I want to talk about the building blocks, through my understanding and experience, of effective guitar building and creativity in general. Those three blocks are expression, strength, and simplicity; the ESS-entials of any endeavor. This particular blog entry is the first of three parts, in which I shall discuss expression.
Every person on this earth is unique and perceives the world through different filters. These filters, among so many others, include family background, place of birth, religious heritage, genetic makeup, financial setting, education, experience, travel opportunities, cultural surroundings, physical abilities, etc. All of these combined serve as a funnel through which raw information flows into the brain and spirit of an individual, becoming a storehouse of usable material. The old saying is “use it or lose it.” Unfortunately, either because of fear or deep sense of inadequacy, most of this raw bounty is never used, causing it to turn rancid and lethal. What a shame. Guitar builders, as well as artists and craftsmen of all types, consciously choose to enter the ‘flow’ of the universe, allowing their inner voices to be heard and experienced.
I had a lengthy conversation some time ago with the art critic from one of the Pittsburgh papers. Our discussion turned to Andy Warhol, who he referred to as a genius, and I asked him why he thought that was so. After all, he came to prominence and fame through his paintings of soup cans. Anybody can do that, right? “Sure,” he said, “anybody can do it, but he was the first to see it.” Vision, therefore, is a critical component of creative expression. There are millions of copiers in the world, but very few visionaries. And even fewer who actually dare to put what they see out there for others to appreciate or criticize. (In my experience I find the harshest critics to be those most constipated with the rancid, unused raw materials previously discussed.) On the surface, and to the untrained eye, most guitars look about the same. But each one in some way reflects the world view of the builder, and demonstrates the courage to get it ‘out there.’
Many years ago Bob Ross, now deceased, had a weekly instructional show on PBS called ‘The Joy of Painting,’ featuring his ‘wet on wet’ techniques. I loved that guy, not so much for his artistry and teaching abilities, but because of his commentary. Putting “happy little trees” into the landscape because “it’s your world” always amused and inspired me. Still does. But here’s the thing: in order to effectively use Bob’s medium for true artistic/creative endeavor, you had to really learn the technique. The vast majority of viewers, myself included, never learned, nor ever had any intention learning how to paint. We just wanted to have fun and live in the fantasy that we might, someday, become true artists. Andy Warhol did not just wander into a studio, pick up a brush for the first time, and paint those iconic soup cans. He was already an accomplished, practiced artist. Nobody just goes into a workshop and produces beautiful instruments. Those who express themselves through what they do have spent hours upon hours learning technique until it becomes second nature. Only then does that person have the capacity to express the wonder within.
A guitar is a wondrous, magical, living instrument. It provides a window into the soul of the builder. When passed into the hands of the musician it continues the journey, providing yet another window into the soul of the player.
Expression: the first ingredient of ESS-ential guitar building.