Fellow blogger and FLATPICK_L list member ‘GoodAcoustics’ recently published an interview with Ken Miller. It covers how Ken got into building, his thoughts on materials and methods, and his ideas about how his instruments compare to others. Interesting, informative, and concise. Check it out at GuitarBench.Com.
Regular readers may recall that I developed an elbow problem a couple of months ago. At the time I attributed it to playing my guitar for an extended period during a home recording session, based on my experience since then I remain convinced that this is the case. Playing guitar seems to be the only activity that affects the condition, and any subtle changes I have made in regard to playing position, length of practice/playing sessions, and even the music I’m playing, will cause some change in the condition. As I said when I originally wrote about it, I determined to treat the problem by playing in shorter time increments and paying strict attention to playing posture. I also have made a point to wrap the elbow in an ACE bandage, especially when sleeping.
VERY slowly, but surely, all this seems to have paid off. Since that initial injury, this morning is the first time I have absolutely no stiffness or soreness in the elbow. In my mind I keep expecting to feel a twinge when, say, I pick up the milk jug for my cereal, or pull my t-shirt over my head. But so far, nothing.
I’ll continue the wrapping and the short practice sessions for some time to come, because I feel sure if I’m not watchful the condition will return. But today at least, I feel like nothing ever happened.
Thinking about all this lately, something interesting occurred to me. While I was in Florida visiting the Millers, we all played music together for a fairly long time on Saturday night. On Sunday, though, my arm didn’t feel any worse than it had on Saturday. So now I’m wondering if perhaps the neck profile on the Miller guitars, which is considerably thinner than on my D-28, might have been a factor. Of course there are all sorts of variables involved, but if I’m still having discomfort when the new guitar arrives it will be interesting to see if I can tell any difference in how each affects my problem.
This week I got an update from Virginia and a few new pictures. I suppose once work gets under way on a project like this, things progress rather quickly.
For starters, the back bracing has been shaped:
The top and sides, last seen in the gluing process, are dry and ready for the next step. These images also give you a good look at the unkerfed linings:
And the back has been glued and weighted:
According to the email, the guitar body is now out of the forms altogether, and ready to be routed for the bindings. Also, Ken will soon be starting work on the neck.
Can’t you just feel my suspense building?
Well, the time finally arrived. Last Friday morning Suzy dropped me at the airport and I headed down to Tallahassee to visit Ken and Virginia Miller. Due to a delay during my layover in Atlanta I arrived in Florida roughly an hour later than planned, but otherwise the trip was smooth and uneventful. Ken was waiting for me in the terminal, and after just a few minutes’ ride I was standing in his shop staring at the makings of my new guitar. Too cool. We chatted about it briefly, and the Ken showed me around the house and to the guestroom, where I unloaded my stuff and settled in a bit. Then it was right back out to the shop for a closer look.
I’d received an email just a few days prior saying that the side bending was done, and that was the first piece I saw. Made of highly-figured mahogany from ‘The Tree,’ the sides were now pieced together in a jig:
Next, he showed me the top. The bracing:
The shell rosette:
The back is made from the same mahogany as the sides:
The back bracing is in place, but not yet trimmed or shaped. The center stripe support is also made from ‘The Tree’:
Ken and I chatted about the build, and guitars in general until time to start the grill for dinner. It was sprinkling rain outside, but we stood around on the screened in “pickin’ porch” and got to know each other a bit while we waited for the coals to catch out on the deck. Soon Virginia arrived from work, and joined the conversation. Before long, there was grilled chicken, baked sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli on the table, and we washed it all down with fresh brewed iced tea. (Why can’t I ever remember to make iced tea at home?) Delicious.
After dinner we all made our way back into the shop, where Ken pulled out a large storage container filled with small panels of rosewood. He grabbed a clear plastic headstock form, and I was able to dig through the woods and pick out my own piece for the headstock veneer:
We also looked over the fingerboard and bridge pieces:
To cap off the evening, we each grabbed an instrument from among the wide assortment in the living room and played a little music. It’s been quite a long while since I played acoustic music with actual live musicians, and I had a blast. My own guitar picking is nothing to write home about, but I don’t believe anybody enjoys playing any more than I do.
Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then went to Wakulla Springs. This is a nature preserve where Ken and Virginia were married. There’s a natural spring that pumps up to half a million gallons of water per minute into the W. river. On a boat tour we rode around the perimeter of the river, seeing all sorts of wildlife in the area. Various fish; osprey, anhinga and other birds; turtles; and of course, alligators. This park also served as the set for “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and two of Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan movies. On our way back home Virginia drove us through downtown Tallahassee, past the Capitol Building, the courthouse, and other municiple buildings. People were out enjoying a street fair on the side streets and in the park.
After lunch, I watched as Ken went about gluing the top of my guitar to the sides. This photo shows a good look at the side bracing, also made from ‘The Tree’:
The upper shoulder of the lower bout is built up with an extra thickness of wood. This will later serve as the structural underpinning for a beveled “armrest”:
The bridge support is made of dogwood:
Ken’s signature and the date are already in place inside the top:
After fitting the sides to the top in a dry run, Ken smoothed out one little area to achieve the perfect fit:
Then it was time to glue it up:
With everything in place, he weighted it all down for a tight seal:
Before long it was time for dinner. Virginia drove us to Mockingbird Café in Havana, where we ate snapper and quail and had pie for dessert. The café offers live music on Saturdays, as well, but we decided after two or three songs that we’d really rather go home and make some music of our own. Back at the house we picked a handful of fiddle tunes and Virgnia sang some good killing songs and a few gospel numbers. Unfortunately I had a very early flight home on Sunday morning, and before we knew it bedtime had rolled around.
Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, Virginia poured me a travel cup of hot coffee and Ken delivered me to the airport to make my way back home. I can’t begin to say enough about what great people I found Ken and Virginia to be. So warm and welcoming it seemed as if we were old friends despite the fact that we’d never met before. We parted company vowing to get together again, and I look forward to the next time we can do just that.