In this much delayed second installment of a three part series I am going to ruminate about the element of strength in building and life in general. As a reminder, I am calling this ESS-ential guitar building: E-xpression (previous post), S-trength, and S-implicity.
In 2010 I won my division in the ADAU national powerlifting championships. Powerlifting is a weightlifting competition in which the contestants must complete, to the satisfaction of the judges, three different lifts: squat, bench press, and dead lift. The total of those three efforts determines the winner. Success in this arena depends upon a few things:
- A qualified, encouraging trainer. People work out by themselves all the time, and that’s great. However, to press and pull heavy weights one needs to be taught proper form, instructed in the art of beneficial training sessions, and motivated to push harder.
- Willingness to be judged. My trainer stressed to me early on that “it doesn’t count until you do it on the platform.” There’s a lot of chatter, bragging really, in the gym about setting personal records and such. However, until put yourself out there in front of three judges and win their approval it just doesn’t count.
- Auxiliary training. If all you do in the gym is curl a bar you’ll end up with impressive biceps and nothing else. Powerlifting demands that the main muscles used in a lift be worked sufficiently. But all of the supportive muscles must be exercised, as well. Major muscles and contributing, auxiliary muscles must all be given attention. They augment each other.
- Healthy lifestyle. Proper nutrition, rest, hydration, mental attitude and discipline are equally as important, if not more, than the three previous factors.
So what does all of this have to do with guitar building? Well, let’s take them in the same order:
- Proper instruction. In the past if one wanted to become a luthier it required becoming part of the guild system and serving an extensive apprenticeship. In this fashion skills and knowledge were passed from one generation to the next. It was demanding and secretive. This has changed significantly, though. Today it is possible to access voluminous information on instrument building through the channels of YouTube, the internet, books and publications. But information alone is not sufficient. I don’t know of any accomplished builder who claims to have learned this craft completely on his or her own. No – we need to constantly seek instruction, advice and support.
- Getting your work out there. I started in this avocation by building cigar box guitars. When I decided to attend my first session of acoustic guitar building at Nazareth Guitar Institute I did so with a great deal of apprehension and trepidation. My wife suggested I take one of my cigar box guitars with me to show the instructors and other students. I objected strongly. After all, these were professionals and I didn’t want to be embarrassed. She is quite convincing, however, and I took one along. It wasn’t until the third day of the school that I worked up enough nerve to take the guitar in for ‘show and tell.’ Much to my surprise, it was received with great enthusiasm. So much so that one of the instructors purchased it from me! You never know how good your work is until it’s judged by others. Neither do you ever learn. Growth comes from overcoming the fear of judgement.
- Becoming well rounded. A luthier is one who completes every aspect of the build, from design to completion, by him or herself. Just as physical muscles have to work together, so do all the pieces of the guitar. I enjoy building fretboards and shaping necks. But if I concentrate solely on the things I’m good at, or enjoy, my guitars will never achieve a pleasing sound or aesthetic. I have to become proficient in designing bridges, scalloping braces and bending sides, as well.
- Joyful living. Several months ago I attended a workshop given by, among others, Michael Millard of Froggy Bottom Guitars. Someone asked the question, “How do you become a better builder?” His reply: “You become a better builder by becoming a better person.” I have become a firm believer that a truly great guitar is the result of the convergence of the spirit of the guitar (yes, I hold that they are living entities) and the spirit of the builder. Constant attention to, and improvement of, my moral character and life ethic is not to be dismissed or neglected.
So strength, as one of the three elements of ESS-ential guitar building, is made up of these parts. Come to think of it – so is life!