Years ago in my younger times I played music with a band in a lot of small bars all over Upstate Western New York. I remember the jobs were usually 9PM To 1AM. It seemed like most of the year we were driving through the snow to get there. The music was great but then came the hardest part, packing up and driving home. Too many beers wasn't much fun if you've got a station wagon full of amplifiers to drive home through the snow. So we'd drink coffee. It also worked to keep our energy up. Anyway, here we were in all these little bars, playing and singing and everyone around was having a good time drinking. What to do? We'd ask the bartender to throw a shot of Drambuie in our cups of coffee. "Those were the days my friend, we thought they'd never end."
Years later I'm walking through the Springfield, Ohio Flea Market Extravaganza when I saw a Drambuie box. It was an original wooden shipping case in fine shape. I couldn't believe it, so many wonderful memories came flooding back. It was pine, not great quality, but the printing was in good shape. I knew exactly how I could use it.
Around that same time I happened to be talking with my mother on the phone. She still lived in the old town and she was giving me the news there abouts. She told me "They're cutting down that old tree out back." I asked her to go out and ask the workman for a few logs before they took them all away.
The Drambuie box became the front of the guitar and that old tree became the back sides and neck.
My brother-in-law Lloyd is a photographer. He was working on a particular idea that involved showing a number of his pictures in some rustic weather-beaten frames. He found out about an old barn out in the country that wasn't being used anymore and he arranged with the owner to take a few boards for his project. Lloyd asked me to help him collect these old boards and to build the frames. I couldn't wait to get there.
It was one of those warm and moist summer evenings we have here in Ohio at the end of summer. We met the owner about seven o'clock and we worked until the sun went down. As Lloyd and I pulled choice pieces from the barn the owner started telling us a little about the barn and what it had meant to the farm. Now nearly grown over the barn had stood on this family farm for well over a hundred and fifty years. As we talked and pulled planks from here and there we began to notice how quiet it was. We were so far out in the country we couldn't hear any of the noise of modern civilization. Next we noticed there were no electric wires or poles in sight. It was as if we had gone back in time. Standing in the silence and looking around we saw the same thing the people a hundred years ago might have seen. While I like to hear what things sound like, Lloyd is a more visual guy. What did this barn look like in the snow? What did it look like at noon on a day in July? What did that field look like in May? What did this farm look like when the trees were changing and the harvest was going on?
I came up with some nice pine and some poplar. That following winter as I was building the guitar many times I would cut into a piece and the scent of the wood brought me back to that barn and that farm and the people that worked it. As I cut into the wood I could smell horses and hay and I even picked up a whiff of tobacco. This guitar tells the song of those people. The years of life the barn gave to them and the life that they gave to the barn.
Many older houses in the Dayton area have been abandoned and must be taken down. There are companies that go around ahead of the knock down crews to collect the more valuable wood for reclamation. Of course I got a hold of some of this wood to build my instruments. The stories these houses could tell. The beautiful old wood in these guitars sings with the spirit and vibration of lives and loves.
Most all instrument makers start with the finest wood they can find. This is a good thing. It's the usual way. The better the wood the better the sound. My instruments sound good in a different sort of way. They want to tell a story. I use wood that's been around awhile. The wood I use isn't the perfect stuff. The wood I use has knocked around in people's lives. It has been part of the story. This kind of wood makes an unusual instrument. You will hear and feel the lives the wood has felt with the first vibrations. Sometimes you will feel the story right away, sometimes it takes a little coaxing. The magic of the music happens somewhere between you and the instrument. There's a give and take. You play the strings, but then the wood gives you back something you didn't expect. That's the instrument telling the stories. The wood that carried a dozen bottles of whiskey has seen a lot of life; celebration and sadness. It makes a fine guitar.