Old & New Friends

A fun week! Among many happenings, two stand out. The first lap steel of the year sang its first, and an old friend dropped in for a visit. Time is a twisting oddity to ponder when an old young friend is in town and comes by and you realize he’s older now by years than you were when he knew you. Alan was a kid that was a fixture in my old music shop in Melrose, MA, my old hometown I had returned to and opened the shop where I built my first guitars & basses. Not literally; he wasn’t a display case or record bin, he just hung around so much I hired him. My first helper! This was late ‘90s. It was great to see him again as a man, married with a great wife, two kids, career, and all that. He last knew me when I sold the shop in 2000 and headed off back to rural Texas, following the music thread off into another unknown chapter, this one probably involving building instruments too... but I had no idea when I pointed the hood down the highway. I just knew it was time and I felt called and my agreement with life on that side of the hill was to move on that when it happened. This time it was destiny. Never underestimate the long term effects of just showing up and doing what’s next. Here we are.

And here emerging from the workshop is the Texas Lap Steel Co. serial #17 01, a "Wimberley" model crafted from cypress from along the Blanco river. The Blanco tragically flooded in 2015 and this is the first complete instrument out of one big plank of this special wood I was able to get a hold of. I can’t fix what happened or the scars seen and unseen in our little town, but I CAN take a representative piece of these hundreds-of-years-old trees that used to line and shade the river, bring it back to life, and help it sing. This model was named for the town because its curves reminded me of the rivers that wind through it and, most of the time, are nothing but beautiful. The Wingfeather workshop builds a small number of our unique lap steel guitars per year – this one is shortly heading out for its home but I have a few in various stages that aren’t spoken for. Check out the “Other instruments” here.

If you’re not tuned in to the Scott Beckwith or Birdsong Guitars pages on Facebook, you’re missing out! No outrage, no memes, just Monday morning inspirations, Throwback Thursday pictures, unreal deal “Saturday Sale” posts, and random workshop pictures between of basses & guitars… (and the occasional mockery of a viral post asking you to list bands). Find us & friend / follow / like! Thanks for being with us.

Everybody have a great weekend! 

Listening to: Mississippi Fred McDowell You Gotta Move; Boston Don't Look Back; Sonny Rollins Vol. 2.   

Exciting Times


Finishing up this batch of wilder custom orders now leaving the nest has been great fun – laminates, stringers, hand carved scrolls, exotic woods, an ancient looking finish… very artistic, a real blessing to have the opportunity to work such craft into being. Like I always say, and this goes for clients of ANYTHING from the Wingfeather workshop, “Thanks so much for your patience with the process.”  There’s a doubleneck that’ll be into assembly this month, a quartet of Wimberley flood cypress builds into routing and shaping, some Shortbass action, and not one but TWO “Artists” – the really really fancy builds – getting under way shortly. Really feeling in here like this is the golden age of Birdsong. It has always been fun and meaningful but now moreso than ever.  

This is a bubble. This is fantasy land. Not that there aren’t challenges or sudden zigs and zags necessary to avoid life’s sometimes Wile E. Coyotean pianos falling from the sky, but on the whole things could have gone completely off the rails at any point. Here I am feeling unconnected to time despite its ticking; unattached to it, like “Meh, I’ve got too much good work to do to get all wrapped up in a few gray hairs or celestial impermanence”, carving out instruments as if it was my life’s entire reason. It’s what it all added up to... what this seed is going to do in the garden he was given. Here’s some carving & shaping on the truss rod cover for Sadhana #64, leaving the nest Monday. Just a wee peek into the workshop. There’ll be more. 

Had a great visit with my friends up at Thin The Herd Guitars earlier in the week, a hop skip & a jump up ol’ Interstate 35, my former home itself twenty some-odd years ago. These are guys doing some exciting things in a whole other area of the guitar world and it looks like I’ll be doing some design work for them. Normally this sort of thing is quietly done, but this is a bit different. More info as it happens… meanwhile you might see me in some clips at their shop playing some of their guitars. They have some real winners, and they’re doing what they do right. My world became high end hand craft but I love guitars & basses, I love original takes on tradition, I love small independent companies setting out to do something great against the odds, and I love value. Value is VERY different than price alone; however many zeros are on it or not, an instrument should possess qualities (and quality) and integrity behind it that carry far beyond being merely “worth it” – a great value gives more to the owner than they bargained for. Birdsong does that in our price range, and TTH is absolutely swinging for the lights in theirs. I dig it.
www.thintheherdguitars.com

More fun with these cats to come. And more fun in general! Maybe with YOU too? Give a call and maybe we can dream something up! 'Til next time, play nice & make moments.

Listening to: Meat Loaf Bat Out of Hell; Ted Nugent Free For All; a Journey show from ’81 in Japan; and I’ve been on a bit of a Paul Desmond jag lately. 
 

The Next Four

I’ve been mentioning here and on the Facebook posts about this being a year full of custom orders. Some of you have had off-the-menu requests and mostly I’ve been saying “Yeah, why not? There’s so much custom work on the books it looks like that kind of year!” Some years are mostly sticking to the basics, hangin’ with the menu, keeping it simple and straightforward. There’s a beauty to that too, but that might be next year. It’s certainly not this one! What a blast I’m having. To show you what I’m talking about, here are four instruments hanging right next to each other in final assembly… literally just the next four happening here.

Custom guitar. Yes, the shop turns out a very small number of Birdsong branded guitars a year. Our roots are in the early 6-string builds that began the path and the company, and my own beginnings are as a guitar player. This is a custom order with a one-off mahogany & ebony body and two DiMarzio humbuckers. This one will first sing next week after a long journey from the plank.

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Hy5 #082. From our line of short scale 5-string basses, here’s one with more of a “J” pickup location from our Corto2 bass, black hardware, and a really cool spalted maple top & headstock. We don’t do a whole lot of tops, so when we do we like it to be something you don’t see every day. This bass is actually AVAILABLE in inventory, and I could have it ready over the weekend to go out Monday. If you don’t follow the Birdsong Guitars Facebook page, you missed out on a HUGE sale price offer on it, but if it’s yours call and we’ll talk. 

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Talisman. For T.D. Towers of the band Edensong, a signature ancient looking mystical piece called the Talisman. By the time you’re reading this the bass will be on its journey to prog-rock Valhalla with him (VERY likely to be seen again!) and the model will have been slipped into the menu on the BIRDSONG page. It’s not “THE” new model for 2017 – that’s coming on July 4th. This just sorta happened along the way, like life and love and… well, like Birdsong! See what a creative year it is? This absolutely hits the Wal / Tool thing and a bunch more subtle but vintage rockin’ tones. That neck pickup where it sits in our 31” scale? To die for. Stay tuned…

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Special order Sadhana. Given artistic freedom on this one, it took some time and leaned way more elegant than my initial thoughts. It came to be in layers as it came to me in stages – “OK, now that it’s THIS, what is best as a next feature?” Sadhana #064 has a 9-piece body of walnut, maple & wenge shaped with a large roundover to the edge and a hand carved scroll on the upper horn. There is nothing substantial that’s black on the instrument – a very different touch when done because there’s usually a pickup or plate on any of them you see that are – so it’s only earth tones of browns and maple trimmed out with cream & gold. Much like in playing where a perfectly placed space can carry more weight than any note, in instrument cosmetics leaving out something that’s usually seen can be striking. This could be one of my favorites so far. 

This doesn’t even get into the 2/3rds built Ric-infused Sadhana I’m still searching for specific parts for, the doubleneck that’ll be in sanding as soon as I finish carving the scroll horn, or the two – not one but TWO – full-on, no-expense-spared, wild Artist basses I’m in the wood gathering stage of. Or the rest! So you pretty much know where I’ll be this year! I hope wherever the muse leads you is as fulfilling, challenging, and soul-stirring as it feels in the little workshop in the woods right now. I thank my clients for the patience to be waiting for a wilder custom build (or to be back in line behind them) while they become. 

As an aside, it was great that Journey made it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and this – this is how you approach another whose fate set your destiny. Arnel, current Journey singer without whom that band would have died because even the Steve Perry of the 1990s couldn’t hit those notes live anymore – and Steve Perry, long gone from the band, long gone from the public eye, both class acts. But this is how you approach a past that became your future; a seat you earned but that was inherited; one whose three-pointers made the team you jumped into to continue. No matter how great, hard working, or successful a person is… you'll owe somebody this. Peace be with both of them and their Journeys.   

Play nice,

Listening to: John Coltrane Coltrane Plays The Blues; Mississippi Fred McDowell You Gotta Move; a live early Pat Benatar show – what a band; Doug Raney Back in New York. That’s just got to be one of the best jazz guitar tones and albums ever.

Have a safe & happy Easter.

“Happy Easter Ben!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” 

A Space In Time

Snapshot: It’s 5 AM on the button, dark outside but fluorescent in workshop 2 where assembly happens. A temple in my life, this little building - and this morning’s sadhana (real meaning of the word) actually a cross between a Cortobass and and a Skyrider – a custom awaiting its voice. The pickups are in and Derek & The Dominos Live at The Fillmore fills the air with feelgood, sonic waves dancing with the incense, as I wire volume and tone pots. This is where the instrument comes to life. The wood comes back with that first handrub of oil, but now it will speak. And with a little more attention – a few adjustments, some TLC – sing.

I have been handed the keys to this perpetual dawn service of manifesting tools with voices to soon become yours, part of your service, your way of the inner music coming out. In songs of wood and wire I give form to the stirrings of the muse. 

In a couple of hours, after a round of wiring on the Custom and a Hy5 5-string, some copper lining of another 5s control cavity and a bit of typing on this to be posted tomorrow which you now read, the green shop – “Wingfeather Workshop” proper and another sacred space, will itself come to life for the day and fill the air with its own song. Whirring small machines a-spin and cutting, and the sound of sandpaper or rasp in shaping blending as percussion into the music providing the beat.

The heartbeat of life in there this morning will probably be jazz, most likely New York guitar jazz. It might morph into some long Grateful Dead soundscapes or over into classical guitar like Segovia. That’s the basic vibe in there. Delta blues like RL Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Jack Owens is really good guitar building music too. I have my list of “nexts” and I am alive again this morning, gifted one more lap around the light, one more round on the beads of the tasks of another day itself one more prayer-by-action in a string of its own. I don’t need coffee; it would only put me back to sleep anyway. The steps to this door are all I need. When they no longer bring me to life then the calling has been completed.

I don’t make product, I craft talismans. To you it might be only the tool portion or some recipe of function, handcraft and mojo – I don’t know. I can’t really know that, that’s for you. I only know what it’s like in here surrounded by the coming-to-be of these all around me and – somehow, through some twist of fate – through me. Bringing things to life day after day does something to the soul and consumes the rest as its fuel. Whatever a Birdsong bass or Texas Lap Steel or anything else that flies this nest is to you, I am happy it serves you in that way. I am fulfilled that what is spent of me, of the hands that help me, of the ripples of our mentors and the echoes of theirs within them, help the highest in you come out to dance in the moment and be shared with the others.

It’s gradually getting lighter through the trees, familiar shapes and shadows returning in a blue glow with spreading orange in one spot. Good morning sunshine, sorry I just couldn’t wait. 

If you’ll excuse me now, there is an instrument – a tool of creation – who has been waiting for this moment since the instant it ceased to be tree, and the universe has decreed me to be the one to show it some love, bring it to life, and put it in good hands.

Listening to: John Coltrane Coltrane Plays The Blues; Back In New York by Doug Raney: Derek & The Dominos Live at The Fillmore; RL Burnside Too Bad Jim
 

April Not Fooling Around Day

I’ll update the builds & inventory page pictures after today’s work, but I wanted to post this as early as possible.

One evening after a good work day & another crossed off list, I was sitting on the porch sipping a little brandy in the blue zone breeze with Coltrane playing in the background, reflecting on things. I was thinking back to a life 17 years ago, a time of big change and the uncertain tomorrows that come with it. I was also thinking back to the bands and the path pre-Birdsong; it would have been nice to have had a Birdsong to do all those gigs with! The frustration with the basses I played were the seeds for all of this – these instruments, and thus this place, everything in my life now and you and these words. On April 1st 2000 I was in-between all of this; but on that day I jumped in. It was truly the first day of the rest of my life.

The story of that, the joy of a fine sipping XO brandy as the blue of the passing day becomes the young night sky, of rural life, these are all yarns for another time; it’s their resulting thought that is the subject I want to talk about today. The blossom of this moment. Coltrane always helps feed the soul and tickle the mind. Impulse label era Coltrane – in fact virtually any album with that black & orange spine - is going to be great music, alive and intense, no matter who the artist; and good music turns moments Technicolor from pastel. So this day, April 1st - right up there in importance to me with July 4th (the official, for-real, online launch date of Birdsong Guitars itself), is coming in a matter of hours and I’ve got to do something special on it. This is how I navigate my life; every day is special but the big things you do on the landmark dates of your path. You plant your big flags into proven ground.

OK. It came. For years – since Birdsong started, really – I have always had in mind the question of how to get a really well designed tool drawn up by a professional player who knows what is needed into the hands of players who want something special, something different, something with some history and handcraft pedigree to it, but who can’t swing the numbers of a real deal bench worked piece from a sawdusty guy with some history and handcraft pedigree himself scraping and shaping the thing into being.

There are four ways of doing this. First is to do what most companies & brands do, import a bunch of copies of “the great idea” and slap “the familiar brand” on the headstock. But I didn’t get into this to be a QC and reshipping department, or to dilute that a Birdsong is a high-end, hand built, professional piece of small batch legacy work – and that’s that. There are no el cheapo Birdsongs. So that’s not going to happen. Would I lend a hand in design & knowledge to another company trying to do imports right? You bet I would. I’d design them a hell of a bass line. That’s option number two, and – well that’s all I can really say about that one right now. Number three is a no-frills version, and I already offer The Shortbass… built right here, distilled – not cheapened. Simplicity done to Birdsong standards. Same benches, same love, same organic vibe, and a great tone. They’ve been making friends – and eventual Birdsong clients – for years now.

That brings us to option 4. A real full-on Birdsong can’t come to be and fly the nest for a number much lower than what it is; I try to be flexible as anyone who has worked with us can tell you. Believe me, this company was started by a couple living in a school bus, OK? But it takes what it takes to get one. Here’s the deal - I know there are a bunch of you out there that want what we do but work better with smaller numbers like we have our whole lives. So this weekend, through Sunday night, I’m opening the books for a handful of you that could do weekly or monthly payments instead of halves. I can’t do a bunch because I couldn’t keep track of them – but I can do some, and now’s the time.

This is for Birdsong builds only – not the Shortbass or others and not on inventory. It’s not layaway. Call me – 512-395-5126 – we’ll talk about your dream bass or the answer to your bass-need prayers, and if it’s at all doable in a steady payment way we’ll get it going for you with no big lump sums. I can’t think of a better way to pass along the hand-ups I – we as a family – and this company as an against-all-odds success – have received along the way. Nobody made it easy, nobody dimmed down the dream so it was any more reachable, they just always seemed to be there to help the numbers work a little better so there was a chance. We are very grateful for anyone’s interest in what we do and especially for your hands in which to put every instrument we’ve been privileged to make over the past 13 years. Counting my efforts before Birdsong, it’s 20 years. 

April 1st may be practical jokes and whoopee cushions to most folks, but to me I think about a little music shop in Melrose, MA that’s still there, of yesterday’s keys handed off and a ’72 Ford housetruck getting prepped to meander southbound, alone on a long uncertain highway stretching towards a raw piece of woods in central Texas. What would happen? What can be made of the tools & ideas I carry? The ONLY guarantee is if I don’t try, nothing. That was all I knew. And, that music would carry me through my connection to it and the connections I’d make through it, as it always had. Here we are 17 years later. If today is the day you reward yourself with a Birdsong, that’s great! And if today, in some much bigger way, is the first day of the rest of your life? Get on with it. Don’t be afraid. 

Listening to: John Coltrane Coltrane; Judas Priest Point Of Entry (the one the real fans hate – it’s the only one I’ll ever own, way more good ‘70s road-trip hard rock than Neanderthal metal – no offense to those of you in studded leather); audiobook of Springsteen’s autobiography; Boston Don’t Look Back.
 

The Handwork Epiphany

A few weeks back I was visited by an old band member I hadn’t seen in decades, a wonderful guitar & steel player I gigged with in a commercial country band in the early ‘90s. You don’t know this, but if you’re into Birdsong or anything I’ve done as a designer or builder over the past 20 years, this guy is partially to thank.

The handwork epiphany happened to me in three stages; 1987, 1989, and 1994. In ’87 I scored a ‘70s BC Rich that needed some work, and during my time with it I ran my hand over the body edge and realized “Somebody made this.” I could feel it, slight variations in the shaping – stuff you can’t see, but it’s there. Proof of being worked by hands. Who? Where? How did this happen? Guitars immediately went from appliances like a toaster to me to something potentially shaped and scraped by someone else’s hands. In ’89 I visited my friend Dill’s workshop, where he made acoustic guitars. It smelled of wood and strange tools were all over the benches. Different type of guitar, but now I had seen where a craftsman was actually doing it. Remember, this was years before the internet. That planted a seed for sure. “A person can do this – this guy I know does this.” Hmmm.  

Years later, the new pedal steel player for Sierra, John Russell, showed up at a gig with a homemade electric guitar to do rhythm on some songs if needed. I was blown away. “You MADE this?” It was far from perfect but I couldn’t have cared less about that. He MADE it. It felt organic, it wasn’t all plasticky. Full but comfy neck. Just a great little tool with a heapin’ helping of down-home-cookin’ mojo in it. That DNA is in what I would go on to design and build, and in who I would become. So we reconnected recently on Facebook and I was able to tell him what that guitar meant to me and my path; he came out with some friends to the workshop AND he brought the guitar!

He’s still tinkering with it. He’ll tell you himself he’s not a craftsman – he’s a tinkerer. But to me that’s just a matter of refinement if your tinkers end up sounding and playing alright. Build 10 more and the detail work’ll be night and day. But our work spreads seeds of inspiration whether deliberate or incidental regardless of perfection or refinement. (I was carefully carving scrolls yesterday while listening to Hound Dog Taylor – if that’s not both sides of that coin at the same time, I don’t know what is.) John is a blast still, a fantastic musician, and it was good to see him. It was GREAT to see the guitar, though, on this side of my life and with the eyes and hands I have now after 20 years of building. 

We who do this have hands that remember things just like as musicians we store away formative licks we pick up along the way. Most freaky moment? I held the neck of this guitar I hadn’t seen in 23 years and immediately handed John a standard Birdsong bass neck. We looked at each other. It was the same carve. So this little guitar, from the hands of an old friend, contributed forward into the Birdsongs in hands all over the world today. We have no idea how contact with what we do is going to affect someone down the line we may never even meet.

And that is the perfect segue into how I want to end this update, with a big salute to the drummer on most of the original two Boston albums Sib Hashian, who went down onstage mid-set playing Boston tunes with a former guitarist on a rock cruise yesterday. Boston’s history is very convoluted mainly because the “original band” was one genius in a home studio with a really good singer and a hired drummer. That’s 90% of the first two albums regardless of cover photos, claims of sidemen who wanted more, former members, and the fictional “Rock And Roll Band” lyrics. Most of those rocking drums on the actual albums? Sib. Death is always shocking to witness and most times sad to hear about, especially in the music world when it comes for the players we grew up listening to… or who were part of the soundtrack to our NOT growing up! But if you’ve gotta go, and you do as do I as do all who pass this way at some time, is there a better way to go than doing what you love? The man left his beats in the hearts of millions, lived a long life, and just pitched off the drum stool mid-song. Rock on, good sir. Safe journey to the Spirit of this man, safe travels to his continued ripples, and thank you for your service Sib. 

Listening to: Boston Don’t Look Back; Miles Davis Kind of Blue; Hound Dog Taylor Genuine Houserockin’ Music; a Brewer Phillips compilation (he was the rhythm guitarist in the Houserockers).
 

New Birdies From The Workshop

I view a workshop as a place of becoming for both the crafter and the crafted, where the living via breathing through deliberate act exchanges some life force for a few ripples of involvement in creation of that which lives in other ways. Whatever medium is the means, life is offered and instilled into something manifesting to go out into lives, to hopefully enrich them, and to carry also some magic from the seed of whence it came… both its place and its path. It then lives via vibration. Perhaps another form of breath, or perhaps breath is another form of it.

I call these surroundings where things come to be and everything grows, where visions bloom and people blossom “perpetual springtime” – in trying to surround myself with it as much as possible, I am blessed to find myself where it is warm most of the time and the air is full of birdsong. That’s what our main line of instruments was named after, years back, while in transition from a very connecting chapter of living simply and sleeping under the stars into the hand built life of a craftsman. Life these days is still small, still simple, still connected… but a bit less austere than campstove hot water and a bedroll on top of an old van.

To live surrounded by new growth and becoming is, I think, the closest we get to slowing time. You are what you eat, and that’s not only food – but what you feed your eyes, what you feed your very being with your surroundings. How that feeds your soul. How you integrate your doings with your spirit – what you do with who you are and where you do it. Where you’re at – inside and out – is a huge part of that diet. If you live in an environment of life and nature and replenishment, of constructing and becoming, it’s hard not to feel that way inside.

Every year heading into springtime here in south central Texas, the little birds come looking for places to nest, to bring the new into being. They are drawn to the workshop and, so long as they’re not choosing a spot that is obviously dangerous or directly in my way, I welcome them. It’s not easy for me; I care about them, so I want things to go well for them, but I realize theirs is not my destiny to write. Past giving them some sheltered space and consideration while they’re borrowing that high shelf corner or extra tool cubby, the best thing I can do for them is not to meddle with their happenings. Let them be. Allow them their process of becoming… they don’t need my help; my agenda, my way, my fears, my inserting myself into their ceremony would not help.  

It was 17 years ago in my friend Uncle Johnny’s shop I noticed a nest in a top cubby, up above where he stored the tin of polishing wax for his woodcraft. I expressed my concern for them, and he replied “They come every year. They don’t get in my way and I don’t get in theirs. I leave a window cracked for them while they’re here. They know what they’re doing.” They know what they’re doing. I have to remind myself of this. This is what they do – their lives are uncomplicated, their system very simple, and indeed if they’re here they were the strongest who figured it out and they will teach their young the same. Not all will make it but they know this too. 

Things happen quickly in their world and they don’t waste time. Mama bird waits on a branch by the porch for me to be out of the way and flutters into the nest. I wish her well and welcome the tiny chirps to come. I leave an offering, a little pinch of seed, nearby – she knows I know she’s here and I like to think she knows she’s as safe as my shelter can offer. I do not know if these are the same little friends from last year, the nestlings of years past carrying on tradition, or even some distant relations to those from Johnny’s workshop. Taking the perspective that we are all related, they are all related too – so somehow, perhaps. For all I know one could even be Johnny. I chuckle at that too, but all I really truly know is there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye and I know I don’t know. I believe, I ponder, I connect the dots until it makes some kind of sense to me… but I’m one grain on a vast shoreline facing an infinite ocean and I just don’t know. 

I know the wood and the wire I am given to work, I know sounds and vibration. I know these little workshops. I know the next tasks to do and the tools to do them. I know the basics of my being. The birds know theirs, and I’m honored to live in their world out here. The least I can do is let them use the shop once in a while. 


Listening to: Don Cherry interview; Codona live in Hamburg 1978 (man this stuff is great, look it up on YouTube); some Mesa Music Consort; Joe Henderson So Near, So Far (Musings For Miles) (with Scofield, Al Foster on drums and bassist Dave Holland – fantastic, just go buy it); Grateful Dead Movie soundtrack CD one; Chrome Eyes Viper Dust (to be released soon).