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The Impractical Guitar Maker, Part 1

...some contemporary luthiers refuse quite bluntly to deal with anything that has the slightest scientific "flavor" to it.

Gila Eban, luthier, 1990

The last couple of days I have been leafing through the James Krenov trilogy, The Cabinetmaker's Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking and The Impractical Cabinetmaker. As a classical guitar maker, I really don't need these books anymore, as I have said before, I make guitars, not cabinets.

Squares, rectangles and triangles don't interest me, shapes that are based on the human body do.

I keep Mr. Krenov's books because of all the little bits of advice on how to enjoy life and to see the world around you that he hid and tucked away in paragraphs about dovetails, sharpening, woodworking education, etc.

I am not a big fan of his writing style, a little too verbose and perhaps too sentimental, so these days I scan the pages looking for words that are familiar and excite me like spokeshave, friend, and curved edges and then I read.

Yesterday, as I was thumbing through The Impractical Cabinetmaker, which I first read way back in 1992, I glanced at a paragraph at the end of "Woodcraft Today", and remembered that the last few lines in that paragraph gave me much hope and encouragement back in then, which I took very much to heart.

This is what Mr. Krenov wrote:

The only good advice worth offering is: Keep your goal in mind. Get some fine wood in little bits and pieces, but get it. Put it away to dry properly. Improve the heating in the shop. And all the while think about finding or making better tools. You'll need those fine tools to do that real work. So when the time comes and you get that chance you will be ready.

This then made me think that I should explore The Impractical Cabinetmaker chapter by chapter from the point of view of a guitar maker and post about it. I sallied forth and re-read the first three pages of that chapter because I wanted to read his definition of an "impractical" craftsman.

He is the craftsman for whom an atmosphere of much-to-sell is a hindrance to doing his best always--and living accordingly. He is an idealist who wants to survive to have the chance to work with wood, but not at the price of having woodworking become something less than he hoped it would be.

Hmm. I guess that makes me an impractical guitar maker.

I say I am an impractical guitar maker because I enjoy making guitars and then selling them to people who have been affected (look it up if you don't know what it means) by the sound and playability of my guitars. That is far more rewarding that doing market research to figure out how to tap into and make money from the latest fads of the classical guitar world.

The latest fad is the same it has been since I started studying the classical guitar in 1974, it is to buy the same guitar that the hottest classical guitarist de jour is playing. In the 1970's-80's you had to play a Ramirez No.1A guitar because Segovia, Parkening, Boyd and Niedt all played them. Today you need to play a "double top" guitar by Dammann, Price, Smallman, Connor or someone else who has succeeded in making a guitar sound like a piano, because current greats likes Russell and Barrueco, etc., all play double top guitars.

Perfect practice makes you a better player.

Owning a really good guitar that you love will make you practice more, but popular makers don't always necessarily make the best guitar for you.

The are no jigs or outside moulds in my shop to create "the perfect shape" of a classical guitar, which some makers insist upon to make them "competitive" in today's global classical guitar market. I use a solera, a dished out work board to hold the top and neck while I attach the sides and back. A solera lends itself to asymmetry, which as I have discovered helps give the guitar a voice, a great voice that affects the human psyche.

Does this make me a better guitar maker? Not using power tools or jigs or moulds?

Maybe it doesn't, but as Mr. Krenov said, keep your goal in mind.

My goal is beauty.

The beautiful sound of a guitar that carries throughout the cosmos.

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