Monday, August 31, 2009

Birthday Video

This is the video that was shown during the worship services yesterday. Angela collected the pictures and Ricky Kelly did the slide show. This part was fun; lots of really good memories. (Insert old person/memory joke here.) Thanks Angela and Ricky.

Enjoy the one of me without any facial hair. There was a six-month period in Georgia when, on a whim, I shaved off the mustache I had had since I was a high school senior. Angela didn't even recognized me when she first saw me. Other than that six months I've tried to cover this mug covered with something!

Angela couldn't find any pictures of me with my black Labs, Magnum, who was Lab #1 while we were in Georgia, and Bear, who moved to Frederick with us when he was a year old. But she got Bubba, our first dog, and Kobi, the current one.

Turning 50

Which I did yesterday.

On a Sunday.

No way to ignore it.

No way to low-key it.

Two services. It's embarrassing enough to have a dozen people sing Happy Birthday to you. Try it with 180 people. Then do it again a couple of hours later with over 200.

And this is how I found my office:

Seriously, is this any way to treat an old fart?

More on turning 50 to come...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Binding Wrap

Wood bindings can leave more gaps in the gluing than plastic bindings, so there's two things I need to deal with this: twill tape, and super glue (with accelerant).

I use the same blue painters tape to glue the bindings, but the wood's resistance can be stronger than the tape's adhesive, so to try to make the binding as tight as possible the guitar gets wrapped in some twill material.

I went to JoAnn's Fabrics last year and bought about 100 yards, though they didn't have 100 yards in any one color, so I got three different colors and tied them together. I think I was the only guy in the cloth material department. Maybe the only guy in the whole store. I kept resisting the urge to say, "I'm building a guitar. In a workshop. With, you know, power tools and stuff. Definitely not making a dress or anything. Working with wood and sharp tools."

Probably no one would believe me anyway.

So here's what the guitar looks like all wrapped up:

Some guys are able to do this in such a way that the wrapping looks beautifully symmetrical, almost like art.

I am not. I blame it on the cutaway.

That's my new theme. I'm blaming everything on the cutaway.

So that gets a good overnight dry, and I do the top binding. In spite of my efforts, there is still some gaps, mainly around the waist and the cutaway.

Here's where super glue and accelerant comes in. I loosen the binding in the area where the gap occurs so that it's flexible again and can be pushed flush to the body.

A couple of drops of super glue, spray the accelerant, and push like crazy! (Wearing rubber gloves, of course.) After ten seconds, the glue has cured and there's no gap.


So what's left is to scrap and sand the bindings. This is sweaty work, but in the end I'm pleased with the result.

Here's the top (it's been sprayed with a light coating of shellace to protect the light spruce from the dust of the rosewood, which can stain it):

Here's the cutaway, and you can see how I've mitered the b/w/b purfling. Takes a lot of trial and error to sneak up on the right fit, but I think it turned out pretty well:

And here's a view of the back and one side. Clark and I made a good decision to go with the rosewood bindings rather than the black ebony. The ebony would have been nice, but the rosewood bindings match better.

The bindings are the most harrowing part of the process, in my opinion, but a good binding job really looks nice.

Glad to be done with it though.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Back At It

After two weeks working on the house, I finally have some time to work on the guitar. The den is painted, and the furniture put back in order, but we are going to put some wood trim up, possibly next week, so we're not quite done.

On the last guitar-related post, I routed the ledges for the binding and purflings. Before anything can get installed, the bindings and purflings have to get bent or else they will break. For the thin white/black/white purflings bending is just a matter of soaking them in very hot water for just a minute, then taping them on the guitar with blue painter's tape. When they dry the hold the shape.

For the wider decorative purfling, the hot water works pretty well, but since I have to get out the pipe and blow torch for the bindings, I use this to bend them. Once again I tape them to the guitar body and when they are cool they retain the shape.

The rosewood bindings that I bent when I bent the sides came out all right, but the non-cutaway bindings need some touch up. As for the cutaway bindings, there was more cracking than I originally thought, so I ordered some more and bent them on the pipe. It's a painstaking process, but it works. There is just a little splitting on the horn of the cutaway, but it's shallow and will be sanded away.

It actually took me a couple of nights working with the bending pipe to get everything ready to be glued. First to get glued is the b/w/b purfling that will go underneath the rosewood bindings. Then it's the decorative purfling that is inlayed on the top and the back. In this picture the purflings has already been glued on the top, and I'm getting ready to glue it on the back. Since the glue sets fairly quickly, I have the blue tape ready so I can just grab each piece.

Everything is glued and ready for an overnight dry. It doesn't need this much time, but it was late and I was ready to go in for the night.

Here's a close-up of the purfling. You can also see the b/w/b purfling on the side and the channel waiting for the bindings.

You can see now why I needed to do three routs per side: one for the decorative purfling, one for the binding, and then a final one to deepen the binding rout to accomodate the b/w/b purfling. I wouldn't have needed this third rout if I planned to continue the b/w/b all around the butt, but I intend to stop at the butt-wedge and miter the purfling, which gives a nice effect that I'll show you when we get there.

Gluing the binding is more complicated, so I'll get to that in a later post.

It's good to be back. Hope you missed me. If so, tell Pam that the house looks great and doesn't need any more painting. :)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Don't Have to be Famous to Make a Difference

Check this out.

Pretty cool.

About time to start thinking about Water For Christmas again.

Why Haven't There Been Any Guitar-Building Posts This Week?

Because The Wife has had me involved in this:

That's the current state of our den. We're painting. Every room in this house has been painted at least once in the 14 years we've lived here, but not the den. It had wallpaper on the lower half, and the contractor didn't prep the wall before applying it, so there was not to be any removing of wall paper, not without significant drywall repair. Or replacement.

So Angela has moved to Alexandria, VA, and Austin has moved into her old room.

And Pam is nesting or something. So last week we painted Austin's old room. And part of the hallway.

That last wasn't part of the original plan. Pam mentioned while I was working on Austin's old room that the hallway had some problem spots from the last painting that needed fixing, and would I fix them. Sure, what the heck.

But when I finished Austin's old room and came out to fix the hallway, I found out that Pam's definition of "fix the hallway" means "repaint-the-hallway-with-a-different-color-paint-because-I-really-didn't-like-the-last-shade."

Like she hadn't planned it all along. And like I can't smell a con.

She's an evil woman.

So that done, we turn our attention to the den. We had to spackle the wallpaper seams, then sand them smooth before applying the primer. All the furniture had to be moved to the center. We primed yesterday.

Tomorrow Lynette Briggs, wife of Clark, for whom I'm building the zebrawood guitar, is going to come over tomorrow after church and she and Pam are going to paint. Burgundy on the bottom, some shade of tan on top. They've probably got fancier names than that, like "Regal Porcelain" or some other completely random and contrived name, but I'm a guy. It's burgundy and tan.

As long as it's not pink. My only demand was that the den remain a masculine room. Ain't watching the Orioles and Redskins in a pink room with flowers and crap.

So that's what I've been doing. Painting, plastering, and sanding. Gotta earn the right to work on the guitar.

Practice Makes...

“Practice makes perfect.” We’ve all heard that saying. And it’s not true.

Practice something the wrong way, and all you will have learned is how to do it the wrong way. You may perfectly perform it the wrong way, but I don’t think that’s the point, either of the saying or of what it is you are trying to do.

Who wants to be really good at making mistakes?

Cal Ripken Jr. used to say that his father changed the saying to “Perfect practice makes perfect.” His point, of course, is that it is important to practice doing something the right way if you want to learn to do it the right way. When I was a kid forced to take piano lessons my teacher and my mother was always telling me to slow down when I practiced. I kept trying to play the song up to speed when I couldn’t play it perfectly at a slower tempo. But slow seemed wrong, also. It was boring, and it was, well, slow. But all I was doing was making mistakes and, worse, actually entrenching my mistakes into my muscle memory, guaranteeing that I would continue to make the same mistakes. Perfect practice makes perfect.

But, honestly, perfection occurs in so little areas in our lives. It’s a worthy goal, but sometimes it can get in the way. When I was building my first guitar I kept having problems with the pearl position markers on the fretboard, so I kept re-doing them, seeking perfection. They were good, but I wanted perfect. Well, in guitar-building, little is perfect. All things need to be done well, and a few things need to be done with excellence, but the perfect guitar has yet to be built, and certainly not by a novice working on his first guitar. Finally my instructor had to come over and say, “Why don’t you fix that on your next guitar.” In other words, you did your best on this part. Accept that, and let’s finish the guitar.

But here’s a saying that is true: practice makes possible. I may never build a perfect guitar, but I’ll never build any guitars without practice. I may never play lead guitar like Erick Clapton or, for that matter, like Billy Winpigler, no matter how much I practice, but one thing is for sure, I won’t play any lead guitar without practicing. If I were to go out and try to run a marathon this weekend, I would collapse into a groaning, sweating, pathetic mess after a few miles because I haven’t trained for a marathon.

But if I were to decide that I wanted to run a marathon, and actually trained for it, I could do it, barring injury. I could run 26.2 miles without stopping if I trained for it.
It’s not enough to decide to do it, however. It’s not enough to want to do it really bad. I would have to actually train for it. Then, and only then, would it be possible.

All of us have decided at one time or another to learn a skill, whether that be to learn the violin or to play soccer; to learn trout fishing or tai chi. In each case, that decision led us to a community that carried the tradition of how to learn the skill. To be successful, we entered into the practice of that community and tradition by submitting ourselves to the authority to those who had become proficient in the skill.

At the beginning, what they have us do is boring and tedious and only remotely related to what we ultimately want to do. To play Bach, you don’t start with Bach. You start with the C Major scale and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” If you are a couch potato who is in your first day of marathon training, you don’t start by running 26.2 miles, you start by walking for 30 minutes without stopping. If you can. Real slow. Because no one plays Bach who can’t play “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”, and no one runs a marathon who can’t walk for 30 minutes. The spiritual life is no different. You may want to grow closer to God, and more like Christ. You may even have decided to do it. But it’s not going to happen because you want it or because you have decided to do it. There are certain practices you have to incorporate into your life. Spiritual Disciplines, they are called. And at first, they will seem tedious, repetitive, boring, and far removed from your ultimate goal.

But these are things that the Christian tradition says are necessary practices for growth. Prayer. Sabbath. Study, both in solitude and in group. Service. Silence. Meditation. Fasting. Worship. And the list is longer. Some are necessary, and you will need to do them all your life, like the master pianist doing her scales or the professional basketball player doing the same passing and dribbling drills that he’s been doing since elementary school. Some are seasonal, to help with a particular issue or a particular skill.

But all are necessary. Because what is possible is only possible through practice

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Toil and Struggle

Train yourself in godliness, for, while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.

1 Timothy 4:7-10

There is an article in today’s (Thursday) Washington Post sports section by columnist Sally Jenkins in which she questions whether the two years in prison that quarterback Michael Vick spent for dog fighting has eroded the elite skills necessary for playing in the NFL. I don’t much care whether Vick plays or not; what I found interesting is what she had to say about what is required for elite performance. For instance, she writes that Ivan Lendl, once the #1 professional men’s tennis player in the world, said that if he took one week off, he needed a month of training to recover the feel in his hands and the reactions of his feet. "If I don't play for two weeks, I can't hit a topspin," he said. "I just lose the timing, I can't move on the court; I lose everything.”

One neuroscientist says that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to master any craft. 10,000 hours. If you wonder how long it would take a person to get that many hours of practice in, Jenkins cites studies on professional athletes and musicians that say that it takes about three hours of practice a day, 20 hours a week, for 10 years to achieve the level of expertise we associate with world class. Do the math, and that’s 10,400 hours.

Better get busy.

Scientists tried to design robotic arms that could throw and catch a football, and found that their computers can’t keep up with the human brain. Catching a football requires constant microsecond adjustments to the flight of the ball. A computer can predict the trajectory, but by the time the computer has determined exactly where the ball will land, it is too late to start moving. The human brain, on the other hand, gets the hands moving while it still has a poor sense of the ball’s location, predicting the ball’s flight path with incomplete data while taking into account wind, rain, and the impending hit of the defensive back. A computer needs to go through literally millions of steps to solve the numerous mathematical equations to catch the ball. But the brain of a trained athlete, doesn't make such calculations, but actually predicts what will happen by retrieving the old information of hundreds of thousands of catches and throws. “The memory of how to catch a ball was not programmed into your brain; it was learned over years of repetitive practice, and is stored, not calculated, in your neurons."

Paul’s example of physical training as it relates to spiritual training is therefore very appropriate. Godliness, he says, doesn’t come naturally. It’s a spiritual work, of course; but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything for us to do. If we are spiritual beings we are also bodily beings, and, as Dallas Willard points out in The Divine Conspiracy, every spiritual thing we do involves our bodies, even if that involvement is to still our bodies and quiet our minds. If you’ve ever tried to do either you know how much discipline and practice it takes.

Maybe 10,000 hours?

Notice the verbs Paul uses—toil and struggle. Anyone who thinks that living the Christian life is either passive or easy has to ignore such words. No, it takes practice, discipline, perseverance, and desire. You have to want it bad, and then pursue it relentlessly.

We’ve just finished a couple of weeks of sports camps, and the kids had a lot of fun. But they weren’t very good, not yet. Good will come, but only for those who are willing to put in many lonely hours practicing the skills Coach Jay taught them. Ever heard a beginning music student? The violin sounds like a cat with it’s tail under a rocking chair, a saxophone sounds like an angry goose, and a guitar sounds like the clunk clunk of someone walking down wooden stairs. A lot of muscle memory has to be developed before the beauty of the instrument is revealed.

The Christian life is no different. Participation in worship and Bible study every week is the bare minimum, but if that’s all you do it will be like the music student who goes to lessons every week all their life but never practices between lessons, or the athlete who plays a game once a week but doesn’t practice in between. There will be no improvement, and lot’s of frustration.

Discipleship isn’t a program run by the church; it’s a lifestyle of developing muscle memory through daily, often repetitive, practice, so that when it’s game time, we’re ready.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Nice to be Wrong

Yesterday I said that it was great to have Brian Matusz making his major league debut, even though he would probably lose.

Wrong. He pitched a nice game, though he was pulled after five innings when his pitch count reached 99. He showed the best stuff of any pitcher the Orioles have had since Mike Mussina--who coincidentally made his major league debut on the exact same date 18 years ago. Mussina pitched great but lost 1-0. Fortunately, the O's gave Matusz plenty of run support.

Yesterday marked the sixth time this season that a rookie pitcher made his major league debut for the Orioles, and five of them have won, with the other getting a no-decision in a game the O's went on to win. That's 6-0 in debut games. I see the beginning of a strategy forming here.

So now everyone will learn how to pronounce Matusz's name. I've been saying "Mah-TOOZ," but it's "MATT-is." I have a feeling people in both leagues will be saying that name for a long time.

And for the first time in years, I'm actually thinking it would be fun to go to Camden Yards and watch an O's game. Maybe when Matusz is pitching.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Late Summer Sports

I realize this has become more of a guitar-building blog lately, and that may be fine for some of you, but I do have other interests, so let me try to broaden my horizons a little.

Usually by this time of year it's too painful to pay much attention to the Orioles, and I find myself paying more attention to the Redskin's training camp. Like baseball spring training, hope abounds during NFL training camp season. Every team is 0-0, and every season has a surprise team or two that exceeds expectations. The Redskins are usually the winners of the off-season, adding high-priced free agents and drafting a guy or two with high expectations. Every August they tease us with hopes of a successful season and a run, not just to the playoffs, but deep into the playoffs.

And then the season starts, and it's just frustration. They beat some really good teams like the Eagles or Cowboys, and then lose to some dogs like the Rams. The offense struggles to put up 20 points, and the defense, while strong, can't sack the quarterback or force turnovers which lead to points. If they make the playoffs, it's just barely, and they usually lose the first game.

Yet every year they talk about the Super Bowl. Seriously, win the division before you talk about the Super Bowl.

On the other hand, the Orioles for the last few years have stunk it up the last half of the season. August and September are brutal. The worse part is, there's little hope. The veteran pitchers can't get anyone out, the young pitchers they bring up from the minors aren't good enough, and there's no reason to think anything is going to change anytime soon.

This year is different. Training camp has started for the Redskins, and I'm hardly paying any attention to it. They signed Albert Haynesworth to a trillion dollars, and maybe he'll be as good as he has been the last few years and will improve the pass rush.

But the offensive line is old, injury prone, there's no depth, and everything starts with the offensive line. If it can't open holes for the running backs, and if it can't protect the passer, there are going to be a lot of 3-and-outs. The offense is going to look like all the previous years: gaining lots of yards between the twenty yard lines, but unable to deliver more than a field goal if that.

What good is a great defense if the offense can't score more than 15 points? Not a lot of low-scoring games in the NFL, and that's all the Redskins have been able to win lately. Most people are predicting that Washington will finish behind the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys, and I can't find any reason to contradict that.

Meanwhile, the Orioles seem to be repeating their late-season swoon, but this year it's different. This year the rookies they have brought up have been good. Nolan Reimold, whom few were talking about in the off-season, is making a case for Rookie-of-the-Year. Matt Wieters is learning how to hit major league pitching and appears to be everything that people said he would be when he was pegged as the top minor-league prospect in all of baseball. Brad Bergeson has been the Orioles best pitcher. David Hernandez has shown he can shut down good hitting teams. Chris Tillman has been hit hard in his first two major league starts, but he has the stuff to be a #3 or maybe even a #2 pitcher in the O's rotation. He has to learn to keep the ball down in the strike zone, and he may need to pitch backwards i.e. instead of using his fastball to set up his other pitches, using his outstanding curve to set up his fastball. But few pitchers have immediate success in the majors. It's a big jump between the high minors and the majors. He'll get better.

Tonight Brian Matusz makes his major league debut. He'll probably lose, but that's all right. He has blown through the minors in his first season of professional ball. I wish they O's could have kept him in AA this year, started him in AAA next year and brought him up after a couple of months--the Wieter's Plan, they call it, since that's what the O's did with him. That was the plan, but Bergeson got a bruised knee from a line drive last week and can't pitch for a couple of weeks, and Matusz did so well at AA that he became their best option. He's never pitched into September, so it will be interesting to see if the O's stretch him out into September, shut him down after another month or so, or even go to a six-man rotation to give everyone more rest.

I vote for the latter. We're playing for next season right now. Protect their arms, but give them the experience they need to be successful, and let them get used to throwing to Wieters.

So there it is. For the first time in years, it's August and I'm more interested in the Orioles than in the Redskins.

And that's the way it should be.

Monday, August 3, 2009

In a Bind

Pam and I were gone all of last week to the Eastern Shore, so that's why there haven't been any posts. No cable TV, no Internet, cell phones barely worked. Being disconnected from the world for a few days isn't so bad.

This week of vacation was supposed to last through Sunday, but Pam realized she needed to be back in town on Saturday for an all-day meeting, so we came back on Friday night, but since I already had someone to preach for me Sunday morning, I continued my vacation at home, spending almost all the time in the garage workshop.

Now that the body is assembled, it's time to install bindings. The bindings protect the end-grain of the top and back from being crushed, and really dress the guitar up.

They can also be a pain in the butt-wedge. I have to rout ledges where the sides meet the top and the back, and if anything goes wrong you can really mess a guitar up. Ever see a bad binding job on a guitar? Nope, neither have I, because if you mess it up, you either fix it or you just start over. That's how much a bad binding job can mess a guitar up.

Things are complicated by the fact that, because they are radiused, the top and back are not perpendicular to the sides. If this isn't taken into account, the router will make a cut that isn't square to the sides, leaving the bindings thin at the top and thick at the bottom.

There are a variety of ways to deal with this. Earlier this year I bought a jig that holds the router square to the sides. Here it is:

The guitar is held in a carriage and adjustments are made so that it is square to the table at the neck and butt ends. The router is attached to a platform which rides freely vertically on a metal post.
The bit extends below a smooth plastic ring, which rides just on the edge of the top or back, discounting their radii. The sides are narrower at the neck than at the butt, but the router simply moves up and down as the sides are rotated under it.

The depth of the cut is determined by how far under the ring the bit is extended. The width of the cut is controlled by bearings--the smaller the bearing, the wider the cut. Here is the bit with one of the bearings attached, and the different bearings that can be used.

There is a lot of trial and error here--but not on the guitar. I take a piece of the binding and change out bearings until I get one that allows for as flush of a cut as possible. The depth is such that the binding is just proud of the surface. The I test it on a piece of scrap wood. I make a cut, place a piece of binding in it and determine what adjustments must be made.

Adjust depth, change out bearings, test the cut, make more adjustment. When I'm satisfied, I rout the ledge, first on the back.

Look closely and you can see the ledge, and look closer and you can see a piece of the rosewood binding that I've place in the ledge. Here's a closer look:

Seems straightforward, huh? But I have to rout not just for binding but for the decorative purflings that are on the top and back surfaces. And, because my life isn't complicated enough, I've decided to add a purfling line under the bindings. Remember the black/white/black that bordered the butt-wedge? I'm going to use that same purfling under the bindings.

Sooooo....I have to first rout for the binding. Then, because this purfling is going to be mitred to that of the butt-wedge, I have to adjust the depth to accomodate it, stopping just short of the butt-wedge, and finish by hand with a chisel.

You know what? This will be clearer when I install the bindings and purflings, so let's just leave it for now.

After making those two routs, I have to make a third rout for the back purfling. That's three routs, testing and adjusting for each one.

Then I have to do it all over again with the top. This takes time. Plus I had to assemble the routing jig, which took most of Saturday morning. Finished the routing Monday night, and hope to have all the binding installed by the end of this weekend.

But stay tuned. This part is never easy.