Part 2: Going Blank!

OK, so last week was the loooong post on inspiration – now we get to the perspiration! Once there is a design to build, it goes onto some plywood to be a template. Whether it will see model status or I just need one, most of the time it gets drawn here first to see it in real size and get the curves just right, to make sure it’s in proportion to itself and to the general size of the other models - because we know those work, fit where they need to and feel right. There’s no right or wrong curve, just what looks right to the designer’s eye – and my eye has a very specific thing it’s looking for when it comes to flowing lines. I’ll stand the template piece up against a shelf and walk by it for a month if I have to, stopping every now and then to erase and redraw an inch of that body until it says “Right, this is it.” There will be variation and it may even change again, but the first steps onward are toward “great,” not “good enough.”

I still use some original Birdsong templates, or revised ones from after subtle changes. Every now and then the hand craft nature of the way we do it means (for example) a horn might be slightly different by the time it’s done, the little variations in each step adding up, and sometimes you look and think “That’s the prettiest horn tip ever.” And you make a new template that has that one. I have literally stacks of body templates from my years of building, going back 22 years. I’ve probably actually only built maybe 50 models. On the SD Curlee side of things I have some original aluminum body templates from 1975 and a bunch of plywood from years and models that followed. I look at those as museum pieces; I look at the ones from my history like a book of pictures of times and trail heads. “Oh wow, that was ’97 and I was going to…” “Hey look, the guitar line I wanted to do in 2003!”

OK. So it starts with plywood. What wood will the body be? In my world the neck is almost always going to be maple (we’ll talk necks next week) with either maple or rosewood board. But the body? I can’t list all the woods that have been used or the reasons. Some are better to work than others, some end up contributing a little bit in a great way toward tonal desires, there’s weight to consider, and of course which visual flavor and how plain or wild the grain is. Other times a client may have fond memories under a cherry tree, or I might look at a piece and see some combination, a visual or sonic recipe to craft. The body wood has influence, but mostly by its characteristics – soft lightweight woods generally accent this and attenuate that, denser woods will bring out this other thing and behave differently in this frequency range. So it’s a seasoning in a big sonic soup. But in my experience, woods of similar density will bring similar performance ingredients – they don’t know what name they have been given. And I don’t even have to either, honestly. Occasionally I find what I call “Corner boards” where I shop, random stuff in dusty corners, and based on suitability I’ll just add it to the pile. If the wood guy doesn’t know, we call it hickory or maple and on the ticket it goes. Here it becomes (insert a few notes of low, ominous cello) “Mystery wood.” Once it’s figured out what wood or woods will make up the body, it’s time to prep the planks for cutting into blanks.

Standard woods we get in long planks at a little more than half body width, sometimes full body width for one-piece bodies. That’s getting more and more difficult to find. For builds I know will be multiple pieces with laminate stringers etc., I use different criteria for selecting the wood stock. I get in my ’74 Dodge pickup or ’83 Ford van and go to my source warehouses and pick out the big planks by hand. They still talk to me. Surprisingly, the folks there still do too! More exotic woods I order in and come on a big brown truck, and local Texas woods I saddle up and head off to rural mills in the hills or in search of a RWG – a Rural Wood Guy. These characters out in the Deep South woods, they’re stories for another time. But they know more about the woods they know than anyone you’ll ever meet.

For the basic 2-piece we’ll talk about to keep it simple, once the plank is back at the workshop I’ll do some order of cutting down and planning to body thickness. I’ll then lay out the halves using the body template of the model this wood will become. Once I’m happy with the grain orientation and how the center joint will look, it goes on in Sharpie and we commit to the cut. That’s big – some of this wood is not cheap. And the process is not for the faint of heart. To make a sculpture you can stand intimidated by how to make this thing look like a bird, or you can get carving and cut away – very carefully – everything that doesn’t look like one. It’s already in there; you have to free it. If this wood can’t stay a tree, then it’s been handed to me to WORK. So after measuring twice, on it goes in ink. “To the bandsaw, Robin!” The more rustic planks out of the mills and the wood hunters’ back yards… heck, sometimes their FRONT yards…well, sometimes I start those builds with a chainsaw.

So now, cut out of the plank are body halves. But they’re not cut to final shape yet – they’re cut so the wood’s side edge (what will be the center joint when the halves are brought together) is straight, and the outer curves of the body shape are cut with extra wood left on there for flat spots when possible, for clamps to go up against. Let’s back up a minute – when laying out bodies or body pieces to get out of a plank, you either go by grain or feature, where you use the best looking sections – or by maximum yield on a more plain, more straight grained piece, where you nestle the curves of the drawn halves into and up against each other to get as many sets (bodies) as possible out of the whole plank. That can be some tricky cutting too. Sometimes on the more rustic woods you’re just working around huge cracks or holes or bark to get what you CAN out of the structurally good sections. Sometimes you can cut around the pieces leaving blocky areas that clamps will grip nicely during glue-up, and sometimes there are other solutions. Cauls are wood pieces cut to fit against the curves of body shapes on one of their sides with the other left flat – again for the head of the clamp to grip. Sometimes the wood gives you two rectangular halves to glue into a blank, nice and simple. Ideally though, you are thinking a step or two ahead while you mark it to cut and don’t make the steps to follow more difficult to execute. You set yourself up for the shot. I can’t tell you how much all of this relates to life and business, and how much of both has been taught to me by the steps of building an instrument.

Then, the surfaces to be joined go across a jointer so they’re perfectly flat, smooth, and square, and the body halves are glued and clamped. Every woodgnome has their favorite clamps – for me they’re little red Besseys to keep the two glued halves’ edges from slipping out of surface alignment and long orange Jorgensens to clamp the halves together. I like to put the glued body blanks (now they’re blanks, not planks – the first stage of guitar body vs. the final stage of tree) in the Texas sun when possible for a few hours while the glue sets up. The next day, off come the clamps, any glue squeeze-out is shaved off the center where the halves are now one, and the bandsaw cut this time is to the line we traced on with the body template. Some time on the oscillating spindle sander to smooth those curves free of blade marks and bumps and that body goes over on the routing bench with the next few that are waiting for routing too.

I don’t like to waste wood – the leftovers from the blank-making process and body cutout can become center pieces or stripes (“stringers”) for future bodies, pieces of woodcraft, slices that become control cover plates and other trim pieces and covers for builds to come, boxes of cutoffs put aside for other craftspeople who use smaller pieces, or offerings that engage all the senses in their blaze of glory in an evening campfire. In the case of natural (untreated for insects) mesquite or pecan, you can cook over it. Or soak it and grill with it. The chips and sawdust woodshop sweepings go out on the paths or to friends who compost.

Next week we talk necks and routing into sanding. Stay tuned! And crank up The Cars… I mean I get it, I’m old enough for the singer of the cars to die. But I can NOT be old enough for the singer of The Cars to be 75! RIP Ric Ocasek, your music will crank out of my old 6x9s until it’s my turn on the shore. The rest of you, go DO something. Go make something happen! Go get started on an intimidating project – by the time you’re done you’ll know how to do it. It’s one thing to survive the weekend – you go LIVE some of it. Let the good times roll.

Listening to: Eddie Money, The Cars, Keith Richards Main Offender, Springsteen autobiography audiobook.

Part 1: Inspiration

Friday the 13th! What a great day… what a productive week! This week on the news page blog, running steady now for who-the-hell-remembers how long, we begin a series on how a Birdsong comes to be with a far out attempt to describe inspiration. Enjoy & have a great weekend!

Inspiration. Nothing happens without it. This is the first in a series of bits about how a Birdsong comes to be – specifically, because this is the Birdsong site and Birdsong has been most of my life for most of 20 years. There was the chapter before the company and after it; that’s a big line in my life, July 4th 2004. But the whole thing started in 2000, or 1997, or 1988, or 1982… well, I digress. Point is every happening happened because of some inspiration and all of those actions – and inspiratiiadded up to a path to follow. Being as I followed, it is also at this point a path we can look back on too. Not too much; I’m more of a “Be here now” kind of guy, because that’s where all the action is and where tomorrows are made. Birdsong’s beginnings and the path back from there are getting a bit hazy, but the creative process and its inspiration – and the inspiration FOR it – are ever present.

Inspiration. It can be a thought about a type of instrument’s form or function, a curve that catches the eye, a model name, a tonal quest; then you’re off. It turns to pen on paper, lines, notes, a concept. Here form always follows function – meaning no matter what the seed of sitting down and putting all of this together on paper was, eventually the eyes will look at that upper horn and re-draw it as necessary to cover the point in space where the upper strap button needs to be in relation to the neck so the thing will balance decently on a strap. And one looks at the leg area and makes sure it’s as far forward as possible without turning the cutaway and lower horn – cut away as much as possible for upper fret access – into something that looks like a dog’s dick. You can see how there are fundamentals to a functionally good shape; so when chatboard pundits pipe in “Ohhh my Gooooaaaad, it looks like a (insert other brand)!” No, the design they’re critiquing, the one they’re referencing, and all the others that are similar… that’s the family of what an instrument that will balance and sit well looks like, as designed by people who understand that sort of thing. It would be kind of like saying all pickup trucks look the same. Well, they have similarities yes – due to how they work. Due to the aspects that MAKE them good functioning pickup trucks! These are shared traits. But one tries to put a different spin on that family familiarity by doing it their way, with their subtly own points and curves. On a curvy bass, if the inspiration is a visual one, maybe it’s the fender opening sweep of an old Dodge or ’60 Starliner that stretches into the swoop of a ‘30s Hispano-Suiza in the curve of the leg cut. It’s like hearing a bass run from Justin Chancellor over a drum fill, hearing a few notes of it and going, “Heck, I could make a song out of that!” And you do, and by the time it’s all shaped in it’s not in note by note identifiable form anymore… but it’s in there. It’s in there deep, at some creative DNA level. Anyhow, that’s where I usually start if I am inspired to see new curves – with that curve and the essence of an automotive design influence.

Inspiration. The overall Birdsong inspiration was because I am a small guy and was never comfy with a bass strapped on. I started as a guitar player but the switch to bass was my ticket out of town, into the biz, and on to the ride of chasing the dream. Playing bass paid and was needed everywhere I went. But when you’re 5’3” the tools suck! “It’s a poor painter who blames his brushes.” Stick it. Go put on your father’s shoes and try to run a marathon and tell me all about it. What I wanted was a short scale bass that balanced and was comfortable ergonomically, was built for professionals, and sounded great. It seemed I could pick any two of those at best, with the remaining need so far out of whack it couldn’t be modded away to my satisfaction. I figured there were others in similar situations or of any physique that were tired of having ’72 Buicks strapped on and holding up the neck all night. After a bit and the first few rather crude but great sounding 6-string guitars were manifested off the workbench, a friend asked for a small bass that would be comfy for a guitar player to use when recording. I jumped at the chance to bring some of those ideas to life, and it worked! Inspiration, ideas, a concept, and the spark. Then it takes real form. These days it usually starts with a concept of use. I can put any shape around the basic Birdsong neck / structure / hardware and it will – so long as that point is here and this curve is there – hang great and be comfy. I’ve drawn a hundred versions of which you’ve seen maybe 25. I’m not searching for the basic working form, or a variation anymore. I’m looking at “What would the highest end Birdsong with all the carving & custom touches “form” like?” “What would the most basic essential characteristics of a Birdsong strip down into with no frills?” “What would the ultimate ‘Swiss Army knife’ for the studio have for pickups?” Those concepts are my doorway in now. But it all started with a need, with tools that didn’t fit or function their best. And the quest… to manifest!

Inspiration. It is followed by perspiration. Like a chef, you gather the ingredients and types of components of your end dish that will make it its best. Wood is chosen and worked, an instrument is put together, and that’s when you see what of your concept, your idea as a whole, worked – and what of it does not. Sometimes it just doesn’t work with how it touches the body in an area or one component is working against another, or that pickup could be back a hair to bring a little more of whatever out. Now your inspiration is to make this whole thing better. So it gets refined. Whether via want or need, they combine where good design gets factored in and the edgy reinventions of the wheel – goofing around too much with what already works great – gets perhaps sanded a bit or redrawn so it doesn’t now poke you in the sternum every time you sit down with it. Now the inspiration is “Don’t F it up with the new great ideas.” That goes for design, that goes for keeping going as a business too. For someone like me, I’m great at getting things started. I love refining designs. Starting over is way more comfortable than settling in where things are working just fine. If the song’s great stop adding stuff to it. If the mix is beautiful, quit turning the knobs. There are literally a dozen guitar companies I want to start, to quest for their little glory in their own niches, to feel that thrill again of the chase. But there is only only one me, and I am inspired for the first real chapter like this in my life, now that it’s strapped on and comfortable, now that great music is being made, now that the mix is just right, to keep THAT happening.

Inspiration. I realize it’s absolutely nutty to view the world and life in bass guitars, but from here in the bubble it makes total sense. That bill is two basses. This grandfather clock top would look great as a butt cut on a body. That old car is three Birdsongs. I look at every piece of furniture and wonder how many Cortobass bodies I could get out of it, or which bit of natural character deserves perfect placement with whatever else I can get out of it a secondary concern. Maximum yield vs. artistically placed? The judgment I apply to every flat board I see whether it’s already made into something else or not. I’m sizing up your door on the way in. You think I’m enjoying your pasta and beans, and I am, but I’m eyeing your grandmother’s dining room table. It deserves to sing too.

Inspiration. I dream body shapes. Hell, I’ve dreamed entire instruments – the Odyssey? That first fretless Odyssey was directly from a vision in dreamtime! Woods, grain orientation, plate shapes, body, pickup and location, no frets, the hardware… and I nailed it. That bass, as it is, wherever it is, literally came out of a dream. Sadhana shape? Dream/vision. It happens with sentences and song parts too – this is no different, the lines just form shapes instead of letters into words or moving notes, and the brain takes it from there. So anywhere from the practical feel in the hands all the way out to the far out, at any moment through any crack in the movie set, inspiration comes in. You call it what you will, I’ll call it what I will. But it’s real and I offer gratitudes to it because the manifestation of such things has literally changed my life. If you’re on the field and don’t fumble, you get more balls thrown to you. There are great mysteries out beyond the skin and surface and sometimes the wind from a wing feather tickles your perception. You look down and there is a feather. “Pick it up, monkey boy. Write the song. Your hands are here to make ripples not entirely your own.” Be a good tool and the flow finds YOU.

Inspiration. I’m inspired to share this with you because not everything, however mundane, starts with a dude in a tie in the marketing department. Those people have their place, and that concept may enter in as a seasoning here or there more or less, but art and craft as a source is not always the same tame strain that comes in down that assembly line somewhere. It’s everywhere. I used to tell my students stuck on the bank of the creative river, “The next sign you see, write down the letters in it that could be chords, in order. There’s your chord progression. If it doesn’t sound right to you, play it backwards…” Take it from there.

Next week? We take it to the plank and trim it to the blank.

P.S. Crank up some Eddie Money – he passed this morning.

“You are part of the soundtrack to my life. So long as I breathe, I'll be driving '70s machines with your tunes cranking. Condolences to the family and circle, and Godspeed sir.”

Awakenings

Those of you who are dealing with the hurricanebe safe and know you’re in our thoughts. Extended Birdsong family please check in and let us know how you are doing!

The first cool dawn in a while came to us deep down in Texas this week. Cool is a relative term – it wasn’t time to shake out the flannel shirts yet, just a little cool on the skin on the other side of the door from where you get used to it being for a few months when you’re here. Fall connects us with the passing of time, of life’s chapters, but within that its beauty. We don’t get a fall here – it cools a bit from broil and then one afternoon the colder wind moves in and the temperature goes down 20 or 30 degrees, or you wake up to a 50 degree morning and that’s where things stay, about ten on either side of that. We have our spells and sometimes it freezes for a couple of days but it’s a mild winter we have. After the survival test of summer I am always grateful for signs of cooler temperatures and an old fuzzy flannel shirt is a wonderful thing.

I do these little missives for Friday most of the time, so before we speak again we will cross over September 11th. The big 9/11. Last week’s thoughts were partly about knowing exactly where one was during an event that was bigger than anything you’d previously known. A tragedy that probably wasn’t even yours but was BIG and set a marker down on the path of your life when you heard about it. Every generation has theirs and everybody has their own markers for their heroes or celebrities or artists they followed until THAT moment left its mark in YOUR life. Of anyone who was alive and aware in the States, I imagine most of them have a 9/11 moment. Those on scene, only those who’ve experienced war scenes can imagine. And all those all over with direct losses of family or friends… that’s a horror. But we all felt the ripples. We all got our scrapbook stamped that day, another marker along the path. In our then much smaller town here in Texas there was one particular welder who had experienced war scene trauma and we knew could be a bit off and excitable. It was a quiet morning behind the counter of my little music shop, and in he comes. “We’re under attack! They just attacked New York City!” “Thank you for telling me – I’ll check it out. It’s probably going to be OK, man.”

I figured the man got triggered by a news report of something and went off. But no. I walked next door to the tile store and they were watching it on a TV set. “Oh. My. God.” I came back to the shop and immediately started calling everyone I knew. “You OK?” “Yeah, I’m OK. You OK?” We were nowhere near it, we just needed to connect with our connections and feel that and make sure we were OK in our own skin, you know? It was a difficult moment to be alone as the scope of the events unfolded and it pulled you off balance. For all the tragic effects on so many lives and the ways it scarred and changed the world as we knew it before, so many woke up that day and really awakened in the days and weeks that followed. They changed their lives. They patched up differences. They got healthy. They took time. They grew patient. They re-prioritized. They started new hobbies. They deepened. They let go of other fears holding them back. They decided damn it they WOULD open themselves up to love, to connection, to community, to coming together, to service. Neighbors’ differences became very small and a reaching out was a reaching out whoever the hand was being reached out by. So many lives changed in ways that then changed so many lives. This is the re-seeding of the forest after the fire, the rebirth after the flood. Springtime always comes. The dawn always follows the dark. There is, eventually, through often very painful processes and un-asked-for reshuffling of lives and situations, beauty that will grow from the ruins of even unspeakable tragedy. We can’t wish the tragedy away or even fix it; all we can do is nurture those seeds inside and around us as we walk along.

Our thoughts are with all those affected by 9/11. I, as only one, who can only change and guide one, dedicate any good to come from the work I do on that day in your honor and to serve those seeds and their gardens, and their seeds, and their gardens. I hope the generations to come of all walks can find their way past any unnecessary nuttiness of our various tribes and only carry the highest and best of our fathers forward, leaving their battles in the rubble with the innocents.

*****

For the rest of this year I’m going to be writing a bit about how a Birdsong comes to be. We’re going to start at the beginning – inspiration and design, and in the weeks to follow cover the materials and the craft of the steps involved. But without inspiration nothing happens… so tune in next Friday. And maybe feel inspired to create some beauty this coming week. You can’t change what has happened; you can only be a part of changing bits of it into beauty.

Listening to: Bruce Springsteen Born To Run autobiography audiobook, CDs 6 & 7; Bob Marley & The Wailers Rastaman Vibration deluxe 2CD; Glenn Spearman Blues For Falashah; Richard Betts Highway Call.

F August 27th

This past week marked the anniversary of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s death. Not to compare the two, but it was – in my life – my first JFK experience. My mother talked about knowing exactly where she was when she heard about his assassination, and I didn’t have anything in life like that yet until I heard SRV had died. It was a pretty big thing to me at that time, and I do remember exactly where I was – back pumping gas back on the Cape in Massachusetts after my first short chapter trying to settle in Austin, TX. A customer came in a told me “Stevie Ray’s helicopter crashed.” I couldn’t believe it – I called the local rock radio station and they didn’t know anything yet. My friend Don (decades later to become “3D” here at Birdsong for a bit) walked up and I told him what was going on while I was on the phone with them… “Is it true?” “They don’t know.” But before long we knew. Stevie Ray Vaughan died on August 27, 1990. It was almost as if someone had let some air out of life for a few days. And please remember, this was a pre-9/11 world. We might touch on that for a moment next week.

In 1990 Jessi Combs would have been around 7, probably showing the little boys how to put back together the stuff they broke and stunt jumping her tricycle. Many of you have no idea who this absolute badass was, but on August 27th she died – foot to the floor, chasing a dream. At 400 miles an hour in a jet car. The racing world has its share of loss; it’s inherent in such risky pursuits. But there are a lot of them right now feeling shocked, having their SRV, their JFK moment. Feeling like someone let some air out of life. You hang around on this rock and you see the gamut – long, slow declines, sometimes even WILLING long slow declines, where dreams and goals and passion were long ago handed over… and then, over here on this other end of the spectrum, the proverbial “Blaze of Glory.” Running into fire. Moving in where most are running from. Pushing the human experience farther up, deeper down, and faster across. Moving millions with a message. It’s not easy to compare those who challenge that level of risk for sport or by default in travel to others who do it as their duty or service – but the point is this. Those snuffed out in extraordinary moments leave us with the greatest gift, to look at our own lives, realize time is on its own schedule, that our heroes are human and to make the damn list. Get up off of that couch and make something happen. It doesn’t have to be a land speed record or lives saved or the cover of Rolling Stone. We don’t all have those kinds of movies.

But we’ve got ours, and we’ve got now, and there’s something we can do to kick it up a notch. Hone your craft whatever it is you do and reach with it. Whoever you are, whatever your situation… make death take you down moving. On the way from a gig, foot to the floor in pursuit of your dream, writing that book, changing that person’s tire by the side of the road, or just walking to get healthy as ironic as that would be. Be heading toward something with some drive in you. Go write a song. Go SING a song. The world doesn’t need another America’s Got Talent winner – it needs us all to push up through the dirt in the garden and turn that light and that rain into something.

It’s the end of August, and what a busy month it has been here! The thought of a total break – that was gone in the first week. I’m feeling too good. I’m getting too much done. There’s too much to do and I love doing it. I know I love doing a little too much a little too much; I’m very grateful that part of me focused on building guitars. Into September we go!

Listening to: Lots of old Bill Evans solo albums and Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography audiobook (CDs 5 and 6).

Green IS a Happy Color

Green IS a happy color. Some of my favorite things in life are green. There is green I generally have nothing to do with, green the day I never have to be bothered with it again I’ll be thrilled, and green I never want to see on the outside of my sandwich. The first two are up top of many lists of favorite greens and there’s no doubting the usefulness of other strains of the third. My favorites, however, are a bit different.

The green tinted cover of John Coltrane’s 1962 Coltrane album – at least the version on my CD of it – the man’s expression expressly expresses his expressions inside the music. In a supernatural catalog of sonic work, this is one of my favorites. Just incredible, alive, vibrant music being captured being created.

On that note, the woods. So much in the woods is green and shows its life that way and helps with other life where it is allowed to be and messed with as minimally as possible. To live rurally within such a garden with your sense and senses about you is connecting in ways difficult to describe. It’s a womb with a view. There are many places I’d like to see but nowhere I would rather be. Walden was the little book that introduced me to the concept and planted the seeds that took to make sure I never did live a live of quiet desperation. My favorite copy? A tiny green Shambala pocket edition that has been with me on some epic personal journeys.

And out in the woods is a little green workshop! Like any sanctuary or good vessel of freedom, it has a name – Wingfeather. Out of it and the companion building next to it come the Birdsongs and SD Curlees and other guitars & basses we are so blessed to manifest. The shop was raised by an intentional community circle in 2007 and is magical to work in with its huge windows and doors open, the breeze coming through and the sounds of birds outside (and occasionally inside as well). My spaces are my temples, so they all end up adorned with all manner of talisman; on the front of Wingfeather is a favorite sculpture from a friend and mentor Adideva Haydn Larson. It is also green.

Sarge is a ratty old ‘70s style street machine and my main driver. His fatigues are tattered and worn and I named him in honor of who he came from, and partly for those in fatigues of his era who never returned to drive the machines waiting in their garages or that they dreamed of buying when they came home. He is a 1974 Plymouth Road Runner. My cousin Jimmy had a red one that blew my mind as a kid, and my stepfather Jay briefly owned a ’70 that was dark green. I mostly remember cars of this era how they looked after 10 years of abuse and east coast winters – a lot like Sarge. Which is why he has been allowed to remain looking like he does; because it makes the kid in me SO happy. I rumble around strapped into this time machine, look at the goofy cartoon bird on the dashboard emblem, and can’t help but smile.

The Coleman camp stove is a brilliant piece of simplicity, a green metal box you can take anywhere and have a kitchen. A sturdy piece of gear. People ask what influences are in the Cortobass and they’re shocked when I don’t mention other brands or names until long after “…antique car wheel openings and the Coleman camp stove.” Buy one at the next yard sale and learn how to work it. I can almost “Before & after” my life to the point I was informed that it existed.

I’ll mention Claussen Kosher Dill halves, just a spectacular pickle experience, and that the earth laughs in peppers. There isn’t space or typing finger left to go into peppers. But I will tell you that Castelavetrano olives are bright green orbs of fragrant flavor and the absolute best green olives I’ve ever tasted. Brighter green than the regular old green olives one finds fake pimenti crammed into, they have layers of flavor much like a good wine does, enough to make one want to go to Sicily for a sample of a fresh one alone. I’m going to go to the fridge and have a few right now. It’s 9AM. That’s how good they are. Then I’m putting on Coltrane and in the shop I go! Have yourself a great weekend and do something fun with something green.

Listening to: John Coltrane, Coltrane; Sly & The Family Stone at the Isle of Wight festival 1970; RL Burnside, My Black Name a Ringin’.

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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