One of my clients came for an appointment yesterday, and brought with him an acoustic guitar that he had just finished making – and it was beautiful.
When I had visited him before at his place, he had a Les Paul (that’s an electric guitar for those who don’t know) hanging on a wall, inside a glass case. Turns out it wasn’t a genuine Les Paul, it was one he had made when he was a teenager (he’s now in his early 60’s). It looked pretty damn good to me!
He’s always enjoyed being able to make things, and being an accomplished guitarist himself, he recently decided to start seriously making guitars. I’m told there’s no money in it – apparently luthiers around the world are going broke or giving up. But he’s in a position now to be able to follow his dream – he’s made his money and literally doesn’t need to earn a cent to be comfortably off for the rest of his life. So he has set up a business as a luthier.
And what a beautiful guitar he had made. Gorgeous timbers, solid construction, beautiful edging and patterns using different timbers, seamlessly put together. Played like a dream too. He estimated that, due to the timbers used and other factors, it was probably worth around $5,000, and I believe him.
I stand in awe of craftsmen. When I look at exquisitely made furniture (and this wasn’t furniture but involves the same skills) I shake my head in disbelief. How do they cut the timbers so finely to fit together so well, and on top of that how can they cut timbers with swirls and differing shapes and it still all lines up like a (seamless) jigsaw puzzle. Now I’m sure there are some of you reading this who know how to do that stuff. Some of you might even be able to say “it’s not as hard as it looks”. Well, for you maybe, but for me – not a chance.
It’s not that I can’t cut timber. I’ve built things in the past, but nothing requiring craftsmanship. My best friend is bog, that stuff you slap into all the gaps to fill up where the joins don’t meet. And I know some of you will say, “Oh you just have to measure carefully, (measure twice, cut once I believe is the phrase). Done that – I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have been more careful, and yet still what I cut turns out to be close enough (with a bit of bog), but otherwise no two pieces of timber or panels are exactly the same shape.
I think that, although we can all improve at things, there are just some things we’ll never be good at. I’m a good bass guitarist, and I’m pretty good as an amateur sound engineer. I’m pretty good as a financial adviser (my day job), and even when it comes to handyman work, I’m okay. I get by, and as long as I can bog up my mistakes I’m happy with that. But I take my hat off to those who conjure up things with stone and wood (and any other material you care to mention).
I am stunned by artists’ ability to turn stone into a human form. I marvel at tiny works of art where the sculpting of the timber must have been with a microscope! I can’t get how people can hold their tools so still and move their fingers and hands with such incredible control.
Funny story (well slightly funny anyway). I decided to use a router to turn a piece of timber into a mantelpiece. Fairly straightforward design (I’m guessing router 101 stuff). Two pieces of timber later I decide to watch some YouTube “how to use a router” videos to try and work out where I was going wrong. And there’s this guy, just holding a router in his hand and guiding it along a piece of timber, putting a groove in with no trouble at all. And I couldn’t even do it with guides coming off the router (designed to keep the router in the same position as you move it along). This guy was killing me – holding the router in the right position as he moved it along with his bare hands, and not just in a straight line either – at the end of the piece of timber he just moves the router around its corner and finishes the end of it off. Aaaarrrggghhh.
Anyway my mantelpiece eventually got made after a lot of effort, a couple of tries (and new pieces of timber) and a minimum of mistakes (still some). But all along I had this picture of a guy doing the same thing in seconds without needing any jigs or guides for his router…
So, ladies and gentlemen with the gifted hands, I salute you. Please keep on doing what you do, and I, along with many, will gasp in genuine amazement at how you do it. And if anyone does not gasp with amazement, it’s either because they can already do it themselves, or they’re just too uneducated to realise how amazing it really is.