About me

My photo
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)

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)