Friday, March 26, 2010

the creative process is like magic

I've now put a video on Youtube showing the new CBG together with the case and an amp I made from an old radio extension speaker. You can here it and me waffling about it here.

I'm going to waffle a bit more about it here. What I want to discuss is how enjoyable it has been making this guitar and the case that I made a few weeks ago, which will house it. It has taken me to a new level of creativity that I haven't found before. Now you might think I'm getting a bit weird here but the fact that you are here reading about these things, means we have a certain weirdness in common so I'm forgiven! You see I decided they were going to be special in some way. They were always going to be keepers so I was prepared to take however long it took to get there. I always put some original element into each guitar I make, but to some extent, the main construction usually follows a certain loose formula. There was no formula here. There were several new learning curves to overcome - fitting frets, a magnetic coil pickup making the box etc. I ruined one neck to start with, which was a stupid mistake because I hadn't thought it through properly. So that's when I decided to take my time and get it right and build a guitar I would cherish for a long time. Having decided there was no rush to finish them, I could allow myself the luxury of time and letting my ideas ferment a while, before committing them to the build. The effect of that was to allow me to savour the creative process. A bit like enjoying a special meal, not just eating it to satisfy hunger, but taking your time and enjoying every mouthful. The luxury of not rushing it meant I was happy to experiment a bit first and if something didn't look quite right, I could try something else until I was happy.

Now this is where it gets even weirder. I have a sort of theory, that if you use a bit of sensitivity in the creative process and add the ingredient of time, so that things can materielise, the desired object (guitar, case or whatever you're making) will take form by itself to a large degree. You will need to help it along with your craft skills, but it will gather momentum and attract things to itself (I warned you it was getting weird.) Let me explain how this process panned out with this guitar. I found the cigar box at a car boot sale. It was quite old and nicely aged. Inside it were a pair of dice and a plastic toy Skeletor. I had a loose idea of what I wanted - an understated, aged looking, rat-rod guitar with frets.

So that determined the general feel of how it should look but not much to go on there. Let's see how it develops. Now to start creating. This is where your sensitivity, imagination and an eye for what looks good, pay dividends. The first element to find it's way to the guitar was the magentic pick-up. I was incredibly fortunate to win a hand-wired pick-up that JuJu had made when I attended the Birmingham CBG fest. That was definitely going to go in this guitar which determined how the neck needed to be built. A hefty reinforcing piece inside the box to facilitate cutting a big chunk out to house the pick-up. I built the neck and thought about how to finish it. The aged look of the box "told" me, the neck needed to look aged too, so needed some woodstain. I experimented with a few shades and found one that I thought looked good with the colour of the box, a dark stain that rubs back nicely to look like it's worn. I found a cool piece of rusty metal plate in my uncle's garage. Painted white with rust bursting through, it had a number of holes drilled in it. The shape reminded me of the chrome control plate on a Telecaster. Bingo, that's what I'll do with that. I had an old starter module from a flourescent light fitting. I liked the knurled edge and simple shape of it and being white, I thought it would make a nice volume knob to go with the white rusty plate. I cut it in half and glued it over an old knob so it would fit the spindle of the potentiometer. One of the holes in the plate could be enlarged to house the jack socket. I decided a white headstock would go well with the white plate and knob but the aged look of the box "suggested" I should give it an aged look too. I used some crackle finish liquid on the front of it then painted it with white emulsion. See how the metal plate is partly determining the way the other components will look. A little brown boot polish yellowed the white paint and some judicial sanding made it look worn-in. The minimal look I aspired to told me I shouldn't go overboard on the fret markers, so I opted for tiny triangles of white in the corners of the frets. An old rusty hinge from my box of bits made a tailpiece for the strings, it. The bone slide I bought from Randy came with some nut blanks. I figured as this was going to be a special guitar, I'd use them to make the nuts and saddle. That determined the bridge which needed to be wood to hold the bone. I had an idea I wanted an old, well-worn but thin, leather strap. I found two old dog leashes on a car boot sale, perfect for the job. A little modification to the ends and I have a cool, clip-on strap. The sound holes - now there's a story there but I'm keeping that one a mystery! Finally I had the idea of using the dice and skeletor as part of the guitar. I sliced off one side of one dice with the intention of inlaying it into the fretboard for the 12th fret. I tried it in place but it spoilt the minimal look of the fretboard so what else could I do with it? Make a tiny pick. What about Skeletor? Too big, new looking and colourful to use but what about cutting his tiny head off, which then looked like a small jewel and planting it somewhere? I found the perfect place, just nestling behind the nut on the headstock. The headstock was square-ended to begin with but the rounded shape of the pick-up and switchplate suggested a rounded end would look better, so I cut it round too.

There we have it. Can you see how time and a sensitivity to the design and the components you have, will sort of tell you what needs to be done and how it kind of shapes the final look? And if you allow yourself this luxury, you'll get immense pleasure from your creation. I am always surprised at the end of a build, to some degree, as to how a guitar turns out. It's almost like looking at it for the first time. Until it's strung up and I've played it, it's just a bunch of parts, but then hey presto, as if by magic, it becomes an entity of it's own. It's like a butterfly emerging from a coccoon.

See I told you I was weird! Weird is great - embrace your weirdness and get creating something that will be entirely unique, incredibly personal and totally enjoyable.


TedCrocker said...

Embrace your weirdness!

Works for me too...


Anonymous said...

Having studied magic for a while I can say that you are indeed making real magic.
By paying attention and taking time to do this project you drew what you needed to you. Some would say the Universe gave you what you needed.
Whatever the process, it's great when it happens!


David said...

Well that's two disciples for weirdness. Thanks for your input. Jeff, interesting comment, I understand what you are saying. Without getting too esoteric, I believe that is the process for any creative endeavour. It starts with a thought or an idea and if you give it enough mental energy, it will eventually take form. We call it magic but it's just the natural laws of the universe. And yes it's great when it happens.

Anonymous said...

Maybe your next guitar should be based around the old voodoo 'selling your soul at the crossroads' Robert Johnson theme :-)


David said...

He got it a long time ago!

Anonymous said...

Hahaha! I hope you got something nice for it!
I could do with a Dremel.....No! I mustn't be tempted...