Thoughts Of The Moment

Well it’s back to school for the kids this week. Not mine, I haven’t got any. Poor things. Of all the things I’ve seen and done in life, hung it out there on the road, stuck it out in the woods, mindlessly and carelessly, sometimes even a bit recklessly chasing what seemed the next room to go in… there is literally nothing I look back on and still feel a little undertow of anxiety over like remembering the first day of school. That mere flash from 40 years ago where Little Scotty Turtleneck had to walk in the prison gates aaaagain and find out what kind of shit was going to go down every day THIS year while I was trying to learn how to learn how to fit into a box I did not see as my life. I was a kid, and when you’re a kid you don’t know things change. You don’t know the road goes somewhere. You don’t know it will eventually be up to you who you are, what you can be, where you go, and how you will stand to be treated by the others in the room, you know what I mean? That you will decide what of you is worth trading for what you get. What you’ll put up with to achieve a goal YOU set for you.

You just know your whole evening is homework and tomorrow that bus comes and you’ll get on again and go somewhere you don’t want to go to get hassled by endless hallways of other kids who seem to have what you don’t, to do things you don’t want to do with no idea of what – if anything – could ever come of any of it. That you’ll make it out. That there was any other way “out” could be. Just along for the ride. That’s what it’s like being a kid for a lot of them, I can tell you this because I eventually taught them guitar for years and they talked to me like they didn’t to the parents and authority figures in their lives.

These days I drive by the schools on the way into town and I think about the kids and a small part of me deep inside panics for them. I hope they make it out. I hope the parents at home genuinely care like mine did. And I hope you who have forgotten or maybe were made of sturdier stock to begin with, or really did have just wonderful experiences there will take your kids seriously when they tell you they’re not. Someday that all will turn to strength and confidence and drive and perspective and they’ll be like an already honed blade and a force of nature and have a great life where problems don’t bother them because they’re free and happy and lived through those years of adversity training at the hands of others. They are the garden of tomorrow to bloom. But they have to survive first. Buy them a guitar and teach them how to write a song. It might save their life in ways you can’t understand. And teach them they matter and life has chapters and it only gets better. Lie if you have to to say that, so they can get there for themselves and maybe make it their truth.

Speaking of surviving against the odds, we’re all getting older together Birdsong fam. If you’re along for the ride with us in any way I try to share the magic but sometimes I have to share news that’s not great… some of you in the Birdsong scene know of Ben, kind of a legend as a long time Birdsong collector and responsible for some of the wildest custom orders we’ve done – many now out in circulation. But we know Ben as an angel, and those stories will be told in time. For now, Ben is at home with family there regaining himself after a massive heart attack a couple of weeks ago. He seems in OK spirits, he’s a force of nature, but this is big and he needs all the good vibes we all can send his way. So for Ben Bernales, if you would, hoist one or raise a hand or just think warm thoughts of your own for a good man. Ben - from all of us at Birdsong and on behalf of the extended family, we are wishing you health and healing to your highest good. If that’s one more year of fun or of it’s ten or thirty… whatever is the best for you, that is what we wish. Also the peace to accept and just do the best you can as you are able, and the presence to be at peace with this time whatever it brings. We send strength to those around you at this time. We send you these wishes, our love, and our gratitude.

Still in here working through August, day off here and there, shorter lists, but it feels good to be catching up. It’s over 100 every day but life serves us best when it has hardened us just enough to not be bothered, not be discouraged easily, not be convinced we’re as weak as we feel sometimes. Get up, go stand in the sun. Feel the heat on your skin. Today, things are going to happen.

Listening to: Jim Stricklan, Colorado; Kevin Locke, Keepers of the Dream; Bruce Springsteen, Born To Run autobiography audiobook; and a bunch of random guitar jazz, and Noel Gallagher interviews.

(Wednesday Facebook Post)

Yes, it’s time for What’s Up Wednesday – your mid-week sneak peek into the little workshop where magic is crafted. (Here’s your part – go ahead – “What’s UP, Wednesday?”) Never has a batch felt so good to see in assembly. These are truly the kindest, most patient clients this craftsman could ask for. Aside from two radical custom orders (almost out of routing), this is THE batch caught behind my own slowdown; on the other side of these going out I can breathe easier again and things are pretty much back to normal-for-Birdsong wait times on the next ones I’ll be starting. I taste catch-up! This is why I’m working through the August break – OK, most of it. I am taking the rest of this week easier now that these 11 are together hanging in here. I’ve actually outpaced my parts supply (a good problem, I’ll take that gladly rather than hobbling around unable to work), and that’s all in motion to fill in. There’s a rhythm to this dance when you’re on top of the beat, and I’m feeling it in my bones. All this to the sounds of music from my friend Jim Stricklan, who I played some bass with looong before Birdsong got started. “Earth” and “Colorado” make a great soundtrack to build musical instruments to. Happy hump day! And have a great rest of your week, friends. ~Scott www.birdsongguitars.com

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Blooming In August

Well it’s August! Steady 100 degrees and sun. Bring it on. I come from the land of the ice and snow and this is my price for never having to shovel my way into a frozen car with icicles from my hair and shrinkage you wouldn’t believe, just to slide my way down the street again to somewhere I really didn’t want to go to in the first place. And that was just Monday. No. No, no no, no, no. I’ll sweat ‘em off in the south, thank you.

August and I have an interesting relationship. Life has been chapters and when the “Back to the land” chapter happened for real a couple of decades ago, August was my trial by fire. “Yeah? You wanna live simply? You wanna build your life from the ground up? You wanna prove something? You’d rather blaze a trail than fall in? Have at it, my man. Oh by the way… it’s gonna hit 114. August is gonna average 99. AVERAGE. Like including what it goes down to overnight. You and your little van and that pawn shop chainsaw, your little no-skill-having suburban ass belongs to the earth. You will try but I will decide. You will learn but I will not yield to you. When you struggle, I might show you something to give you hope but I am not – NOT – going to comfort your body. Not one single bit. Because if I do, you ain’t gon’ make it out here, son. Your heart may be broken and your will may not be focused, but you stepped into my world, and it’s my game now. Get after it.” I will hurt but I will not complain. I will be left no choices but I will be grateful. I will do it or it will not get done. Self-empowerment boot camp. Rewiring the head. The honing of the blade. That was my first August on the land.

Four years later Birdsong the company was launched and I promised myself August off and a month break over the Holidays. Though steadily managing some time off in December and January, I think I’ve only taken two Augi in 15 years, and maybe one was a month. I’m hard wired to keep going. I don’t like loose ends or to be behind. It kills me to have people waiting on my most-of-the-way when I offered ALL of the way. That’s Sweaty Scott the wildman from the woods training. He’s alive and well in me. I can’t let him drive anymore, he’s a madman and he did his service – but he is consigliere around here and those years remade me. Without (especially) THAT August, if I was the same guy I was in my 20s, I would’ve missed the mark every time on what would have, should have, could have been Birdsong and anything else that has happened, gotten after, completed, or built upon in the chapters that followed it.

In fact, looking back that far, the very turning point in my 20s was an August in a van out on Interstate 35. It was hot but I was young and free. There was no “Vanlife” movement – this was what my decisions had left me, and at the time it was my best choice. I read Thoreau and wrote and knew deep inside this was a stop on my way UP, on my way OUT. So in that it was sanctified and I suffered in gratitude and learned to cope and not be bothered by things that will pass and shouldn’t shake me up. Augusts have shaped my life with their tests and their intensity. To make something big happen is rarely easy. To make something big happen in extreme conditions, you have to develop a certain strength of devotion, an irrevocable pact with yourself of whatever size is necessary to see this through to what it turns into. To throw yourself at it and see what YOU turn into. Or what you are and didn’t know. Those spirit muscles you never knew you had. The will to live you never physically tasted before. The sheer balls or oves you never knew you had to stand and look at the mountain and go, “Screw you! That’s not a mountain it just looks that way from down here, this is ceremony – gimme that shovel. I’m gonna move what I can’t climb, and I’d rather die on my way up than sitting here making wishes.”

August. A season of late summer, a life in late summer. Though every day’s not a climb anymore, though I’m somewhat mellowed and the woods a bit tamed, there is still plenty to do… and lots of promises I intend to keep. And I’m sure challenges to come. So I’m going to take a few days here and there this month, maybe knock off early a bit, but those of you whose builds are being worked on – I work for you and the hours I DO put in this month will be all-in, head down, and balls out. With the doors open, the sun shining in the windows like a temple, and the sacred sounds of music and tools working wood in the air. 90, 100, 110. I don’t care. There’s no difference to me. You do it or you don’t. Blooming in August will do that to you. This is ceremony - gimme that router.

Listening to: KRTU 91.7 jazz; Springsteen’s autobiography audiobook; Donovan’s Greatest Hits; reggae compilation CDs.

Inspiration

Where does the inspiration come from? Sometimes it feels like you put your hand up and catch a ball from out of the sky without even looking. How did this get here? Other times there’s a hole of need you’re trying to fill with a block of solution, just whittling away until it works. The ethereal gift and the practical challenge.

In my world of curves and components, sometimes it starts with a contour. When I start to draw a guitar body, the first curve I start with is the leg area, and I try to make it look like an old car wheel opening. That’s what I picture while I’m getting that swoop just right - that decreasing radius, that blend of line to where it will continue and smoothly transition to the hips, to the convex from the concave. Look at the wheel opening on the front fender of a ’60 Starliner – that evolved through inspiration from the fender sweep of cars from the 1930s, and my curves are creative evolutions of that… at least in my head.

Other times it starts with a practical consideration – say, balance. There are certain points in relation to the overall length of an instrument where, if you put the strap button there, it’ll balance nicely. For that to take place there has to be body there to screw the strap button to. And that leg cut? There’s only so many ways to do that ergonomically. Following the inspiration further into the actual doing, if you have upper fret access that dictates where that curve goes. Now you connect the dots ‘til it looks right to you – back into the art, the inspiration again. But refinement is different than the seed…

Then there’s the magic moment you’re in the workshop, because part of magic is putting yourself where it can happen and keeping in the clear enough for the good luck to find you, and you look at a piece of wood and it does everything but have words for you out loud. It talks to you in some deep, instantly understood way but with no sound, and instantly becomes a forming picture of what it will be. Hey, what if I added this – wow, I could combine it with that… sometimes it’s even a dream. I literally dreamed about this bass years back and crafted it just like what I had received in the vision, right to the wood and it being fretless.

That’s where the Fusion shape came from too, vision. Well, that’s where I hooked up with it at least. But where exactly it came from? After all this and decades of writings and a bazillion songs… I can taste it, I can feel it, it flows like water; but I’ll still have to let you know on that.

Listening to: Guy Clark Live at Dixie’s 1984; Bruce Springsteen Born To Run autobiography disc 2.

Simple Machines

I have a deep love for simple machines. The single blade pocketknife as a cutting machine; the old 4-track cassette recorder as a sound-on-sound machine; an old car as a transportation machine. Not a device, that’s taken on implications of computer control and software and buttons – but a machine. Mechanical connections. Rivets and screws, belts and levers… bendable, shimable, fixable stuff. So I was completely grooving on a cheapie wick-type oil lamp – what it is, how it works. It’s thin stamped metal, a wick, a lever, and you add a little lamp oil and flame and your room is full of soft warm light. Plugged into nothing. I love this thing. A simple light machine.

I took a Coleman camp stove that hasn’t been used in 12 years and hadn’t been stored all that kindly, chipped out the old mud dauber pueblitos, blew a little air through the tube, rubbed a little oil on the pump plunger seal, filled it with fresh fuel, and the sumbich fired right up. It ran so well after a while I cooked dinner on it. The thrift store had a small cassette recorder… to spare some wear and tear on the one I keep around for riffs and stuff (because the recordings never just disappear because some stupid digital gizmo stopped working), I picked it up - $1 and it still worked. I’m not looking for high fidelity in this tool, I’m looking for a way to go through an entire box of unlabeled cassettes and sort out whether they’re idea tapes, 4 track from the PortaOnes, 8 track from the 488s, spoken word, or long misplaced recordings of vinyl albums or live bootlegs. Or, the occasional treasure like the entire Randy Dritz interview from when we were resurrecting SD Curlee in 2011 (He’s the D) and he came down to visit. Think I got my buck’s worth out of that old simple machine that still worked? Huh? Huh? Do yeh? Huh?

My ’60 Pontiac needs one new part to run again – it got put on the back burner last fall and I’ve been too busy to play with it, but I can go out there any time now or in five years and pop that part on, pour a little gasoline down the carb, and it’ll run like a mutha. How do I know? Because that’s how simple machines do it. Even if that thing needed an entire engine swap, it’s a handful of wrenches and a weekend with a friend. I swapped the engines in Joe The Truck (’74 Dodge) and a ’67 Plymouth Valiant named Becky I had by myself. Heavy, kinda sketchy in moments, scrapes & mess galore, but SIMPLE. Fixable. Easy to make it work. And durable, from good parts. Hell, I pulled an old ’62 Valiant (Alvin) out of the junkyard and had it running in an hour, running up and down the driveway. (It’s a long driveway way out here.) And I’m just a parts swapper, I’m no ace with a wrench.

My life is full of simple systems. I endeavor to be a simple system. Complicated relationships? Sorry, you’re gone. At its basic functional essence, all of this is what I aim for in the design & function of a Birdsong. This is not a high maintenance tool; not a finicky partner. I’ve owned those – beautiful works of playable art that needed adjustment every time they came out of the case. Way back I traded one for a ‘70s Music Man. Just a solid chunk of bass. I always wondered if there was something that had a bit of both… and maybe less reach and didn’t weigh as much as a Buick either. So here we are, all Birdsong and stuff years later. Underneath all those high end expensive parts and the picked out wood and professional workmanship? I want a simple tool for you. Built strong, made sturdy. One you can plug in today or five years from now and it’ll run like a mutha. Why? Because that’s how simple machines do it.

Rock on.

Listening to: Alien Groove Therapy, some jazz, Sticky Fingers by the Stones.

Ceremony

There was Scott of The Road and Scott of The Woods before there was Scott of The Birdsongs. This week, Scott of The Woods made a rare return appearance (sans wildman beard, starry gaze and dashiki) and lit the first ceremonial fire in years. A very special fire pit was recently rebuilt out here at the nest by a good friend, and it was time to figure what to do with much of the cutoffs from the cypress plank I got after the Wimberley flood of 2015. I made instruments out of this tree, one of many, many hundreds of years old, that were washed away off the banks of the Blanco river.

Those lives and many others were affected, and I figured since I couldn’t fix that I’d take one lucky plank and give it a new life singing - perhaps it could represent the whole, and all others of all kinds, in the beauty that does emerge from tragedy like little seedlings given time. Feeling very reverent toward these cutoffs, I kept them. Made woodcraft from them. Looked at the box and wished peace to all whose lives were taken or changed forever, and to those around them – their circles. But there comes time it’s time to let go, and so it goes. I knew it would be fire – I knew it would be ceremony.

It was also time to fire up this remade pit and sit by it once again. It’s fun being Scott of The Birdsongs, but I definitely feel the pull back to the path of Scott of The Woods. If you’ve ever connected to the earth in a deep way as part of your journey, to sit around a campfire even as a circle of one brings alive something very deep. It’s never out of you, it’s never who you used to be, it’s never gone… it just sleeps. And he’s alive and well, this guy, in there, as if time had not passed at all. He is impervious to the aging of the body; he knows nothing of accomplishment or fame; he rises with the sun and settles with the darkness. He walks these woods under moonlit skies and listens.

I gave many thanks and blessings over this fire – including for all of you. Once there was a good bed of coals, I cooked food over it. The last of the energy of these pieces became heat – transferred into my food – which now nourishes and becomes part of me. As I put my energy into the building of the instruments of today and however many tomorrows, so will flow in some way now ripples from this tree, from those banks, from that river. Onward, inward, outward into new moments of magic and music shared - transferred - between souls in far away lands.

Seeing the black spread of combustion slowly consume the box into flames was like watching time consume the energy of a man. May it be burning my scraps, the best of me having been worked into other things.

Listening to: Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers, old dub reggae, Shawn Needham Alien Groove Therapy, the sounds of the woods and the fire.

Anniversary #15... Here We Go!

Here we go, you hard core songbirds and somnambulant insomniacs! It’s just after midnight CST July 4th, 2019 and on behalf of all the hands past and present who’ve helped it all to happen so far, welcome to the 15th Anniversary of Birdsong Guitars. Before that though, happy 4th to you and your circle – be safe but make some moments!

So let’s clarify the 15 number with some quick history. Birdsong started as a model name in my early years of building in the 1990s, became the name I built under starting in 2000, and then the short scale bass design I’d been refining came together… the Cortobass… and a legit company was built around it. That website was launched – you guessed it – July 4th, 2004. A factoid for you, it was started by my then girlfriend Jamie and I and we got married while doing the paperwork for it in January of that year. By July we had remodeled the old motorcycle chop shop bays we rented to start in, borrowed some tools, and were all in. I mean 24/7 for years.

So here we are, 15 years later! We’ve been in three shops, had under a dozen people come through helping it happen, and last guesstimate is somewhere coming up on a thousand instruments out. Every anniversary there’s a sale, there are special builds offered, and I’m available while it’s happening midnight to midnight – call 512-395-5126 (verbally leave your number for a call back if you get the message, I’m low tech), email scott@birdsongguitars.com, or find me (Scott Beckwith) or Birdsong Guitars (or SD Curlee) on Facebook. Heck, find – friend – share all 3. CALLS ARE BEST, though - especially if you’re going to go for something at the last minute! I’d love to talk with you, business or not, and know we thank you all VERY much whether you’ve been with us since the pre-company days or just showing up five minutes ago.

***** UPDATE: Wee hours, July 5th - THIS YEAR’S ANNIVERSARY WAS GREAT, thank you all so much! Taking Friday and the weekend off to regroup. I’ll leave this part posted… *****

Birdsong is doing fine, I’m in here kicking ass, we have new hands helping with some sanding and shaping, and though at a deliberately less frenetic all-in pace now, we’ll still be kicking it hard the rest of this year and on into 2020. THIS year, I’m taking a little time off in August but not all of it – there are a handful of you waiting very patiently on some builds that ran very late due to my knee issue late last year and early this year. And I can’t in good conscience take a lot of time off until your builds are done. It’s that simple. But I don’t want to go back to the hospital either, so it’s a balance and August is the mid point. This year we’re finishing up the 1st of December for Holiday/winter break. In 2020 the main focus will be “Spring batch” and “Fall batch.”

SO HAPPY 4TH AND BLESSINGS TO YOU, HUG THE BETTER HALF, and NOOGIES TO ALL THE KIDS. Thanks for being with us, thanks for helping us celebrate 15 official years (which is huge – any time valid in the music business can be measured in dog years) and – speaking of dog years – here’s a picture of Maggie the Heeler! She thanks you too!

FROM ALL OF US, thank you so much & happy 4th of July!