Monday, November 21, 2011

FINISHED! (Sort of).

The Harris D-8
After more than fourteen months of Tuesday classes and weeks of agonizing anticipation, the day finally came. The slots for the bridge pins had been carefully placed, the frets leveled and polished, and the time had come to string it up. It took longer than I expected, but before long I was tuning up that last string.

The big moment had arrived. Time for the first beautiful notes from my new guitar, and......THUD! It sounded like crap. Not just a little like crap, but a LOT like crap. It buzzed, it was nearly impossible to play, and it was out of tune. And that's the GOOD part.

I have to confess I wasn't prepared for it. I was prepared for not finishing in time to string it up. I was prepared for the likelihood that adjustments would be necessary. I was not prepared to be playing what was quite possibly the worst guitar I had ever strummed. Once again, I was being asked to exhibit a quality that I possess in quantities too small to measure: patience.


But I'm getting there little by little, and I may have learned as much about guitars since I "finished" it than I did while I was building it. I've learned volumes about how the sound of a guitar is affected by minute adjustments in the bridge, the nut, and even the slots in the bridge where the strings are attached. I now have a new appreciation for the "set-up" technician, and I now know not to judge a guitar by how poorly it plays and feels without first checking all of those minor details.

I've made huge leaps in my knowledge of how to resolve those issues. It is not simple, I can tell you that. And truth be told, I think my lack of patience may have served me well in this case. Since I couldn't stand the thought of waiting to get Ted's help next Tuesday I learned by trial and error. I knew that the worst case scenario was that I would screw up my nut or saddle, either of which would cost a couple of bucks and a few hours at most. So I now know lots and lots about how NOT to set up a guitar and much more than I did last week about how TO set up a guitar.

So I'm feeling very, very good about it now. I actually spent more than an hour last night playing a guitar I built myself and while I was playing, I forgot the fact that I built it more than once. I take that as a huge victory. It still needs lots and lots of work. It isn't anywhere close to playing and sounding the way I want it to. But I'm finally ready to say it: I think it's going to be a really, really good guitar. The quality and balance of the sound is fantastic. It has excellent volume and projection. And those things will only get better as it opens up, which will take months and years.

With luck, this coming Tuesday will be the last class I need to clean up the rest of the details. I may need to continue tweaking for a few weeks, but anything other than tweaks should be behind me. Then I'll take a break and play my guitar until January. Then it's time for round two - the archtop.

By the way, most every guitar has a model number, so I decided to call mine the Harris D-8. As with most guitars, the letter refers to the body style (in this case, a Dreadnought). The number usually refers to the degree of fanciness of the inlay and binding. But I decided to number mine after Joe Morgan, second baseman for the Cincinnati Reds during their "Big Red Machine" heyday in the 70s, when Little Joe was my hero. I wore his number on my little league uniform. I always loved Joe Morgan because he was little, but he was still powerful and quick on his feet. That's what I want my guitar to be like.

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