Workin' It & Weird Woods

And it's been another busy week here at the Birdsong nest, Wingfeather Workshop, where magic little basses are made amongst all the other projects and a few guitars going on. Birdsong is always the priority, and we're blessed with plenty of work to do... which means plenty of magical little basses for you! The finishing rack is packed just like the line of hangers over my assembly bench. Other than waiting on cases, it's full speed ahead. So while I have been cutting and piecing and putting together all of these instruments and instruments-to-be, it occurred to me that I was working with a handful of weird woods... so I thought I'd tell you about them.

Tamarind is a shade and fruit tree of the south and India primarily. I like the connection between wood and food; tamarind is used in cooking, sweets, and drink flavorings. When a friend of mine mentioned he was building with tamarind, I suggested that to know the wood better he go find himself a can of tamarind nectar in the Mexican food aisle of the local grocery store. This tamarind control plate is for Especial #004, which you can see on the current builds & inventory pages.

Kauri wood is an ancient wood - prehistoric, in fact - dredged up from the swamps of New Zealand. Wood sometimes has interesting properties that the end owner might not be aware of once it's finished and something other than a piece of tree in process to becoming something else. I remember my first piece of Kauri - it is not a dense wood, yet the grain is very tight and it works beautifully. But there was something strange in the air - a scent I was trying to place. Then it hit me - it was early 1984, I had just turned 15. Then men's room at the Motley Crue concert was filled to capacity... and that's all I'm going to say about that. Because it's a beautiful wood, sounds fantastic, I'm reverent about its ancientness, and once done it smells like all Birdsongs - delicious, like some sort of musical tool creation ceremony just happened. It did.

From the eastern half of the US (and chests and closets everywhere), red cedar is, to understate it, not too often used in musical instrument production. It is very soft, has lots of character and knots, and doesn't like to hang around half-worked. But oh, what a tone it contributes to in the right little bass. It smoothes out the highs and brings out the mids. And it smells fantastic while I work it. Tastes a little bitter, but you get used to it. 

Beech is one I don't use often; in fact, I had built out of birch, but never out of beech. The 11th anniversary bass (in inventory) is made predominantly out of beech. It is on the dense side, contributing to clarity and sustain. The specific wood we used for this special bass came from the Sonova district near Dover, Delaware. This special Sonova Beech has all the qualities of a fine hardwood with a little bit of attitude as well. I made some of that up. I just got a hold of some flat pieces of beech and decided it would be cool to do with them what I did.

Mesquite & pecan are both southern woods that can be found locally here in Central Texas. Birdsong has a long history with both, dating back to our earliest of instruments thanks to the influence of our late friend Uncle Johnny. He crafted wood art from these woods and bestowed upon me his perceptions, feelings towards, interactions with, and techniques of working with the more rustic pieces. I like to fill the natural voids and cracks with crushed turquoise, and though all wood is special to me, these woods are the most special. So while most think of mesquite as the chips they use when they barbeque (the smoke gives a great flavor) I prefer to feed all within earshot of these tools of creation with its voice instead.

Zebra wood is a striking, striped, dense African wood that looks like nothing else. I especially love this wood paired with maple and gold. This is another one of those woods that, being worked in its raw state, has an interesting scent to it. These are the things you think about when working a type of wood for the first time. You're feeling how it cuts, paying attention to how the blade reacts to it; you are listening to the sound of the tool against the wood for any signs of distress from either of them; but you're also, in the back of your mind, saying, " where have I smelled that before?" And then, for a brief moment, you're transported back to being a child... a young child... it's the circus and you're sitting up front. An elephant walks by. And just when you're thinking how neato it is to have an elephant walking by you, because to you in that awkward stage where you're still very small but your head is about a third of your total body length, that sucker is HUGE... (talking about the elephant, stay with me)... the elephant lifts its tail. What happens next you will block out until you cut into your first piece of zebra wood. Again, you don't smell this... you get to admire its good looks, wonderful response, and the complete and total amazement of everyone nearby when you take your instrument out of its case. Nothing leaves the shop smelling like elephant poop. For me it's like driving by a field of roses... just a brief whiff that carries you away to another time and place... and then it's gone.

Normal people get carried off momentarily by lingering perfume in the air or smells from the kitchen... for me, it's the interiors of Chrysler products from the 1970s and woods that smell like ass. I don't know what else to say to that, so I'm going to wish you all a great week and sign off.

Your humble scribe,

Listening to live early 70s Grateful Dead & Acoustic Delta Blues.