My father and I are two different kinds of craftsmen. My dad grew up on a farm where you did what you had to do with whatever you had. The tools weren’t the best and often not the right ones but he figured out how to get by with them. As a kid I watched him fix and build stuff for around the house with wonder through the eyes of a little boy. Everything was hand work and done with such care. We had an old house and he redid every room at least twice. He would also build all sorts of little items for the house and church fairs like folding slat tables and such.
Me, I started doing woodworking in middle school. We learned some of the basics but there were machines to do most of the work. The precision and speed of it all just appealed to my youthful sense of urgency to build things. I took woodshop throughout middle and high school and even a year of metal shop. Learned a lot of modern methods and began what would be a long time gear affliction.
As you can see, Dad and I had vastly different approaches to the work. As a teenager, I began to look at the work he did as outdated. I would often complain while working with him around the house about how long something took to do by hand. “Dad, why are you using that chisel, I bought a router that can do that kind of work.” Where Dad had skills, I clung to precision and machinery like a hobbled man hanging on to a crutch.
As an adult, I began to come around, somewhat. At one point, I decided to try to master traditional methods. Talk about humbling. Even with finely sharpened and honed tools, I was no match for my father. What he could do with an old crappy chisel and even a utility knife was far in advance to my abilities. I made an attempt at Shoji screens with all the joinery done by hand using traditional methods and some really fine cedar. My results are still in a box somewhere in the shop. A trophy and reminder of my youthful hubris. I have continued to improve but I still cling to my machines.
When I started building guitars, not many around me had much interest except Dad. I would bring something I built and his eyes would just light up. In those moments, we shared some unspoken deep understanding and appreciation of just the craft. I continued to try to do more and more by hand and I slowly got better. In these moments, there was just some special understanding that we shared that I’ve experienced with no one else. Sure friends and family think stuff is cool but none of them have any understanding of the path taken.
Sadly a year ago on Feb 19, 2012, my father passed after a prolonged battle with cancer. For almost two years now, I have had little desire to even pick up a tool in the shop. So I continued my break from it all till recently. I make small little attempts to work in the shop these days but often fail to get much of anything done. Slowly it is getting better. With the encouragement of old friends and new ones, I am moving forward. Picking up from some of the ideas I had two years ago and designing some new stuff.
So to all the guys out there that build a stick and a box, you have my deepest admiration and respect. Build your instruments with pride because you carry on a great tradition. I am always reminded of my father’s greatness when I see pictures of your craft. Thank you all for that.