succeed standing behind me in my corner helping me get everything set up. My dad didn't have that when he first started building his guitars.

The building that served as my dad's first shop sits on a little flat spot across the drive from my Granny's house. During my summers staying at her house, other than picking raspberries from the prickly briars that climbed along the outside walls of the shop, I have no memories that prominently feature that building. By that time my dad had moved production of his guitars to what I refer to as the 'old shop', the building next to the Rugby Rescue Squad that he rented from Vivian Osborne for $25/month. Since I didn't know much about that first building at Granny's, I called my dad and asked. 

My favorite conversations with Wayne Henderson are ones where he tells me a story. I feel like most other conversations are a notch less comfortable for him, but when he is telling me about our family, his experiences building instruments, or that time he pulled a prank on his substitute, Jimmy, he happily chatters on until I remind him that brace he glued down earlier is probably dry by now.

He told me he built that building himself, with his dad serving as his only knowledgeable reference and helper. "I bought some lumber from a saw mill up on White Top. It cost me $75. I believe that was the first time I had ever written a check," he told me. He said at that time there weren't any building codes or anything so he just built a 16x20" room in the same manner as one would construct a barn, a task which everyone in the area had experience, and installed a bunch of shelves along the walls. He told me he had a few tools gathered, and his dad had given him some spool clamps which he set on the shelves. "Even with those shelves I soon found out that a 16x20" room was not quite big enough." 

When the moonshiner paid him for his seventh guitar, the D-45 that now sports a bullet hole, my dad  took the $500 and bought a Shopsmith, a Black & Decker trimmer that we now refer to as 'the router', a bunch of clamps, and some other small tools.  That router is still in production, though I worry perhaps it shouldn't be as the cord has been repeatedly mended with electrical tape, but still occasionally shoots sparks across the shop floor as it scoots along the edge of a guitar back. I understand his reluctance to retire it though as I have repeatedly tried and failed to find a suitable replacement from the selection of new and fancy power tools currently offered at hardware stores. I also know the clamps to which he is referring, as I use them often, even rifling through the drawer to be sure I use those specific ones. I prefer them immensely to the newer ones intermixed in that drawer and missed them very much as I was gluing braces to a ukulele top in my own shop. I had to take my daily trip to the Home Depot for some similar ones, but again, they don't quite measure up. Most of the tasks the Shopsmith was responsible for have been replaced with other tools, but it still sits retiring proudly in the corner enjoying a bit less use in its old age.

I haven't had many visitors to my shop yet, but I look forward to getting some as, while it can be a bit irksome having people standing in the way, it is equally fun to have people stop by and show interest in what you're doing. My dad told me about some of his first loafers. A typical fixture was his Uncle Cone. I was very young when Uncle Cone died, but I have a vague recollection of an extremely wrinkled man who would sit statue-like by the wood stove at Osborne's store when we stopped in to get the occasional scratch-off lottery ticket. My dad would always say in a voice loud enough for Cone to hear, so I knew he didn't mean it, "Now stay away from him, he's crazy." My dad said Uncle Cone would come to his shop periodically trying to convince my dad to drive him to the hospital because he would "take drinking spells that would almost kill him" so he had to go detox at the hospital. He would quit drinking for a couple of weeks then retox again. Apparently his drinking habits had upset the rest of his family members and my dad was the only one who would agree to drive him down to Independence. 

One day though Uncle Cone was out of luck. A man named John, whom my dad had met while working at George Gruhn's shop in Nashville came walking up the driveway. He had been in the market for a D-45 and my dad had told John that he knew Red Smiley's D-45 was for sale for $4000 in Roanoke. "I think he was scared to drive across the creek or something, because I didn't hear him drive up or see a car, he just came walking up the driveway holding that guitar," my dad said. "Uncle Cone was sitting by the door still drunk. He looked right at that guy like he knew him and said, 'Lord I wouldn'ta thoughta you for $5.' I don't know what John thought of that but he probably thought we were all crazy. I told Uncle Cone I couldn't drive him to the hospital that day, I had to look at Red Smiley's D-45." 

I asked if there were any other exciting stories to come out of that first shop and he told me one more. He said I couldn't print it, but I am going to tell you about it anyway because I laughed until my eyes were streaming tears. Here is what he said: "Well, Uncle Cone's son, my cousin Dick, was over with my good friend Ronnie Testerman. Ronnie was sitting cocked back in a chair and had a cigarette lighter out playing with it. Next thing I know there was a blue flame come up higher than his head and almost set the place on fire. I think what he was trying to do was cover up a fart by using that lighter like a match, but instead it plain blew up. I have heard of people doing that, but had never seen it with my own eyes. I swear that's what happened. I honestly thought it was going to burn my shop down." If you know my dad, fart jokes are just about his favorite thing, only second to seeing a prewar D-45 in person. 

My dad in his first shop circa 1972. Photo credit: David Lewis

I haven't had too much excitement in my shop yet, aside from getting a guitar stuck on my arm for about twenty minutes and worrying I would have to go to the hospital with a guitar stuck on my arm, but that is a story for another time. Each day I have to figure out a new problem, or how to make a form, or clamp work without the help of my dad and all of the tools hanging at the ready in his shop. I am thankful I have so many folks who believe in my ability enough to be willing to help me make an awesome space to build my instruments. 

I noticed the other day that my dad had a new set of fret files hanging on the hook where the familiar red, yellow, and orange handled ones have been stored for years. These new ones all have the same colored handles, and I don't like the feel of them as much as the original ones. When I commented on that, he said, "Yeah, I don't much like them either, but I am trying to get used to them so you can take the old ones." Seeing as he still uses a router that spits sparks while perfectly cutting the groove for binding, I know that there is a greater honor in being gifted the fret files we know and love rather than just getting the new ones. While I am so thankful to have a space that is mine, new and unfamiliar now, it is that much more important to me that he will always be there in my fret files, clamps, patterns, and forms. 

Here's to new adventures.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Making Progress

First, I want to thank so many of you for commenting, supporting, lifting me up when I was feeling a bit down the last time I wrote. While it wasn't my intention to solicit such kind words, I appreciate them more than you can know. After hearing so many stories from lady friends who have had similar experiences, I know the bigger issue of inequality won't resolve overnight, but I felt I wanted to address that it happens, however unintentionally, in more places than we care to see.

The past few weeks have felt like the opposite of the weeks prior. I have had visitors stop by the shop specifically to see me and what I am working, received Facebook messages from folks asking me my opinion on how they should attack certain guitar projects of their own, a good friend played one of my guitars at an incredible show she did with another great friend. Oh, and there was a little story on that that national NPR show, All Things Considered...

Walnut sisters
For the past couple of weeks I have been working on a batch of three guitars, numbered 39-41, which I know is ambitious but I want so badly to make instruments for everyone who wants one that I hope to step up production a little bit. If you were wondering, the three guitars are a koa OM-42, a Claro walnut 000-41, and a Black walnut 0-41. The system of doing three at a time has been working just fine so far but I have yet to get to the finishing stage. The sanding, spraying, and then sanding some more gets pretty tiring with just one, so I'll let you know how this turns out when I try to work on three. Perhaps I should try to find some sanding interns or something...Write this up: Seeking determined, detail oriented person with literally nothing better to do to than hand sand between seven (or more if you mess up) coats of finish on a batch of homemade guitars. It's harder than it looks, so must be attentive and able to learn. No pay, probably no school credit either...but I'll let you play with the mongoose that lives in the shop which is, in my opinion, a priceless experience. Only for a few minutes though because there is all that finish to sand.

My favorite part about these three guitars is that their owners asked me to cut intricate inlays for the fingerboards of each one. It required more difficult work and time, but I always enjoy coming up with new designs that compliment each of my customers. The owner of the Black walnut 0-41 I am working on sent me pictures of her favorite ceramic pieces featuring art nouveau vines and decoration along their bodies. I used the pictures to draw inspiration for a vine climbing the fingerboard.

As far as media coverage goes, it is difficult for me to grasp the reach of NPR's show All Things Considered. I listen most days, but that's just me, sitting in my corner making instruments. Audie Cornish is just telling me stories, right? Who would listen to one about me if I weren't there to hear? It was especially unnerving when several minutes after our story aired my phone was beeping and buzzing with messages of friends all over the country saying they heard it. In all honesty. I didn't hear it until the next day because the Roanoke station chose that time slot to work on their fund raising efforts. It was pretty overwhelming to know so many of my friends and family, not to mention the strangers I had never met, heard it but I had no idea how crazy I sounded.

The thing is, most news stories that I am in are really about my dad, where I just happen to be standing nearby. I was completely surprised and amazed to hear that story and especially to hear Vince Gill say such kind things about me and my instruments. (What?!!) I want to thank my friend and fellow Roanoke Catholic alum Desiré Moses for her excellent job of reporting (and for her skilled editing to make me sound less like an idiot than I actually do in real life). I honestly can't thank her enough for coming down from Roanoke and spending the afternoon at the shop with us.

So the guitar progress is on pause for a week because I am home working on a little ukulele, and then am headed to San Diego this weekend to attend the 2016 Fretboard Journal Summit. I am going to tell some stories of working with my dad and learning how to build guitars. I am also excited to visit with fellow builders, hopefully learn a thing or two, and most importantly, meet new friends. Come hang out and be my friend!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Girl in the Guitar Shop

So if I am being honest with you, the past couple of weeks haven't been the easiest. While I am so proud of my accomplishments and feel empowered in my job most days. every now and again, like the tendrils of gauzy green chemical vapor that seeps through the forest floor of Fern Gully, waves of doubt sometimes creep into my day. Typically it isn't terribly difficult to push aside and simply ignore my feelings when the Tuesday loafers treat me as though I don't matter. I cling to the knowledge that my dad does value my work and opinion and he has come to rely on me to help him out in the shop whether they see that or not. Every so often though, especially when the Tuesday crowd of old men rolls in, I don't really feel as though belong in my dad's shop. Not as an equal or a useful piece of the puzzle anyway. I am sure they don't mean it how it comes across, perhaps it is a generational thing or something, but a lot of times the shop visitors treat me as though I am either not there or just something to placate; "Aw how cute, the poor little girl want's to try to use a table saw."

Now, even though I am on a roll of frustration, I am going to pause for a moment to make one constant exception. Even though he comes in crotchety every Tuesday, upset that his table is cluttered with junk, even though it always is, Herb Key is always kind to me. He comes in before everyone else to find me trying to get my work done before the crowd descends. He always takes extra time every week to share with me what guitar he is working on and how he plans to fix it. All he really needs to do it say, "I am doing a neck set on this old Gibson," when I ask what project he has for the day but he doesn't. He shows me the handmade tools he has finagled to make the job simpler for himself, explains in detail how he plans to execute his job, and shows me how to turn on the water steamer without burning myself. He always takes time from his job to share tidbits of Gibson trivia, neck reset tips, and little ideas to make repair work exciting. I appreciate very much that he always treats me with respect and kindness. That being said, not many other folks are in his same boat.

In case you were curious, here are a few of the things that have recently knocked me down: First, someone accidentally (I hope) burned the $200 worth of buffing pads I had just brought to the shop from Asheville. The guitar I was in the middle of fitting a top on was unceremoniously moved from its table and dumped in several locations with absolutely no care. (With the explanation when I returned from breakfast from my dad, "I moved the stuff with your name on it because I needed to sharpen my tools." I suppose if the guitar was stamped with Wayne Henderson's name he woudln't consider touching it) He also walked up when my dad was checking out a guitar that very clearly had my name inlaid on the headstock and said condescendingly, "Oh, Jayne, did you make that?" Next, a group of local luthiers and their friends visiting on a not so distant Tuesday treated me with as much regard and respect as they would a hangnail they had just removed and flicked away. Finally, a man stopped by the shop selling guitar sets and jacked up his prices to double their worth. I can only assume the reason is because he thought he could hoodwink a stupid little girl who doesn't know the going price for a warped set of slab-cut cherry wood.

After all that and a little bit more in a couple week span I had simply had enough. I felt deflated, like one of the tired wrinkled balloons we stuff into the sound holes of our guitars to block the inside bodies after seven coats of finish. I thought perhaps I should quit and find something else to do more suited to my educational background and gender. This story gets better though, I promise. I am finished complaining. Luckily I have an awesome cousin (more like sister) named Leah and she pulled into the shop parking lot just in time. She didn't have to try terribly hard to convince me to play hooky for the rest of the afternoon.

She drove us, along with two kayaks, some crinkly bags Doritos, and two chilled tallboys of Corona out to the bank of the Little River and shoved me, sitting in her yellow boat, out into the meandering water. (She let me have her comfy, easily maneuverable, creek boat similar to the ocean kayaks to which I am accustomed and she took her uncle's sit-on-top that she wasn't used to paddling. Side note: If you don't paddle, I feel the need to let you know that such an act is similar to offering me a Porsche while leaving her happily behind the wheel of a Yugo.) We floated down the river enjoying our snacks and laughing as we periodically spun, paddling helplessly, when our boats snagged over hidden rocks and branches rising a bit too high beneath the water's surface.

At one point Leah decided she wanted to get out and skip rocks. She slowly moved through the knee deep water searching the riverbed for flat round rocks ideal for skipping. After a few attempts she deemed 'bad' (they only skipped three or four times over the water...she is an expert, you see, expecting more like 15 skips per throw) she set out to catch minnows instead. "Look! There's one! Ooh there's a bunch! A whole school! Maybe they will just swim into my hands!" she squealed. "Yeah maybe," I halfheartedly answered, more interested in finding a shaded spot to park my kayak without having to submerge my clunky 12 year old Chacos into the dark river water. I looked over and watched her standing silently hunched waiting for an innocent minnow to swim unknowingly into her waiting trap. I managed to hook my boat to a bit of rock slightly less dappled with bird feces than the rest of its mass, dipped my toes into the crisp flowing water and watched her play. Floating in my spot that day I felt immensely more relaxed than I had the several weeks prior. While Leah patiently waited for her minnow, I thought about how lucky I was to have such a strong, smart, capable 'sister' to emulate. Sitting there on that river I reminisced of all the times she demonstrated to me that I can do whatever I want. She dressed as the pirate instead of the princess in dress-up when she was five, she played basketball and ran cross country instead of cheering for the boys who did. She plays guitar in the jam circles with the old men instead of sitting quietly alongside their wives.

You see, Leah would never let those guys in the shop belittle her. She would never stand for that. I wish I were as strong as she. But I realize now that I am. I know how to do something not a ton of women can do; I know how to safely use a table saw; I know how to sharpen my pocket knife (and use it to pick the stain from beneath my fingernails); I know how to do a neckset; I know how to make a guitar. Now please read that last sentence again. Don't think I am saying I can do those things because my dad knows how to do those things. He taught me, yes, but I now know how to do them in my own right. Please treat me as though I do.

I made this guitar for my good friend Mac. 
Playing with my good buddy Mac and my hero, Leah.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016


Gah! How does time move so quickly?! I honestly thought perhaps I had missed a few weeks to write to you, but not this long...again. I feel like I have a pretty legitimate excuse this time though as I was finishing a 45 style guitar by myself while my dad was away teaching at a music camp. He was around long enough to show me some important steps, but the final steps were on my own. Let me just tell you, if inlaying all of that pearl sounded difficult, then you probably don't even want to know about the rest. But, I'm going to tell you anyway.

So the sparkly part is only a small aspect of what is needed to make a guitar adorned along all the edges of all surfaces of the body with thin strips of abalone shell. Since I went into it in detail in an earlier post I will only remind you that I used real, flat pieces of abalone that I painstakingly ran through a tiny table saw to make little strips and installed them with my tender fingers into the channels left by the removal of Teflon strips. Until now I hadn't fully grasped the difficulty of installing the Teflon.

On each side of the Teflon are three strips of wood veneer of varying thickness. I also wrote about attaching binding in a previous post so if you want to know more about that process, you can read about when I made a 42 style guitar here. The 45 process is a bit more involved since it requires adding the same pattern, well almost, to the edges of the sides and back, not just the top. The new pattern on the back and sides goes, from the edge facing in toward the body to the binding, white-black-Teflon-barely thicker black-white-black-binding. Getting that thicker black line set up is the worst part because it is such a small difference that I put it in absolutely positive that it is correct, then come time to scrape it down and it is flipped. Those are just the worst days.

So my dad showed me how to glue the wood veneer strips to the telfon before adding it to the guitar, since, as he well knows, doing each one separately is extremely difficult and time consuming. The teflon sheet with a small groove cut along its length sure doesn't look very intimidating and as my dad showed me I thought, well this is easy, go away so I can do it, I don't need help with this! Boy was I wrong. "You got your lines flipped." "There isn't enough glue-the lines aren't fully stuck together, that is going to give you a world of hurt when you're putting it on the guitar." "Watch out, that joint needs to be perfect or it is all you'll ever see." The warnings came in alarmingly quick succession after I took over the helm. After a while I wanted to throw that benign looking piece of plastic on the floor with moderate force and walk away. After quite a bit longer than I feel appropriate, I finished installing the Teflon around the lines. Then I had to glue those to the strip of ivoroid binding. Then I had to route a space in the side and, along with the purfling I made for the top and back, glue it to the edges.

Before all of that though, I had to figure out how to mire the joints around the end piece of ivoroid because on my dad's old Martin 0-45 that I was using as a template had angled joints on each side of the piece. How did they do that? I had to inlay the piece with the attached lines and Teflon before I cut the groove for the binding the binding so I couldn't do it all together, which would have made the task easier. After maybe 3 more hours than it typically takes to install an end piece, I finally got the joints mitred how I wanted, and fit the edge of my binding/purfling combo snuggly into them.  Now I fully understand why my dad has a ton of orders for a 45 and they go untouched or, if the customer is pushy, the bodies sit on the highest shelf where they go forgotten, or probably more like ignored.

1922 Martin 0-45. "Make yours look like that."

Joints are the worst

To take a break from the ridiculously tedious work I had been doing we hosted a Fourth of July party at my dad's house. Our friends Marci and Andy, who have stood as pillars of the community of Rugby for several years now, were the instigators of the shindig, and they invited everyone they knew to come watch a fireworks display shot off on the top of the hill across from the house. They surmised that the folks who couldn't get out of their house to attend the party could still see the show from their porch or window. They were probably right as I watched them open their trunk to $1300 worth of Tennessee fireworks. Next to the low riding car our friend Mac was firing up his patented Jimmy Buffet Margarita Machine....

There are a lot of parties at my dad's house, but this one was really special to me. There weren't droves of people I didn't know giving me 'why are you here' looks when I am walking by without an instrument in my hand. The attendees were friends I see separately all the time when I am out running or down at the store. I wave to Sarah as she passes by to carry the mail, and Howard as he mows Evelyn's lawn across the street. I greet my great Uncle Rex as I go pick raspberries at my Granny's house. I haven't seen everyone collectively in years though. It seemed like all of Rugby came out to celebrate with us. It was heartwarming and so exciting to me to see so many folks from my childhood and to see that their lives had progressed happily, so many introducing me to their growing families and grandchildren.

A gaggle of kids ran past me playing a game I didn't recognize. "Do you remember when that was us?" my cousin Lauren asked me. Boy do I. I remember we would gather a big group of kids, seeking out the ones standing bored by their parents sides, and play hide and seek tag, do gymnastics in the grass, one-upping each other until we couldn't. We would sometimes sneak over to the big old barn next door after telling stories of it being haunted. Occasionally, depending on the season and which party, some friends and I would take a sheet out to the hayfield and smush some of the tall grass down so we felt secluded (even though we were still mere feet from people sitting in circles playing music) and just stare up at the stars. "Look! That star is moving!" my friend Taylor said. "Well it's an airplane," I countered. "No, it's a star and it is really moving!" "Oh" "I was just messing with you, we learned in psychology about conforming and because I told you that star is moving you legitimately think it is." "But it is!" I insisted. I am not sure why I remember that conversation so vividly, but many nights when the sky is Rugby so bright I can see the Milky Way I think of that time he said that. And I think I can see a moving star. Fine, psychology, you win. I miss the days of feeling like we were part of an exclusive club, nobody could touch us and we were just in our own bubble of friendship, having more fun than anyone at the real party.

It is interesting to think of time passing, considering everyone there at that party. I went from feeling too young to hang out with the cook kids, to being the cool kids, to being too cool for anything but hiding in my room, to joining the party and hanging out with the adults. Maybe someday I will be able to watch my kids progress the same way. I hope so.

It wouldn't be a Wayne Henderson party without guitars...

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Henderson in Spain

So fair warning, this one isn't going to be about guitars. Or my Granny. Or my dad. I am going to tell you about my adventure to Spain because I figure if you read the last post you might be curious as to how my time out of the shop went. The only thing though is that the guitar plays a role perhaps equivalent to the Apothecary who sold Romeo his poison in Romeo and Juliet. He was quite pivotal in the grand scheme of things but really he only had a few lines.

I stuffed my Apothecary in the overhead bin and off across the Atlantic we took. After lugging him in his bulky black case through three airports, onto two planes, and into a taxi, we arrived in Costa Adeje, a small beach town to the south of the Canarian island of Tenerife. After instructing the driver, in the limited Spanish I retained from four years in high school, to drop us at a hotel nearby my friend's apartment (lucky for me, hotel is the same), we were left on the side of a busy one way street packed on each side with people dressed in beachwear ambling by on scooters, bright hotels, shops filled with nicknacks, and restaurants boasting their offerings on huge multilingual menus accompanied by pictures. After taking in the view I wasn't quite sure what I had gotten us into.

Sunset from our first night in Tenerife
A quick traveling tip: if you stay awake for the 30 hours it takes to travel to a new place and wait to sleep until it is appropriate where you are you'll go to bed and sleep for 12 hours and wake up with no jet lag. Maybe that is just something I do, and being exhausted isn't the most fun, but it has worked for me so far! I mean, I couldn't tell you what we did that first night in town. I know we found the beach (not too difficult at 100 meters from our front door) and a beautiful promenade showcasing the sun descending over the water where we passed more never-ending restaurants selling the same food (I assume it was the same, evidenced by the signs out front with the same stock photo of a steak, a wood fired pizza, and a shrimp cocktail) each place differentiating themselves by only slightly different decor and name. Little Italy was adjacent to Bob's American Grill which sat next to The Fun Pub. After working on the other side of the cruise ship/tourism industry for several seasons in Alaska, such artificial looking storefront-type places and people heartily peddling boat excursions tend to give me hives. I was sure though that if we made a little extra effort we would be able to find the behind-the-scenes real experience of Tenerife.

Our first full day on the island we decided to take a hike. The closest mountain I found from perusing Google Earth sat about four miles east adjacent to a town called Los Cristianos. We decided to walk there instead of finding a cab because I didn't want to whiz past an experience were there one to be had along the way. We hoped that we could find something suitable for breakfast on the walk that wasn't the "Traditional English Breakfast" pictured in each restaurant we passed. For some reason, the times I have traveled to Europe previously I made a habit of eating croissants for breakfast. I don't eat them often at home, but if they are around when I am exploring somewhere new I will go for it. Croissants are ridiculously filling for how small and airy they are (I assume it's all that butter, but let's not think about it) not to mention delicious (again, that butter). Lucky for me there were  bins of freshly baked bread and pastries offered in almost every HiperDino, which at first we thought were sketchy gas stations on just about every corner, but most turned out to be really nice grocery stores.

After walking through the bustling marina of Los Cristianos and past more tourist attractions, restaurants, and beach clubs, we arrived at the base of Montaña de Guaza where its tall rocky cliffs jutted into the sapphire colored ocean. We found a trail leading up the side and set out to explore the quiet, unpopulated mountainside. Because the island was formed by volcanic activity, the terrain changed quite dramatically whereas our Blue Ridge mountains, which were formed by glaciers and plate movement are a bit more calm and rolling.When we arrived at the top of the first bald we were surprised by the dusty arid terrain, where the rocks clinked under our feet, a sound similar to champagne glasses following a toast. Having expected a more dense sound, I bent down to examine a rock and noticed it was pocked with holes throughout its surface like a sponge. I think it was the first time I saw pumice in its natural habitat, not resting on a shelf of someone's shower waiting to scrub the excess skin from their feet. I was also amazed to see evidence of abandoned towns dotting the landscape. The area had been terraced and landscaped with rows of rock walls while an old irrigation system ran along our path toward some dilapidated buildings. After exploring the mountainside a while longer and being careful to steer clear of the huge outcropping of cacti near our path we decided to head back toward the ocean. On our walk back down the mountain we stopped and sampled the local San Miguel beer that was offered at every beach front restaurant. I am not the hugest fan of beer (don't tell anyone in Asheville or I will get kicked out) but after walking eight or so miles under a hot sun, that one euro pint of beer was one of the most refreshing beverages I have ever had. 

So we rented a car. I thought because the island is so large and seeing the non tourist parts would 
require transportation other than our feet and motor coaches that it would be a good idea. Boy was I wrong. I mean, not really, but it was not the cake walk I had expected. They drive on the right side of the road so I figured we would be fine. Also, I feel like I can understand enough Spanish to read road signs but it turns out that was just not enough. Turns out Google does not work as well on an island off the coast of Africa as it does buzzing around a city in the US because our GPS would often give us a specific direction while the screen depicted a different instruction. We spent a good deal of time practicing U-turns on busy Spanish highways and making multiple circles on the map. The other thing that Google didn't really mention before we set off on an adventure into the hills away from the main tourist drag that the majority of the streets are single lane but two-way and are incredibly steep.

We stopped to have lunch at a place called Otelo, which boasted the best Canarian style fried chicken on the island, but in order to get there we had to fight our way up the steepest hill I think our little car has ever tried to ascend. (That is until later) Once there though, the view was incredibly beautiful, nestled into a craggy mountainside overlooking Costa Adeje and the ocean beyond. As promised, the chicken was delicious. It was served with the traditional dish of wrinkled potatoes which are salty boiled potatoes which were originally cooked with sea water. After our big lunch we thought we were strong enough to go search for some wine as we had heard there were great wineries on Tenerife. 

View from our lunch spot on the deck of Otelo

We entered the address for a winery in our GPS and set off on more turn-arounds and multiple trips around the roundabouts. We eventually kind of got there, but not before several wrong turns and missing one winery by so far that we arrived after they closed so we had to go on to the next one. I thought choosing the straightest path that Google offered on the GPS instead of her suggested route riddle with switchbacks would be a good idea for us. Boy was I wrong. After thirty minutes of clutching the armrests with white knuckled hands and sitting tipped back in my seat in the manner of a dentists chair, we slowly made our way up the single lane road through a town called La Escalona, each if its roads becoming narrower and more steep the higher we ascended. It is the second to last town on the way toward Mount Teide, the 10,000ft high volcano by which Tenerife was created. I was just waiting for a huge motor coach filled with tourists to come barreling down the road ahead of us and knock us into oblivion as had almost happened earlier, but on a regular mostly flat road. As we inched higher and higher in our poor little Volkswagen Up! I wondered who in the world lived in this town and what in the heck did they do there? 

We finally made it up to the winery, but it took a while for my blood pressure to normalize after the ride. We looked back from where we came and the clouds obscured our view of the ocean. Walking quietly with Nick through the evenly spaced rows of grape vines I have never felt to insignificant. We stood on the edge of a field on the side of a mountain on an island in the middle of the ocean. The feeling reminded me of an exercise my seventh grade teacher had us practice once. She told us to imagine ourselves sitting in our chairs. Consider where they were in this room. Where the room was in the school. The school in the town. The town in the state. The state in the country. The country in the world. The world in the universe. It was a humbling practice to think of yourself as such a small aspect of everything. It is always nice to have a reminder that we are part of something so big it is almost impossible to fathom. I am thankful for to have had this experience and enjoyed taking the time to really appreciate it.

At the bodega we were led into a tiny room set up with glasses and a bar on top of which stood gleaming bottles. No one else was there so we chatted with Frank, our pourer, and sampled the majority of the wines offered at the winery. They have a surprisingly wide distribution, producing thousands of bottles per year. Following the tasting and purchases of a few bottles, Frank scribbled a map on a Bodega Reverón napkin to a delicatessen in Los Cristianos which he said was his favorite spot for food on the island. A deli? Really? We promised to look it up when we got back to civilization. After winding back down the mountain, turns out Google was right, the two-lane road with switchbacks (that ended up making the mountain seem way less steep) was a much safer and easier choice, we set out to find the deli. After a long while of searching where my phone claimed the store was, we finally found it on a little side road a block from the address. (Frank's map consisted of a square, two straight lines and a wobbly arrow.) We decided to try a sampler of freshly cut ham that and a few slices of cheeses that had been made on the island. I like fancy food, but I will say that my favorite dinner while we were on vacation was the cutting board spread of ham, cheese, baguette and bowls of mojo, my new favorite traditional Canarian dipping sauce, while sitting on our little terrace drinking the rosé we got from that mountain. 

After several days of extra walking we managed to explore bits of the island that were off the beaten path and we ended up finding some incredible adventures along the way. I am so thankful to my new friend Tommy for his hospitality and for waiting three years for one of my guitars. I am also thankful that my job allows me to meet so many great people and explore and learn in so many more ways than just building guitars. 

Me with my new friend Tommy as we were leaving and he was arriving home. 
Now it is back to reality. This coming weekend is my dad's annual music festival at Grayson Highlands State Park. Please stop by and see me (and some awesome bands and a guitar competition) if you can! All proceeds from the festival go to scholarships for kids hoping to learn to play. 

My favorite beach, Playa Del Duque
On a walk

The waves were pretty serious

Playa de Güímar


Sunset from Costa Adeje

Black sand beach near La Caleta

My favorite town, La Caleta

La Caleta

La Caleta and Costa Adeje in the distance

Paella in Madrid