Names Of Things...

Well hello! For this week’s news page update, here are the stories behind 5 names you’ll see in the world of Wingfeather, the name of the workshop and (for paperwork/biz purposes) the name of “The Company” that builds Birdsongs, SD Curlees, D’Aquilas, and anything else we have going on at any moment.

Cortobass. “Corto” is Italian for short, and was the name I was planning to use from the beginning of my tinkering with short scales in the ‘90s. I saw a gap in the market for a really nice but “General business” (not $10K with 20 woods and 15 knobs, something for the wedding gig or the blues jam) short scale bass, so I knew I was going to make one and “Cortobass” just rolled off the tongue… since the recipe was refined and the first one flew in 2004, they’ve been rolling out of the workshop since! A little trivia for you, once the Cortobass established itself I wanted to expand on it with other models similar but just leaned in different directions visually & tonally. What became the Fusion, with its warm & woody voice, was originally going to be called the Caldobass… Caldo being Italian for hot!

Sadhana. This is one of our fanciest designs – it has been its own model at times, but never really had its own specific pickup arrangement. It shared the single/hum Cortobass setup mostly, and I referred to it as “…a Cortobass with a ground effects kit”, like as if the Cortobass was a really good Camaro and the Sadhana was that car dressed up with Ferrari spoilers and fancy wheels. With an oval Delano and a carved scroll horn it was the Bliss. It’s in our lineup of body shapes you can order a custom with. The word itself is Sanskrit, with no accent on any syllable (I usually pronounce it sa-DHA-na, but it’s actually SA-DHA-NA), and translates roughly into “Spiritual practice”, the rituals of offerings & meditations one might do first thing in the morning, centering before sunrise in service. If music is my path, the creation of the tools for it is about as deep as one can go. It was originally (and I think the first 3 made as) the “Shanti” model, which means “Peace”… but that was being used already, however obscurely, and we had to change it.

Fusion. This is easy – it was a fusion of the structure of the Cortobass with the tonal influence of a jazzy upright bass, as if the essences (essi?) of these were combined. Sometimes when two different things are combined it becomes what I call an “El Camino compromise” where, though cool and fun, it results in the worst of each and a definitely compromised whole. Part car, part truck… you now have a car with no covered trunk or back seat, and a truck that is basically on a car chassis and won’t carry half a truck’s load without wallowing around. Stylin’ ride but not a great compromise if you’re looking for the BEST of both. The Fusion is the opposite – it worked great, and visually I wanted it to look like it sounded, woody but electric. So that was the “fusion” that ultimately became called the Fusion, and it became my personal favorite! A what-if that worked.

Hy5. “High five.” “Hybrid 5.” Yes. And yes. Hybrid 5 because it’s a crossing of a little short scale with the whole big 5-string thing which are mostly full 34” scale basses and larger. I wanted a mix of that response & the big notes WITH the ergonomic package you get in a short scale, especially in a Birdsong. “High five” because – we did it!

And the big one…

Birdsong. Many would guess we are named after the beautiful Grateful Dead song. Nope. Now there WAS a guitar model I prototyped in the ‘90s with that as a model name, but - though I do love some good Dead - I’ve had a thing for birds much longer than I’ve had a thing for them. So the word was around in my head, but why and how it became the name of this little bass guitar company that changed my life goes like this. My life of following music’s path has been one of chapters. At the end of one (which is always the beginning of another), truly going back to the land felt like the most right thing to do, to begin again from somewhere true to what I was feeling inside. So I ended up in-between with some things behind me I had to heal from, a tomorrow of uncertain opportunities, and a “now” of transformation with some raw rural Texas land to plant myself in like a seed to regerminate. It was difficult but I knew as I built it that it would build me into who I was to become – into who I HAD to become to be any measure of independent and self-sufficient, to get anything done, to get on with a life of DOING in a world full of talk. I needed the inner tools - AND the outer tools - I didn’t have, and this is where I would find them and learn to use them to make things happen in my own life. It’s a build it or buy it world, and I knew I was going to have to build the whole thing if I was going to stay on this path. So the land was where I made my promises and took my stand. And at its lowest moments of greatest tests, my most basic faith and trust was this - I knew if the birds were still singing it was all going to work out… that there was hope and a new day and this is what free creatures do - so get up and get on with it if you want to be one. The first day of that was the first day of the rest of my life.

And now you know… the rest of the story!

Listening to: Lightning Hopkins and old RL Burnside.

Don't Worry, It's Not Friday Yet!

Well it feels like the Texas summer has lost its fire a bit and what to most of you is early fall (we have no such thing) has brought the rains. Glorious rain! Living out rurally under very dry southern conditions, rain brings us a peace it’s hard for city & suburb dwellers to know. Like many ways, living close to the land puts you very close to nature and this incredible setup of circles & cycles that all works to its own rhythm and has its own rhyme; you fall in with it at least somewhat or you fail out here, it’s as simple as that. You give the terrain and time of year and temperature your respect or it takes you out. It brings its own challenges, but September rains ease a bit of that for sure.

This is the time of year when I look back over my shoulder at the year so far and ahead to what can realistically be finished in what remains of it, make a game plan and throw myself and the workshop at it “balls out” as they say. Thankfully for all involved that is not to be taken literally – folks might get a little testy, heh heh. But we’re rolling strong, though I do want to thank you all for your patience as things have rolled a little differently this year after so many at almost 24/7. A bit slower than I thought but I’m not going to be of much use to anyone if I try to run the road like it’s still 1995 and I’m still that guy who has to move the mountain. That mountain moved. Now starting to look forward at needing to maintain at a pace more sane, I took what I could of weekends and started really trying to… well, SLEEP – both firsts in my life of keeping things rolling. I punched my last time clock in my 20s, and though I understand that grind well, when you go your own way it requires YOU to be consumed as fuel.

Even decades in it still does if you’re the quarterback, if you’re the Stephen Stills of the band, if you’re the Captain Manyhands. There IS no clocking out. So while I’m actually getting good stretches of sleep and working into that, and there haven’t been ANY night shifts in 2018, there have still been reeeeeally early mornings – as any seeker on a path knows, that is when the deepest work is done. It sets you up to be up at that time getting yourself together and then hitting the day with the inertia of steadiness in your who and why; then you bring & APPLY that to what needs to be done. It sets up a very productive day when the sun has to rise to greet you and you’re already into your list for the day. The hours are still long, because I still love what I do and there’s this glorious pile of build sheets I have the privilege to be working through bringing to life and looking forward to… all of this blessing and I am very, very grateful.

And I’m very grateful for you and for all of the everyday heroes mixed in past, passed and present – those who walk among us in times of relative calm but when big things happen fast they throw themselves at the situation to help, running the other direction, often risking their own very lives to help others they don’t even know… who might not look or talk like they do, might even (gasp) vote differently. Imagine that. It’s a heavy week in the history of our nation, one in which so much was lost, but so many awakened. It was difficult NOT to have shifts in priorities, importance of dreams, and things personally that needed to change all bubble up inside of us with the emotion of the moment. Many life paths were altered by what happened but many more by its ripples. I’ve known some who completely changed life paths in the weeks and months that followed, or were moved to do things that THEN changed their whole lives, and affected the lives of others, and of those yet to fill the chairs of tomorrow’s dreams… the people, heroes, and seekers yet to come. Spread far on the winds like seeds to bloom and beautify… by tragedy. Amazing how that happens. I will forever remember where I was, and so will they. Wherever any of you are today, I wish you wellness – wholeness – and beauty in your gardens.

This is up a day early on Thursday this week as the computer is going to be shut down for 3 or 4 days, so if you need to get a hold of me call me on the phone like the old days – (512) 395-5126. It might shock you, but I don’t text. So call. And if you don’t leave a message, I won’t know who you are or that you called! So please leave one and I’ll get right back with you post haste, forth with, and ipso facto. If you follow on Facebook, I’ll give y’all Monday’s sunrise inspirational post to get you started on kicking Monday’s ass so the rest of the week falls in line for you and you feel good about that here now, so you can start working on it over the weekend. After all, why wait ‘til the last minute? And I’ll leave you with this until we talk again next week.

“Be strong along your path but malleable enough to be shaped and sharpened by it into who will be needed when you get where it goes.”

Listening to: Lots of Delta Blues – Mississippi Fred McDowell, early RL Burnside, Jack Owens, Bukka White.

A Part Of The Wood's Journey

Having just run a batch of 8 bass bodies across the benches, that’s what’s fresh on my mind. Here’s some of what goes on between the plank and the finishing oil.

Wood selection – there are a few woods I use more than others (mahogany, walnut, and Spanish cedar) but sometimes others are offered or requested, and sometimes combinations of woods are spec’d out. These could be in the form of tops (different wood on the face than the main body), stringers (Bernie Rico’s term for strips included as stripes), or maybe a center block with the outers of the body (“wings”) of a different wood. All of these woods need to be sourced and selected. I keep a stock on hand of some woods I select by the long plank at a specialty lumber warehouse up in the big city and truck back to the nest in my old Dodge truck; others like the Texas woods like mesquite or pecan I locate at various spots a bit more rural, and the exotics I get from all over the country. A number of times a build has begun with a chainsaw in my hands – though, like engine swaps, I try not to subject the hands to that kind of abuse these days. 

Layout & blank prep – in different orders according to the wood sizes and condition and how it will be used, it – now looked at with an eye toward the pieces it will be - is measured and marked, rough cut, planed to thickness, trimmed to dimension, and then edge prepped & joined as one piece. Done correctly, the glue joints will be stronger than the wood around them. Though claimed to be good for much longer, I buy the wood glue in small quantities so it’s used up or rotated out to less structural uses every few months. Now we’ll have, with maybe a final trim and shave, a rectangle that’s really a guitar or bass body – just with everything that’s not the shape we want still attached! Our usual body is 2-piece, with a center join. 99% of what we do gets a natural finish and that just looks best, to have the two halves’ grain and color flow together and come together dead center. Under paint and a thick plastic coating you can get away with anything – when it’s all there to be seen, what is to be seen matters! 

Cut & edge – Once the absolute center is marked with a sharp pencil and a mm ruler (I always do the fine work in millimeters, working in complete numbers eliminates a whole lot of potential for errors in figuring out what half of 3 and 13/64ths is, etc.), out come the old plywood templates of body shapes. Line ‘em up, trace ‘em round, cut ‘em out on the bandsaw and get the body edge smooth and right all the way ‘round. Sometimes when cutting the blank from the plank a chunk is put aside to slice a thin piece for a headstock veneer from or to make a piece of woodcraft out of. Sometimes what might look good as stringers in another build are made from the cutoffs. What won’t be used is burned in late night campfires or as the workshop area equivalent of incense, with the smell of burning wood smoke wafting in through the open workshop doors. 

Rout & round – This is where the body crosses over from being “Wood from a tree becoming something” to “A guitar body that just isn’t done yet.” Using a small hand held plunge router, some chisels, a few bits, and some templates – some made here in the shop too – the pockets for the neck, the pickups, and the controls are routed away and the body’s edge gets rounded over… this move is the real moment it starts looking like an instrument to me, when the edges all go away and turn to curves. At this time I also mark the neck pocket for its holes, and drill long holes connecting the pickup cavities (and for the under-bridge ground wire) to the control cavity. This is done with a long bit, a shallow angle and a good eye. 

Drillout – The body then gets put over by Uncle Johnny Kirtland’s old drill press and there the neck mounting holes are drilled & countersunk, and on some the string-through-body holes are drilled through with a follow up drilling on the back for the ball-end eyelets that get hammered in during assembly.

Carving & shaping – After this with grinder, rasps, spokeshaves, and whatever is the best tool for the wood and curve at hand in the moment, the forearm contour, belly cut and any other special contours are dressed away. This is where I hand the body off for…

Sanding… to one of the expert, focused, total detail-oriented pairs of hands in the Birdsong circle that gets this grueling and tedious task done so I can jump on any of a hundred other things I need to be doing and actually enjoy. Truly if not for wife Jamie, mystery retired furniture maker man, or any of the others who have helped over the years – most who’ve done their time with the paper and the hand-held random orbital - I may be the nutty professor and Captain Manyhands but left to me to sand everything, this would have only been a hobby.

The body now has changed from slabs of tree into a shaped and sanded form, a “chassis” of a guitar or bass-to-be. It is ready for finishing, then assembly, and onward out into the beginning of its new life and journey. It entered the workshop in a state of in-between, uncertain, unpurposed, unfocused in its potential. It will leave the workshop a honed and polished part of something bigger, to serve the music to come. I relate to its journey very much and serve IT.

Listening tosome you’re probably not! : Fleetwood Mac Future Games; RL Burnside My Black Name A-Ringin’; some Howlin’ Wolf; and Stephen Stills’ 1st album… which has been a favorite for a long time.
 

Comin' Home

After more than a decade, the old guitar of a friend long gone has made it home to the nest. 

As with any tool that comes with fingerprints of the loved and departed on it, the first were replaced in a special way. Being conscious of the gravity of a moment makes it its own little ceremony. In this case sweet memories of good times, some cheap grapey merlot, and 12 year old strings bent once more for some good blues... a music he liked and a proper handing off in physical absentia for it to be continued. If a man could be cloned from crusty finger cheese off an old customized Kay guitar I would not – his time was his time and believe you me a time was HAD. 

You hang around and among the sunrises and quests and laughter, people go… what is left of any of us really comes down to ripples and fingerprints. The ripples, tangible only in results in and motion forward through lives like so many seeds in gardens casually tossed as we go… and fingerprints. What did they touch? To put my fingers there in the continuing life of the tool or the task, even waves reshape as they claim the footprints from the shore. This is a moment of great respect, a last and a first, an end and a beginning. I absorb your dust into my livity. I will finish burning that candle. I will use that tool. I will play this guitar with the strings still on it from the last notes he played – a continuation of his song. A hand off like in jazz when the trumpet is lowered and backed away from the spotlight and the sax player steps forward, takes a deep breath, and begins.  

Out from under the bed it came – more closure for all involved. Besides it being the guitar I most associated with him because of his modifications to the headstock (it got its feathers in wood on its headstock about the same time I got mine in ink on my arm), and it being a quirky and fragile old piece that will be fun to play with, the magic for me really is what’s all over it and crusted up and down those rusty strings. What a gift those fingerprints are, to have more after so long. We have the honor to touch their traces one more time. In the Jewish tradition when you visit someone’s grave, you put your little pebble on the headstone. This says “I am here – I visited. You mean something and you are not forgotten.” 

Though more talisman than tool, I will replace the broken high E string and start playing this old guitar back to life after its long rest – picking it up, holding it, chording and soloing where he chorded and soloed. I will – after what to the universe may have been a blink or a quick fill and the crash of a cymbal - step up, take a deep breath... and begin. 

Listening to: Lots of vinyl, in addition to a pretty steady https://krtu.trinity.edu/ diet. Spirit Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus; Stanley y su Guitarra Spanish & English Instrumentals; Guy Clark Old No. 1; Gordon Lightfoot If You Could Read My Mind; Neil Young On The Beach; War Why Can’t We Be Friends; and Charlie Daniels Band Nightrider, which turned out to be a SMOKIN’ Allman-esque blaze of dual guitar southern rockin’ excellence from 1975. And also helping me through this very hot, very productive week has been the old Heart Greatest Hits and – of course – Aerosmith Rocks... a wonderful album to build things to.
 

Technology Can Suck Sometimes...

And here we enter the great computer crash of 2018. Has to happen now and then. We'll have it sorted out shortly... for now, to contact Scott CALLS ONLY (no texts) to 512-395-5126. Thanks!

UPDATE FRIDAY 8/24 - back up, eccentric computer guys are usually pretty good because they speak code and circuit... here are a couple of things to hold you over 'til next week. First, a show by some guys I knew when their band was called "Blues Condition" about 18 years ago. Ladies and gentlemen (...and Andrew), Amplified Heat. High octane balls out stoner trio Cream / Experience / Blue Cheer goodness with a Texas twist. Yes, those are amps behind them. Yes, they're all on. There is simply no way to open for the Ortiz brothers - ask me how I know. Brace yourselves... Coolest guys, music that makes me want to flail like a muppet, and I was SO excited to see they're still at it when I looked them up on YouTube.

And, hey I came of age with early '80s Journey - Steve Perry has come back out into the world, is releasing an album, and while the kickoff single is no "Don't Stop Believin'" or "Lights" or "Stone In Love" or... OK, I could go on and on. Fact is he's back, he's doing what he CAN do, and gave a fantastic interview to Eddie Trunk. Humble, gracious, grateful, and they even talked about this moment when Journey's current singer Arnel (quite a story and class act there too) met his idol for the first time. This is how you approach a man whose fate cast your destiny.  A wonderful interview. Have a great week folks! ~Scott

This One's For Chuck

This week, a tribute to a troubled genius who did his best and left his mark, filling the world with tools of tone as best he was able. The world of instruments lost Charles Lindert late last week. Let’s get the troubled part out of the way – not because I want this great man to be defined by that, but because if you’re given a podium in life it’s good to share what could help another. And I may not know you but I care. We all tried to cheer Chuck up, but it wasn’t until CHUCK tried to cheer Chuck up by getting into counseling and needed medication that his life actually began to brighten again.

His Facebook post from early afternoon on August 5th mentioned “…it is like coming back from a lifelong war where I fought my own mind everyday. It was like having it start up first thing in the morning and play me every rotten thing that has happened in my life and every fear and every loss endlessly while I tried to think of other things.” And “…slowly it has changed to where I do not have that endless chatter of discouragement running wide open anymore. And it has been a slow change but I can feel it. So it is now a feeling of calm in my thoughts and I can start to think of things I want to without them being drowned out.” LISTEN, if you feel that get help! Yes it’s a tough world and a rough walk, but if you feel more despair than hope find someone to talk to and don’t be embarrassed about getting treatment. It’s great he did but I can only imagine how much more he would have gotten out of and given to life had he done it years ago… Charles didn’t get to see it through; within hours he would have a stroke, and he passed Thursday Aug. 9, 2018.

I tell you about Mr. Lindert because – like others early in my journey to THIS – he took the time to offer advice and give suggestions to some young dude deciding he wants to be building guitars. He didn’t have to – he’d been absolutely REAMED by the business end of things a few years earlier, to the point his life would never recover, but instead of filling my head with horror stories he encouraged me. We talked a few times and that was that until years later I found & friended him on Facebook. We had some good talks through messages. He helped out many people in little ways he couldn’t imagine as being as helpful as they were… he always thought big. He had a big heart and was an absolute mechanical genius. His oddball thumbs-up headstocked guitars were unique, sounded amazing, and though from a different perspective (“Guitars are something a factory makes…” he saw himself as providing a good working piece to produce) I found them fascinating. I had one in my hands when I decided “I’m gonna call this guy.”

In my world, though – Chuck’s a hero. Because in the middle of his world, his company, all he worked for, his dreams, people he trusted, places he loved, all turning or being taken from him over money as Lindert Guitars was taken over and run into the ground… just pile driven... the guy hands in one more design. The Lindert Greenback is the single biggest kiss-off, the greatest F.U. I think I’ve ever seen. Years later he decoded the whole thing (for someone outside the country)...

lindertslast1.jpg

Charles Lindert, I salute you. I am honored my company, in bloom from seeds including a few you tossed my way long ago, could play some bit role in cheering you on the past few years. A few templates from your shop hang in mine, and any victories and blossoms from here are part yours too – carrying your ripples on with ours. You are responsible for thousands of instruments out into the world still being played and enjoyed and collected, and contributing to musical moments that bring folks together… may there be peace for you now. 

There are a bunch of old Linderts for sale out there – go buy one and make some music happen with it. And if your dreams turn bad, never lose your song. Go plant some more dreams and sing while you do it. If you lose your song THAT IS NOT REALITY – fix it so you can go find it again and just sing it for the joy of the song... and plant those seeds. Keep a few extras to toss in others’ lives and don’t be surprised later on if someone walks up with a fresh tomato for you when you really need it.

Listening to: Joel Scott Hill LA Getaway, cool podcasts, and the soothing drone of the AC.
 

Cookin' Up Tone!

(Just today I learned of the passing of Charles Lindert yesterday – Chuck was a genius, designed oddball guitars, had a company and gave me some early tips as I was getting into the biz. He deserves a full write-up I’ll give him here next week. Meanwhile, condolences to his family and friends from all of us here at Birdsong Guitars.)

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The past couple of weeks have found the homestead’s recently upgraded kitchen in good use, pursuing new and improved taste experiences. If you’ve asked me questions about tone I invariably bring up food; cooking in layers, seasoning, etc. Creating sound machines and cooking are parallels whether you’re a Subway assembler at either or a Chef. I’ve learned more about how to voice instruments from preparing food than anything else except maybe about preparing food from voicing instruments. 

When not trying to layer deep lows, sweet mids and clear highs – along with sustain, overtones, warmth, and richness of notes – into short scale bass guitars, “Family sauce” is one of the things that happens. There is Ragu out of a jar, and then there is this. They are the same thing but are not the same. They have similar ingredients and are used the same. What makes one better than the other for your table are whether it’s convenience or ceremony, time or skill considerations, and what the meal means and matters to you. Both have their place. But having grown up among Italians (Sicilians to be specific), in houses that smelled of oil and garlic when the front door opened at the top of the icy stairs, at some point in my adult journey I realized that it was time to develop a few sauce recipes. And I did; but now having the place to do it for real rather than on a 2-burner in a shack, it was time to go for the gusto – Sunday gravy. 

Now, Italians can argue over a head of lettuce but to me it’s sauce until you put meat in it – then it’s gravy. That’s just me. Also me is that I don’t eat meat, and though there are plant-based fake sausages and all that are fantastic and I cook and eat them all the time, I didn’t know if they would brown the way one does it before putting them in the sauce, would render down anything of value into the pan to deglaze and pour in, or would withstand the 3+ hour slow simmer the now-gravy would be in for. Talkers talk and theorize; doers do. So I got after it. Same way the bass & guitar recipes happened – I gathered what I knew, dove in, took notes, prepped the ingredients in some way before they were used to bring out their best, and took a good old-fashioned wild guess on the proportions. I like depth – it’s not just crushed tomatoes, some paste, and some dried herbs. That’s the $99 Guitar Center P-bass copy. It’ll do, it’ll cover spaghetti, it’s just not the three kinds of tomato, Italian Chianti, fresh basil, slow cooked to the sound of Sinatra extra virgin olive oil and love sauce with the sautéed garlic, seasoned in layers, and chunks of sausage and meatballs taken out and presented on the side with caramelized onions. It’s not. 

I think I’ve got a good basic recipe now I can work with, varying it with a bit more of this or that, leaning it this way or another for use on different pastas. Little thicker. Little more wine. Just like the line of basses; it’s sauce, it’s gravy. Which subtly different version will suit your ultimate plate better? It’s made of ingredients but then it becomes an ingredient in a bigger assembly – and the big bits of amazingness in life, this is often how the thought process is on the way in. It’s not just tab A into slot B, let’s eat. It’s the preparation of those then combined into something that is then layered in with other preparations, and how they all combine to work together and bring out the best in texture, flavor, aroma. Then even those as part of a plate of food are now part of a table, a moment, an interaction. A scene. An event. And what is helping that to be great goes all the way back to the first pour of the oil and the slicing of that first clove of fresh garlic. You can slap it together and it’ll work, or you can craft it and make a table full of tongues slap their faces silly trying to get those next bites in the pie holes.  

Either way and anywhere between, be grateful. If it’s God to you, thank the Heavens; if the Earth, thank the seed. If it’s all chance, thank the wheel for turning your way. Then together we eat. Mangia. 

Listening to: Boyd Rivers, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Dean Martin Sings Italian Inspired Songs, Frank Sinatra, Izzy Stradlin and the Ju Ju Hounds.