ESS-ential Guitar Building: part one


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.’

PBS Remix-Happy Painter

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.



4 thoughts on “ESS-ential Guitar Building: part one

    • Dean L. Patterson

      But does the unfolding cease, if the holder of the instrument considers himself above the realm of the instrument’s capabilities? Likewise, does the unfolding cease, if the musician just plain sucks or only knows how to play “Sunshine On My Shoulders”? My ‘expression’ is confined to factual existence of my capabilities, yet I still enjoy playing G, C and D chord songs.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Doc

        Imagine an endless roll of toilet paper: The person who uses 3 and only 3 sheets at every throne session begins to stink and eventually realizes (hopefully) s/he stinks. The guitarist who is satisfied with using 3 and only 3 chords eventually/hopefully realizes their playing has become… well… crappy. The luthier who becomes satisfied with shaping braces just 1 and only 1 way refuses to unroll the full potential of each individual instrument. I think the Expressive variable in the ESS construct is inherently logical and unlimited in its unfolding. How do you release that power? Learn some new chords, sharpen your chisel, use more paper.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Dean L. Patterson

        Ok, I’ll buy that. But riddle me this, Mister Smarty Pants. (Should be the title for your blog! lol) I loved my Applause and Celebrity guitars, both products of assembly line construction and imported to music stores all across the country. My playing improved greatly and I could make the guitar sound better than most who picked it up and played it. You, however, could make it do more things than I could just because of your skill level. We have the same basic techniques due to me learning from you. I would say though that if Eric Clapton or Yngwie Malmsteen were to play those guitars, they would make it sound possibly even better. The way you strike the strings, the way you hold your fingers, and the way you hold the guitar change the sound according to each player. But none loved those guitars like I did, and therefore, none made it sound as good as I did – in my mind, that is. So therefore, this validates the articles point of validating the window into the soul of the player, and therefore the builder as well. I have only had the privilege of playing one of the guitars that Doug has built, but it was magical. The sound was beautiful! Probably the best guitar I’ve ever played. (Mainly because I’ve never been able to afford hand-made guitars, so I’ve never bothered picking them up – just as I’ll never test drive a cadillac!) I guess you’re correct though, my increased use of paper has definitely led me to be a better player! (What a joy it is to ramble on like this – guess I should start my own blog eh?)

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s