Wednesday, September 22, 2010

First, there was a pile of wood

East Indian Rosewood for the back
I'm not sure exactly when I decided it would be a good idea. I think it was the culmination of a decade or more of experiences that suddenly boiled over into what many would consider a pretty crazy idea. But for whatever reason, one day it became clear to me. I was going to build a guitar.

My love of guitars is definitely not new. I remember the feeling when I got my first guitar as a boy. It was a Tama steel string, and I remember how beautiful I thought it was. I still couldn't play much on it, but I was taken with the feel of it in my hands and the magnificent grain in the wood. Over the years, I've been lucky to own some really spectacular guitars (often to the dismay of my wife, Natalie, who tries her best to understand why anyone would need 6 of them). And while my playing doesn't live up to the quality of the instruments I own, I learned a long time ago, that a fine musical instrument is much more than a tool. It's an object of fine art and craft that can stand on its own, and something that can come alive regardless of the skill of the holder.

The first big step toward my decision came a couple of years ago when I took up woodworking. I managed to acquire a chop saw, which I soon realized provided me with tool that would allow me to make some pretty cool things. My father was an artist and woodworker, so I thought that, while I had never made much of anything with my hands, maybe a talent for craftsmanship was buried somewhere deep in my DNA and only needed to be uncovered. Well, I don't know if it worked out exactly that way, but I did manage to unlock a love for working with wood, and I realized that while my skills were pretty basic, I could learn. And, most importantly, I wanted to. So I kept at it.

The idea of building a guitar was just a crazy out of reach dream for most of that time. I had read about classes for guitar building, but they were mostly far away, they required an unreasonable time commitment, and perhaps the biggest obstacle, large amounts of money that I didn't have. But suddenly the pieces fell into place when I moved to Louisville.

Since I had just left my job as director of Cityfolk, I had some extra time - at least temporarily. So I thought I would take the opportunity to take a woodworking class or two to improve my skills. And while searching for classes, my "aha" moment came when I came across Ted Harlan, a Louisville craftsman who teaches furniture building and - yes - guitar making. And what makes Ted's classes different is that, rather than a concentrated series of classes over a few weeks, they take place over the course of a year or more. It was perfect. An excellent teacher with a proven system; a reasonable time commitment; and it was affordable.

So here I am, three weeks into my new adventure. I'm taking classes every Tuesday for 3 hours, and the goal is to build a fine instrument over the next 12-14 months. Having seen the results of Ted's other students, I truly believe I'll be successful.

So this is the first in what will be a long series of blog posts about my experience. I'm not sure if anyone else will be interested in my progress, but I decided I wanted to document the process. I want to be able to sit, years later, with my finished guitar in my lap, and revisit the process that brought it to life. So here goes!

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