For one thing, the guitar family is big. There are acoustic guitars of different sizes and shapes and string lengths. Different woods have different sounds and the type or size of strings have a definite effect. Then you got the solid body electric models, and the ocean full of different possibilities on pickups and controls. There are tenors, classical, acoustic and electric basses, lap steels, and the list go on. I didn’t know enough on the subject to realize what a stupid statement I was making.
I have finally figured out that one size doesn’t fit everybody. Sherry & I just got back from a bluegrass meeting. These guys prefer a big dreadnought guitar (preferably a Martin) with medium gauge strings. As I got around showing my instruments and handing out business cards, I noticed there were absolutely no solid body electric Fender guitars there. And I made sure not to bring any solid body electric Elloree guitar with me. They got no use for something like that. I didn’t take a uke or a baritone either. When Sherry and I went to a blues festival in Clarksdale, MS, I did take some solid body instruments. There are so many different instruments and they all come in different sizes and with different options, because music is so diverse. The trick is to match the instrument to the player and the style of music. I didn’t understand that when I was a young man.
You’ve heard people advertising their business and telling you about “one stop shopping”. That goes in the same category as “the sweetest sounding guitar in the world.” There’s a reason I have a half dozen suppliers in my guitar building business. No one place has everything I need. One of my suppliers told me he was not going to sell binding because there wasn’t enough money in it. Another supplier is very limited on the kinds of pickups they handle. It’s hard, if not impossible, for one business to be all things to all people.
And in my own shop, I have had to come to terms with my limitations. There are some things I don’t know how to do. There are some things I understand, but don’t have the necessary tools to get the job done. There are some things I don’t like to do, some things I don’t have room for, and some things I refuse to do. When I was young, I used to also say I was going to do everything possible on a stringed instrument in my shop.
Recently a man called me and wanted to tell me how I ought to be building guitars. I hate it when people tell me how to build, especially when they don’t know how. He sent me a picture of a guitar with something called “compensated frets”. The fret wire was not straight. It almost had a “Z” formation to it. He said the person on the Internet said that your notes would be more exact with these frets. I was trying my best to be nice and tell him “no” all the same time. Well, he wouldn’t give it up. He kept insisting that this is how I needed to be building my fret boards. I got real honest and told him I didn’t think my tools or I was capable of that. So he told me about a computer driven laser saw I needed to buy to get the job done. Sure! Great! Then I had to tell him I didn’t have space or money for such a piece of equipment. The short story is that I can’t be what he wants me to be, and he wouldn’t stop, so I quit talking with him. I’m getting old now and I’ve figured out that I can’t be all things to all people.
So I have this long list of things that are not going to be done in my shop. I don’t have it written in its entirety anywhere, but I do have it well fixed in my mind. I don’t build forgeries. I’m not saying forgeries don’t get built; I just don’t do it. I don’t build instruments that look like they need to have an exorcism performed over them. I don’t spray a three-color sunburst, and I don’t do much inlay. I don’t use endangered woods. Seems for every one thing I do in my shop, there are at least a half dozen things I don’t do. I talked about the computerized frets I’m not going to use. There are so many different ideas about how a fret board should be made. There’s also “fan fret spacing”. There are scalloped fret boards. Fret boards can be had with a radius, a half radius, or flat. And then the frets themselves come in different sizes and made from different minerals. And if that’s not enough, there are fretless fingerboards and several possibilities on the radius.
I’m like every other hand builder. We have all figured out how we are going to go about it in our shop. Lots of other things can be done – by somebody else. Being a small timer, I always hate to turn down work. But to always do a good job, sometimes I have to know when to say “when”.
Makin’ sawdust & Diggin’ the music