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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)

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Ukulele: Complete!

This is going to be mostly a picture post, as it is late and I want to put my full attention into writing about a memory. Wouldn't want to stiff you or anything. Below find pictures of my finished ukulele. The finishing process seems to have become easier and easier-with less mistakes that I have to keep fixing, not to say this project was free of them by any means. I have very much enjoyed making this uke, and hope to make more in the future, so if you want a ukulele be sure to let me know! I think they are more my speed, as they are small and compact, like me, and for some reason I feel more comfortable doing most of the work entirely on my own even though it is quite similar to a guitar, just on a smaller scale.

This morning a close family friend, Greg Cornett, stopped by for a visit. He walked into the shop just as I was winding the last nylon string around its tuner. He helped me tighten and tune the strings, which had to be retuned every few minutes as the nylon stretches an ridiculous amount initially. He sang, "All Dogs Have Fleas" to help me find the pitch, though I don't think Harper, who was standing nearby, appreciated the lyrics too much. After checking and rechecking the action and adjusting the slots in the nut to just the right height, the sounds emerging from the tiny instrument was astounding. Not to brag or anything, it was just a surprising amount of noise coming from such a small little thing. Anyway, here are pictures of the finished product, full of love and perhaps a little bit of blood as I cut the crap out of my finger when I was marking small holes inorder to drill into the peghead. My pink polka-dotted knife betrayed me and shut onto my finger while I was putting pressure onto the point of the blade. My fault really, but all is well and nearly healed! Hopefully just a scar will be left to remind me about the dangers of wielding sharp things. Someday perhaps I will tell you about the time my knife skills sent me to the emergency room...

Greg and Harper trying her out
I was probably a little more excited than I should have been...

There she is in her cute little case.

Finished inlay.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Inlays and Ukuleles

There seems never to be a dull moment in my dad's shop. Yesterday was another exciting Tuesday with the General Loafers, among others. Herb brought me some material to make an apron like his to wear in the shop. I hope you have had the pleasure of knowing him, as he is probably the nicest, most thoughtful fella in the world. Often when he comes to do repair work on Tuesdays, he will bring me a bag full of garlic from his garden, or show me a trick for repairing the body of an old Gibson guitar. This time it was several folded pieces dark green denim-like material that he said came from my dad's old shop. I only vaguely remember spending time in the oblong tarpaper-tiled building located next door to the Rugby Rescue Squad, but more on those experiences later. Herb's own apron that he wore for many years until it's inevitable demise due to overuse was made from this same material by his wife Mary. He also included an apron to use as a pattern, so I plan to construct something similar so I can be just like Herb.

Dave Nichols teaches inlay techniques
Another highlight of this week: I learned how to inlay. I thought I knew how before, but apparently I didn't. A very talented inlayer (I might have just made that word up) named Dave Nichols stopped by on his way from is home in upstate New York to a festival in Asheville. Upon seeing my dad's setup, which consists of two metal pieces that clamp a piece of pearl between them by using a foot-shaped pedal as you file horizontally, he barked, "No one can file anything like that!" Well, while that might be true for most, and I beg his pardon, but my dad has seemed to get along pretty well for the past 40 years, so that statement is not entirely correct. It was quite helpful though, to have a quick lesson on how to sit, relaxing my shoulders and my grip on the file, and how to hold the pearl as I file it vertically on a specially shaped board. The lesson turned out to be helpful, not only in matters of inlay.

My first attempt at sawing the new way.
These are for one of my dad's guuitars
I mentioned to him something about enjoying the inlay process and that making instruments is very fulfilling, learning from my father. He replied, "Well that is good, you should do what you love or else you will have to do what you are trained for!" Asked to clarify, he told me that he has a Ph.D. in Psychology, and after working as a psychologist for quite some time, he decided it was important to do something he got immense joy out of. I very much appreciate that he spent a lot of money and time learning to do something that currently he does not practice. It helped me to know that I am not the only nutpants who went to school to learn something  substantial but has ended up not using that knowledge fully.

Speaking of enjoying my time, this week I have been making a ukulele. Perhaps because they are small and dainty, or that they seem a little bit simpler to construct, I really love making ukuleles. This one is made from a walnut tree that grew in in West Virginia, and in it's heyday it used to produce prized walnuts, but was then struck by lightening. The people who loved the tree hated to see it waste into the landscape so they brought the salvaged wood to my dad. I had hoped to use this wood for the guitar I just finished, but the wood is riddled with wormholes, so finding a complete back of a guitar was not feasible. But there was enough clean wood make a ukulele :-)

I just got back from carving the neck, which is a little bit more difficult than a guitar neck as it is so small that you can't take some of the shortcuts that you normally would for a guitar. For instance, I had to use a rasp to shape the heel because the sander I would typically use is too large and would sand off excessive amounts of wood off the heel. Anyway, I also drew a lovely inlay for the peghead and cut and inlayed the pearly using my new skills. What do you think? Side note: It is currently storming-and it snowed 6 inches two days ago. This alarms me and kind of encourages me to go back to environment work...

Inlay for the peghead of my walnut soprano ukulele

Monday, February 13, 2012

Valentine's Day

When I visited my Granny on Valentine's Day, I remember she would always display her red cardboard box of chocolates proudly on the kitchen table. I would sidle up to it, excited to participate in a holiday that celebrates candy. Unlike Forrest Gump though, I always knew what piece I was going to get. In the center of the box always sat a solid chunk of milk chocolate molded into the form of a little messenger carrying a box of chocolate. Some pieces may have been missing from their spots surrounding the messenger man, but Granny saved him for me every year. I only recently came to understand the significance of this gesture.

I asked my dad if he had any Valentine's Day memories that I wasn't aware of. He said he just remembers that every year without fail my grandfather would bring a red heart-shaped box of chocolates to Granny. He said he anticipated the day for weeks in advance because it was the only time of year when they had store bought candy in the house. He said that there was one piece of chocolate that he just absolutely had to have: the little, solid chocolate piece in the middle. In those days it came wrapped in a separate piece of cellophane, so he knew it had to be special. He would grab that piece of chocolate and run with it as soon as the box was opened, though I am sure if he had had any patience at all, Granny would have saved it for him.

Another thing Daddy told me is that Valentine's Day is his parent's wedding anniversary.  I have asked Granny about how she and Walt met, but I don't think I even considered asking about their wedding. She never talked about it, and no one seems to know where it happened. My dad said he knows that they went with their friends, Brad and Dale Richardson, and they got married together, probably finding a justice of the peace or a minister nearby to perform a small, informal ceremony. (Dale is a girl by the way.) While I wish so much I could ask her right now what happened on that Valentines day in 1935, I appreciate that the wedding wasn't a huge to-do. Maybe that is where I get my aversion to big 'traditional' weddings.

While my Granny saved the solid chocolate piece for me, I suppose I have my dad to thank for those as well. After my grandfather died, my dad continued the tradition of bringing a red cardboard box full of Valentine chocolates to her. I remember, while I was around at least, he would bring her one without fail. I think the gesture is important, as now I understand it was not just for celebrating chocolate, but  because there is a deep seated tradition that displays love to people important to him.

"Nothing fancy, just a red cardboard box filled with chocolates," he instructed over the phone as I stood, somewhat agitated, in the aisle that seemed to have vomited red sparkly and plush things out into the floor of the Rite Aid earlier today. He asked me to pick up a box for Shirleen on my way home because he had company and was unable to go himself. But it was obviously important that he have some for her on February 14. I think for him, Valentine's Day isn't just a ridiculous commercialized 'holiday' as I believed prior to writing this post. So, consider the people in your life that you love and make sure they know it, start/continue a tradition that can be passed on throughout generations.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Until the Twelfth of Never....

The Walnut OM guitar I had been working on for the past month is finally finished. At first I felt somewhat discouraged because after working and working I either sanded through the previous coat of finish and had to respray, sand, and buff all over again, or after I strung the guitar I managed to damage the finish on the side of the peghead enough that I had to remove the tuners and redo it. But, I guess it just puts into perspective how much I (don't) know about guitars and how much my dad knows. I have learned a lot, and can inlay well enough to say I am proficient at it, but I know I have a long way to go before I can make a guitar like my dad does. I know that, and I want you to know that I know that. But, with his help, this one turned out alright...eventually...I would also like to thank my friend Mac for coming over to play it a while and helping it become a guitar after my failed attempt at stringing it up. Otherwise, I may not have gotten the friendly comments from a very important visitor in the shop the next day.

Doc Watston stopped by on Saturday and ended up playing the guitar for about 2 hours. He told me he would tell me the truth as I placed the guitar into his waiting hands, and I knew he would. "You fretted it true, bless your heart" he said as he tested each fret.

Pickguard made by yours truly
He spoke of his wife Rosa Lee, and I again was enthralled by the obvious love he shares with her. Listening to his lyrics, as he broke into The Twelfth of Never, singing, "You ask how long I'll love you/I'll tell you true/Until the twelfth of never/I'll still be loving you." It sounded like he was singing only to his Rosa Lee, and I appreciate so much how true that love is. It is a rare thing these days, and I feel fortunate to have seen it first hand.

Anyway, here are some pictures of the finished product. It is still for sale, so put the word out for me. Feel free to pass along my email if need be-it is on this blog somewhere isn't it? Raising some money for Luke's medical bills would be really helpful for his family, and while he is making progress, it will be a long road to recovery. I know it is not a Henderson, which is what most people out there want, but it sounds like one, and has a lot of love and hard work put into it. I appreciate the folks who have supported me thus far in this endeavor, and am doing my best to ignore the rest. Until next time!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sewing and Sanding

I apologize, again, for lagging in my posts. I have spent the past couple of weeks in Asheville so I haven't racked up much stuff to say about guitar building and wasn't sure if you would like to know of the events that transpired while I was at home. Things like taking Harper to a new dog park where she was promptly bitten by another dog and left bleeding, having nightly How I Met Your Mother marathons with Nick, making Salmon Wellington for the first time and serving three pretty little salmon packages and one scary mess of puff pastry with a salmon filet sitting primly on top....are you interested in those things? I didn't think so.  Well, I do have one story that might be worth telling.

The other day I got a sewing machine because I discovered Pinterest and ended up spending significantly more time on that website than I probably ever have on Facebook. Anyway, if you haven't visited Pinterest.com, it initially looks kind of stupid, just a compilation of random things that people find entertaining or interesting online and then they 'pin' them on their virtual bulletin boards. However, if you like cooking, like I do, or being crafty and making things, like I do, or just looking at really neat ideas for decorating your house or planning an event, then this site is not as stupid as it may seem at first glance. Anyway, one of the pins I discovered while perusing the site at oh, 2 am and not realizing I had been on it for the past 5 hours, was how to make an adorably cute dress with only one piece of fabric and incorporating the top half of a cheap cotton tank top into it.

So, as soon as it was light, I called my aunt Shirleen to inquire about sewing machines, and what I would need in order to make the beautiful dress that I saw. First I considered hand sewing it, but the instructions called for elastic thread and I figured my dexterity might not be up to par to handle such tasks. Shirleen helped me pick an inexpensive machine that did all the basic things a sewing machine should do. She seemed skeptical that I could get it properly functioning by myself though, and suggested I bring it back down to Rugby and she would help me. Well. I showed her. Kind of.

After lugging my new Brother 17 Stitch Free-Arm machine into the house I proceeded to read the instructions carefully. I actually parked on the couch and read it like a book, cover to cover. Well, the bits in English, and then, just for fun, some in Spanish. Some Spanish sewing words are funny. Anyway, I then worked to do all of the things the little icons instructed. After a while, I managed to make a bobbin, and load that bobbin in the bottom of the machine, and wound the thread that goes on top of the machine up and down and back and around and in and out...(does it really need to do all that? Really?!) But eventually I managed to sew my fabric together. I only felt panicked enough to try to conjure my Granny a couple of times, and I called Shirleen once to help me adjust everything so my thread would quit spewing out all over the place. Ok, well even if it didn't all go swimmingly, when Nick walked in the door several hours later he was greeted by little (maybe bigger than that) piles of wasted thread and fabric scraps all over the floor and table, it ended up working out just fine. I constructed a long dress that I can't wait to wear when it is warm enough outside to do so. Before that happens though, I  need to learn how to hem the skirt so I don't fall down, which I might have done a time or two whilst traipsing infront of my mirror.

Yesterday, I returned to Rugby, and today I sanded my waiting guitar with 2000 grit paper and water until I could not find any scratches in the finish. This is way easier said that done. The process took all day and several trips back to the spray room because I ended up sanding through the layers of finish to expose the bare wood several times. Then when the sanding was done, while pressing the guitar body into a huge yellow buffing pad that spins at a significant speed, the finish kind of...burned off. The neck is the main culprit of 'burn throughs' as it has numerous sharp edges, off of which it seems the finish just can't wait to fly. In any event, I managed to respray, resand, and rebuff every bit that gave me trouble, and it now looks as smooth as a skating rink. (Actually, after several years of figure skating, I know how scratched and flawed ice is and my guitar doesn't really compare. I just thought I would use a common analogy for something super shiny and smooth.) Here are some pictures of the walnut back and sides, spruce top, and curly maple binding that makes up my guitar.