Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Flat Top: Epilogue

I sat down to write this post at least five or six times over the past few months, but I'm glad I didn't. I don't recall which would have been the high points or the low ones on the roller coaster of joy and sorrow, but I'm certain that I've finally achieved the proper balance, or at least as close to that point as I'm likely to get anytime soon.

And since, as you'll soon learn, I'm about to subject you to another dozen months or so of my lutherial blather (no, it's not a word, but I don't care), I'll try to give you the short version of the story.

The first point I'd like to make is one pertaining to the process of making a guitar: That is that on the day I called my guitar finished (November 22, 2011), I was definitely not finished.  In retrospect I realize that everyone who has ever built a guitar knows this. It boils down to the simple reality that the wood in a recently completed guitar is still coming to terms with what it has become. It takes a little time to get used to the notion. As a result, it moves and swells and contorts in all kinds of crazy ways, which makes adjusting it a bear. On top of that, as many years as I've been playing the guitar I had no idea how important the setup of the instrument was. I didn't realize that a small adjustment of the bridge here and a minute adjustment of the neck there can change the guitar from an absolute dud to a masterpiece....and, unfortunately, vice versa.

Suffice it to say I experienced several rounds of both. And I won't go into how frustrating that was. Just know that it would take me a while to find the words to describe it.

And then, of course, just when it's perfect, the unthinkable happens. Your bridge begins to come off. It's not fun. It's very, very depressing. First you can deny it. Then you can convince yourself it's just going to come up a little and it can be glued back down. Finally you admit what should have been obvious. It's coming up and there's nothing to stop it.

But then a very funny thing happened. I quickly realized that I, John Harris, built a guitar. If I can build a guitar, how difficult can it be to make what is basically a pretty simple repair? So I did. With a little advice from Ted, I heated it up so the glue would soften, then used a kitchen spatula to carefully work it off of the top. Then I cleaned it up, made some slight adjustments to its shape, and glued that sucker back on. The whole process took a couple of hours. And now it's good as new. Relief!

That was a few days before New Years, so I've been living with it for almost a month now, and with a little time to get away from it all, here's what I have to say about my guitar, using as much objectivity as I can muster: I love my guitar. I love playing my guitar and I can honestly say it would serve me extremely well if it was the only guitar I could ever play again. Is it the best guitar I've ever played? No, it's not. Does it have the potential to be? Well, I think that would be a real stretch, but knowing what I know now, I do believe it can be better. There are more adjustments required and, as most people know, almost all guitars improve dramatically in the first years after they're built. So the bottom line is that I built a guitar that is far better than I ever could have imagined. It's not perfect, but it's good enough that I feel compelled to do it again.

So, with that, I end the first chapter of my guitar building adventure and begin the second. See you in chapter two!

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