“The chisels are calling
It`s time to make sawdust
Steely reminders of things left to do
A mandolin`s waiting for you”
Montelone – Get Lucky – Mark Knopfler
Mark Knopfler penned those lyrics after the great guitar builder Montelone built a guitar for him, in an interview Mark explained that when they would talk on the phone Montelone would make these little comments such as “The Chisels Are Calling”. Mark in turn used those quotes to write a song honoring Montelone, the first time I heard it I was enchanted and it’s become one of my favorite songs of all time. Like Montelone my guitars call out to me, as does the shop. When I’ve had a bad day I want nothing more than to be out in the shop carving a brace or shaping a neck, building guitars is both a technical and an artistic exercise at the same time. There is something about working with your hands, feeling the wood, shaping it, listening to how your changes effect it. It’s very visceral, but you also have limits and standards you have to keep in mind, a neck needs to be smooth to the touch and flat for the fingerboard, the shape is everything. Human hands are very sensitive and anything that’s not perfect will be felt, it’s a wonderful challenge and it’s very rewarding at the same time.
I have machines that can a good amount of the work, I do use them to help make templates, jigs and fixtures. I could buy necks, I could make them on my own CNC machine if I wished and some parts I do (Bridges for instance work much better when cut on the CNC), but it’s simply not as satisfying as doing it with my hands and good sharp tools. I’m not old fashioned, I have a CNC machine and a shop full of power tools that help me build, but the old masters had a set of skills that many of us have lost over the years. I’ve thinned tops with just a hand plane, but using a thickness sander gets more precise results so I compromise. I could use any of the new glues available, but simple Hide Glue which has been around for thousands of years, is still one of the strongest and stable glues you can use when joining tops, gluing braces and any number of other things. I do use some of the new glues, but only where Hide Glue does prohibits working (you have to be VERY quick with Hide Glue in a cold shop). For instance gluing a fingerboard is much better suited to a good instrument glue, so I use both.
It comes down to this, I build because it allows me to think technically and still work viscerally with my hands, it fills both needs. I understand Montelone’s comments, there is something beautiful about a properly set up hand plane (and I have a pretty large collection), and something alluring about a razor sharp chisel as it cuts through a brace. When you finally glue the back onto a guitar and seal the box, it’s a special moment that I can’t really explain, once that back is glued on the guitar comes to life. It’s the first time you can start to hear what the guitar will sound like, and it’s when you start tuning the whole instrument, it’s the major milestone when I build.
That’s why I build, the name (which I get asked about from time to time) is my reflection on my love of this country, I’ve been told that it probably chases some people away. I’ve had people tell me I should be more concerned with Global Peace, that’s fine the name is what it is and I have no intention of ever changing it. I don’t build on demand any longer, I do it now more for my enjoyment than anything else but I will sell guitars from time to time, I’m certainly not in this to make money. I’ve also expanded from guitars to violins and electrics, and from time to time I’ve been known to do some repairs. Everything is run from home, at one time our goal was to make money building, but over the past couple of years that has become something that I’m no longer interested in (although that may change in the future). I’ve worked through some health issues that kept me out of the shop, the last three years have been tough on my physically and emotionally. But we are finally on the other side, I was forced to go on a low-sugar diet and start watching what I eat, and in the past 4 months I’ve lost 30 pounds. I feel better, I’m much lighter on my feet and this year for Christmas all I asked for was some help to finish the last items in the shop so I could get building again. 2010 is shaping up to be a banner year for me, I’m anxious to get out into the shop and get busy.
I’ve been building since 2001, I had a little downtime while we moved from California to Idaho and then some downtime due to health issues, but it looks like all that is behind me, we have been blessed with so much. Like everyone else money is very tight, but a couple of years ago I started stocking up on wood and supplies, and today I have enough supplies to keep me running for a long time to come. I’ll post updates on the blog as I make progress and I’ll keep the Gallery updated as well, the new site makes maintenance and updates so much easier than before that doing updates is a pleasure and no longer a long drawn out affair.