Clamps 'n Tunes

The great wrench Leonardo DiBartolomeo once told me “Tryin’ to work without music? Fughedaboudit.” And while that can veer into being aware of – and preferring in some moments – the combinations of various tool noises and machinery with the birdsong and breeze through the trees, or the music of reverent silence, that principle is sound. And that sound principle is that the music helps it happen. Lots of music gets played in the little workshops here, especially the green one known as Wingfeather where planks and pieces go in and finished wood instrument parts come out, neck fit onto the body, and into the other little building where assembly happens. Where woodchips happen and sawdust is made, much music is played. It is a lubricant for accomplishment. 

It’s not the glue that holds things together, more of the clamp that helps the result come together from two things in the moment. One piece of wood and another, or tool and task. Then the music goes, evaporates, and there is something there in a different form than it existed before the song; the clamps come off, getting hung back on the rack or put back in the crate, and you never see the marks or the mess – just new results. This shop has quite a bit of music and a fair supply of clamps, both gathered over the years and well used. There are some that get used regularly and others that are more what’s needed in the moment, maybe for special tasks that don’t happen all the time. Small red handled Bessey clamps crimp the body halves level with each other while long orange Jorgensen clamps go on to pull these halves together as the glue joins them into one. Working with the wood, laying parts out on the plank, cutting and joining… long Grateful Dead jams or Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty are nice, Spanish guitar music on a nylon stringed classical like Andres Segovia (or an actual album called Spanish Guitar Music from guitarist John Williams) is great. Depending on where my spirit is leaning, the delta blues of Jack Owens or Mississippi Fred McDowell, or some old Gospel, Vicente Fernandez from Mexico or bhajans from India – these are never far away.   
Blue & yellow Irwin Quick Grips will hold the body blank, once cut out and cleaned up, onto the routing bench for it to make the big transition from a guitar shaped piece of wood into a guitar that’s just not put together yet, with places for other parts to fit into and holes to align more onto, edges rounded and ready for contours and sanding. Aerosmith Rocks, Jerry Cantrell Boggy Depot, Lightning Hopkins, John Coltrane, Los Lobos Colossal Head, Clapton’s Rainbow Concert… no rules, just what gets reached for more often than not. Like the right clamp for the job. If I’m fading before I’m done or need to get the eye of the tiger back for one more thing off the list of the day, when some may reach for caffeine or stronger I put in Zen Guerilla Trance States In Tongues and that’s all the bump I need. Sometimes I’ll even just put their cover of Bowie’s Moonage Daydream on repeat for a half hour. That’ll get things done. It’s worked for years.

Neck work is ponderous, so I sanctify the tasks with some dub reggae such as Augustus Pablo, or maybe some Willie Nelson - Red Headed Stranger is always a favorite, and it’s “All clamps on deck” over on the flat bench by the windows. On this and on the other woodwork I try to work in a few very special clamps from craftsmen now departed, their dusts scattered and their ripples dispersed; I keep their tools working, my fingerprints on theirs as theirs went onto those before them. I think of them as I tighten their clamps. I thank them and wish them well. These pieces of their lives and livelihood are in good hands who remember them, still helping to build things and fill the world with beauty. Same goes for many of the music makers who color the air in here, whose music vibrations are in the wood now, whose songs I literally breathe as I work. 

For the rare set-in neck I go old school – felt-padded old wooden clamps, a couple of which were made by a guitarist I was in a band with for a brief time. I can’t remember his name but I do remember his eyebrows used to have a mind of their own, going up and down and giving the impression of momentary surprise, but many moments of momentary surprise close together that came and went quickly. He was a hard one to read. 

Listening to: JJ Cale Special Edition (always good getting started in the morning music); Leigh Stephens Red Weather (One of my favorite albums of the psych era – a kind of still obscure buffet from the original Blue Cheer guitarist); Stephen Stills Manassas; Big Sugar Ride Like Hell EP!; and Cal Tjader Soul Sauce… always good vibes from this one.