Why do I keep building guitars?

spiral guitar by g weigert 2014

That was a question put to me recently which fairly got me thinking about how best to answer it.

Most usually it’s asked more in the way of, ‘why don’t you make children’s toys/doll’s houses/wooden jewellery/furniture/tables/beds/shelves/fitted kitchens/garden furniture/signs etc… or else go out and get a regular wage-paying job?’ and I must admit I do all of those former things, largely to avoid the latter. But still I make guitars. Even if I’m doing all those other wood-working jobs and don’t have any commissions for instruments, there’s always a guitar or some other instrument in the process of being built. When I finish one, I start another.

In some small way, it’s about immortality. I know that sounds a bit vain and it probably is, but I’m just trying to be honest, so I’ll tell you what I mean. A guitar or any musical instrument, is, in some way, a living thing. Not in quite the same way as me or you or any other biological life-form on this planet. Yet when you play music on it, it somehow comes alive. So there’s that coupled with likelihood that these instruments will still remain after I’m gone, which has some kind of morbid attraction. But I won’t dwell on it because it’s not the main reason.

Mainly it’s the mystery. I’m like a detective who creates his own mysteries to solve. The mystery of how the instrument will sound when it’s finished. What will be its voice? The long and complex process of taking the finest bits of wood and crafting them into an exquisite object also capable of producing music, to solve the mystery, as it were.

It’s the knowledge. The pursuit of knowledge, the gaining of knowledge. It’s a strange sort of knowledge. Completely useless in some ways, but in other ways, very deep and profound.

What can you do with the knowledge of being able to take a board of dry wood, hold it to your ear, tap it and listen to the tone it makes and then envision the kind of sound a guitar would have if that piece of wood was part of it? Nothing, apart from build guitars.

And then how can you test, increase and deepen that knowledge unless you actually build that guitar? You can’t.

What can you do with the knowledge of how thin to make a delicate spruce soundboard to get the optimum musical response for that particular piece of wood? It’s not an easy knowledge to gain because the actual thickness is on the very edge of too thin. It’s a difference of fractions of millimetres. And you have to make a few too thin to find out how thin is too thin. Those guitars are likely to crack at some point, which isn’t such a disaster as some people think it is, but it’s hardly a selling point either.

But what can you do with such knowledge as that, apart from make guitars? Nothing.

And so when my friend asks me why I keep on making guitars the only answer I can give is, ‘because I’m a guitar maker.’

And if he were to ask me why I’m a guitar maker, I would also have to answer, ‘because I’m a guitar maker.’ if that makes any sense.

What would be a guitar maker who didn’t make guitars but a store of useless knowledge?

One Response to “Why do I keep building guitars?”

  1. Dane April 27, 2015 at 12:09 am #

    Gideon…I think I’m going to print your explanation, enlarge it, gilt it, and put it in a frame. And, I don’t even make guitars! I’ve been making mountain dulcimers for decades, but there’s nothing out there I feel I can use as a standard. So, I use you guys. Just yesterday I went to the Handmade Musical Instrument Show (41st) here in Portland, Oregon. Once again I humbly return to my shop and try again to match the excellence I see in all those incredible guitars and other handcrafted instruments. Why do I keep doing this? No one is ever going to pay me for what my instruments should be bringing! Always under a grand. Well, I do it for all the same reasons you make your guitars. I’m just not articulate enough to try to explain it to anyone else. Now I don’t have to. I’ll just point to the explanation hanging on my shop wall. Thanks.
    Dulcimer Dane

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