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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, December 24, 2014

Happy Holidays!

I suppose I will begin this post with the same sentiment I have used to preface the past few: apologizing for my lax writing schedule, or lack of schedule all together. It has been a busy couple of months for me.  My time has been taken by working on guitars, finishing ukuleles on a deadline, and mopping melted freezer water from my dad's floor. Oh, and on Thanksgiving, with only several hours warning, I was tasked with making the turkey...

For several months now I have been working on a copy of a Gibson Nick Lucas guitar. There are several reasons it has taken significantly longer than any other guitar I have made, but the most significant one is because everything is different from how I had been making Martin inspired guitars. "Well, the only thing that is consistent about Gibson is that they are inconsistent," Herb told me as I struggled to find correct measurements and patterns for this guitar.  My dad has made them before, but despite being the borderline hoarder he is, he somehow didn't save patterns for this kind of guitar. Luckily I have a pretty awesome friend, Mike, who made me this neat label, helped me find great measurements, and shared a little back story on ol' Nick Lucas and his guitar shape of choice.

 I felt more alone on this build than I ever have, figuring things out on my own and working by myself while my dad was traveling abroad. In school I would always check my understanding of class material by making myself quizzes and see how much I could do without consulting my notes. In this situation, I was curious how much I leaned on my dad as necessity versus availability, and while working totally on my own was stressful, I found I knew a lot more than I thought I did. Still, when he returned, it was really nice to have his encouragement and knowledge just a worktable away. As I sat in the spray room, perched on an upturned finish bucket, my dad held the Gibson book open for me to the page that displayed the correct sunburst. I sat for hours working to make each side look exactly like the picture, and he stood right there, despite having work of his own he could do, encouraging me with each squeeze of the spray gun.

Another thing that has kept me busy is that I have been commissioned by Santa to make some ukuleles in time for Christmas. It was kind of fun being an elf, I mean I already have the height for the job, but it was a bit stressful knowing I absolutely had to get things finished by a specific date. I enjoyed trying out new techniques and ideas, trying out a double pearl soundhole and playing with stain colors on maple. Here is a picture of a little soprano, and as I don't even know the recipient so no surprises should be ruined.

Finally, on Thanksgiving, my dad's refrigerator broke leaking water all over the floor, melting everything in the freezer, and causing near catastrophe. Nick and I drove up on Wednesday, but because the forecast predicted snow, my aunt Shirleen asked me to take the turkey on with me in case she couldn't get out early enough in the morning. And then it snowed and I had to make it. Luckily it needed to thaw, but the rest of the fridge and freezer contents did not fare as well. We ended up piling everything in a cooler and letting it freeze outside in the 25 degree snowy weather hoping no varmints would pillage it while we mopped up puddles every now and again.

Not to toot my own horn, but I am a pretty good cook. However, turkeys have always been the job of a parent or Shirleen while I busy myself with lesser things like sides or desserts. Like guitar making when I was younger, only coming into the shop and seeing the process in pieces, I have only seen bits of the turkey prepping process. I remember something gross we don't eat coming in a bag where the stuffing goes, and lots and lots of salt and pepper being sprinkled on everything but that is about it. When I cut away the plastic covering the turkey, I had only vague ideas on what needed to be done. I put the phone on speaker, and Shirleen instructed me on preparing the turkey. Our conversation went something like this: "Make sure you season the inside too." "What is a gizzard?" "There is a neck, and it is where?!"

It turned out surprisingly better than I thought, but really, as much as I hate to admit it, I know that butter is usually the secret to making things taste good, so when it doubt, just add more butter. My aunt Pat says that I should be prepared because since I did such a good job it will be my responsibility for all future Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. I am not sure I am quite ready for the responsibility, but I guess it is good to know I can do it. Kind of like putting a Nick Lucas together. With enough concentration and attention to detail, I can do things (mostly) by myself.

I hope you all have an excellent holiday filled with family and love and I wish you the very best and happiest 2015.


  1. Hi Elle,

    I have not written you in a while, but happened to see your Dad and another guy from Boone, N.C. who played piano on t.v. the other day. (My Mother was from Boone, and I still have family there) The show was Song of the Mountains, and it was out of Marion VA...What a nice performance. I was impressed with the entire show, and that included the wonderful guitar that he played...and you made. This was the one you built for Doc Watson. It was a true work of art. Your Dad mentioned twice that you made the guitar, and it was evident that he was extremely proud. Just wondering if you play? I have to assume you do....anyway, I hope all is well with you, and I just wanted to let you know that you do wonderful work.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and keeping track of my wrok! Also, thanks for watching Song of the Mountain, even though I don't have much to do with that ;-) Jeff Little is the piano player, and what a musician he is! I know I am lucky to be able to work with my dad and that he will show off my work for me. I play enough to test my guitars, and learn a little bit more on each of them, but I am nowhere near as good as my dad. I enjoy playing my ukulele and can back him up on that pretty well.

      One time in the shop Doc told me I needed to learn how to play if I made instruments that sounded that good. He said, "I don't know what you are planning to do with this guitar, since you aren't giving it to me, but I hope you keep it and learn to play on it. There isn't a better teacher than your dad." He passed away before I was able to give him the guitar I made for him, and I like to think he wanted me to have it so I would have something to learn on.