Sunday, May 29, 2011

Returning to Eden

Life is just what happens to you
While you're busy making other plans


In his 1980 Double Fantasy album, John Lennon wrote those words for his son Sean in the song "Beautiful Boy".

After 15+ years of playing the guitar, I took an unintentional break.  That break lasted about 8 years, long enough for me to have a brief career in retail management, return to school, and start my new career in engineering.  When my daughter was born in September of 1997, I decided it was time to start making music again.  My wife humored and encouraged me on this, and even gave me a 1997 Samick Dreadnought LW-028A as a gift that winter.  About 9 years of music later, my daughter was already becoming a young woman, my 5 year old son was starting to play guitar, I could play a few of the tunes I remembered from back-in-the-day, and the Samick's tone had mellowed into a warm and enjoyable playing flat top.

As much as I enjoy playing my Samick, it is in a totally different class and league than the Tobacco Sunburst 1977 Gibson ES-335TD I once owned.  It was the first professional quality musical instrument I owned, and it took all of my life savings to buy that thinline archtop from the Al Vessa Music store on Sunrise Highway in Valley Stream, NY.  I was a skinny high school student living in Queens at the time, and I somehow scrounged up enough cash to buy a "previously owned" 1960’s vintage Ampeg Gemini II tube amp at a nearby Sam Ash Music store.  That guitar and amp was a well-matched rhythm guitar rig, and I played it in many high school shows, as well as in a few gigs in Queens and Manhattan with some friends in a garage band.

It was a dark and cold winter day in the early 1990's when I sold that guitar to pay some bills.  By then, I no longer owned even an acoustic guitar, and had sold the amp a few years earlier when I moved out of my parents place and into my own.  Sure, I regret selling that rig, considering how the value of that guitar and amp have appreciated over the years.  But, paying the rent and buying groceries did have certain merits at the time.  Similarly, my wife and I found making the mortgage and two car payments were appealing in 2006.  So, from what I was finding in the newspaper classifieds and my local music stores at the time, it was quite clear replacing that fine guitar and amp with anything like it would not be happening any time soon.

Sometime in 2006, I got the itch again.  With hopes dashed but not destroyed, I took to searching for deals on eBay.  A guy can dream, can't he?  One day, a red herring turned up in my search results.  It was an old Kay jazz box that was described as being playable but in need of some work.  I had never played a purely acoustic archtop guitar, but thought they were interesting.  The sunburst finish and the Florentine holes especially made it look interesting, so with altered search terms, I started looking for a sunburst model in my modest price range.  So, when I came across a playable blonde Holiday H1214, it got me thinking, why not?  If nothing else, it would make a good conversation piece to hang on the wall!

A few years before Henry Petroski penned the title "To Engineer Is Human: The Role of Failure in Successful Design", I was curious and brave enough to take power tools to my own guitars.  My first attempt was during the early 1970's, amplifying a classical-style guitar with a miniature microphone on the inside and a volume control and jack through the body.  I played it through the auxiliary inputs of a stereo system.  Although this attempt was not a huge success, it marked the start of my journey as an amateur luthier.  So, when I got back to this hobby and decided to electrify a guitar a few years ago, I already had some ideas of what not to do.  Having years experience of fixing and building things under my belt, as well as a better understanding of what works in amplifying guitar sounds, I had a much more realistic game plan in mind for that old Holiday.

Here is a picture of what my Holiday looks like now.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Where it all began

When I was younger I was hard to hold
Seem like I was always goin'
Which ever way the wind would blow
Now that travelin' spirit calls me again

Hello and welcome to This Old Guitar!

Since I first started playing music at the age of 6, the guitar has been my instrument of choice.  Sometime in high school, I started experimenting with how guitars are built.  That interest turned into modifying guitars, and the guitar body of the clock in the picture below is something I made from red luan.  That piece was a scrap from the plywood sheet I used for the very first guitar top replacement I did on a friend's guitar in the mid 1970's.

As a student at SUNY Binghamton in the early 1980's, I built a guitar from scratch as an independent study in art.  Now, many years later, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to enjoy this pursuit again.  The blog entries that follow document the guitar repair and restoration projects I have taken on.  I welcome your comments, criticisms, questions and words of encouragement.