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.)


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.