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I began this blog in order to share my experiences learning instrument building from my dad, but along with those stories I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up with two busy, musically inclined parents as well as my current experiences stepping out on my own as a female luthier promoting environmental sustainability in her instruments while working to alter gender stereotypes in a male dominated field. If you'd like to use quotes from this blog for interviews or in your own work, please contact me first! (email is henderson.elizabethj@gmail.com)

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Parents

Earlier today my dad's friend Don, who is working on a room in dad's house that will display highlights of his many accomplishments over the years walked into the kitchen where I was making truffles. Gran Marnier truffles and peanut butter truffles if you are interested, but I guess that is beside the point.

"Do you think it would be alright if we put this picture on the wall?" he asked me.

I took the 8x10 sheet of paper he handed me. The photograph was an image of my mom and dad playing guitars at what looked like a music festival. My mom is looking at the camera, while my dad is concentrating on the notes he is playing. This picture got me to thinking. Of course my mom should be in this 'museum' of Wayne Henderson. I never really thought about it before, but looking through an entire box of similar photographs that Don found in the attic, I realized my parents had shared a life together that I don't know very much about. Most of the pictures are of them at various picking parties and festivals, but there are also some of my mom at work and in the kitchen cooking, and of my one year old self- in red footie pajamas that look pretty good right about now- wedged between the sink and the toilet, thinking I was helping my dad fix a leaky pipe.

I really enjoyed looking into their life before I was part of it. They were married for many years but divorced when I was very young, so even considering them as a married couple is an idea completely foreign to me. I loved seeing their shared musical interests, and then the ones where my dad is trying to incorporate himself into a non-guitar-playing world. In one photograph, he stands in front of a vast green field holding my mom's horse as she sits (with excellent posture) atop its shiny brown back, and there is another of them at what I am guessing is Ocracoke Island, where he looks excited to be fishing from the sandy beach. These are just a reminder of time gone by I guess, and that even as things change, or get older in my case as my birthday is tomorrow, life is to be cherished and appreciated while it lasts.

My favorite picture I found today.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Visiting With Doc Watson

Yesterday afternoon, as I was using the spindle sander to straighten the edges of the headstock of my ukulele and who should shuffle into the shop but Doc Watson. He came with Jarrell Little just to visit a while.

After Harper happily greeted him and he told us a few stories about his pets from his life, my dad asked him if he wanted to try out the new guitar I had just finished. He said yes, so I ran and fetched it from its new, clean case.

"It sounds like a Henderson" he said after picking a few notes. He played several beautiful songs, singing the verses he remembered. I am impressed with how many songs he can still sing at 88. I think if I had as many songs rolling around in my head as he, I wouldn't be able to remember any one in particular. Between songs, and saying things like, "This is a beautiful cutaway"and, "This is the best sounding guitar I have ever heard. Well, maybe the one Wayne made for me sounds a little better, but it is a big body style!" he talked about his wife Rosalee.

I think of all the people I know, I have never heard anyone talk about their significant other like he speaks of Rosalee. He says they met when he was 20, and she was 14 and at that moment he was "bitten by the love bug." I think it is so amazing that there is love like that out there, and that he has it. And that he shares it with people like me.

So, yes it is awesome that he came and shared amazing music with the few of us who were in the shop yesterday and had only the kindest things to say about my work, but I appreciate so much how he shares his feelings as well. I love that when he comes in, I know he will say exactly what he is thinking; he is not a sugar coating kind of fella.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All strung up! (Not the Christmas tree...)

I love Tuesdays. It was an extra special one for me today because I strung up my fourth guitar and heard the first notes emerge from its soundhole. I think that is a really special thing to hear, because just a second ago, it was just wood glued together in a specific manner and now it is doing something. Making sounds! Music!

It was a long, and sometimes stressful, road to get to this day but the excitement of twisting the tuners and finding the E,A,D,G,B, and E for each string respectively is exhilirating. Like Christmas. I am sure it would be more exciting if I could play better, but it is still a neat feeling for me. I stroked a few chords on the new guitar, and thought, "Hm, that sounds pretty good I guess." Then my dad took it and actually played it and I thought, "Well ok, when you put it that way...." I am so pleased with the sound, and that is such a scary thing since I have worked for a month on something and who knows how it will turn out until after all of that labor.

Of course there were a fair amount of mistakes along the way. For example, Herb was looking everything over, testing the action and set of the neck and suggested that the truss rod be tightened just a bit. Well...thanks to his comment I remembered I hadn't even attached the knobby onto the end of the truss rod that does such things. And also, somewhere along the way we made a pretty significant ding in the finish that I only discovered after my dad mentioned it. No one has any recollection of hitting it on anything so that is still a mystery, though the general blame has been directed toward Harper. (I am sure she is not the culprit.) Bottom line, there was a large ding in the side of my brand new guitar and the hike in my blood pressure was palpable. I started scrubbing on it with a little bit of 2000 grit sandpaper before my dad got a hold of it because I left to help set up for dinner. Several minutes later, as we all sat down to some delicious vegetable soup that Jean Callison brought over, my dad said, "I will give you fifty cents if you can find that scratch." So. I love him.

At the end of the day, I am really excited to say that this guitar sounds wonderful and even though the full body Koa OM is still my favorite guitar I have made, this one is a very very close second. Maybe it is a tie. I wish the bearclaw in the top would show up in pictures the way it gleams in the light when you look at it in person. I wish you could hear the bold notes that come from its modest body. Well, just stop on by and see it. Or better yet, listen to Juniper Green, my cousin Matt's band because with any luck he will still be playing this guitar when he is super famous.

Testing her out.

Me with Harrol and Herb.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Here's to Learning

Today as I was fitting the neck on a ukelele I am making, I realized that I had not asked my dad to check my work on any of the steps involved so far. I drew the pattern onto the wood, and I cut and shaped the braces, I measured and fitted the top and back, and routed the excess wood from the body. This excites me very much because it means I have actually learned how to do these things rather than just gone through the motions while my dad really does them while "showing me".

My good friend Spencer, a gifted instrument builder who has recently become knowledgeable in the astrology arts ;-), says that a Sagittarius (which is what I am, but just on the brink, as my birthday falls on the last day, and anyway, I was supposed to be born in March) has an affinity for learning (yep), focuses on the big picture rather than details (wrong) and has an ability to adapt to new environments (very wrong). No one should take Spencer too seriously though, as he also speaks in onomatopoeia; like LOL and hahahahaha is actually what he is doing when he types conversations to you. Who does that?! It is endearing I guess. But there might be something to the learning part. I love to assimilate new skills and read new things, so it really invigorated me when I found that perhaps I might have gleaned some knowledge from my dad and working in his shop, and no one held my hand through the process. This realization has shown me that this time here has been helpful. And leaving my family in Asheville has been difficult, so it is important to me that I find value in this endeavor.

Bearclaw Sitka Spruce
Speaking of learning, my fourth guitar is just about finished! I have been spraying and then sanding down eight coats of finish over the past few days. I am now waiting for them to dry enough to buff out clean and pretty. So far the bearclaw Sitka Spruce top looks amazing, and the Koa back and sides glisten in the light. I can't wait for everything to come together and get strung up! From listening to the ring of the top when it is tapped on I am anticipating a great sounding guitar. Until then, I am off to Asheville to see my genteman and my puppydog and decorate my house for Christmas.