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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 17, 2012


I worry that because I haven't written for a long, long time that the pressure to tell you something awesome has increased exponentially.  Well, let's see how it goes, shall we? 

I've been thinking a lot about traditions lately, as the holiday season has arrived, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and Christmas is looming. Most of the time I dislike this time of year, because it requires a lot of running about, and fitting a lot of family visits into an already stressful schedule, but there are those certain obligatory events that have been built into each year that keep me excitedly looking forward. 

One of those events is Thanksgiving dinner at my dad's house. Every year, my dad deep fries a turkey. Now, I know that sounds a little unhealthy and maybe insane, but he loves to do it, and everyone loves to eat it. It really is quite good, if you can just overlook the method. Thanksgiving morning, I hear the rumble of the Thunderbird, and look out the window in time to see my dad pulling it cautiously from its cozy spot in the garage, its shiny red coat still pristine from when it was last driven around the block. Which was probably in June when he removes it for his annual music festival. Anyway, the reason he took it out on Thanksgiving, as he does every year, is because the turkey fryer is located in the room to the rear of the garage. Splattered with grease stains from years of deep frying, we all worry a little bit that the place won't get blown sky high. My dad always says, "Well, I figure it would take more time to get the thing started than I would have to get it out of the garage in time if the turkey fryer blows up." 

Typically there's another fellow or two who helps out with the turkey. This year, it was just my immediate family for dinner, which is incredibly rare, so Nick and I were drafted to help with the turkey frying. Well, Nick was drafted, I mostly just stood there throwing sticks for Harper and practicing the 'stop, drop, and roll' in my head. We seasoned the turkey with a significant amount of salt and rigged it up using a scary looking metal apparatus that would probably be equally suited for an S&M ritual, then slowly lowered Mr. Turkey into the scalding oil. You have to monitor the temperature of the oil while the turkey is frying away, so we searched for something with which to entertain ourselves that could take place only several feet from the garage. We settled for some target practice with an old pump action rifle. Nick wants you to know that it is a Winchester 1906 Pump Action 22. (All I cared about is that it didn't knock me down or make significant noise when I shot it.) The neat thing about Rugby is that when you order pizza at the sketchy gas station down the road, it comes in a camouflaged box complete with targets printed on the back. We passed the hour or so of cooking time by practicing our aim, while doing our part to recycle our pizza boxes. My aim is pretty bad by the way. Oh well. 

Another amazing holiday tradition in my family is watching three, now four, Christmas themed movies. (Until this year, my dad had never seen A Christmas Story! He loved it, by the way) My dad's favorites are Home Alone and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, respectively, and watching him watch those movies is probably my favorite thing. I am not sure from where his love of slapstick comedy stems, but suffice it to say he can't get enough of the likes of Kevin McCallister or Clark W. Griswold. I recall him taking me to see Home Alone 2 in theaters and my dad laughed so hard he could barely breathe when Harry gets a facefull of tools as he attempts to enter Kevin's booby trapped house. This year, as most, my cousins Lauren and Leah stopped by to watch with us. It just isn't Christmastime without Kevin, Harry, and Marv.

Traditions like these remind me how fortunate I am to have such a great family, but I am looking forward to building new traditions with the family I have made with Harper and Nick. Of course, I miss my Granny and her Christmas tree that spent each Christmas in the old metal bathtub until it was replanted in the front yard in January, and the giant bulbous colored lights that adorned it, and how much better her dinners tasted than anyone else's, but hopefully I can take those memories and create similar ones for my new family. I am excited for my mom to come visit our house for fancy Christmas dinner, hopefully one Granny would approve of, and I am looking forward to spending time with Nick's family as well and incorporating their traditions into ours too.

As far as guitar building goes, I'm working on carrying on that family tradition as well, but with a few twists of my own. I have been working on ukuleles as of late, but about to start two new guitars. I cut all the inlay for one of them today. Spencer Strickland and I commiserated on our long last names. Every time inlay day comes around I wish Herb Key was my dad...

Anyway, last week I finished up a sweet tenor ukulele (made of Walnut and Spruce from White Top Mountain) with a tooth inlaid in gold that had actually been flattened from gold fillings. The dentist who removed the teeth and sent the flattened gold to the shop ordered a ukulele that matched the guitar I built for him last year. There aren't any gold teeth in the guitar, but since cutting out my whole name in mini to fit on a ukulele headstock would illicit significant use of profanity, I opted to try something a little moe unique...and better for my conscience. It turned out pretty well if I do say so myself. What do you think? 

Close up of the tooth

Doc playing the guitar I modeled uke #9 on.
Walnut back, with herring bone binding.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Visiting with Zac Brown Band

I am feeling a little sick today, but it is kind of ok because I am pretty sure I contracted this cold via Zac Brown, of the Zac Brown Band. Last week my dad was invited to play on stage with Zac because our good friend Lucas plays guitar on tour with him and took my dad's (and Doc's oak!) guitar to show him. So last Thursday Jimmy Edmonds, my dad, Lucas,  a great young singer from Galax, Lindsay Nale, and I all piled in the car and headed to Charlotte, NC to watch Zac's show and visit with him and the band a little.

Wayne and Lucas picking a little on the bus.
We arrived about 3 hours prior to the show and were escorted behind the stage and onto Zac's tour bus. I don't know how he can tell his from any of the other fifteen buses lined up back there. Maybe there is a sticker or something. Anyway, Zac greeted each of us, but declined to shake anyone's hand as he was sick and didn't want to spread his illness. (Hmph... :-/) After a little bit of small talk, it was on to the inevitable discussion of guitars. Zac played a new Edmonds guitar that Jimmy had just finished for him, and he sampled my dad's number 52 as well. One thing I thought really endearing is that Zac and my dad were quite similar. Kind of laid back, quiet fellas who seem interested in other's talents and uniqueness. Both are interested in knives and guns and guitars. Is that a common grouping of obsessions, I wonder? When you visit my dad, he always wants you to have a good time, and if he notices that you might appreciate something he has to offer, he will send you home with it to commemorate your time in Rugby. I love that Zac shared a similar hospitality. We all got leather beer coozies, and Zac presented my dad with a gigantic knife that his company, Southern Grind, manufactures out of old saw blades. Jimmy also got a knife, quite a bit smaller, but exponentially more dangerous as it flicks open its blade as you slide it from your pocket. "Now be careful with that." Zac warned. Not five minutes after we left the bus Lindsay's dad asks Jimmy to see his new knife, and is immediately bleeding.

My dad shows off his new knife courtesy of Zac Brown.
Since Zac was so hospitable, my dad wanted to reciprocate the generosity and asked Lucas if Zac would appreciate a genuine tortoiseshell guitar pick that he had made and just happened to have in his pocket along with his finger picks, change, and always present pocket knife. Lucas said he probably would, so my dad asks, "Mr. Zac? Would you like a genuine tortoise shell flatpick? You could probably do more with it than I could. But don't throw that one out on stage. It is kind of rare." Zac promised he wouldn't and thanked him for the gift.

With a few minutes till ZBB was to go on stage, we pushed our way to our seats, and got ready for the show. Since it was not a full production show Lucas stayed out front with us most of the time, and luckily knew when it was time for my dad and Jimmy to head back stage for their 15000-strong audience debut.

While Zac shot t-shirts into the crowd (and several into the rafters of the amphitheater) I saw my dad waiting behind him on the stage shrouded in a dark blue light. We all screamed with excitement, listening to the 'acoustic set' that had most of the band members sitting or standing in a casual manner on the front of the stage. My dad and Jimmy played Fox on the Run, my dad taking the first break and Jimmy following on his fiddle. My dad said afterwards that he couldn't hear a thing so he had no idea whether he was in time or playing the right thing or what. I, perhaps biased, thought they sounded great, however I couldn't really hear much above the screaming either so it probably wouldn't have mattered if the timing was off, or someone missed a note or anything. It was very interesting to watch my dad and then Lucas make their way back to our seats, as people parted like the Red Sea to let them through this time. I guess they couldn't believe that these ordinary looking folks who, minutes earlier, had been on stage with Zac Brown Band were sitting in, or near, their row out front.

On stage with ZBB!
After enjoying the rest of the high energy, brightly lit show, we headed back to Zac's bus to thank him for a great evening. As he approached having just left the stage, he said to my dad, "Oh man I almost lost this!" Holding the tortoiseshell pick. "I forgot it was in my pocket and when I was throwing picks out on stage it fell out and a girl grabbed it and I had to get it back from her, telling her she couldn't have that one!" "I told you not to throw that one out on stage!" my dad proclaimed in jest. Luckily Zac traded with the eager fan and hopefully will use his new handmade in Rugby pick!

After a beer or two on the bus, and a presentation of t-shirts (my dad's was donned immediately), we headed out of the arena's parking lot. And just to demonstrate the company I was keeping, and the delirious state I was in, due to excitement and exhaustion, I was alarmingly happy to stop at Taco Bell for a midnight snack for the drive back to Rugby.

Wayne: Hang on! I have to get properly attired for the picture!
So I am now trying to get over a cold, while working on a tenor ukulele and gearing up to go to another sweet concert this weekend! I am not cool enough to get back stage this time and hang out with Jake Shimabukuro though. Hopefully I will be able to throw a few elbows and get to meet him, as he is an amazing ukulele player (seriously, look up the youtube video of him playing Bohemian Rhapsody on his uke). It would be amazing to get some advice from him as it would be priceless for my ukulele building.

Oh! I do have one more thing that is probably the coolest thing that has ever happened to me, and it is also thanks to my best-good pal Lucas. A few weeks ago he took the guitar I made for Doc with him on Zac's tour when they stopped in Nashville. John Mayer just happened to join them to play a set or two, and he ended up playing my guitar a little bit. (I will never change the strings. Well that's a lie because my dad is playing that guitar tomorrow for a tribute to Doc Watson, and requested that the strings be changed for that, so I will revise that statement and say that I will forever keep those strings.) If you know me at all, you know that I have this kind of weird, unwavering love of his music so to have him touch this guitar means a significant amount to me. And it was enhanced exponentially by a note from John saying he liked it. So that was kind of amazing.

John Mayer sais he liked my guitar!!!!!!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Chapter

A package arrived at my house last night. I don't even think anyone knocked or rang the doorbell.  Harper never barked and neither Nick nor I heard anything so it was really a surprise when I saw a medium-sized box propped against the side of my house when I went to get something from my car. I scuttled back inside clutching my present with excited fingers and grinning from ear to ear. I was so excited about this package that Nick thought for sure it contained shoes, or perhaps a secret release John Mayer album. But no. Nick stood and watched as I slit the tape holding the contents of the Amazon box. Nestled between layers of bubble wrap was a Makita 3037FC Fixed Base router with LED light! Yeeeee! (Nick was looking at me like he was thinking, "What kind of nutpants did I marry...?" Though, he said he thought it was neat that I get excited about things like power tools as well as shoes and secret release John Mayer albums.)

It is the same router my dad has in his shop to route the spaces in pegheads and fingerboards into which sawed bits of pearl fit. And now I have one too!! The reason for this purchase is that I am going to try my hand at working from home for a couple of weeks. Starting tomorrow, I will periodically work in my friend's new workshop here in Asheville.

My friend Nate has recently made a similar decision as mine to quit his regularly-scheduled-paycheck job and instead pursue his passion for art. He built a pottery studio and wood shop on his family's property in Fairview and graciously invited me to share the space with him, so neither of us will get too lonely working on our prospective projects. I am excited to share a space with someone who is so talented in mediums in which I so very much am not. He does beautiful watercolors and makes ridiculously awesome pottery sculptures (such as bird houses and light fixtures). Hopefully I can teach him a little about ukulele building in return for a potting lesson or two!

While I am ecstatic to have the opportunity to purchase my own tools and work my way out of messes on my own, I am a little nervous to work in a new space without the safety net of my dad's expert eyes overseeing my work. However,  I think this is an important step to truly working on my own, and making my own instruments. Someday I won't be afforded the choice and will be forced to do every step without the crutch of my dad's keen observations. I suppose I might as well start removing the training wheels now.

My dad, as well as his helper Don. seem eager to help me with this transition. My dad ran around looking for things to send with me, helping me make patterns and thinking of small tools I might need. I had already ordered my router, and my dad tried to recall where he had put his extra bits. Don stopped by late one night and after I told him about ordering the router, he turned, rummaged in the corner for a minute and produced two bits. "Here, take these then. No wait, this one is better. Take it too." I added them to my growing pile of things. "Do you have a finishing sander?" I didn't think so, and he dug around in another drawer and handed me a brand new sander I never knew existed in there. "Are you sure my dad won't need that?" I asked. "Nah, he doesn't need it. He has 3 more just like it. You answered the phone today right? Then you earned it anyway." I added the sander to the pile too.

"Well, I will miss you." My dad said yesterday as I was preparing to leave the shop, a box overflowing with mahogany necks, ukulele sides, binding, and fret materials unwieldily clutched in my arms. Coming from a fella who doesn't often share such sentiments, I knew he meant it. I'll miss you too, Daddy.

I look forward to sharing my new adventures (or minor disasters) with you all! Thanks so much for reading and supporting me in this endeavor. It means more to me than you'll ever know!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The other night I watched a documentary about sushi. If you don't know this about me already, I will share with you that I love watching documentaries. Particularly ones about really neat folks who have a unique skill or eccentric lifestyle; I am less interested in the films that attempt to scare me into understanding their position or are so obviously biased toward a specific issue that I know I am not getting the whole story. Not my favorite. Anyway, this most recent documentary was about a little Japanese man who loves sushi so much he dreams about it, and goes to work every day in his sushi restaurant in pursuit of perfecting his sushi making skills.

What does this have to do with guitars? Well, I am getting there. Jiro, the little Japanese man, is 85 years old and still shows up at his restaurant every day. The only time he misses work is to attend a funeral. His 10 seat restaurant is booked months and months in advance but he doesn't advertise or have a flashy store front. Making sushi is not work for him. ...Do  you see where I am going with this yet?

Any time I ask my dad if he would like to share some sushi that I have made for dinner he recoils and requests that I make him something, anything, else. I find that ironic as my dad is exactly the same as Jiro. Aside from their passion for their work, their mannerisms and attitude toward life are even quite similar. It was kind of exciting to see that there are others who have this strong, uncommon passion for their work and us regular people notice it and appreciate it no matter the specific vocation.

According to the documentary there is a term for this type of special person. Jiro is described as being a shokunin, which in the film is defined as a craftsman or artisan, but beyond having technical skills, the shokunin exudes a certain attitude and social consciousness toward their 'work' which would better be described as their one great passion in life. I don't think I have as strong a passion for building guitars as my dad does, but I do enjoy it very much, and I have a strong desire to continue what my dad has built here in his tiny four-seat shop tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jiro's son also works with him and has been learning from his father for many years. The difference between him and me though is that he didn't have a choice in the matter. It is expected for the eldest son to take over his father's trade whereas I chose to do this, after many years of educating myself to pursue other professions. Jiro's son has become and incredible sushi maker himself, having worked with his dad for 30 years, since his dad never retired.

Most the documentary sends the message that Jiro's apprentices are much less skilled than the master and are on the other side of a dividing line of expertise that likely can't be achieved by someone other than a true shokunin. I have found this belief to be the case for me sometimes as well, people not sure that I can actually replicate my dad's talents because no one can. But perhaps I can. Jiro's restaurant has earned a three Michelin star rating, which in restaurant speak, is as high an honor as you can earn. Kind of equivalent to Eric Clapton ordering a Henderson guitar. Anyway, the inspiring thing I took from this film is that the day Jiro's restaurant was judged for its Michelin stars, his son was the one who prepared the sushi. We may not be shokunin yet, but I think we still have potential to exceed mediocrity in our respective fields.

It is inspiring to me that Jiro has secured his place in the world by teaching others while improving himself everyday. He leaves us with this advice: "Always look ahead and above yourself and always elevate your craft."

Jiro and his sushi. (Photo credit eater.com)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Wednesday Night

This has been a busy week of traveling, neck shaping, and sanding, so in lieu of a clever, entertaining story from me, please enjoy this slightly jiggly video I took last night of Reggie Harris and Lucas White playing Doc's Oak 000 and my dad's #52, respectively. They are kind of ridiculously talented. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012


I have a love/hate relationship with fall. I absolutely love the weather, when it is almost cool enough that jackets are required at the beginning and end of the day but not all of it, and I can still wear open toed shoes without much concern that my toes might fall off. Also, I love cooking, and in my opinion, fall is one of the best cooking seasons. Butternut squash, pumpkins, cranberries, rosemary, thyme...hearty soups....I am getting off track. But the downside to fall is that winter hides behind the bright fall leaves ready to pop out when they finish falling from their branches. And then I have to wear socks. And that socks. (hehe, get it? Well, I thought it was clever anyway.)

Exploded Touch-Me-Not seed pod.
One thing I love about fall is that it is the season when touch-me-nots bloom. (Actually, it is Jewelweed, and I bet I have a lecture from Bob Gale about it's invasive properties coming to me after he reads how I love it (but maybe not, because Josh Kelly just told me that it is native to our area. We will see. They are both the smartest ecology-minded people I know)). Anyway, these bright green bushes, highlighted with small, orange blooms fill my heart with excitement every time I see them. When I was young, my dad and I used to take walks in the woods, and keeping an eye out for those orange blooms was a favorite pastime. It didn't occur to me that it only happened once per year until recently, but who's keeping track of my observational skills? Along with the little orange buds, there would often be seed pockets growing alongside them. The exciting thing about these seed pockets is that when you touch them, their coats recoil, spilling seeds over the ground. It is kind of like a jack-in-the-box, waiting in anticipation for the pod to explode under the lightest touch. My dad would always pick the biggest pods from high on the bush and hold them gingerly until I could grab them. My cousin Leah also told me a couple of weeks ago that the seeds are edible, a statement I am not confident is true after I collected a mouthful and went to town on them, only to have a horrid taste spread through my mouth and last for the rest of the day.

Fall is also a time for transition. Summer is kind of lazy (definitely the opposite in my case this year) but fall is when school starts, and you are ready to turn over a new leaf, if you will, and get down to business. Even though I had a pretty strenuous summer, I still experienced that September rush to be productive and get projects moving. I am so happy to say that due to this excitement, I have finished the body of a Koa cutaway guitar, totally finished a soprano ukulele, and am in the process of making a tenor sized uke as well.

Pearl binding on a Koa Cutaway OM.
So far no major hiccups in the progress of the cutaway OM, which is exciting, as those tend to get the better of us sometimes due to their extra, asymmetrical part that constantly needs dealing with. I did set a little bit if binding on fire if we are being totally honest, but you know, sometimes that is unavoidable when you are trying to perfectly fit a piece of ivoroid into the spot where the sides meet on the bottom of a guitar. Since it has to match the space routed for it just right, lots of trips to the sander were made, and a couple of them ended in frantic stomping of sparks and jumping out of the way of their wrath. Not an ideal situation in a wood shop, so that is just another reason I prefer wood binding. This will be the second guitar of mine that does not have wood binding, and it is due to the cutaway shape. The thin strips of curly maple I tend to prefer would likely have difficulty withstanding the extra contraption mounted to the side bender to add the extra bend and therefore would likely create a raging headache. Though now that I think about it, I am not sure which  would have produced a lesster one, things catching on fire and filling the shop with the smell of  a charred Vick's VapoRub tub, or a few broken bent wood bits...hm...

Anyway, I am off to finish cutting the pearl for the fingerboard and headstock of the cutaway. I am extra excited to debut my new headstock design, but I am going to wait to show it to you until the guitar is further along. Just start preparing to see something pretty neat, and in the meantime, enjoy the fall and the extra productivity that the cooler weather, touch-me-nots, and changing leaves bring!

Finished soprano uke! Full body Koa, curly maple binding, ebony bridge. 

Final note: if you are on Facebook, please like my new EJ Henderson Guitars and Ukuleles page!! There you can get quick updates on a instrument's progress, see more pictures of the process of building, as well as finished products!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012


Wow, it has been a long time since we have visited with eachother! I am very excited to be able to be typing this right now as it means that this incredibly busy summer is coming to a close! One reason it has been so hectic is that I have been planning and then executing my wedding. Turns out getting married kind of takes it out of you. We are finally settling back into regular life here in Asheville, and yesterday I headed back up to Rugby to get back to work on some new and exciting projects!

The second reason is that my dad has been traveling all over the country this summer to teach his fingerpicking style at music camps, attend festivals, play concerts, and demonstrate guitar building to a lucky few students. Because of my dad's busy schedule I have been finishing guitars and ukuleles for him, and trying my hand at making instruments without any supervision, but that journey is just beginning and I figured writing about finishing instruments (sanding, spraying, repeat) would not be the most interesting thing for you to read. And I want you to get your money's worth you know.

Beginning to look like my dad's shop...
Last week I visited my dad at the Penland School of Crafts where he was in his second, and final, week of teaching guitar building to six very eager and excited students. The school is a nationally known center for craft education. They have classes ranging from glass blowing to paper and printmaking to guitar building. I visited the wood shop where my dad was teaching his guitar building techniques.

I thought it quite ambitious for anyone to be able to make a guitar in two weeks, but I saw it with my very own eyes! When I arrived everyone had just begun spraying finish on their constructed guitars. I was impressed that there was an actual guitar sitting on each work station, rather than a pile of glue and wood that could easily have happened had I been in such a class when I was first learning.

As I meandered through the vast, very clean, and well stocked shop I noticed that my dad had brought some stuff to make himself feel more at home. Along with the necessities such as planks of mahogany, the side bender, squares of sandpaper, copious bottles of Titebond, and a jug that looked suspiciously like a whiskey bottle labeled "Guitar Stain" in big sharpie letters, lay a hooey stick, various magic trick paraphernalia, and of course the fart machine. My heart went out to a poor student who, while  waiting for his guitar's coat of finish to dry, he hopelessly attempted to fit six blocks of wood together into the correct crisscross shape. (See picture below. It is a difficult puzzle.)

And of course the shop wouldn't be complete without the hooey stick and wood puzzle...
Corey working on his bowl.

It was great to see everyone having such a good time learning from my dad. One of his students, Corey, is a talented wood worker already, making beautiful lathe-turned bowls. He tried to teach me, but it didn't work out too well. I guess I should stick to what I know...sort of.

Learning to turn a bowl!
After lunch I visited several of the other studios nestled between the hills on the lovely Penland property. We walked through the metals shop, jewelry, printmaking, glassblowing. Everyone was happy to display what they were working on and explain the processes they used. The talent surging those workshops was almost tangible.

Wayne Henderson poses with his students at Penland 2012

On Thursday Nick and I drove back up to the school (as it is only about an hour from Asheville) with a couple of friends to attend the session-end auction. It was incredible to peruse the gallery, seeing the goods that were put up for auction, all proceeds going to Penland's scholarship program. Even though I lost out on some amazing whiskey glasses made by a very talented glass blower (Ben Dombey - look him up) I still enjoyed my first auction experience. I wanted to bid on everything! There are some truly gifted people making some amazing things in this world. I so appreciate a place that respects and nurtures such creativity. Next year I plan to enroll and learn to make some sweet glasses of my own!


If you were wondering what happened after I lost out on the amazing glasses once the bid exceeded $200, I will tell you. One of my dad's students was the winner and the next day she brought them up to the guitar shop and offered to give them to me after she heard how badly I had wanted them.  As generous and thoughtful as that gesture was, I had made a contingency plan. Following the auction, I ran around like a crazy person until I found someone who would introduce me to Ben, the glass blower who had made the glasses. He happened to have two more glasses cooling in the kiln at that moment that he offered to sell me. He dropped them off with my dad the next morning and they were waiting for me on the coffee table when I arrived here yesterday! That is what we call a win win win situation. :-)

Hand blown whiskey glasses made by Ben Dombey.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gone Fishing

I remember when I was little, I told my dad and my Granny that I hated trout. My dad loved eating it, but I refused to have anything to do with it. I don't really know why, as I had never tried it, it just seemed like a strange thing to eat. Since my mom raised me and we ate primarily vegetables, I tended to shy away from most foods that had eyeballs in its heyday. I was scared of chicken because I had watched a news article once that warned against e-coli, and beef was definitely something to stay away from after I learned about mad cow disease. Ironically, I did eat a hamburger when I was visiting England.....perhaps I am not the most careful listener...

Today I am so proud to announce that I have gotten over my apprehension and LOVE trout! The other day Leah came over and we decided to try our hand at fishing. Well, she is quite adept at fishing, I was trying my hand if we are going to be specific. Anyway, Harper and I clambered into the car, Harper only a little more eager than I, and we headed off to the creek. I later learned that inviting a dog on our fishing trip might not have been the best idea in the world, but she sure had fun and I can't help but want to make her happy so Harper Lee joined us on our fishing expedition.

As we approached the fishing hole, tiptoeing over braches and small bunches of leaves that vaguely resembled poison ivy, Harper tore through the woods and splashed head first into the water. She then proceeded to run laps as fast as her legs could carry her, around and around, up the bank and back into the water, jumping over rocks and limbs and splashing into the creek and back out of it.

Crouched on the bank, Leah plucked a fat worm from the plastic cup she brought and wound him around the hook hanging from my fishing line. She then did the same to hers. I like to keep it humane so that is as graphic as I plan to get. Leah dug up the worms herself from a patch of moist dirt in her yard. I was impressed. I tossed my hook into the gurgling water flowing swiftly over a few boulders in its way. Suddenly (really, much sooner than I ever expected) there was a little yank on my line. !! I cranked and cranked and reeled in a trout that measured maybe 2 inches in length, having a diameter of maybe a quarter of an inch. Leah showed me how to remove the hook and very ambitious snack from its mouth and gently place him back in the river, making sure to let him re-acclimate himself to the temperature of the chilly water.

The fish Leah caught!
Thunder rumbled above us as we kept casting our lines into the river. I became a little anxious that wielding bits of metal over a body of water in the middle of a thunderstorm might not be the best idea and was hoping to pack it up pretty soon. As I was thinking that, Leah caught a fish almost large enough to keep. Amazingly enough Harper had not managed to scare off all of the fish from the hole with her lap running or snag herself on an errant hook lying on the bank. She stopped just long enough though to dump over the tub of worms and investigate the contents. Just as a huge crack of thunder sounded overhead Leah caught a fish that looked underwater to be maybe significant enough to take home. As it emerged from the creek we saw that it was perhaps a foot long, its brown spots gleaming in the light.

So proud :-)
I am skipping over the part where we killed the fish, though I will say that the ordeal left Leah and I both spotted with blood, scrubbing our hands in the creek to avoid looking like guilty murderers. The fish did not suffer though, which I think is important. We proudly took it home (slipped in an empty Salt and Cracked Pepper Kettle Chips bag) and filleted it as we had seen our dads and tv characters do. We might not have done it quite right, but it seems all of the parts that are not suitable for consuming were sufficiently removed.

The final product.
 I played Chopped and found a couple of ingredients in the fridge and cupboard that would accompany a fillet of trout. We baked the fish, stuffing it with cilantro and lime (because that is what we had) and packing it in a blanket of damp salt. It emerged from the oven beautifully, the salt brick flaking off effortlessly and the pink flesh was bright and moist. I piled the the fish on top of a heap of risotto with a hint of truffle oil and citrusy steamed spinach. It may not have been a perfect pairing, but we thought it was the best dinner ever. To be able to catch and totally make our own dinner felt empowering and exciting. I know it shouldn't be such a novelty to do such a thing as our ancestors always did that, and my grandparents even traded store bought items for eggs from their farm but I have always been afforded the novelty of a supermarket. During this process I thought of my Granny, growing her own vegetables, butchering chickens who lived on her farm, and frying the fish my dad and grandfather caught from the very same creek.

Stay tuned for part two, the story of my second fishing adventure, this time with my dad, and cooking a more traditional trout dinner.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Ukulele Summer

Ah, summertime....I just want to sit outside, reclined in an Adirondack chair with nothing but the view to concern myself with. In order to keep this dream alive, I have been making summer appropriate instruments as well. This has been a ukulele summer, having completed 5, and currently working on #6 right now.

Photo courtesy of Kevin Lee Smith 
The last uke I sent off to a new home was a little soprano (the only style I have made so far) made from the left over boards of white oak that I used for Doc's guitar. As with each of my instruments, I reluctantly released the tension on the strings, carefully packed the case into a cardboard box, and trustingly handed it over to the postal professionals to deliver it still in one piece to a satisfied customer.

It is extremely important to me that this creation that I have put my heart and soul into ends up in happy home full of strumming and jam parties and vain show-off sessions. I am so glad to report that my number 5 uke, aptly named Lil' Doc, has gone to a truly awesome home. Lil Doc's new owner, Kevin, is exactly the type of person I want my instruments to go to. He proudly displays pictures on his Facebook page and tells me how much he enjoys playing it and sharing its music with others. I really love that, and it makes my heart swell to see that the ukulele, especially this one, went to such a great person who truly loves it.
Photo courtesy Kevin Lee Smith

I too would like to have one of my instruments to play and show off and be proud of. Yes, I have Doc's guitar, but it is not really mine, I made it for someone else. And, right now at least, it breaks my heart to look at it, much less play it. I am really proud of the workmanship and wish so much Doc had been able to play it just for a few minutes, but all is not lost, as 'Big Doc' got a lot of great playtime at the festival and now hangs proudly on my dad's wall next to his #400.

A few weeks ago, I began working on a ukulele for myself, made from koa wood with curly maple binding. So far, I have encountered only a couple of messes that I have managed to work my way out of. For some reason I have trouble remembering that I have to cut the slot for the neck to fit into the body before I glue the back onto the bent sides. Several times now my dad stops by my work table and asks, "Are you sure you are ready to glue that back on?" And after I say yes, he reminds me that if I were to do that, it would ensure a gaping hole in the back of my uke, left in the band saw's wake. Of course, since no one happened to be around when I was gluing my latest ukulele, I glued the entire body together without cutting the slot. After a few expletives were uttered, I figured out a new procedure for cutting the slot that does not require using the band saw. Securing the body between my knees, and constructing an unfortunate looking jig, I used the large router bit to cut a space into the neck block that ended before I cut through the back. Crisis averted! I look forward to seeing what other puzzles are to come my way as I work on this ukulele! I'll do my best to take some pictures along the way! Every time I make a mistake and manage to fix it it feels as though I am actually learning and perhaps I will make it as a luthier yet!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pool Bus

Do you ever wish you can rewind to a specific place and time in your life? For me, a lot of times I wish I were back in Juneau on this certain day several years ago, but even more often, it is just a random day in my childhood. Like a summer day in Rugby riding the pool bus.

Every summer Lauren and Leah's mom Martha drove the pool bus. The bus, parked in a bus-sized gravel spot just below Lauren and Leah's house, right up the road from my Granny's, was covered in chipping white paint and had the words ACTIVITY BUS blocked across the sides and back. It always felt like a special or exciting day when I rode the pool bus with my cousins. They went just about every day in the summer, but I was a less frequent passenger so it was always full of anticipation of something fun and different. I would either walk up the hill from my Granny's house, or my dad would drop me off at about 8 AM and would hand me a crisp ten dollar bill. Man I felt like I was so rich. Think of the Slushies I could buy with that!

Each day the bus would travel throughout a different part of the county picking up kids wanting to go to the pool. The ride typically lasted several hours, arriving at the pool immediately after lunch. Lauren and I were reminiscing about those rides last night, and other than ourselves, we couldn't remember very many other kids who rode the bus with us. We typically read books while we rode, each of us taking up an entire brown vinyl seat.  We didn't interact much with the older 'cool' kids who filled the seats in the back. I remember a lot of times looking out of the window and worrying that the small curvy roads were not equipped to handle such a large vehicle swaying over them. There is still a curve near Rugby that I drive on today and can't help but think about that pool bus and wondering if we were about to tumble off the asphalt and down into the briars that covered the steep grade down into the holler.

As the bus finally rumbled through Independence, we would stop at the high school for lunch. I remember running through the gym and down the darkened halls wondering what it would be like to go to school there. What it looked like with people in it. There was a mural painted in the cafeteria, I can't recall the content, but I remember it had a lot of green and blue in it and that I thought it looked neat. We would file through the quiet lunch line, grabbing our sandwiches and choosing an apple or orange and a milk carton. The other riders and I would sit at long cafeteria tables that had flat plastic circles, much like frisbees, protruding from their undersides acting as seats. We would eat quickly, anticipating a fun day at the pool.

It cost $3 to get into the pool at the Grayson County Recreation Park. The pool was surrounded by a vast rectangular square of concrete and a tall chain link fence. There were three sections to the pool, a shallow section, complete with a separated 'kiddie' pool, a large middle section 25 meters long and marked for lanes, and a 'deep end' twelve feet deep complete with two springy, turquoise diving boards.

Choosing a spot to sit was always a very important task. Martha typically sat right in the middle, between the pool and the snack bar/juice box area. The juke box incessantly played Mmm
Bop and Cotton Eye Joe. There was light pole right in front of the juke box that Leah liked to use to help fashion a tent with her towel. Lauren, Leah, and I sat with Martha most of the time, but as we got older we tended to want to spread our towels further away to display our independence. Then came the sunscreen. Even if you had put it on during the bus ride, since you had ample time, Martha would insist on slathering your back and face with SPF 50. We weren't allowed to take another step near the pool until she was satisfied that we were sufficiently covered in sun protection. Under bathing suit straps and on our ears and our feet. She would never miss a spot and I thank her for that now.

For the next few hours we would splash and dive and reluctantly sit along the side during the fifteen minute 'adult swim' break or thunder threats. Leah tended to spend most of her time standing in the line for the diving board in order to get that 30 seconds of exhilaration from jumping off of the low springboard into the deep water. She would jump, swim to the side, and go again. And again. Another staple of a day at the pool was drinking Slushies. I preferred a plain one, just tiny round pebbles of ice covered in sugary syrup. Lauren would experiment with mixing different flavors together to achieve that perfect blend of artificial flavoring. A lot of times they came out brown, but she insisted those tasted the best. When it was time to go, we would file back on the bus for the trip back home.

Some days Martha would drop us off at the library while she finished her run to drop kids back off at their stops. Living in a small town in which the library is thirty minutes away, this was huge excitement. The library ladies didn't have the best senses of humor, and silence was required, but that smell of library books always tended to bring about an excitement for me. The anticipation of finding a perfect story within the crackling plastic lined covers to be transported into was what I always looked forward to when we stepped through those old glass doors.

I'm not sure if the ride back to Rugby was actually shorter, or if we just were so tired or engrossed in our books that we didn't notice the route as much, but when Martha finally backed the bus into it's gravel spot we were all ready for some dinner and a nap. Not necessarily in that order. Sometimes we would have enough energy to bounce on the trampoline or watch a movie at my house, but we always had a great time and were excited to do it again the next day. So, it isn't really a significant moment, or a certain day in particular, but it is just a feeling I miss. I wish all I had to do today was ride that bus, drink a Slushie, and be with my family.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 18th Annual Wayne C. Henderson Festival

To get myself in the mood to write you a story, I need a little background music. That's better. The Water Tower Bucket Boys are singing their song"Crooked Road" at full blast on my computer. Ideally they would be singing it to me in real life, but since I had the pleasure of that opportunity yesterday, I probably shouldn't press my luck with an encore. 

This year's festival was by far the best I have ever attended, and I have attended all of them excepting the one in 2005 when I was working as a kayak guide in Alaska so the commute would have been a tad diffuclt, not to mention supremely expensive. But even then my thoughtful, amazing mother made me a DVD of the show complete with messages from her, my dad, and friends who were lucky enough to attend. 

Usually I feel really lucky to have a father in such a position where folks flock to him just to be part of something amazing, but around festival time I tend to feel a little bit left out, especially since Father's Day is the following Sunday and I have never been able to have a dad who has time to spend that with me. This year was completely different. Well, maybe with one exception. 
I spread my Granny's Dalmatian-printed quilt, the one she gave me for Christmas, onto the grass infront of the stage. I felt she deserved to be there too, and I know she would have loved every minute of it. My friend Dori started off the afternoon with a great set, singing her original and 40's songs with her uncle and dad backing her up on the banjo and mandolin respectively. 

Water Tower Bucket Boys. Go buy their albums on iTunes. Immediately.
With a little bit of apprehension, I watched my dad, Charles Welch, the Kruger Brother's and a few other guests take the stage to pay tribute to my good friend Doc Watson. Harper, Nick, and I, along with our friend Stephen and my cousin Leah, her friend Katie, and two of the Water Tower Bucket Boys piled onto the quilt. My heart broke a little as I watched my dad pick up the guitar I had painstakingly crafted for Doc, but of course he made it sound amazing and played it beautifully and full of grace. It was a tribute I am pretty sure Doc would have approved of; at one point we all stood and yelled, "We love you Doc!" and concluded the ceremony with a group rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Tears streamed down my face, but I was so happy to have said a proper goodbye to Doc since I just couldn't attend the funeral and it had been eating at me ever since. The weather yesterday was amazing; Doc did that for us I am pretty sure, just like he set his guitar neck for me.  Josh Rabie, one of the Bucket Boys enveloped me a hug and it was nice to be able to share in our sadness over losing such an incredible person and musician. 

Tanner McInerey and Mac Sumner lead us in song!  
Following the amazing performances at the park, we all migrated down to my house for some barbecue and informal pickin'. I was overwhelmed with the praise I was given over my guitar by some really incredible musicians. John Arnold, a well known and respected luther, was so complimentary over my Oak creation, which means a lot as he sort of pioneered using such woods. I was honored to have met him, and to have him play my guitar for an hour and a half in the middle of the night was something worth noting in my journal. Another incredible guitarist from nearby, Steve Lewis, also played it and made the wood box literally sing. I have never heard anything quite like it. The night culminated with 19 people stuffed into a little popup camper, it's tiny fans on full blast, passing around my White Oak guitar, the Koa guitar that I helped my dad make, and a beautiful Brazilian Rosewood D size made by Max Rosa, a lawyer/luthier who came all the way from Brazil to hang out with us. I feel a sort of kindred spirit in him...wonder why...We sang songs including Wagon Wheel, Free Fallin', and multiple Johnny Cash hits long into the evening. I went to bed exhilarated and so happy that I know such great folks.

This morning, however, I was told by a woman staying at my house that I have "a reputation of being a brat". I have a good guess as to who likes to spread that rumor, and only assume it is because I desperately want to be included in my dad's world, and wish to be seen as someone more important than the throngs of visitors. Due to that insecurity I tend to keep my distance when a gaggle descends. Still, hearing that was incredibly hurtful to me, and I really hope that that isn't the thought of everyone who comes here to vist my dad, as I really enjoy spending time with most folks who stop by. Maybe she is right, but no one knows what it is like to be me, living in the shadow of someone so great that people are willing to shove his own daughter aside in order to have five minutes of his attention. On the plus side, I am so proud to have made myself a place in my dad's world and I stand by the work that I have been doing in the shop thus far. I only wish I were better able to take my dad's advice of, "when people say things you don't like, just don't listen to them." 

No one can spoil the amazing weekend I had with my amazing friends and my daddy. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Guitar!

Yesterday afternoon, with several visitors eagerly looking on, I strung up Doc's guitar. It was painfully bittersweet, as the sound is amazingly clear and strong, but it was palpably difficult to hear knowing who it is for won't be around to get it. I am not sure I am able to accurately articulate what I felt listening to those first notes played on the new guitar, so I am just going to share these pictures until I think of anything better to say. 

In less downer news, my dad's annual festival will be held on Saturday. The shop has already begun to swarm with visitors eager to start celebrating the weekend's lineup of great musicians. This year promises to provide a great show; Dori Freeman, The Water Tower Bucket Boys, The Gibson Brothers, and of course a tribute to Doc during his slot. My dad has promised to play Doc's new guitar during that bit, which I am very grateful for, but again that bittersweet feeling creeps in as well. Hopefully it will be a great day with beautiful weather, hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happy Father's Day (To Me)

I'm not even sure how to start this entry. I want to be positive and happy, but it is shaping up to be difficult as I am still feeling a little bit sad. And I don't think that will change much until I am done with this guitar. It is odd though, as it still doesn't feel to me like Doc won't be visiting the shop anymore. Since he would typically pop in every few weeks or so, it still seems like he could shuffle in with his friend Charles any day now.

The guitar I have been working on, upon Doc's request, has been progressing surprisingly well over the past week. When I went to measure the neck and fit the dovetail joint snugly into the body of the guitar, it was a perfect fit straight from the table saw. If you have never fit a neck before, you probably won't understand the significance of that neck fitting so well on the first try, but such a feat is rare. Typically I spend all day fitting, rasping, and sanding in order to get the correct angle and shape on the dovetail to fit to the body correctly. I like to think that maybe Doc is helping me out, encouraging me to finish.

Taking a break from finishing the guitar today, my dad and I had a lovely Father's Day. I decided today was Father's Day because for the past 18 years I have spent actual Father's Day watching my dad spend it with a ton of other people, as it falls on the day following his festival. This year will be no exception as plans have been made for several gatherings at our house that day. It is too tiring to be hurt, so I decided that I would take advantage of some time together and that would be our day. It shaped up to be quite lovely. We went to visit with my uncle Max for the afternoon and ended up playing a few tunes together while we were there. Well, more accurately, I plucked out the notes to You Are My Sunshine and my dad graciously backed me up, and then I struggled to keep accurate time while mashing the correct chords on my mandolin for his breaks. Arkansas Traveler and Turkey in the Straw went similarly. It was really fun though, as typically if I want to attempt to play music it is in the shop with a bunch of folks milling about increasing my stress level, and decreasing my confidence exponentially.

No one visited the shop after we returned from visiting my uncle, so I got to spend a few quiet moments in there tonight as well. The evening has been primarily filled with sanding and spraying my guitar, with a quick break for tacos. I am so excited to see this one finished, and to hear its first sounds emerge from the soundhole. Of course, the excitement is glazed with a little bit of sadness, but I think Doc would be proud of this guitar, and whether I really believe it or not, it is comforting to think he is encouraging me along the way. I also probably wouldn't have made a guitar for myself, so maybe I should look at the loss of a really great fellow as a gift of a really great guitar.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Goodbye, Doc

It's funny, I feel like I am supposed to think people like my dad, Eddie Pennington, and Doc Watson are super talented and be in awe of their musical talent, but I am mostly just in awe of them as folks who have been good to me my whole life.

Last week, my dad and I were working alone in the shop. I was painstakingly shaping the braces I had just glued onto the top of the guitar I was working on. I tapped, listened for a C note, shaved a little more wood off with my chisel, tapped again and listened again. After several tries I was feeling satisfied, thinking ahead to the day when Doc Watson would play it and say that it had a lovely clear tone. Then the phone rang. I saw that it was Gerald, one of my dad's good friends, so I answered it. "I guess you heard about Doc, right?" He asked after a few seconds of small talk. I felt that spurt of adrenaline that shoots through you when something exciting or scary is on the horizon and you know it is coming. "...No." I said, pretty sure I didn't want to know what he was going to say next. And I was correct, I didn't. After a lengthy surgery he is still in critical condition after an impacted colon threatened his life.

My heart sank as the shop phone kept ringing with updates on Doc's condition. We became apprehensive to answer the phone, worried that worse news would be shared after we did. He has hung on for days and days, but as I sat writing this entry I got the news that he has passed away. This just reminds me of the person he is, the person I grew up knowing. I know people are going to miss his music, and his talent, and what he has meant to the bluegrass community, but I am most sad to lose his honesty and genuine kindness.

When I was about six years old, I remember my dad played a show with Doc. I don't remember the venue, but I remember the floors-they were vast and wooden. Lots of dancing space, and running-wild space. Those things are very important to a six year old the likes of me. Anyway, after the show that I am sure I didn't listen to, I remember my dad asking, "Jayne? Do you remember Doc? He is my friend." I remember him being kind of intimidating, because he couldn't see me and I wasn't sure where to stand so his face was tilted my way. He was very nice to me though, and gave me a hug before we left. As we were walking away, my dad said, "Do you know how lucky you are? Doc doesn't give hugs to just anybody." I didn't know. I just knew he was important, because there were a lot of folks around him all the time, and that he smiled at me and hugged me.

I remember moments like that, where he showed kindness to a rowdy young'un (borrowed from my dad's vocabulary) or when I handed him the body of my second guitar and he praised it highly, running his hands over the unfinished wood and saying that it "looks just beautiful". I love that when I handed him my finished fourth guitar to be tested, he said, "Well, you know I'll tell you the truth!" But the comments he provided were all ones that I probably don't really deserve. He is just my friend. He can play beautifully and I will miss that, but the stories he shared when it was jus the two of us sitting alone in the shop are what I will cherish most.
My favorite picture I took of Doc.

Daddy, Doc, and me

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Welcome Summer!

I pulled into the shop driveway after almost 3 weeks away and was very strongly reminded of my summertime visits when I was younger. The deciduous trees are a lush green, the fields are full of wildflowers peeking over the tall grass, and thunderheads pass in the distance threatening an afternoon shower. It is summer here and that is the season with which I am most familiar. It is that time where things aren't as scheduled, my cousin Leah and I (and Harper) will go for hikes and runs in the evenings, and lots and lots of visitors will descend upon 388 Tucker Road.

I cherish the tranquility and the extra alone time that I spend with my dad that comes with the winter months, but summer is so beautiful and full of excitement. There is also a smell surrounding this place that I can't really explain but it just smells like home; kind of a damp, leafy outside smell that I have only experienced here. (And, well, maybe a few walks in the woods I have taken in various locations but who's counting.)

I never really accomplished very much during my summer trips to Rugby, often just reading outside or hanging out with Lauren and Leah on their trampoline in the front yard but wouldn't you know it, the days we were most bored are the days I love to remember. (Right now I am thinking about that time we bounced on their trampoline and called Granny and Katherine, and in our best English accents, offering them seamstress positions at Buckingham Palace).

Of all of our shenanigans throughout the years, my favorite summer by far was one not too long ago. I was working at Grayson Highlands State Park the summer before I left for Vermont Law School, and every day after work Lauren and Leah came over to watch a DVD of The Office. I had been getting the discs from Netflix all summer and we watched each and sent it back as quickly as possible. I will never forget the first time I watched Andy fall into the lake wearing his summo suit. My favorite episode of all time and it happened while sitting here in this room I am in right now...

Anyway, another exciting event of the summer: Leah had bought herself a second hand moped; a shining purple number that came with a glittery sticker of Peter Griffin with his two thumbs thrust skyward declaring "Freakin Sweet!". She loved that thing, driving to her summer job at Oak Hill Academy and the one mile over to my house in the evenings. She was exceptionally proud one afternoon after she filled it up with gas. "Two dollars!" she proclaimed. (Those were the days that a gallon of gas was a little more than a dollar.)

One evening during our Office screening we heard a strange noise outside. It was a repeated whooshing noise that seemed to come from across the street in the field packed with neat rows of Christmas trees. Kind of like the huffing of a bull that's about to charge a matador's red cape. The flashlight I shined into the yard didn't shed any light on the mystery. (Pun intended.) It was late though and Lauren and Leah had drive home soon. Of course Leah had driven the moped over, so we were pretty worried that some sort of rabid dog or something similar would chase after my two cousins and assail their vehicle as it buzzed into the darkness. And what about me!? Once (if) they got home they had parents to comfort them; I was then left alone with the beast! My dad was teaching at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop at the time so he was a few miles down the road...He is a good shot but even this would have been a difficult save. I had that 3 foot long nightstick-type flashlight for protection though, I figured it would suffice. Anyway, while my cousins crept to the moped I kept the flashlight honed on them, while keeping a lookout just in case I saw any animals poised for attack. They piled onto the small seat together and started down the driveway. Nothing got them. The next morning I asked my aunt Shirleen what in the world could have made such a horrific noise and she asked, "you mean a deer? Deer make that noise..." So we were petrified by a deer and it took about 3 seconds of description for Shirleen to know exactly who the culprit was...

Another super fun memory I have of that summer was when Leah and I were having 'Fancy Dinner Night' where we dressed up in our fancy attire and I seared salmon and blanched some aspargus. The phone rang interrupting our screening of Sleepless In Seattle. A fellow sounding about my age asked if my dad was around, and I said no, he was out of town till the next day. The fellow, who called himself Kenny, said, "Well we met your dad out in Seattle at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop and we thought he was so cool we wanted to come out and visit him. We ran out of money around Boone though. If we play some bluegrass on the street do you think we could make enough gas money to make it up to your house?" I guessed that he and his friend Josh must be pretty good musicians as they showed up the next morning as planned. After they visited with my dad and got the shop tour,  Leah and I took Kenny and Josh up to the pinnacle (my favorite spot in the park) at sunset and we had a grand time. It was one of the first times I remember meeting any of my dad's admirers who were interested in hanging out with the likes of me as well. It was pretty neat.

Even though my best buddy Lauren won't be here as much as I would like, I still have faith that this summer will be as memorable as summers passed. Leah will be here, I will be here, and guess who else? Josh and Kenny will be making their way back out this way as well, as my prediction of them being great musicians turned out to be correct. My dad asked them to play at this year's festival. I am so excited to see them again, and listen to their take on bluegrass music; traditional but steeped in their outgoing, fun personalities. My friend Dori is also playing, as is Doc Watson who, hopefully, will be debuting a new EJ Henderson guitar if I can get it done in time. This is for sure going to be a festival not to be missed so start planning your visit now!

So I am sad to leave Asheville, and that Nick's and my awesome trip to Ocean Isle had to end, but I am happy to be back in Rugby working with my dad for a while and making a guitar for a legend.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Tomorrow is my Daddy's birthday. He is worried that he is officially going to be welcomed into senior citizenship, as he is turning 65, but it just reminds me of how much he has accomplished in that time. It is pretty amazing how many people love him and admire his talents. I mean, most of you probably wouldn't be reading this if it weren't for his ability to make awesome guitars, which I am now attempting to glean as much as possible so maybe when I am 65 people will still remember him and appreciate his work.

I asked my dad about what he did for birthdays growing up and he said he mostly remembers the dinners. Granny would always make him a chocolate cake and her famous potato salad, among other Rugby delights. He also said that many birthdays he would get a knife, because he was always wearing them out. When he was young he would bring his pocket knife to school (naturally...) and whittle during class. He would pass the time his teacher stood lecturing by making chain links from a branch of maple, a solid round ball trapped within four long posts with a solid block at either end, all out of one chunk of wood. The ball would be perfectly circular, the posts perfectly symmetrical. I guess, now that I think about it, his whittling is his calming activity, like mine is drawing or painting.
When I carve things it has quite the opposite effect on my mood, as I am pretty sure I am about to cut my finger off. Since I have had the misfortune of experiencing such a mistake, complete with surgery, casts, splints, and rehab, I am in no mood to repeat it therefore wielding a knife isn't particularly calming for me. Maybe in 60 years I will be as adept as my dad is with a knife. Probably not.

I spent most of today carving a neck for a ukulele. That is the only aspect of ukulele building that I would prefer to do for a guitar instead. Most everything else is more fun, and cuter, and is more wieldy when making a ukulele, but shaping a neck is just annoying. The belt sander's rollers are too large to fit nicely into the crook that sits on the guitar body so that has to be caved by hand, and the peghead is too small to use anything other than a knife or rasp to lower it to the correct thickness. Therefore, I carved and carved and carved, all the while wondering if I might not be attached to the tip of my index finger in a few seconds.

You should come to the shop and watch my dad whittle sometime-it is kind of amazing. I sat for 3 hours carving the valute, the tiny point on the back of the peghead where it joins the neck, attempting to shape it into a straight even point, and I show it to my dad and 3 seconds later his lap is full of shavings and it is lovely. Bah! Someday I'll get it!

Happy 65th birthday, Daddy! 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Tying up loose strings

Yesterday I said goodbye to 6 weeks of hard work. I packed up my finished guitar with care, padding its neck and headstock with tissue paper, and stuffing 418 crumpled pages from a catalogue, ironically selling packing materials,  into a Martin guitar box to pad the case a little more in transit. And then off it went to New Mexico. I felt very sad yesterday as I walked out of the UPS store, not only because I was $147 poorer, but because with each guitar I make, I tend to associate accompanying memories of my life to each project.

While I worked on this guitar, I had to be there for a friend who's grandmother passed away, and incidentally, it happened the day before the anniversary of my own grandmother's death several years earlier, so my friend's hurt was palpable for me. I spent some time with her family, getting to know them better, even though I have actually known them my whole life, and am so thankful I got to do that as they are all amazing people. More on their incredible talents later. Also while I worked on this guitar, I spent more alone time with my dad than I ever have, being in the shop with just him working on projects together, I had some great times with some visiting New Yorkers, of all people, and took several trips to home improvement stores-and actually enjoyed them.

Another thing happened too. I experienced my first almost-heart attack. Following the completion of one my dad's very first guitars, he sat back on Granny's couch, admiring all of his hard work, then with a loud pop, it cracked up the middle. He hadn't used the correct type of glue, so when the wood contracted and expanded with the humidity, the glue did not allow for such things and he was left with a broken guitar. I can now say I understand that panicked feeling between when you know that happened and there is hope to fix it and the initial loud bang marking something gone awfully wrong.

Because my dad went to play music in Fincastle, VA one afternoon, I was left on my own to string up my guitar. I am glad I was alone when it was time to do this because I think stringing up a guitar for the first time is kind of a personal experience, waiting to see what you've actually produced after so much hard work. I strung 'er up and played a few chords (the only ones I know, and a few that might be chords but I made them up). I was so proud with how loud it was and how I was actually able to make good sounds emerge from the instrument. That means it probably sounds pretty good....

Testing her out for the first time!
Anyway, I was by myself in the shop, and having finished my project I started helping with some of my dad's. Well, I was just sanding away on a beautiful mandolin, minding my own business, when I hear a loud pop from the vicinity of my guitar. I ducked, because it really sounded like some sort of shrapnel was headed my way, and then tentatively looked over at my guiar. Were there any holes in it? What in the world made it make that horrible noise? Had all of my hard work been obliterated with one second of earsplitting cacophony?

I crept over to the bench on which it was laying (you never know if there's something else about to blow up), and started to inspect it for huge cracks, holes, perhaps the neck had broken in two. Nothing. Then I noticed that the saddle, the small ridge of bone that sits on the bridge of the guitar holding up the strings, had shattered under the string weight, producing a perfect U. Panicking, I called my dad's Head General Loafer (and great helper) Don to ask if that is a thing that happens or if I did something wrong. He said to not worry too much about it, just make a new one, that he has heard of it happening, though it is not that common. When I told my dad he was very surprised, saying that is not a typical occurrence at all.

Spencer Strickland came to play with me!
After getting all of that straightened out, shaping a new saddle that accommodates a low action on the fingerboard, who should appear in the lonely shop doorway but my best good friend Spencer Strickland! Having him stop by is always a treat and it was nice to have someone around who can actually play my guitar since I am not much of a picker. After hearing him work his magic, it was amazing to hear how loud and clear the tone was after having only been played that one time. I was satisfied with the weeks of work, some bits coming out well with little effort and others requiring a little more trial and error.

I am glad that all of these memories, among so many others, will be iced with the finishing up of an amazing sounding 0000 Maple guitar.