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I realized the other day that I started this blog ten years ago!
My first post was on September 2, 1997.
My wife was the one who encouraged me to start a blog, she thought it was a good venue for me to become known as a guitar maker, to sell my guitars and to connect with others in the woodworking world.
I have met several wonderful people who are professional woodworkers through the blog, but I am still waiting for my first guitar sale because of the blog. All of my sales have resulted from people actually seeing and playing my guitars, either at guitar festivals, lectures I give at universities, or when players stop by my shop because someone told them I make wonderful guitars.
The Internet has done much to disseminate woodworking information, it's a little scary to see how much information there is online! When I started woodworking, if there was anything that I wanted to know I had to go to a library and look up the technique in a book or woodworking magazine!
Now, all one has to do is to surf the plethora of YouTube videos and websites to find the woodworking technique that you want to learn.
One thing I have noticed lately is there doesn't seem to be as many people blogging about their woodworking experiences and adventures. I find it a little sad these days to go to my favorite woodworking blog aggregator and see only three or four new postings. Maybe no one cares to write a full sentence or paragraph anymore because stringing together 140 characters is the most anyone can do. Instagram is a very easy platform to display yourself on.
Or is it that people just want information, but don't want to share it?
I know that it can be hard to write a weekly post for a blog, making time to do something can be a hard thing to do and accomplish.
In my experience, not knowing if I am reaching/connecting with anyone on Internet can discourage me from writing more posts, I don't get many comments about my posts these days, nor does anyone engage me in some kind of text dialogue. I stopped offering how-to information on basic woodworking several years ago because teaching online through my posts is not my intention. I noticed that when I stopped the how-to no one commented.
That said, visitation to my blog is up this year and I think it is because people want to learn more about the guitars I make. This is great for me, because if there is one thing that I will talk about passionately is making beautifully voiced guitars that will play beautiful music, that in turn will encourage young people to take up the classical guitar.
I will offer this advice about blogging -- don't be afraid to use what you learned in your college freshman English composition courses! Start writing today about what it is you are doing! Make stuff and share it and don't think you have to be the next Roy Underhill or Charles Hayward.
Get into your shop, make shavings and blisters!
Performance anxiety has probably been around as long as people have been playing music. It is a well-documented and discussed subject but I thought I’d offer a few hints and observations that may be of use.
First and foremost: EVERYONE gets nervous when they play in front of another person. I know I do, even after countless performances in front of audiences ranging from a few dozen semi-interested listeners to shows in front of many thousands. The trick is to channel that nervousness into something else. Because I can tell you from personal experience that the times I’ve performed and went out there totally at ease I probably screwed up faster than I should admit. Which then leads to a state of mind where I’m probably MORE nervous than I would have been otherwise!
So, what to do. Pre-show jitters are often counter-productive but incredibly common. Avoid slurping down that third cup of coffee before you perform. Shaky hands and a shaky voice aren’t easy to overcome when they’re caffeine-induced. Likewise, avoid mood altering substances, for the most part anyway. A glass of wine or a beer or two, fine. Other substances tend to make most people feel like they are sounding really good, when more often than not their playing is at the very least self-indulgent and at the worst, sloppy and ultimately disrespectful of a paying audience. Some players – Willy Nelson comes to mind – seem to have no problem with, shall we say, altered performances but in Willy’s case, there is a lifetime of practice doing it that way and his audience almost expects it. I once heard a story of the late, great folk blues legend Dave Van Ronk playing a concert here in town shortly before he passed away and the person assigned to host him was required (by Dave) to stop at the nearest liquor store and buy him a quart of whiskey, which he downed in short order before his show and did just fine. But these are the exceptions, friends.
Remember that audiences are a lot more forgiving than you might realize, especially older ones. When I was very young (high school age, perhaps a bit later too) I and my friends were very judgmental about bands of our peers. Our standard was – how much do they sound like the original artists? Fortunately, I matured enough and played out enough to realize that if a group sounded just like the original artist, they probably wouldn’t need to play for little ol’ me! Mature audiences take that into account, whether they’re conscious of it or not. They want you to succeed! And if you look like you’re having a good time playing, mistakes or a less than perfect performance doesn’t matter much at all.
Here’s a simple one. Don’t forget to breath. Sounds logical, right? But when we’re nervous it’s easy to be so focused on the music that our breathing is irregular. This causes something akin to panic in our brains, which ramps up the nervousness factor by a lot. If you’re a singer, a deep breath the instant before you sing a phrase will go a long way toward making you relax.
Think ahead as you play. I know that the worst performances I’ve given were due at least in part to putting my mind on autopilot and listening to myself rather than anticipating the next phrase or series of chord changes. This too will help you relax, based on the presumption and confidence that you know what will happen next. (And that’s why we spend time practicing, right?!?)
If you’re just getting into playing in front of audiences it sometimes helps to pick out a point in the back of the room to focus on rather than looking out at those expectant faces. This gets easier with experience of course, and making eye contact with listeners is always a good idea. But if you find yourself starting to choke when you see some local guitar hero watching you play or a very attractive member of the opposite sex is sitting there in the front row, shifting your focus point can help you calm down and deal with the task at hand.
Keep a bottle or glass of water close at hand. A nice deep swig of water between songs really helps eliminate the dry throat syndrome that goes along with heightened nervousness. It feels good, you will feel better and the next tune will go smoother.
And finally, accept your mistakes. It is a bummer to mess up a song but let the little man in the back of your head tell you that you WILL play it better next time. Don’t let a screw-up affect what comes after it. If your mistake is blaringly obvious, don’t be afraid to acknowledge it to your listeners with a laugh and a shrug. They will appreciate your honesty and keep rooting for you, I promise!
Peace & good music,
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The D-21 Special is a limited edition dreadnought that will only be available through the end of 2017 and it’s definitely worth a look.
The D-21 is rich with East Indian Rosewood which is used not only for the back, sides, and headplate but also for the fingerboard and bridge. Other unique features are the nickel open-gear tuners and faux tortoise binding around the entire body of the guitar. The D-21 Special includes a Sitka spruce top with forward-shifted scalloped bracing, a traditional hand-fit dovetail neck, and a polished gloss finish. Some modern touches include a modern belly drop-in saddle and a high performance neck, for enhanced playability and comfort.
I have been frustrated recently hearing people play upon the guitar. I have heard experienced composers and professionals just playing the correct notes and rhythms. It seems to me that we play through the guitar, we invest time to gain knowledge of the inner workings of a piece of music. We invest energy trying to deliver that wisdom as best we can. Putting our fingers in the correct place is only a small part of that journey.
All the notes of a piece have a status and some of those are pretty small like arpeggiated accompaniment figures. They fill space and time, surrounding the more important notes with harmony. The successive notes of a dominant melody all have more or less importance and generally have a gravitational pull to a destination. Bass lines also have gravitational pulls but also add buoyancy to the music.
Our job as we learn a piece of music is to understand all of these aspects and embody them all. We have reached a point where computers can be called on to create a “human” feel. Frequently this means slight changes of tempo and the occasional flub. I would say that we must render music with details that get smaller as we improve. Every note should have its own colour, touch, timbre and inflection. Improving our control over those details is the only way to be a musician.
It is never easy to know what a piece of music is saying. As someone who plays his own music, there are times when I sing a line over a hundred times just to know how to convey the various aspects of its meaning. I may write new music, but I want it to sound old. I’d like to be able to entertain the fantasy that one of my pieces was always there and was somehow just plucked it out of the infinity cupboard, the wellspring of art.
Nasrudin slipped and nearly fell into a lake, but was caught by a friend walking next to him. From then on, every time Nasrudin saw this friend, the incident was shared with everyone who was near.
Over time, Nasrudin grew weary of this, so one day led that friend to the same lake. With clothes and shoes on, he jumped in and lay there saying, “Now I’m as wet as I would have been if you hadn’t saved me that day. Stop reminding me about it!”
A dulcimer doesn’t have a neck but it has something under the fingerboard that sort of serves as a neck. Calling it a neck doesn’t really make sense but when the dulcimer has a fingerboard on top of the object that shall not be called a neck then appropriate terminology becomes even more confusing.
For no particular reason I refer to the lower portion of the assembly as the fretboard and call the fingerboard overlay the fingerboard. When describing a fretboard with a fingerboard on it I refer to the assembled unit as a fretboard.
In the photograph above I’m gluing the fretboard assembly to a dulcimer soundboard.
The soundboard is clamped to a flat workboard. Two clamps come in from the sides holding scraps of wood that rest against the sides of the fretboard at either end. This makes it easy to accurately place the fretboard in the right spot and helps prevent it from moving while I apply the clamps.
I use an old trick to clamp the full length of the fretboard down using only two clamps. A long, warped piece of wood is used as a clamping caul with the concave side facing down along the length of the fretboard. When I clamp both ends down the flattening of the warped wood exerts pressure along the entire length of the fretboard.
Man, I’m continually blown away by how well Dirt by Alice In Chains holds up today. For all its darkness and brutal honesty there’s something strangely beautiful about it. It’s not an easy listen. You can tell even at this stage that the band was surrounded by and drawn towards self-destruction. The lyrics speak not just of addiction in an abstract sense, but of surrendering willingly to it, throwing yourself into it and letting it take you over completely. Embracing the hopelessness and the fuck-it-ness of it all.
When I first heard the record, I couldn’t relate to that at all. Hell, the biggest addition I had was playing guitar, and I managed to turn that into something constructive. But as I got older I started to understand Dirt a little more. I was never a drug guy but I came to understand self-destruction, hopelessness, the compulsion to see how far you can take something that is bad for you, how low you can get before you admit you need help, how much you can dislike yourself before you decide to either do something about it or give in.
There are a lot of albums I love that I don’t particularly feel like I need to listen to regularly any more, just because they’re so burned into my brain. But this one keeps calling to me and I keep hearing new things. And although Dirt has been out there in the world for 25 years now and has been a part of my life since my teens, I don’t listen to it for nostalgia. I listen to it because it feels like a living, evolving document of the human condition. It’s filtered through the lens of depression, addiction, desperation and surrender but as a listener you can superimpose all sorts of demons onto it and hopefully exorcise them in the process.
Dirt is still not an easy listen. If you’re a sensitive soul, you’re going to feel a lot of things and you’re probably going to want to just sit in silence for a few minutes afterwards, letting your mind come back from wherever you’ve just been. But it’s a very worthwhile listen too.
|John Abercrombie with a Les Paul|
Born in 1944. Abercrombie took up guitar at age 14 and learned Chuck Berry, Bill Haley, and Fats Domino tunes. He later discovered Jazz by listening to Barney Kessel recordings.
|Young Abercrombie |
with 1920's Gibson L-4
For awhile, Abercrombie shared a room with fellow student Jan Hammer.
When the gig with Smith ended, Abercrombie moved to New York and signed on to play in drummer Chico Hamilton's band. He was soon in high demand as a sideman.
Abercrombie attributed the beginnings of his style to Kessel, Wes Montgomery, and Jim Hall. He also drew inspiratation from Miles Davis and Bill Evans. John Abercrombie became one of the pioneering figures of Jazz/Rock, which he states was developed out of necessity due to lack of role models.
|John Scofield, Bill Connors,|
Steve Khan-John Abercrombie
At one point on the tour, Abercrombie decided this was not the direction we wanted to pursue for his music or life style.
He moved back to New York and became an in-demand session player, recording with Gato Barbeiri, Barry Miles, Manfred Eicher (who founded ECM records), and Gil Evans.
By 1974 he teamed up with college acquaintance Jan Hammer and drummer Jack DeJohnette for a recording called Timeless. This album was critically received and established a foothold for Abercrombie with ECM records.
|Abercrombie with the Gateway Trio|
After the Gateway albums Abercrombie altered his style to a more traditional Jazz style. He recorded several LP's and was leader of the group.
The Abercrombie Quartet, which recorded the LP of the same name and another simply called M.
Abercrombie went on to perform with the groups bassist, George Mraz and guitarist John Scofield. Abercrombie's style included Jazz Rock, Jazz Fusion, and plain, but very lyrical Jazz.
|Abercrombie with an Ibanez Synth|
|Abercrombie with Guild Starfire|
John Abercrombie played a variety of different electric guitars throughout his career. The earliest photo I can find shows him playing a Guild Starfire. Around the same time he was also playing a Guild F-50 acoustic guitar.
|Abercrombie with his mandolins|
Around 1976 Abercrombie says he was recording with Ralph Towner. and was looking for a different sound. He went to Manny's Music in NYC and found an old Fender 4-string electric mandolin.
He tried to play in fifths, the way most mandolins are tuned, but did not want to learn new fingerings. So ever since he has tuned it in fourths, as on a guitar. Since then he acquired several more electric mandolins, that appear to have been made by Kevin Schwab of Minneapolis. Since his mandolins are tuned an octave higher than a guitar, Abercrombie refers to them as Piccolo guitars.
|With Les Paul|
Note Acoustic brand Amps
At the time in his career he seemed to be partial to Gibsons, as he is seen here with a Gibson SG Custom.
|Abercrombie with Sadowsky guitar|
This guitar had a Strat-style vibrato.
|Abercrombie with a Sadowsky Tele|
He later had Sadowsky build a more traditional Tele with a humbucker in the neck position and a single coil in the bridge.
|Ibanez Synth Controller|
By the mid 1980's John had began experimenting with a synth controller and synth that was provided by Ibanez.
|With Ibanez Artist|
Around the same time Ibanez provided him with two Artist 2619 model that he used for quite a few years. These guitars have been in the Ibanez catalog since 1976. He stated he preferred the Ibanez to his gold top Gibson Les Paul, which had small humbuckers. He also stated that the Ibanez pickups had a fatter sound.
|With a Heritage Guitar|
As John got older he discovered different guitars, including this Heritage solid body model.
|With a Peter Coura Guitar|
He also played an electric model made by luthier Peter Coura.
|With a Soulezza Guitar|
Around 2015 he had a headless guitar built for him from Spanish luthier, Fernando De Oleza, who creates extraordinary guitars under his brand, Soulezza Guitars.
|With a McCurdy Guitar|
Abercrombie also played a beautiful green guitar made by New York City luthier, Ric McCurdy.
|With Brian Moore DC1P|
During Abercrombie's final years, he seemed to favour guitars made by Brian Moore. At first Abercrombie used a Brian Moore model DC1P. The body shape was similar to a Les Paul, however it had Moore's unique headstock, which has two strings on the top and four strings on the bottom.
|Brian Moore - |
John Abercrombie DC19.13USB
The guitars headstock has Moore's 2 on the bottom, four on the top tuning machine arrangement.
Young John Abercrombie started out playing through amps made by Fender, Mesa Boogie, and the now defunct Acoustic Company.
|Polytone Mini Brut|
Later in life he preferred jazz style amplifiers like the Polytone Mini Brut.
|Walter Woods Electracoustic|
He also owned a Walter Woods amplifier. This was one of the earliest models of transistor amplifiers, and it was made for bass players.
Walter Woods amplifiers were class D, and had a very high output, from 120 to 1200 watts, which aided to project the bass signal. Despite the output, the amp itself was in a fairly small package. It needed to be paired to a separate speaker cab.
There are some videos of Abercrombie playing through a Carr Viceroy amplifier.
On the road Abercrombie preferred Roland Jazz Chorus amplifiers; either a JC-120 or a JC-77. He did not carry these with him, but in his contract rider, the club or facility where he was playing was required to rent one of these amplifiers.