Old Wood and Old Steel

Old cars and old guitars. Who used them? What were their lives? Their dance together - that’s where a lot of the magic is for me. I don’t see them as empty objects owned. We don’t really own anything in the bigger picture, we only have possession. Where legal possession defines ownership, well… that place is temporary too. These are all temporary arrangements by which we get to caretake cool things for a time, and much of them outlive us. They are possessed for a time and move on to new chapters, and some of them – well, they might just be possessed in that other way as well! And that’s not inherently bad unless you've watched too much TV. Hell, that Hawaii episode of the Brady Bunch did a number on a whole generation. But I digress.

What reminded me of this is I got a ride in a great little hot rod last weekend, based on a 1930 Ford Model A pickup. To this cool old cat who welded and wrenched its pieces together, it was parts and steel to cut & shape and paint and have fun with. To me? I put my hand on the door to get in and immediately clicked into “I wonder whose hands have been right here before?” mode. In a much different time, in a very different form, somebody put their hand on that very door in the same way to drive it home, fresh from the Ford plant, right off the dealer’s lot – it was someone’s dream. Its chrome reflected that new day’s sun on into its first chapter. That person is long gone. Most of the people who knew that person and many of those who knew of them are gone. Everyone who had a hand in making it is gone. And this is just the beginning of the lives that touched it and the lives it touched along the way... along its way. These old cars, these guitars, they have lives of their own. They pass through many lives as we pass through. They migrate through us. They meander. They mutate. They change hands, and - if they are very lucky in their service to be the right tool for the crucial task - they change lives. And they keep on going…

And their lives change. This was a truck for one or for many, then it might have been another kind of farm implement, a different dream or yard art, now it is a fun machine. Almost 90 years it’s been here and there as one thing or another doing this and that. This is amazing to me and I sense it even in things that have not changed... the fit of an old stone wall. The well worn spots on the handle of a hammer. The brush lines in a painting. These are our real fingerprints - aside from the intangible and indirect we leave, these things we have touched and used and worn and marked in our way, and our chapters, we are a part of their journeys too. And though an old toaster or stapler or railroad spike brings about similar thought, for me the deepest depth of it comes from old vehicles and old guitars. Over the years other people’s old wheels and wood have brought magic to me and me to it. I rode them like magic carpets and at times felt along for the ride. While we’re together I treat them like friends; we make memories and I let them know they are more than just a means to me.

Listening to: Jim White No Such Place; Sonic Youth Daydream Nation; a compilation CD of Brewer Phillips tracks, live stuff, and interviews – he was the rhythm guitar player in the Houserockers with Hound Dog Taylor (legendary off-the-rails bluesman of endless influence and even more wild stories); Fu Manchu Eatin’ Dust; Jimi Hendrix live at Royal Albert Hall 1969.

Friday's Update... Wednesday!

Welcome to the Friday blog for Wednesday! I snuck in a bit last Monday on the new book – and this week you get the end of the week update a couple of days early. It’s not actually the end of the week here either, but an oddball week of swapping around weekend and workdays and fitting it all in – which can usually work, it just ends up looking kind of nutty on paper – makes it easier for me to just put this here now and not have to hinge my Friday around it.

Those who follow on Facebook noticed yesterday that “Temptation Tuesday” was back and I’ve put up the list of inventory builds I am working in with the batches of instruments for clients. Just makes sense to glue up that one extra or cut four when you’re cutting three. So these builds in progress are available, the only way you can order right now and get a new Birdsong delivered this year, and can be seen on the inventory page. If you see something you like, jump on it – we don’t make that many, there’s been a line out the door since 2004, and this is what we’ve got. 512-395-5126 (calls, no texts) is best, the computer is going off for a few days after this evening so I’ll have to get back with any emails Sunday or so. And, instruments that are claimed, it’ll be then I’ll get back on here and mark them sold. Not everyone is connected to this internet layer of reality through devices 24/7 and I’m definitely one of those not everyones!

Here’s something to temptationally tickle your taste buds, one that’s NOT for sale but I’d love to do a little batch of in different woods would be “Scott’s bass.” Yes, the one I made for myself. There is really no other bass in the world I’d rather play, and I’m not really looking to introduce a model for customization with different pickup setups… just do a little batch of them like this but in maybe walnut or korina or cherry...

Functionally it’s a Fusion, with the Fusion pickup & all-wood dress out (a wood lover’s instrument in voice and looks) but built starting with the Cortobass body shape. Add to that a “German carve” carved edge and an ornate, hand carved scroll, and here it is – the Especial Supremo. I made mine a couple of years ago from a plank of cypress from one of the trees taken out by the Blanco river flooding through our town, sort of the best I could do to turn tragedy into good vibrations. That for the body and a bunch of rosewood - I just love it. So, maybe this is what I could offer as 15th Anniversary builds, something really special. What would I build yours from? I do have some special pieces of wood we could talk about if you’re in a “Scott’s bass” kind of mood…

As always thanks so much for being with us, have a great weekend, and make some moments.

Listening to: Lots of Pink Floyd, some David Gilmour, Richard Betts Highway Call.

Update For Clients!

For those who missed it Monday, check the previous post under this one for info on the new book. Right here, right now? A progress report on progress. I’m not one of those people who broadcast every little twinge and gripe all over the internet, or think for a moment that everybody in the known universe needs the opportunity to read what my every moment is like. I post on here to update & entertain, but sometimes one more than the other. This is a post for the folks I work for, with instruments on order. As with any employers, I owe you to keep you informed on how the work you hired me to do is coming along.

I’m feeling good, the leg is letting me know I’m maxed out and if I push harder it will begin revolting against me again. We can’t have that. It sucked. But I’m able to do long stretches in the shop and get a BUNCH done, so one by one my awesome patient clients are being made happy with their new basses trickling out – and that makes ME happy!

But I’m about 2/3rds speed and working 2/3rds as many hours. So this is the new normal, I’m good with that and I just ask you all for your continued patience. Honestly, this is just me being SURE to communicate with all of you, those of you who placed orders before my leg acted up and are now dealing with the time issue of the slowing down. The new orders now are quoted time frames based on all these factors – yours were not, because I was still invincible when I took your order. And you know, not one of you – none – has called to complain.

I truly work for the best folks around. Just like there are horror stories about the occasional luthier there are plenty in our community about the clients who want all the human interaction, special treatment, additional requests, care and handling, and one-on-one in the world… but any of our humanity shows in stuff coming up or health issues and now there’s a big problem. Like, so long as we only bend one way everything’s fine. Well, you deal with a person you get both. A professional person contains and maintains, but even then sometimes – sometimes your leg gets angry with you after years of abuse and you can’t walk for a bit and everything slooooows down for a while. There is not one client I have that has been that way toward me during this. Evidently, this is where all the cool kids hang out. Did I mention I love you?

Well OK, I had one blowhard email and ask me what the pickup was in the used Fusion he picked up and when I told him “It’s a special recipe with no simple answer, what that pickup starts as has little to do with an answer as to why that bass sounds like it does…” he told me my email was as useless as a chocolate tea kettle. Actually no, my time is worth something – perhaps not two shits but definitely at least one - so I’ll know better to keep it quite short with him in the future. Like, maybe two words.

But on the other side are you guys eight, nine months plus in line and… you’re all cool! I am blessed beyond measure. Believe me, nobody is more aware of how many build time estimates have come and gone over the past six months than me. You’re waiting for one; I’m conducting about 50. But I’m on it, it’s fun, and it’s all getting done.

There are those times you’re on top of it and other times it’s on top of you – for there to be any balance it does need the occasional tip one way or the other. It’s temporary. It fixes itself with a few adjustments and a bit of humanity and some real communication. In moments like this I think about two things – I think about how things would be different if the bigger team had formed, and I think about the fact that I could grow this thing to triple the output and quarter the wait time and my whole life would change. I ponder these at times… but I always come back to loving life the way it is; I’m a craftsman in the woods with a little help from my friends, that’s what feels right – even when it isn’t grooving and the tempo is off… the work never suffers, only the numbers.

And numbers are adjustable. I’m enjoying the 2/3 speed part, like when you savor each bite of food. That’s what life is supposed to be. It can’t always be that, but that’s the ideal – to savor. To be present. To ride the moment. To feel the tool in the hand, not just check off the task you do with it. I just wish I could snap my fingers and get you ALL your basses tomorrow… that’s my only concern.

But I’m good, and it’s going on in here. And you know where to call, and if I’m not on yours I’m working toward getting to what’s next on yours. You have 110% of me.

Listening to:

Willie Nelson with Asleep At The Wheel, Willie and The Wheel; Bonnie Prince Billy Beware.

the first day of the rest of my life

Coming up is a very important day for me – April 1st. Way more than pranks and goofiness (that’s every day in my world), it’s the day one man’s whole life changed from what had been and had been spent and salvaged and used of that to build life to that point – to another, very different climb for a changed man with an old van and a new plan. April 1st is the day I handed over the key to The Music Shop on W. Emerson St. in Melrose, MA – truly what became the first day of the rest of my life.

It had been a confusing time for me of finding my way through my early and mid 20s, figuring out what I added up to that I could become and grow into, and learning to trust and follow that deep inside instinct saying “yeah, do that – go there” that others around me, hoping for the immediate results of one-step games, really didn’t understand. I knew if I did THIS, something would happen and I’d then ride THAT. While this was all going on, the little music shop became magic – the changes in some of the folks who got lessons there, the kids who I shared what I could of my late 20s coming-out-of-the-fog advice with… some of them who figured out I spent a lot of time there after hours would even prank call me and bring me food, bless them. It meant the world to me.

Through starting a scene in Melrose – let me rephrase that – through providing a place where the components of the scene could come together, find each other, and grow together, forming bands and learning and being exposed to new music, there came a garden there that fed. The community, those who were a part of it in some way, those involved in THEIR ripples, all since a part of what it has been in more recent years, and lastly… me. It fed me, it seeded my dreams, customers gave me little trinkets and a few tools I still have and use, and I will never forget the acceptance the young people gave me.

I did not get that in my first go-around in that city when I was their age; but I brought music, the most sacred thing to me, I carried that back there during the crossroads of my life and planted it like a flag. THIS is what’s happening, and it’s happening HERE and it’s happening NOW and it MEANS something. I brought that, put up a pirate flag as an open sign and sold all kinds of music stuff from albums to amps, CDs to guitars, strings to memorabilia. Most used and all priced to go and labeled with a sense of humor. And while I tried to serve everyone that came through the old wood door with the blues brother poster in the window as best I could whatever they needed, they helped me find my path.

It was where I built my first guitar – and the first short scale bass design I came up with. And it was there just by doing this guitar building thing on the side as kind of a nifty thing to do and to express things in a new artistic way through form and craft, I stumbled onto – and into – the very trade I would a few years later gamble everything on. That this was my path onward. That this was my dharma and destiny. That this was the next chapter all of THAT had added up to and ITS tools could build. It all really started rolling there.

The music shop in Melrose was also the first thing that really worked in my adult life, and a big lesson in learning how to jump off of something like that to pursue your life to its next level. It got you what it got you – now to use those things as tools you leave it for the next base camp. And I did just that – waiting for me was a ’73 Ford box van named Blue Moon I had been having mechanically gone through at Lenny the mechanic’s like the guy with the boat in his backyard getting fixed up to someday sail off for adventure. Well my someday came that April 1st. One of many – and the key to the others – that came since. I had just executed a chess move.

I’m no chess player, but it is won by strategy and several moves. It’s not a lottery. It’s not a light switch. It’s a series of decisions in layers that step up. At 50 I see life this way; in my 20s before that shop, I did not. Blue Moon, in all its freshly purple shag carpeted glory, would be my home for a bit, but that’s another chapter of another story. After what felt like hundreds of goodbyes and good lucks, some of which cut very deep, I drove away down the highway. When destiny calls, you go. April 1st, 2000. Big, big day.

The people who own it now have no idea who I am and that’s fine. I don’t do things to get engraved memorial plaques. But I do leave a message on their machine for every single April 1st, usually a celebratory second Laphroiag in, wishing blessings on the little shop and its owners and all who it helps out. It sure helped me out. Sometimes when you feel lost and empty, aim for something big – you have nothing to lose and it might be an entire tool kit and education package for a new life.

Listening To: Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band – Safe As Milk; Semisonic – Feeling Strangely Fine.

Art In The Workshop

(Same number, but I have a new phone. Yes it’s another flip phone, probably the last in the known universe. What can I say - It’s how I roll. If you left a voice message in the last day or two and didn’t get a call back, you were lost in the process of technical transition. My apologies, please call again! ALSO – is there anyone who ordered a signed copy of my book A Craftsman’s Path directly from me and has not received it? My brain is telling me I missed somebody, but I don’t think I did. 512-395-5126, calls only, I don’t text. Thanks! ~Scott)

There is art in the workshop.

There is art in the workshop. Not solely in the craft from past sketches of a model, or the instrument’s potential to inspire and help create - there inside it as if some sort of seed. Sure, there’s art in the craft of what happens here on many layers and in the many layers of the dreaming and the doing. These are songs in their own way, just manifesting into the world a little differently. But within that manifesting, other than in the craft of the creation, other art happens.

And though crafting pieces of wood into instruments-to-be, out deep in the quiet woods on the first day of spring with the sun shining and windows open and Stephen Stills playing is a moment, it’s not the art of living – the art of moments - I’m referring to either. Though that definitely resonates within as well…

I live in a day to day life of colors and grains, textures and patterns already there in the tree; I get to help those as deliberate act join and become something else, brought together to vibrate in harmony. But there are, all around me, inadvertently forming like order from chaos (albeit somewhat controlled, joyous chaos), lines and curves of process that merely – much like the grain inside the tree – need to be noticed. If they are never seen it does not diminish them in any way; they just “are”… it’s not up to whether we see it or not for them to “be” anything. They are and this happens; we either awaken to it and participate or don’t.

Parts are stacked in sunlight, the curves of their contours intersecting with not only the straight joined cuts a part of them, but with the rough cedar post of the shop, the flat surface they rest on temporarily, the other parts’ curves, the space between and the window frame and the opaque beyond. What comes in with the view outward. This is the art of which we talk today – the patterns and shapes that happen in the doing as tools and chips and shadows become and change. It is constantly around me in this space – in all spaces really but in this one more so than all the others – at times to the point of distraction, where I have to continue my eyes on to the waiting task to keep going – when I ask myself if perhaps these moments are the true results, however fleeting, and all of this just a dance for them to happen, a ceremony for their conjuring - that what you or I get out of it are merely ancillary.

I don’t know your life but I hope it’s there and I hope you see it and I hope it fills you with a wonder you weren’t aware you were lacking – that’s what it does for me in here as we do this dance. And every now and then, part of the ritual is to… capture the instant. Sometimes in picture, sometimes in words, sometimes in music, sometimes in wood and wire. To slice the happening to show its artful essence. All songs, as are we. As part of greater symphony. I am most grateful for this moment where you and me - by this chance and circumstance again come together to sing our songs in harmony.

Thank you for your time and attention… have a wonder-full weekend.

Listening to: John Scofield Trio EnRoute; Stephen Stills Stephen Stills.

Big Dreams in Little Workshops

Catching up, having some very productive days in the workshop. It’s glorious to still love doing it after 20 years. Like most dreams, it came in a different package than when I was looking at Doug Irwin’s masterpieces and old ‘40s Bigsby guitars thinking “I could find my way right through the middle of that.” Along the way short scale basses found me and I found my path, and a few good ideas and – most importantly – the action on them, that all turned into the ball I happened to catch. And even though I was not a jock by any stretch of the imagination, there did come a point in life I realized that if you caught the ball you high tail it toward the goal before you get smashed. I saw the Cortobass on the notebook page and buddy, I was OFF.

I dreamed about carving a piece of ebony all day into a fancy pickup surround, of seeing curves out of my pen come to life someday. Maybe I’d even see one being played, sell a few. I was always in the mentality that it’s better to live in a tent and be able to do what you want, than have to do a bunch of stuff you really don’t like doing just to have things you can’t enjoy because you’re too spent & spun out to savor it all. The finer things are great – but the good work and meaningful TIME come first. Ultimately we all find our balance and I’ve found mine.

Which is why you don’t see “Birdsong 4.0 – the BIG company.” I’m just not that guy. Birdsong could go there, everything I do could be produced in far greater numbers and still be great basses. At lower price points and with much less wait too. It’s the design – the stuff you see and the stuff you can’t. They work. And heck, if you’re the person out there watching with the means and the foothold in the industry, and you want a good proven ball to take and run with in the BIG game, give me a call. I’ll talk to you. But I won’t be going that way. I don’t run like that.

It’s sunny and the doors are all open out here in the workshop, I’m out in the woods with some great tunes playing, I’m covered in sawdust and the shop is trashed, there’s a stack of basses-to-be I can’t even stand up vertically anymore, I’m a little slower and a bit sore, and there’s a list of nexts I wrote out for the next work day – fun tasks, great steps in a magical process somehow manifesting tools of creation through my hands as a grain on an infinite shore by endless oceans on a spinning blue suspended marble among billions in galaxies unknowable, there’s a little spider on the bench I’m going to relocate somewhere safer and they always climb on my finger because they trust me somehow, and I’m going to carve a bit on an upper fret access curve in some walnut as my “Johnny layer” extra task a mentor graced me with the concept of, with a chisel from an uncle and a favorite hammer, surrounded by birdsong and melodies and memories and dreams of what’s next. That’s where I’ll be, that’s where I belong, and that’s where I’ll stay.

I hope you have some bliss in your day. I know everybody’s movie is different, but see about working a little in every day – it’s about quality, not quantity.

Listening to: Various podcasts, Andres Segovia, and Red Dragon Cartel.