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, November 14, 2013

Double Fun Day!

DeeDee keeping watch from her peghead.
Yesterday was an exciting day in the shop for me! I drank out of a coconut (I will explain that later), played several rounds of You Are My Sunshine and Cripple Creek with my dad, oh, and strung up two instruments! That is a first for me, having two projects finish up on the same day. It was interesting to string one up, then move right on to the next one. I felt a bit as though I hadn't provided my little ukulele baby with enough attention, however, since it is going to be living with me indefinitely, I figured it would be alright if I went ahead and concentrated on a new guitar for a while.

I have named my new White ash guitar DeeDee. The new owner asked me to inlay the likeness of his wife's favorite goat (DeeDee) into the back of the peghead. Even though the inlay sort of resembles a cartoon of a goat, I promise that is really what she looks like in the photographs that were sent over. What do you think, does she look like a goat to you?

I always get so excited about hearing new guitars, but this one I was especially eager to hear because I have never heard an ash guitar before. I must admit that it sounds surprisingly lovely, with waves of energy bursting from the soundhole. To me, it sounds strong, confident, and playful. Now I know, describing the way I hear something is kind of ridiculous since, as I learned in perception class at NC State, we all take in external stimuli differently, so what I hear is never going to equal what you hear. You'll just have to take a visit to the shop and see for yourself! Before Thanksgiving would be best as it will be headed home after that.

I love that each instrument I build (or my dad builds, or Martin, etc.) has a personality all its own that you can pick out from the first strum of the strings. The sound I hear in my ukulele is very different than the peppy ash guitar. To me it sounds mellow and laid back, just how I would picture someone relaxing in a hammock on a beach in Hawaii. Instead of being built from Hawaiian koa however, I chose a beautiful set of blistered maple that I stained dark to bring out the bubbles within the grain. I sanded the pieces that make up the body quite thin, similar to the thickness of the top and back of the 1920s Martin ukulele my dad has that sounds incredible. I figured maple would likely be the strongest material to withstand such thin pieces, and I have always enjoyed the sound of maple instruments, so now here we are!

The bridge needs a little bit if explanation. I want to practice what I preach, and stay away from unsustainable/illegal materials when possible, so to tell you the bridge of my ukulele is made from ivory might cause a look of skepticism to cross your face. Let me set the record straight. My dad met a woman at the Puget Sound Guitar Workshop one of the many summers he has been teaching there. She sent him a carved African statue made from an elephant tusk. We aren't sure exactly how old the statue is, but when my dad's friend hosted a Peruvian exchange student, the student's father, who had been working in East Africa, presented her with the statue as a gift. It was brought into the US well before the ban on ivory and has never been sold or bartered.

To be delicate, the sculpture did not exactly boast the cutest face you'd ever seen carved into something.  According to my dad's friend, her grandson was scared of it, so she put it away in a closet after it sat, displayed in her living room, for several decades. Her children had no interest in inheriting the artifact, so she sent it along to my dad, hoping he would be able to use it to make nuts and saddles for guitars. She hoped for something good to come of the statue for which a majestic elephant had sacrificed one of its tusks many many years ago. After the statue glared at us from a shelf  behind the bandsaw for several months, my dad finally decided to make use of it. He offered to give me a piece to make an old-timey pyramid bridge for my ukulele. I think these bridges are one of the most beautiful, elegant pieces that can be added to a guitar and figured a little one for a ukulele would look extra neat. "You reckon an African spirit is going to come haunt us if we cut this thing up?" He asked. I was not sure, and am still a little concerned that I might have a cursed ukulele on my hands, but I think it is worth the risk. The gift of this sculpture has brought joy and happiness to me, as now I have a beautiful ukulele that sounds and looks way too good for who it is for. ;-)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Corn Cobs and Baseball

It is interesting to think about how I sought entertainment as a kid versus how a kid today keeps busy, and even more interesting to listen to the stories of how my dad used to. Coming from a place with no video games or TV, not too many kids his own age to play with, and only a pocket knife and farm animals in the general vicinity I know from experience that it was probably difficult to find things to do in Rugby. My dad was definitely more inventive than I was. In honor of the Red Sox winning the World Series, I am going to write a little bit about one of my dad's childhood pastimes because he seems to get such pleasure from telling shop visitors about it.

By the time I came around, my Granny's farm had shrunk to include only low maintenance animals; a few chickens and grazing cows to keep the field grass from growing up, and for a short time, the hateful turkey/my dad's bestie, Smedley. When my dad was young, the farm had, accompanying the chickens, milk cows and beef cows, horses, mules, sheep, ducks, and a pen full of pigs.

As I may have mentioned before, when my dad was young, there weren't many folks around Rugby who were my dad's age, and just like how I used to run around with my cousins, Lauren and Leah, my dad would run around with his cousin, (Lauren and Leah's uncle) Tex. A lot of times they would take over hog lot and take nibbled corn cobs from the trough with which they would play a game aptly dubbed corn cob baseball.

The object of the game was to hit the cob out of the hog lot and that feat would procure a run. The difficulty of the game was to actually hit the cob. The bat was usually a plank of wood about two inches in width, into which my dad would whittle a handle. Most of the cobs sent its way would shatter upon being struck, but every now and again the batter could hit the cob directly on its end and send it flying. Since there was no catcher or umpire, the cousins figured out a method to cut down on a lot of arguments that tended to arise regarding balls and strikes. They hung an empty paper fertilizer bag on the fence behind the batter, and if the cob hit the bag, which made a 'big racket' the batter was issued a strike, and if it didn't he was awarded a ball.

According to my dad, he had an advantage on Tex. Since he had the home team advantage and was able to have access to the hog lot and the corn cobs every day, he would practice for hours throwing a curve ball...er cob. He said he got it just right so Tex was sure it was headed right toward his head, but at the last second it would curve and hit the fertilizer bag. "That really burt Tex up," my dad said laughing, clearly proud of his skill.

The way he describes his game, it sounds like such a fun way to keep entertained on a little farm in the middle of nowhere. I mainly piled together sticks and other bits of kindling that I found in the woodshed and pretended it was a town or something.

This year I watched some of the World Series with my dad. It started out that he was watching it and I was just there, pinning recipes on Pinterest or something, but I became curious when he would get excited about something that happened on the screen. He explained plays to me, and when 'ol' Beardy' did something good, and I actually began to appreciate the game a little bit. The way he explained the baseball games to me was similar to the way I heard him talk about his corn cob game. He was so excited about it and I felt lucky to share that time with him, enjoying vicariously something he has loved for his whole life, almost as much as he loves guitars. I even watched the last couple games of the Series at home in Asheville, something I would never normally do, just because I felt like it was still something I was doing with my dad, and even though he wasn't physically there, it felt like he was.