Part Five: The Walk

Ahhh, it’s time - I know I say rounding over the body is my personal crossover point when the wood actually looks like an instrument at that point. To me it’s now just a bass or guitar that isn’t finished yet instead of planks of wood that are “going to” be something. Now they ARE something! Well, after that and sanding and finishing, all the neck work and its sanding and finishing, here is the day it all REALLY becomes what it will be, and takes a walk that is only about 40 feet but is truly miles in this process of how an instrument comes to be around here.

Time to put the neck on and walk it over to assembly. As the instrument enters into the workshop in raw material form, it exits this work space as a neck and body as one. Neck pockets are routed undersized by a millimeter or so, and each neck is built to certain width specs for the heel (where it joins the body). So the neck is shaved to fit its pocket, touched up, and slipped into its pocket tightly. This is how the instrument leaves the green workshop. Held in my hands, being welcomed to the world, hopefully in some sort of intangible immeasurable energy way of space-in-the-atoms vibration inspiring all other instruments in process behind it to let go and work with the hands that help this transformation. At least, that’s what it feels like in here. The neck stays in because it fits, and we walk out onto the deck in the Texas sun born anew. I was not always a happy guy. I was not always a productive or effective guy. I was not always filled with hope and inspiration. But you surround yourself with the natural world and make your doings part of some constructive process, and there – if you’re lucky – you can tune into the perpetual springtime of things transforming and blooming… and make it yours. Find you in it and find it in you. I give these instruments life for a living now, but I’m living because they gave me life long ago.

We then approach the next little workshop, built right next to the green shop. But before we leave the green workshop, a little on its history and the main tools we used to come this far.

The workshop was sized and oriented to fit in between the trees with as few cut as possible. Parts of those cut were used inside it as posts to hold up the loft and legs to hold up the built-in benches along that side underneath the loft. The main work stations were built for their tasks – the routing bench, the neck area, a lower counter for the drill press, etc. The basic workshop itself was built in 2007 by an intentional community circle we helped form in our little rural town; there were all variety of people out here settling in as singles and couples, and we figured we could all use each others’ help. So that group came together (I have a book about it I hope to put out next year) and one of the work parties was 30 or so people showing up and building this shop. A shed roof was put up on braced posts, Jamie and I then built it to floor level, and soon after many wonderful hands I still think about helped it the rest of the way. Even during the 4 years of exploring just how big I wanted Birdsong to be in a shop down in the city, if a co-op thing could work (nnnnnope), this shop was refitted and in use. It is the greatest working environment I could dream up and fits us well at the level we’re happiest.

The main tools are a bandsaw, big and little drill presses, a DeWalt planer, a couple of angle grinders, a Bosch Colt plunge router with around 240 instruments under its belt, an ancient Black & Decker router from the old SD Curlee shop strictly set up for roundover, a table belt sander and vertical belt/spindle sander, small jointer, and occasionally a chainsaw. The rest are hand tools, jigs, fixtures, and accessories.

There are smaller parts we make for each instrument too – let’s talk about those. Every one has either a control plate for the front or a cavity cover for the back; wood is sliced and planed or bought thin and prepped, and a template is placed & traced; cut, edge dress & drill-out, then sanding & finishing follow. Most Birdsongs have a carved arrowhead truss rod cover that gets crafted, by me, for each one too. Since we use a zero fret in the fretboard, the nut is merely a string spacer and can be made of anything – so I prefer dense wood like ebony. This also ties in with classical instruments. You know… early on, when this was all a dream, I pictured spending time carving and shaping some little piece of ebony trim. That was the scene; a snapshot of the ideal, like someone who someday wants a sailboat would have a picture in their mind of a lake and the glimmer of the sun off the water. That would be me, working with the wood. Well, I get to do that with every one! Sometimes its rosewood, sometimes its bloodwood, but the Fusion (for example) gets wood pickup covers and trim pieces along side it, instruments without a pickup up against the neck end get a neck end trim piece to cover the end of the neck pocket routing (our Birdsong neck heels end square and bits are round, so you have to rout a little farther than the end). So there are always odd pieces and plates to be making, and we’ll talk more on that during assembly because these happen while the bass is coming together in the assembly shop. So it’s time for that… next week. It is a story of a building you don’t want to miss!

Next week: Partholes & elbows – it’s assembly time!!

Have a great weekend thanks so much for being with us.

Listening to: Fluid (early Seattle Sub-Pop band); Richie Havens, Grace of the Sun; Rage Against The Machine, Evil Empire; Fu Manchu, The Action Is Go; Brahms… and a little Cream on top.