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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, March 28, 2012

All By Myself!

This afternoon, with aching thumbs and tired eyes, I sat back and looked at the compilation of wood that is now the body of a quadruple ought guitar. It was even more satisfying because, with the exception of a couple short visits from passers by, I was alone in the shop all day and had to make decisions, fix mistakes, and glue with conviction all on my own. Having my dad as a safety net is really comforting, but it is much more empowering to say that, for sure, I did this work alone, and it ended up meeting my dad's high standards. So far this week, with having to work on my own much of the time, I am more sure than normal that it is not mistake choosing to learn this craft instead of pursue a career in environmental law.

Monday while my dad was in Marion all day running errands, I looked around the shop and found several pieces of spruce from which to fashion the braces for the top of the guitar. After I dug those out from under several layers of sawdust I consulted my "Guitar Notes" (an 8 page word document that contains step by step instructions for making a Henderson guitar complete with side notes and tips that I made during my third guitar, and have been adding to ever since. As I have mentioned before, am a J. I just can't help such things.) Anyway, thanks to those notes, I managed to saw out a perfect X brace on the first try without anyone providing backseat sawing advice.

Yesterday was a fun Tuesday, as most all are, but there were fun Tuesday visitors to accompany the usual General Loafers. While the shop was crammed with people, I stayed in my corner and shaved my top braces and fitted the top onto the body. Unfortunately my camera's battery has been depleted of energy and I seem to have left its charger in a wall socket somewhere, therefore I am unable to document the progress of this guitar until I either locate said charger or order a new one. My dad's good friend Tom Watts, one of yesterday's visitors, took some great pictures for me (and you all) so luckily all is not left to your imagination! (All of the ones from today's post are courtesy of Tom.)
Getting some pointers. Haha. Pun intended. 

Today I made myself a list of tasks, the J-ness coming out again, and of course crossed them off as I completed each one. First I had to remove the newly glued together body from the form, and route the excess wood from the top and back. Then I measured and routed the space for the end piece that covers the joint of the sides at the base of the guitar. After that I made rosewood binding; it has to be pre-bent so it fits snuggly around the body, and then routed the space for the binding and the top inlay.  While routing the back of the body, I did not readjust the router correctly to account for the extra angle and ended up with a space that was too deep for the width of the binding. After a momentary freak out I decided, well that is ok, I will just add a couple of thin black and white lines between the binding and the body to fill the void. That task took some finagling, but I ended up supergluing the black and white veneers to the binding and gluing it to the binding together. Finally, I sanded all of that inlay flush with the rest of the body. It probably took you a few minutes to read all of that, but it took me about eight and a half hours to carry it out, including mess ups, freak outs, and a couple of ball throwing breaks for Harper. Oh and my cousin Leah called to chat a while which was a really exciting, welcomed break.

Check out my sweet braces! Harper approves.
View of the back in the form.

Signing the top. 
So that is what happened today. When my dad got home I was so tired I actually let him convince me to go to the "Log Cabin" for dinner. If you aren't aware, the Log Cabin Country Store is a gas station on the corner of route 58 and 16 with some booths attached and a grill in the back room. Their specialties are the likes of chicken fried steak, chicken and dumplins (that is how it was spelled it on the dry erase board advertising the specials we passed on the way in) and vealsteak. I don't know what that last thing is, but I guarantee it would make my body incredibly angry if I ingested it. Anyway, that type of cooking is not my scene, but my dad likes it, and rather than make him a nice tofu and broccoli stir fry, I indulged him and we went. As a compromise though, after eating our matching chicken fillet sandwiches, I made him take a walk with me and Harper to downtown Rugby (the corner of our street and Rugby Road) and he didn't even complain! It was a really nice, though rare, evening with just us.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Clay Lunsford

It has been a productive few days in the shop. I chose some lovely curly maple for my new project: a 0000 style guitar that I should have started weeks ago. It was ordered by a fellow who lives in New Mexico, so the warm humid weather we have been having lately probably won't help with the finished guitar's transition to its new home.

Curly maple back, before I glued in the backstrip.

The best part of working in the shop is having incredibly talented musicians popping in and out all the time providing a live soundtrack for my workday. Over the past few days the incredibly talented musician to visit us was Clay Lunsford. Clay is a hilarious, amazing thumb picker who provided us with awesome music and great company.  My dad is always saying Clay isn't right in the head. That may be the case, but he sure is fun to have around! While I listened to beautiful melodies float from the soundhole of his guitar I worked to glue kerfing onto the curly maple sides. For a while my dad's good friend Greg Cornett took a break from wet sanding his new banjo rim to whistle several amazing tunes.

Along with the incredible music, there was also some entertaining conversation. "I am getting my britches dirty!" Clay complained after several hours of sanding the Brazilian Rosewood sides on the cutaway guitar that will so . "Well, why'd you wear such nice britches! You need you some Wranglers like I got on." My dad retorted. "Well this is what was laid out for me!" Clay answered. He was wearing black slacks that seemed to attract dust the way all the ladybugs in my house find death in our light fixtures.

I love to be around when my dad meets someone who's talent he truly admires. Every time a new visitor walked through the door, my dad would exclaim, "Have you met Clay? Clay! Play them Dixie and Yankie Doodle at the same time!" And Clay would obediently launch into an incredible rendition of both songs simultaneously. Really, this guy is amazing, though I am having trouble articulating just how much so. Gail and Tom Watts provided this video that demonstrates. If you look real hard, at the beginning of the video, my dad gets that incredulous look in his eye when he is truly appreciating talent.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Old Shop

I don't remember all that much about my dad's old shop, because a room full of machines that could easily sever any number of my small body parts was not the ideal environment for a young curious girl such as myself. I remember the space seemed filled with magic things, like pieces of wood that were actually fancy new modes of transportation, the likes of Marty McFly's hover skateboard. I now know that my 'skateboard' is a mahogany neck blank, and it probably wasn't the best idea to be standing on it, using the angled headstock to spin around on, but that was my toy. I was very small, but still, maybe don't mention that one to my dad.

Anyway, the old shop, I think, was larger than the current brick structure next to my dad's house but things seem to have shrunk as I have grown up so it is hard to say for sure. I remember it had two rooms and one of them did not have any insulation so it was always freezing or super hot and the other was more like an apartment space, complete with counters and a kitchen space. The floor was covered in an unfortunate taupe and brown linoleum in a circular 1970s type pattern I have (luckily) not seen anywhere else.

My dad said that for many years he rented the larger, uninsulated room for $25 per month from Vivian Osborne. If you have visited my dad's house, it is very likely that you have passed what used to be Osborne's store, and is now the Citgo station that sits on the side of highway 58, about a quarter of a mile before you turn onto Tucker Road. Vivian owned that store, as well as my dad's shop building. A man lived in the apartment space attached to the larger room until my dad was able to take over that space as well.

The main things I remember about being there at the shop were located outside. Next door sat the Rugby Rescue squad building. Though ambulances rarely rushed out with their lights and sirens on, it was always an excitement to go over and look at the large ominous trucks resting in their spaces. Across the street from the shop was Genelle's house. She was the mother of one of my dad's friends, so she was similar in age to my Granny. She would happily oblige, just as my grandmother and Katherine would, and let me intrude on her and play with her things while my dad was working. Another activity I enjoyed when I visited the shop was dragging my dad outside to the banks of Wilson Creek and insist that he help me search for crawdads. We would creep along the creek bed and overturn fist sized rocks, smoothed from years of water running over them. I would always love finding crawdads, but I refused to touch them. Even though they had tiny pincers that probably couldn't do too much to the tough skin on your fingertips, it was just as stressful as anticipating a shot, which in hindsight doesn't hurt that badly but beforehand you are pretty sure it is going to be awful.

Anyway, my dad's favorite part of the crawdad hunt was trying to get someone to hold them. He would mess with them until they were sufficiently irritated, what with being plucked from their houses and then poked and prodded, so typically they were quite eager to grab ahold of whatever predator was afflicting them. I knew to steer clear, but one trip to the creek, we invited some other kids and their mom out with us. Being the city slicker she was, the mom naively reached out and took an irate crawdad from my dad's expert grasp, and it promptly latched onto her finger. After quite a while of wailing and flinging her hand about, the poor crawdad released her and was launched back into the creek, to hopefully find his rock house again. Ah memories...

The thing that I hold most dear about Rugby is that it is very easy to see history. Things aren't quickly changing or developing into gated communities or a Rite Aid on the corner. The same things that have been there forever are still there. The spot in the road on my grandmother's land where my dad nonchalantly pointed out to me where he killed a quail with a hammer is still there, complete with the fence he said he was building at the time. I think that is really neat, to see the landmarks that go along with the stories. Genelle's house still sits across the road from the old shop, the Rugby Rescue Squad building is pretty much the same, though I think they painted it blue recently. The Wilson Creek has babbled through its bed for who knows how long. Those things make it easy to remember my childhood and to stay connected with my family's past.

I came home one time, several years ago, looked down Rugby Road as I passed, and noticed something weird. Something different. Upon closer inspection, my dad's shop had been torn down and the space adjacent to the squad building was just a grass lot. Kind of like nothing had ever been there. It was scary and odd to me. Things like that just don't happen in Rugby. The new shop, which my dad built just a hop, skip, and a really small jump from his house is great, and has accrued a history all its own. If ever it is taken apart though, someone will find the handprints of a 9 year old girl, forever pressed into the cement in its attic.

Wayne picking outside of the old Henderson Guitar Shop. Note the awesome sign painted by my very talented mom!