Saturday, December 13, 2008

Shop Concert #2

We both really enjoy brewing beer. It's incredibly simple to do and the results are immensely satisfying. Thanks to some direction from a local brewing club, the MontreAlers, we found a great brewing supply store a short walk from our apartment. Now, two healthy young males can be expected to enjoy a reasonable amount of beer over the course of week, but I'm pretty sure the guy who works in the beer store is convinced that we are hard-core alcoholics. Over the past month and a half we've brewed nearly 70 liters of beer (for those accustomed to English measurements, 70 liters = A LOT OF BEER). Fortunately, for both our shop productivity and health of livers, most of that beer has been consumed during our in-shop concerts. We held our second such concert last Friday and had an absolutely fantastic time.

The night started with a big dinner for both bands. It was truly a feast fit for a king -- as long as you're a vegetarian king who loves delicious black bean soup, apple crisp, and homebrewed beer. The first band to perform was a young classical guitar duo, Guitartare. Benjamin and Jean-Francois are both recent graduates who are beginning to perform all over Montreal. Watch the clip below to hear "The Spanish Knight and the Greek Horse" (Jean-Francois is playing one of Jeremy's gutiars).

The second band of the night were our friends Lake of Stew. They put on a great show and their vocal harmonies and all acoustic lineup sounded incredible in the shop. The song below is a favorite of ours and was a special encore request from Jeremy.

Here's the roster from left to right (with Rick in the front): Rick Rigby (mandolin), Dina Cindric (accordion), Brad Levia (slide and acoustic guitar), Daniel McKell (guitar), Mike Rigby (guitar), Julia Narveson (bass), Annabelle Chvostek (violin).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Totem Pole Politics

One of the most obvious benefits of working for yourself is eliminating the stress of a superior breathing down your neck. I'm not quite sure what rank in the shop Django holds, but it's pretty clear he's aiming for the top spot...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fresh Peanut Butter

I love opening new jars of peanut butter. Some normally dormant region in the depths of my psyche jumps for joy whenever I am lucky enough to behold the pristine and untainted surface that only a fresh jar of peanut butter can provide. Even though I know the perfection will be lost the instant I break the surface with a knife, that ever so brief moment before is pure bliss. Whatever psychological quirk I posses that leads to such a love reached hitherto unimaginable heights last Friday night when we opened a big jar. Instead of peanut butter though, it was a workshop. That's right, our blogging delinquency can be fully explained by the fact that the shop is done(ish)! Despite a few minor details still to be worked out, we are essentially up and running and back in the business of building guitars! To celebrate this momentous occasion (and because we like throwing killer parties) we held our first shop concert a little over a week ago with great success.

With a variety of guitars being made in the shop, we thought it would be appropriate to have the music reflect that diversity. To start the night, classical guitarist Oscar Salazar Varela performed a great set playing on one of Jeremy's guitars. Despite having cut his thumb earlier in the day, Oscar did an incredible job and clearly impressed the crowd.

It's always a little bit of a thrill to see a great guitar player play an instrument you've made, but when the next performer Mike O'Brien started playing Doc Watson and Leo Kottke tunes on my guitar, I was in seventh heaven. He had a great line in the middle of his set when he switched to one of Jeremy's instruments for a few songs. After he picked up and strummed the guitar a few times he said, "Wow -- I feel like I just sat down on an $8,000 couch."

All in all the night was a resounding success. Our current plan is to hold a similar concert on the first Friday of every month and next time I won't leave my camera charging in the dust room for the entire night...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Introducing Django

Despite our seemingly easy going nature and openness toward adding new members to the workshop, we actually have quite severe requirements and a strict set of guidelines that must be met in order to earn a space at our bench. A strong work ethic, knowledge of various tools and machines, and a burning desire to build the highest quality guitars are all a must. Somehow, our newest shop member managed to successfully navigate through several rounds of intense interviews and background checks while possessing none of these qualities. How he managed to slip through and score such prime benchspace is still a mystery...

Monday, November 3, 2008

Six impossible things before breakfast...

Alice laughed. 'There's no use trying,' she said: 'one can't believe impossible things.'

'I daresay you haven't had much practice,' said the Queen. 'When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast...
- Lewis Carroll

Over the weekend a remarkably atypical series of events occurred in the shop which has only led me to one conclusion --guitarmaking is good for your health. Depending on whose clinical trials you believe, a repeated daily intake of coffee (organic, fair trade, and roasted at home (as if there was any other way)): may protect against Parkinson's disease, seems to protect and fight against the development of Alzheimer's, may lower the risk of Diabetes, as well as all sorts of various other claims. Here is what I can tell you for sure about coffee --it's DELICIOUS. In fact we like coffee so much that we, without a doubt, see our reflections more in our mugs than we do in our mirrors. 

Just like clockwork at some magical point in the afternoon my brain decides it wants coffee. Maybe a more correct way of explaining this is that my brain decides it needs coffee. The kind of need that if ignored causes the brain to send signals to various vital bodily functions imploring them to initiate extortive maneuvers. 

"All right buddy don't be a hero, give me the coffee or the lymphatic system gets it." Naturally, cowering in fear a coffee must be consumed. I guess you could say we like coffee a lot. Which makes the happenings of Satuday afternoon just a little bit more than startling. 

Saturday morning Dave, Mike, and I started our new part time job. It's not exactly ideal that I need a part time job to sustain the early stages of my guitarmaking career but you have to do what you have to do. Our faithful readers can find a quantum of solace in the fact that we are not bussing tables, slinging drinks, or spending our cold winter nights lonely manning the till at some mom and pop depanneur... we are building electric guitars. There is something ironic about the fact that the first instrument coming out of our shop is not a classical guitar, it's not even  a steel string guitar, it's an electric guitar. Admittedly we are using a gorgeous pice of curly black walnut to cap an old growth Spanish cedar body and I haven't even begun to talk about how magnificently curly the maple neck is. It suffices to to say that it's quite curled.

The best part about working on this new project together is the collective energy. The synergy of a group of fellow guitarmakers and friends working together to build a musical instrument is really really great. So great in fact that we entirely missed our afternoon coffee and the really scary part (cue the theme to the 'Twilight Zone') was that we didn't even notice. Guitarmaking - one.   Chemical dependency - zero. We were all so electrified about finally starting to build an instrument (a well deserved diversion from building our shop) that our sheer enthusiasm overcame the sharp pangs of caffeine withdrawal. 

All kidding aside, it's great to be back building instruments (regardless of whether or not you have to plug them in) and we really want this project to be a collaborative affair. On Saturday afternoon we were excited to find out that Corin de Jonge was coming down for a visit. Corin is a fine juggler well on his way to star 'jester'dom' and a fantastic guitar builder in his own right. So what do a bunch of guitarmakers consider 'hanging out'? Would you be surprised if I said 'working in the shop'? 

On Sunday morning Corin lent a hand refining the curves of our new body shape as well as doing a bang up job making a template.
Corin working in front of one of our exceptionally long windows (mmm natural light)

Watch the blog for updates on the progression of the instrument and as to when this unique and first-class project will be available.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Senor Pepper

This is how we spend our Thursday nights...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Kottke Effect

So how does an unmusical mechanical engineering science nerd turn into a music-is-everything guitar making nerd? About 8 years ago a series of seemingly insignificant events quietly nudged me off of my chosen path onto a completely new track. One of those key moments was receiving an old Leo Kottke bootleg in the mail as a trade for a Phish concert that a friend had given me. At the time I had never even heard of Leo Kottke and the trade was made in response to a random internet post by someone in Boulder, Colorado (thanks internet!). As a new guitar player relatively unexposed to acoustic guitar music I listened to the CD and realized, "Whoa. I want to play guitar like that." Thus began my obsession with acoustic guitar and all things Kottke.

All this came back to me this past weekend when I went to see Kottke (my 8th? 9th time?) in Boston with Jeremy and my family. I had been living in Boston for the summer interning at a web design company when I got that first Kottke CD. Here's a video of me playing the first song of his (actually, his version of a Duane Allman song) I was able to learn on a guitar I made for a friend...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

It's a dog eat dog world out there

One of the few drawbacks of becoming a guitar maker is that you can't just make guitars. In order to survive one must eat and in order to eat one must buy food (food doesn't just grow on trees, you know). Thus enters the business half of the guitar making business. Basic economic principles lead one to believe that in order to thrive in the harsh landscape of capitalism, competition must be beaten -- it's a dog eat dog world out there. As luck would have it, neither Jeremy nor myself eat dog and despite having separate companies we've decided that we are not in competition (besides, I would win).

Actually, this question about competition comes up quite a bit when we tell people that we're splitting a workshop. The reality is we (will hopefully) sell guitars all over the world and the competition would be the same whether Jeremy is working in Timbuktu or ten feet away. Over the past few years nearly every guitar maker I've meet has been encouraging and supportive about my entrance into the business. A few weeks ago at a crafts fair connected to the Pop Montreal festival, we met two local builders who were enthusiastic and excited to learn about our shop, despite being new "competition" a few blocks away. Here's video they shot as I tried out one of their neato cigar box guitars...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Do Dogs Really Work That Hard?

I mean really now... How many dogs can you think off that actually collapse into bed at night done in from an arduous day of physical labour? I'm sure that somewhere in history there exists an occurrence of a canine actually "working like a dog" but every one that I've ever met seems to have somehow missed the memo on work ethic. I digress...

Around this time of year everyone seems to be talking about what we are "thankful" for. Call me petty but things like a roof over my head, good food to eat, spectacular friends and family, this stint of unseasonably good weather, and general good health all seem to pale in comparison with that fact that very soon we can actually get back to building guitars. Imagine loving ice cream... I mean really loving ice cream. Imagine loving ice cream with such vehemence that the vast majority of your waking hours (and a good deal of the hours that one would generally benefit from sleep) involved thinking about eating ice cream and the act of eating ice cream. Then imagine spending several months not eating ice cream. How good would that first lick of a strawberry waffle cone taste? I'll tell when I join my next tops... 

Admittedly the whole ice cream analogy seems bit off and not quite the right parallel to building guitars. How can a luxury food item compare to a vocation? You're right. Scratch the whole ice cream analogy and replace it with breathing. How would you feel about not breathing for a couple of months?

The shop is progressing nicely and we figure that we should probably share with our loyal readers how things are shaping up:

Here you can see Jeremy clearly contemplating life, the universe, and all things ukulele.

After unloading boxes and boxes of tools (freight elevators are your friend) and clearly confused as to how to begin.

Subsequent to deciding on a direction it really didn't take very long to get things together. We really do work fast. If you don't believe us take a look.

Here's a quick snap of Mike's exemplary skills with a pencil.

and the third member of our shop Dave Madokoro working on the wall to our dust/machine room.

We really should get back to the shop so tune in next time for more wild and crazy adventures of three little guitarmakers in one big city. Goodnight and good luck.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

This past weekend we made the trip back to Chelsea, Quebec to spend a long Thanksgiving weekend with the de Jonge family. It was a great few days highlighted by the Thanksgiving feast on Sunday night. Sergei's son-in-law Pat made a fantastic seitan roast for the vegetarians...

Actually, it might have been a little
too good. I know it's in keeping with tradition to overeat on Thanksgiving, but shouldn't the cooks keep the discomfort and safety of their guests in mind when preparing a meal? It was downright risky making something taste so good.

Being back there made me think this would be a good time to share a few of my pictures from the past three years...

The de Jonge's home is an old farmhouse located on 15 wooded acres about 20 minutes outside of Ottawa.

A quick walk down the railroad tracks running behind the shop takes you to this swimming spot along the Gatineau river. Those of you in more southern locales might imagine Canada to be a land of igloos and icicles. Rest assured, it gets HOT in the summer and daily (or bi/tri/quad-daily swims) were pretty much a guarantee.

(If you look closely, you can see the red farmhouse in the far right of the picture)

Here is Sergei carving a neck while grandson Ayden watches and makes train tracks in the wood dust.

Finishing up my first guitar almost four years ago I had no idea how well I would get to know that workbench.

Jeremy and I look on as Sergei demonstrates binding a guitar.

photo courtesy of Charles le Guen

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Benches and Cans

We reached an important benchmark this week by marking the completion of our first bench. Clearly, this is a workbench to be reckoned with...

Why build a 14' 9" long bench? More important, why build THREE 14' 9" benches? That is easily more bench space than three skinny guitarmakers could possibly need (we're also splitting the shop with our friend Dave). In our various schemings about what kind of shop and environment we want to "work" in (see footnote), we devised some devious plans to lure friends into building guitars along side us. What better bait than pristine unused bench space?

I love cans as much as the next guy, but I don't think I'm willing to scale a 4 s
tory brick wall to profess said love...

Note: We're hesitant to use the "w" word to describe building guitars. When talking about building and life in the shop, Sergei often summed it up well by saying, "Sure beats working for a living."

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Guitarmaking, Climate Change, and The Space Time Continuum (Part II)

Speaking of climate change, let me introduce you to one of the nemeses of guitarmakers – humidity! Dhun dhun dhun..... strictly speaking it's the fairly regular (and frequently sudden) fluctuation of humidity that is the problem. A hygroscopic material is one which attracts moisture from the atmosphere. Wood is absolutely hygroscopic and trying to build guitars in an environment without a controlled ambient humidity is sort of like taking a ride with a blind cabbie on the autobahn, risky. How does one determine the humidity in a space? A hygrometer of course. In fact, you can easily truck on down to your local hardware store and purchase a digital unit for less than a couple dozen Fairmont bagels. Should you ever put one of these quality instruments next to another you will quickly note that they (generally) measure radically different humidites. How could that possibly be? Aren't the numbers depicted in loving digital quality? Isn't the device in infallible? Did I just lock us out of the apartment and if not where are my keys?

The long and short of it all is that hygrometers (like most measuring devices) need to be calibrated. There are a number of different ways to calibrate a hygrometer (google is definitely your friend) but being industrious fellows we looked to our surroundings. In a previous post we mentioned that we brew our own beer and in brewing there are times where temperature is very important. A simple form of hygrometer known variously as a sling hygrometer, a psychrometer, or a sling psychrometer is just a pair of thermometers. One of the thermometers has a bulb that is kept wet and one of the thermometers has a bulb that is kept dry. As ambient air is passed over the bulbs (swinging the thermometers above your head, holding them in front of a fan, strapping them to the back of a unicycle riding monkey trained to navigate figure eights around the band saw) the difference in temperature is recorded. The difference between the two temperatures is related to the ambient temperature and the humidity can be calculated. Obviously (and could be guessed by reading the name of the device), this has to do with the psychometric ratio and can (logically) be numerically computed. If you want to contact us for the formula so you can calculate it every time you want to know what the humidity is please do, we just have a chart (thanks again google!). Anyway, this was a really convoluted way of saying that ensuring that the humidity is “right” for our instruments is a paramount concern and that great care is taken to properly humidify or dehumidify as the situation necessitates. Right now we have a big wick and fan style humidifier (and it works great) but life does tend to evolve...

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Guitarmaking, Climate Change, and The Space Time Continuum

We have come to the conclusion that there exists in Montreal a bizarre fold in the fragile reality that we call “time.” Nothing seems to have been as affected as southbound traffic on Boulevard St. Laurent. Numerous times we have noticed the length of time it takes to walk from the intersection of St. Laurent and St. Viateur down to the intersection at Duluth. On a windy day the trip could be described as just a little to long for a light fall coat and yet the return seems to defy logic. Picture a pair of guitarmakers aimlessly strolling down one of the busiest streets in one of the most happening cities in North America, not dawdling (I really despise the general lack of progress in the step) but not rushing (as if it was five minutes to the last train) wondering to themselves if they were there yet. After concluding their business and departing on the identical (but inverse) return trip they find themselves entirely baffled as to how they possibly could have arrived back home so quick. Seriously, it seems like a ridiculously short trip and we don't understand it in the slightest. How could it possibly take so long to walk somewhere and yet take no time at all to get back? Bizarre... but not really (like is so presently in vogue) something that can be blamed entirely on climate change.

more on that in part two...

Monday, October 6, 2008

Ukranian L'Amour Stew

A lot of people have asked us, "Why Montreal?" A hint of the answer lies in the title of this post. Where else but Montreal could you find a delicious(?) sounding combo like "Ukrainian L'Amour Stew"?

In the past week we saw three concerts within a 15 minute walk from our new building. The first was a great little show at Casa del Popolo with Caloon Saloon opening for Lake of Stew. Three years ago at the Ramsay Road Music Festival (annual music festival hosted by the de Jonge family) a member of Lake of Stew played Mike's guitar which at the time lacked the end pin to connect a strap. When asked if he'd still be able to play it without one he said, "Oh don't worry. I do this kind of suction thing with my belly." He then proceeded to lift his shirt and, thanks to the humid summer day, stuck the guitar to his stomach.

Our second show was a special one night combo between Li'l Andy and Ideal Lovers covering Neil Young's album 'Tonight's the Night'. It was a fantastic show that was part of the Pop Montreal festival. One unique aspect of the concert was it's unusual time and location. Instead of the typical music venue, the show took place in Cinema L'Amour.

And yes, it's THAT kind of movie theater. Once the usual... clientèle had cleared out for the evening and the equipment could be setup, the show began with Li'l Andy and Ideal Lovers taking the stage at 2 am. It rocked.

Our third and final concert of the week was held at the Ukrainian Federation. Another good show with Chad Van Gaalen and Julie Doiron. By the end of the night we were both exhausted after a long week of setting up the shop/apartment, exploring Montreal, and seeing all the shows.

As a brief insight into what we're like, during the walk home we became positively giddy when we planned to make whole oat porridge the next morning.

Long live whole grains!

Friday, October 3, 2008

We don't speak French...

"I love my province! I am thinking you must be learning to speak French to be live here (sic)!"

There are certain things one can expect to hear while waiting in line to buy 2 feet of string (at 3 cents a foot) to make a sling hygrometer. Actually, we might be the very first people to wait in line to buy 2 feet of string (at 3 cents a foot) for a sling hygrometer, so there has really been no clear precedent set. I don't think either of us expected the elderly and seemingly quiet Montrealian(ite?) to give us our first dose of the strong Quebecois pride found in our new home city.

This blog really began three years ago when we each started an apprenticeship with the master guitar maker Sergei de Jonge. After living, working, and experiencing life with the incredible de Jonge family we thought that it was time for the next chapter in our lives. Taking the next logical step: we moved to a strange new city where we don't speak the language, don't know our way around, and don't have a place to live (other than our shop).
Who could imagine that the best description of our new home would come from a taxi driver? On our second night in the shop a long time friend of Jeremy's was in town and we invited her over for dinner. When the taxi cab pulled up the clearly concerned driver repeatedly asked: "Are you sure you want to be dropped off here?"

Despite the professed lack of faith on the part of the cabbie we feasted on glorious brown rice and lentils. The lack of conventional furniture didn't bother us in the least and dinner was served on, quite possibly, the most valuable dinning set in the building.

Seriously though, it is really shockingly expensive when you stop and think that we were siting on stacked sets of Brazilian rosewood and eating off a substantial slab of Honduras mahogany. For our first time entertaining a “shop guest” we think it went smashingly!

Many people have asked what we both consider the “necessities” of life. To the untrained eye, the picture below might appear to be a random pile of junk: banjo, classical guitar, steel string guitar, tenor guitar, ukulele, mandolin, three violins, 25 lbs. of brown rice, 2 lbs. of home roasted fair trade organic Ethiopian coffee (from the Yirgacheffe region of course), 23 litres of home brewed beer, cross-country skis, a box of books, Cd's, sheet music, many thousands of dollars worth of wood, various tools, jigs and the occasional article of (dirty) clothing. We might lack a place to sleep/eat/bathe (highly overrated in our opinion) but we DO have a shop space and we're pretty sure that we have everything that we'll need.

What can we say? We love it!