Big Dreams in Little Workshops

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

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

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

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

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

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

One For The Men in Our Circle

Hey guys, stop offing yourselves OK? I was reminded this week learning of the suicide of Keith Flint just how many grown men have chosen this as an answer in recent years. Look in the worlds of comedy, music, food culture… and those are just the famous ones. Guys, come on. I know we’re handed blueprints we’ll never live up to. I know there are chapters of change situationally and physically that are hard for us. I know we stumble. I know the difficulties of manhood… and yeah, “The Suffering of Men”, that’s not exactly going to rocket up the bestseller list right now. I get it. Whoever you are, you mean something to someone - go find them and say something.

*** (By the way, one of my clients pointed out it’s Women’s Day, and that’s just a timing we have to respectfully deal with - this happened last weekend and I do these updates on Fridays, so let’s not read any more into it. This needs to be said, and it’s an issue for all. Absolutely no slight intended.) ***

Listen, a man at his best is like an acoustic guitar – balanced between the tension of the strings and his internal bracing from implosion. This makes the best sounding guitars and the most providing and productive men. But the juice is strong and the balance precarious. We can’t all be all of that and of those who can it only happens in bursts and chapters. And I know it’s a personal decision, and one there’s a good argument that any free reasonably independent individual should have the right to make – to stay or to go. But please, open up to other men and find some better solution to wherever you feel the foundation cracking away. Go sit in a sweat lodge; take a solo road trip; go park your ass in a tent somewhere beautiful with no distractions for a few days and empty out to replenish.

We need you, whether you’re a troubled food & travel writer or the crazy looking singer of a techno band. Or just somebody who helps other people laugh. Or the guy in the office or behind the counter. The one who needs some help. We’re all a little dark and a bit damaged inside, every single one of us. There are ways through whatever the issues are, just as there was coming out of the teen years, just as there was in that late 20s recalculation so many go through. I get it, believe me. But cut it out. And yeah, 49 is a wall. But you know, I just made 50 and you can too.

I was already thinking of writing this week on how whatever you see here, whatever this looks like to you, this all formed as I kept on going. This is on the other side of a lot of seeking and searching, and sweating, and the scars. It’s no huge thing I’m some superman at the helm of as Captain Omnipotent, but it’s all big and engaging enough for you to be sitting there taking time out of your life to read it. So given that, WHATEVER AND WHEREVER my reach with this podium I’ve been given is, Ol’ Scottie Shortbass here is telling you - be good to yourself. Be cool. That damaged kid in you? Don’t hand him the keys. Those troubles? Don’t hand them your hope. Those toxic people? Don’t hand them your validity.

If you’re not happy, change – there are many options. I know we’re supposed to be the rocks of stability. Yeah it’s scary, and we’re not supposed to be scared right? Yeah it’s messy – hey, we’re supposed to be the fix-it guys right? But you’re more than you think when you’re not thinking right, and that’s life, and if you’re alive you keep going and keep growing and, ideally, evolve on up or over into the next version of who you are in this life. That’s your choice! That’s what you do when it isn’t working anymore… and you can’t do any of that if you’re dead.

It’s not an easy climb, this life. We all fall down and F up. We have our times on top of the world, and our moments underneath it. And it’s very confusing, being an age of chatter, where one ignorant opinion types out onto a screen as the equal to another reporting actual experience; the wheat out there is buried in chaff, and I hold no answers for anyone but myself… but at any point in your life, whoever you are, whatever your next hill looks like, there are answers, there is help, there are those who have navigated this part of the maze before. Find them. Talk openly to them. And most of all… listen to THOSE voices. We need you, brother. We need you.

OK, back to guitars and basses and springtime next week!

Listening to: John Coltrane A Love Supreme, Crescent, Both Directions at Once. A fantastic podcast interview with Matthew Sweet (http://www.digmeoutpodcast.com/episode/224-matthew-sweet-interview). Good insight into the world of an artist who “makes it”. And a fantastic new Joe Rogan 2 hour interview with David Lee Roth. Too many bail because they can’t follow him – but he’s a wise man, and it’s like the jester bringing you a ton of what those who’ve sought and climbed and done and seen KNOW… and presenting it to you in analogy wrapped in parable and sprinkled with anecdote. Stellar.

Pictures & Pieces

A great, productive week at the workshop – here are some captured moments. I post more pics on Facebook during the week so find & follow Birdsong Guitars… that last one is a particularly cool shot I’ll be working into one of our posts next week.

Speaking of cool shots, while looking at old pictures I found a batch of cool artsy car pictures. So for something different, here ya go! I just love curves & craftsmanship, details and how lines flow together.

Speaking of craft, the response to the book A Craftsman’s Path has been fantastic – for those who have ordered the signed copies with the bonus CDs from me, I’m working on tidying up where more song info is but it’s not ready yet. So here’s a bit more about the songs on the companion CD for now, all related to my path of craft:

Working With The Wood

My story, the story of my workshop, and one of the true craftsmen who I patterned my life after. “Are they ever really gone if their work is carried on?”

Lipton’s Cup of Uncle John

A tall tale of mis-stored remnants and the single greatest song I could write in tribute to this craftsman friend and mentor, a true original.

Good With a Wrench

To serve is to become a tool yourself… this is about a man and tools and, slowly and steadily over time, moving the world. Craft takes many forms through sometimes reluctant heroes.

Be The Blessings

Do something with your powers. “From the inside out, from the up side down / Be the blessings you believe in, and the rest will come around.”

Pebbles

”They don’t have to get you, they don’t have to like your favor - all the ones who write you off have all done you a favor.” A battle song for your validity. Smaller pebbles than us have rippled the water, my friends.

(All songs written, performed & produced by Scott Beckwith / Parking Lot Music BMI)

A Craftsman’s Path is available from AMAZON.COM for $10

Here’s the link: Buy A Craftsman’s Path from Amazon

*** OR ***

Order a signed copy with a 5-song companion CD for $20

Check to: Scott Beckwith PO Box 1745 Wimberley, TX 78676 (or Paypal $20 to: vandweller1@yahoo.com - then send your mailing address to scott@birdsongguitars.com).

A little note for those waiting on instruments from Birdsong, the leg is feeling much better than a month ago when I gingerly and hopefully stepped back into the workshop. Pace has picked back up and so has time back on my feet doing what I love in here. But the batches are smaller and the days aren’t as long. I appreciate your patience while I catch back up and get to your bass; it’ll be worth it – I guarantee that. I feel like I’m almost one good man again… not quite the two good men I ran like for the past 20 years, but I’ll take it. Thanks for being on the adventure!

Listening to: Miles Davis Kind of Blue (my absolute favorite album ever).

What Four?

2/22 – that’s a good number. I’m a numbers guy – I watch the numbers. As they fall into place, it all follows… your mileage may vary of course. 2019 is a year of fours. I’m doing as many things in groupings of 4s as possible, and it feels good. To give you some perspective, 2017 was a year of 11s; last year a year of 8s that kind of got limited to 5s. 4s is what I can maintain comfortably without grinding myself down to a nub.

Four is a number embedded into the order of things… four main directions, four seasons, from these can be woven four chapters of a life – its seasons, if you will. Four needs of survival, food, shelter, clothing, water. The four elements – earth, air, water and fire. So fours are good.

The Pythagoreans loved it, the four winds think it’s pretty cool, and who can argue with the four phases of the moon? Most of my life has been behind V8 powered vehicles, which are two banks of four, and I’ve always had a fascination with all aluminum twin cam four cylinder engines, as seen in ‘70s sports cars like the Lotus Elan, Fiat Spyder, Alfa Romeo Veloce, or more recently the Mazda Miata. Those four.

But I probably won’t get involved with any of them; the sports car jones has faded, and there’s much higher things on the list to experience. Here are some pics of some of this week’s progress on some FOUR strings!

Have a great weekend!

Listening to: John Coltrane Both Directions At Once. Wow!

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...And Deliver

Here is some glue-up action that happened this week and last. The thought that these are musical instruments headed through this amazing process of becoming and out into waiting hands to fill the world with music, that is still miraculous to me every time I walk into the shop. The day it’s not I’ll walk back out. I’ll light some incense, sanctify the work to do, wrap up my obligations and know I have spent – and have been spent – to the extent I was able and hopefully that will carry good outward and be good enough. But not yet. I feel genuine joy at getting to do what’s on my list each day, and I feel happy about THAT.

And here are four getting ready to fly. Some need a few more steps than others but I’m all over you like a bad suit…

Roger Daltrey gets it. I listened to a lot of podcasts this week, one of which was an interview with the wise, aging English rock god singer of The Who – and he said (in great sharp-tongued accent) about the artist’s perspective on fans who pay to experience what he does… the ethic of being “all in” as I call it in my book

“An artist owes it to an audience to BE there for ‘em. AND DELIVER. And if you ever stop doing that you’re taking the piss… fahkoff out the business.”

“Taking the piss” is British street slang for “Putting one over on” or making fun of or otherwise not taking something seriously with respect. And I wrote it in his accent. Read it again. It’s worth it.

“An artist owes it to an audience to BE there for ‘em. AND DELIVER. And if you ever stop doing that you’re taking the piss… fahkoff out the business.”

Go all in or get out. Get on with it or get off. That coming from a wealthy aging rock star whose ripples were permanent and immutable by the 1970s and doesn’t have to feel that way. I couldn’t say it better. If you’re taking a stage, or working a tool, or crafting something – or sweeping a floor, for that matter – at whatever level - never feel lesser than on one end because of what you aren’t, and never feel like giving lesser than on the other just because you could. Your contribution is noble and needed. So give it what you have, give it your all, give the world what you have to offer through it. Put some balls in. Or “oves” – whichever applies… but get your guts into it or find something else to do. Don’t phone it in. I found that very inspiring. We all get tired, we all get worn down. But do what you have to and keep that flame alive and get after it

Nobody expects this guy anymore, he’s well north of 70 years old now. But they expect all he’s got to give – and what’s most important, he expects it from himself.

Roger that, rock on good sir. And all of you as well!

Listening to: Podcasts, not music this week. I’m into words - been writing a lot.

A Craftsman's Path

Ladies and gentlemen, all points in-between or undefined, children of all ages, and any and all especially feeling pulled to be a craftsperson / artist for a living but also for any of you with a dream, Parking Lot Press humbly offers in A Craftsman’s Path 30 years of lessons simmered down for 3 years into a thick, tasty sauce you can shmear on any life.

craftsmanspath.jpg

One man’s thoughts from the path on going “all in” and balls out. THE BOOK I WISH I HAD BEEN HANDED ON THE WAY IN – for me, and for those in my life who couldn’t relate to the artist’s path… you know, those years between “You’re crazy, you’ll starve!” and “We knew you could do it!” -(No you didn’t, I didn’t – I just knew it would take me somewhere and I’d make something out of it)- THAT is what’s in here, food for anyone on the uphill side of the goal…

What these guys learned between that first picture and the last.

See, there’s the dream - realistic or not (and half of that just depends on where you’re standing at any moment) and then there’s the focus and devotion that keeps your mind, body and soul together as you chase it. THAT is what this little book is – full of the advice I’ve been giving out for 25 years. My calling was music and I surrendered to it before the conventional path could even get a hold of my scruff. Over decades the dream came true in wood and wire rather than contracts and stage lights, but all the chapters it took me through added up to now - and this is what I learned on the way. I don’t know how to describe it as anything other than a call to arms to those viewing craft, music or art as their potential living... though I hope ALL of you find something in here that inspires you in any pursuit, that sharpens you on the way in to better handle what’s coming, that gives you a realistic perspective on what to expect but that nourishes your spirit in ways the world won’t always when you decide to go a different way.

NOW AVAILABLE for $10 from Amazon: Check it out!

OR as a signed copy (with 5-song bonus CD) for $20 directly:
(CK or MO to: Scott Beckwith PO Box 1745 Wimberley, TX 78676)

OR PayPal to vandweller1@yahoo.com
(Please email your mailing address to scott@birdsongguitars.com)


Thank you so much for being a part of life.

Listening to: Flint Device 1, and Kenny Burrell. I can’t think of two more opposites with similar instruments, but life is a sampler from the mild to the wild and music itself has never left me hung over or trying to find my way home at 3 AM. So I’ll spin anything that does it for me sensible or not.

Was Rolling, Now Rocking

Eased on back into the shop this week. Ideally this is the last I’ll mention of “the leg” unless it affects my ability to work on your basses. Working on the balance it takes to keep it healing but do what I do; I have to move more efficiently and not run around up and down stairs to just look for my friggin’ glasses or the pencil I put down. Those stay ON me, with the phone and a small notebook. I’m more confident after this week than I was a month ago, I can tell you that! And it feels great to be back in the workshop. It is very minor compared to what it could have been, what may be to come, and what many of you cope with. But from in here not knowing if this was the new normal or not, I see it as having been given it back to use more sensibly to the time and circumstances that are mine now, which are different than at 30. At 50 if one leg is going to be the years it has earned I have to respect that and work WITH it even if the rest of me is still 30. A more efficient but less completely balls-out pace honestly leaves me time to work on other things I’m here to do too – so it’s all good. Progress is happening, wood has been cut, and the big wheel’s rolling for another year.

One important piece of wood in my world has been Van Ted’s cane. If I’m occasionally going to have the swagger of a swashbuckler, can you imagine me doing it with something normal? Of course not, I couldn’t either. So being proactive in October I went to a friend who flies under the radar a bit and makes some cool walking aids with nifty things hidden in them. I didn’t need any of that, but I did know sooner or later I would need a cane to keep going, if a leg was going to be the first part to start wearing out. In the batch he brought out we found the Keith Richards of canes and it fit me perfectly! It has been a real blessing, as sooner soon came. Hoping to not need it after a while here but I keep it handy even though I’m getting around better. It’s an upside down cypress root – very strong. He gave it to me; a gift to help with my leg that really saved my ass over the past several weeks. Wood has always done this for me whether guitar, shack, job, or the instruments I build. Wood has always sheltered me and given me the means to move on. I was sent to quest for “The man who works with the wood” when I was much younger – and though men who fit that description have shown up at crucial moments, it was my older self who would fill that personal prophecy… with the help of them, and others, and the pieces of tree…

So let’s keep talking wood… now in planks. Spanish cedar. My main supplier of wood has stopped carrying Spanish cedar! No worries, all orders spec’d for it are covered by what of it I have aside. Evidently it was getting hard to get and the quality was going down. Keep in mind it’s not cedar, that in its country of origin it has one name as a tree, and in every new place and different form it may be called something else. By the time I buy wood, mostly in nicely dressed long and thick planks, in the specialty wood store it may be referred to as yet something else… like “Spanish cedar.” To me it always worked, sounded, and looked like a lighter weight mahogany that was a bit lighter colored. On the lighter end of mahoganies where it overlapped into this wood species (a variant of it) it was indistinguishable. One useless factoid, the first years I worked with it, I would drool uncontrollably. Go figure…

So rather than traipse all around looking for the kind and size of quality pieces my supplier carried, we’re going to build one with their recommended replacement wood – hemlock. It’s a beautiful amber color instead of the orangey Spanish cedar and I can’t wait to see it sanded and oiled. The grain feels good and it supposedly works like butter which is great – some of the lightweight woods can be a bit chippy or stringy when being worked. And it’s VERY lightweight! I’m sure it’ll sound fine – it’s wood, and only one small contributor to how a total wood tone machine forms its voice and response on its way back into the strings, into the pickup magnetism, through the controls, into the amp and its controls, through the speaker, into the air, off the surfaces and into your ears… as triggered by your hands, their position, and playing technique. Don’t sweat the body wood. It’s something that seasons the voice but most of the time its impact is dwarfed by you moving your amp into a different kind of room. I’m going to make a basic Cortobass out of hemlock and see what it’s like – I’ll give you a full report. So from planks…

…Now news about pieces and sawdust. Wood has been worked, workshop is working. First cuts on the next 12 basses! They’re all out of the planks and will be planing to thickness, prepping any stringers, and gluing them all up – with another batch all drawn out on planks to follow right behind them. Thanks for your patience, I’m on them.

And last but certainly not least, let’s talk paper! Or, at least, let’s show you some really cool paper I’ll tell you more about next week…

Yep. So for now brethren, stay inspired – step toward your goals – give it a good soundtrack – and stay tuned. Have a great weekend, and keep up with what’s happening during the week on the Facebook pages for Scott Beckwith and Birdsong Guitars.

Listening to: Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers; The Band Rock of Ages; more live jam compilations of mid ‘70s Dead; Alice In Chains Dirt; Aerosmith Rocks; Tim Buckley Greetings From LA… and Starsailor, which is a bit of a challenging listen to be sure.