Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writers Blocks (for a vJ5 neck)

Here I go again.  The daily grind.  Gotta spit out another creative thing on my blog.

If that sounds a bit harsh I don't mean it to.  This is certainly becoming a challenging thing to keep up on a daily basis.  Which is interesting.  It's not all that complicated.  And on the surface, it doesn't look like too much trouble.

But it's more challenging than I initially thought it would be.  It's challenging because I have to be thinking about what is worth sharing almost all the time.  I may have many ideas over the course of a day, but for each one I have to ask myself "is this worth putting on the blog"?  I may do several things that will present well here, but then I have to remember to take a pic or two.

And then I have to actually sit down and compose the idea clearly.  Write, read, edit, delete, write, edit...

It's definitely uncharted territory for me.  But so far, it's been really rewarding.  I love it when I get feedback.  And I struggle with judging the posts when I don't get any feedback.  I wonder if I somehow messed up and didn't communicate clearly.  I wonder if the concepts are too alien.  I wonder if I'm coming off self centered, arrogant, or a bit spacey.  I wonder if my post is simply not finding enough readers to stimulate a response.  I wonder.  And judge.  And then I catch myself and let it go.

It's a great tool to keep track of where my head is at.  And to really let go and just present as much "real" here as I can.  It's kind of like making a bass guitar, but in a much smaller dose.  I create and write about it.  Then I hit "publish" and set it free.  It was was it was when I wrote it.  Hopefully it represented my true state of mind at the time.  Then it's out there and needs to be truly let go of.  Attachments removed.

My main commitment here is honesty in the moment to myself and the reader.  I wonder what it will be like to go back and read old posts after I do this for a while.  Should be interesting.

Anyway, today I put blocks in a vJ5 neck.  Not a crazy hard thing to do, but certainly a place to practice full attention.  The recess that is routed into the fingerboard has rounded corners, and the blocks that we cut on the laser are have unrounded corners.  So I need to chisel the corners out.  It's tricky to get them perfectly square. But it's very satisfying when I do.  Which is almost always - I've gotten good at it over the years and I'm good at really paying attention.  But then I have to sand the blocks down because they are slightly over sized on purpose so they can be sanded down so they fit perfectly.

It took me an hour to get the blocks into one neck.  Next step will be to sand the fingerboard true and put the frets it.  That'll probably take about an hour too.  Then I'll sand the neck for finish.  Then...

It's one step after another, building upon the one before til finally it can all be assembled into an instrument.  And then it gets set free to be played and loved.  Or not.

Kind of like life.  One moment after another.  Sometimes several of them building to a momentous occasion.  Then the moments need to be set free and let go of.  Or they get in the way of the next ones.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

My MayaPapaya

This is my dog Maya.  She will be 14 years old later this year.  I think she was born sometime in September.  Which makes sense cause she's totally a Virgo.

I think that dogs become more and more angelic as they age.  They just seem to have a deep sense of peace about them that is extremely comforting.  Things bother them less and less.  They move slower and more deliberately.  They somehow exhibit an almost spiritual wisdom with their presence alone.  

And they start to develop problems associated with old age.  Maya has had some issues with her hips.  She's gotten quite gray around the mouth.  And we had to have an abscessed tooth taken care of about six months ago.  She's also getting a bit deaf.

And she's about just the sweetest creature I encounter on a daily basis.  

Which makes these developing problems all the more difficult to face.  Lately she seems to have problems with standing up after she eats.  She'll get a glazed look in her eyes and kinda loose control of her legs.  It'll get to the point where she just falls over.  

I am usually made aware of this by the sound of her falling on the hard wood floors of my house.  I'll hear the scrabbling of toenails and then a dull thud.  But no whining or whimpering. 

So I run to her side and help her up again.  If she's not too bad she'll kind of wander around looking like she wants to lay down, but she's afraid to commit to it because she knows its going to hurt.  If she can't stand up I'll hold her for a while.  Maybe brace my knee under her belly.  Just try anything I can to make sure she's in as little pain as possible.  

During an episode last night I picked her up as gently as I could and laid her on her side on her blanket.  Then I laid on the floor next to her and petted her for a while, trying to calm her down.  It worked.  The sound of gas whistling out of her behind was all the proof I needed.  After a few minutes I moved back to the couch and continued the movie I was watching. After a few more minutes she got up and it was like nothing had ever happened.

You might wonder why I'm writing about this in a blog about creativity.  And that's a real honest question that I'm not sure I can answer.  But I keep coming back to the living proof that pets provide that life is undeniably linked to death.  There is an inevitability to this fact that is brought into sharp focus by the aging and eventual death of a beloved pet.

It's hard to deal with.  But it's real.  And real is what living in a creatively pure and honest way is all about.  These are the experiences that make life, life.  And these are the experiences that make life worth living.  Joy, pain, birth, death.  It's all a part of the whole.  To deny or hide from any of it is to live less fully.

I believe the best art communicates the deepest experiences of life in an undeniable way.  It touches us at our very center.  And it should.  And we should let it.  No, invite it.  And invite into our own lives the depth of experience of all that this existence brings with it.

And maybe try to find a way to communicate with others how our life and experiences matter to us.  Through art.  Through dance, painting, sculpture, writing, music...

Or even through simple, pure, and honest presence with those around us.

I'd like to end today with a quote form Nelson Mandela.  This one has had a profound and deep impact on me lately.  And it's related to every single thing that we, as humans, do in our world:

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  Your playing small does not serve the world.  There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you.  We are all meant to shine as children do.  It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone.  And as we let our lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.  As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

My MayaPapaya certainly never lived as if she was inadequate.  She let her light shine and continues to let it shine.  I hope I can learn from her how to let my light shine as well.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Lyrics, Gardens, and Trees

Three days have gone by and no posts.  Ah well.  So it is.  Here's an attempt to make up the deficit.


Probably the most creative thing that was attempted was writing lyrics for a "song" that I'm trying to finish.  I put song in quotes, because I have some hangups about writing songs that I need to get past, primarily by just doing it (see Ira Glass quote again!).  Part of me finds songs so sacred that I don't feel I'm ever going to be worthy enough to complete one and send it out into the world.  Of course, the bulk of my being finds that totally silly.  But, the small part that believes it is pretty powerful and yields an undue amount of influence.  So I tend to get stuck when trying to complete one.  That internal critic rises up and short circuits the process of putting words, melody, and harmony in a creatively inspired order.  Ugh.

So I recruited my girlfriend Cyndie to help me write lyrics.  She made some good progress, and I just got lost in my critic.  I think that old Nike slogan really applies here.  Just Do It!  Eventually, after the process has been repeated many many times to the point where it's almost automatic, it'll get out of the way, and the creation will just happen.  The song will form itself.

This concept segues nicely to a book that I read a while ago about where songs come from.  It's by Dan Kimpel and it's called Electrify My Soul.  It's basically a series of interviews with prominent song writers about "where" songs come from.  I highly recommend it if you're interested in songs, or even just the creative path.  Here's his website, and here's a blurb about the book from his site:
Distinguishing the indelible line between creativity and a higher power is an undertaking with deep implications. Whether it is defined as coming from God, the universe, or some collective font of eternal knowledge, most creative individuals acknowledge that at times their inspiration seems to emanate from a mysterious metaphysical source.
Songs affect people’s lives on a profound level, and songwriters – including interviewees Melissa Etheridge, Paul Williams and Beth Nielsen Chapman -- are especially attuned to these principles. Author Dan Kimpel -- who has interviewed virtually every major songwriter in the history of American popular music -- has observed that many successful songwriters -- are often able to tap their spirituality for inspiration. Electrify My Soul: Songwriters and the Spiritual Source explains these processes as it tells their stories.
For now, it seems I need to just keep doing it.  Learn the rules so well that they disappear and then I can understand how to break them.


Cyndie and I went to The Huntington.  The Huntington is an incredible place in Pasadena that has amazing museum exhibits and seemingly endless gardens.  It's crowning jewel, at least for me, is the Japanese Garden.

How does going to a garden relate to creativity?  Well, without input, there is no new material for creative insight.  Also, sometimes we need to just "be".  Space is a very important component for things to "ferment" as I like to call it.  So Saturday, was largely about going to an inspiring and peaceful place and just soaking it up.  And it was great.  I highly recommend a visit if you have the time.


Sunday was a day of intense work.  On trees.  One of my creative outlets is Bonsai, which is something I became obsessed with nearly 12 years ago now.  

Above is a pic of my back yard.  I have about 30 trees that are nearing some level of bonsai development. I have really neglected them over the past few years as a result of massive changes in my life, the most profound for the trees being moving to a new house and back yard.  

So yesterday was a kind of catch up day.  Much of the work that was done had been put off for several months, which is really bad for bonsai.  To keep them in optimum shape they must have the appropriate work done at the right time in their growth cycle.  If they're allowed to grow too much past this schedule their whole design can be blown and many years of careful development can be lost.  

It remains to be seen how my lateness will affect the designs of the trees.  I'm hoping that the work that was done yesterday will get them back on track.  But even if it doesn't, that's ok.  I will have to renew my commitment to them going forward.  Which is a good thing for me.  Another avenue for me to practice that most challenging of things - committing.

As a sort of side note, I have to mention that Cyndie helped me a LOT with the work on the trees yesterday.  She's an absolute trooper and I'm just tickled that she's in to working on trees.  She did a great job trimming a slightly overgrown Chinese elm with a bare minimum of instruction.  I was really impressed!  And she trimmed a lot of dead branches off my large assortment of Japanese maples.  She even did some needle pulling on a black pine. Great stuff!

Here's a pic I took of one of the maples this morning after a bit of rain:

All in all it was a great weekend.  More like that please!

Now I'm looking forward to a busy week in the shop and the studio.  Lots and lots to do and many problems to be solved.  Creativity abounds.  Hopefully.

Oh, and I need to do another post here before the day is over.  Hmmmm, I wonder what the rest of the day will bring...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Sanding Man

Here's the video I mentioned I took yesterday morning of me sanding a vJ5 body. Pretty straight forward stuff. I start with 100 grit on a disc on the faces and then pull the disc off and do the edges and sides. Then I do the same thing with 220 grit. Simple huh?

I edited the video down in Final Cut Pro, which is ridiculously easy to use. The two tunes on there are things that I've done by myself in my studio that I had laying around. The bass on both tracks is my vP5, which I love dearly and will never sell. So don't even ask.

If I had had more time, or wanted to be more serious about the video I would have gotten a little more involved in the music part of it. But this was just a quick thing and really didn't warrant too much work.

Future stuff will probably be a bit more involved.

I hope you enjoy it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"Now" What?

Sitting at home and just finished watching a movie. I got sick today, but it didn't take me down until I had sanded a vJ body. I filmed it (videoed it?) so I can post it on YouTube. It's a little over an hour long so I need to speed it up and make it short so it's not unwatchable. Didn't quite have the time or energy to sort that out after the funk hit me. Anyway, that was my big plan for today.

Now I'm trying to figure out what to write here that has some creative relevance. I think maybe something about mindfulness and creativity, as I've had some ideas about these things bouncing around my brain for a while. Ideas about how those things really are linked. By mindfulness I mean the practice of being in the moment fully. My understanding (and experience) is that this means letting go of all attachments to outcome. It's about cultivating a self-less-ness so that creative energy is allowed to flow into being uninhibited.

There's an anecdote that Jonah Lehrer talks about in his book on creativity that I find very interesting. He was talking about insight problems and how they are difficult to solve if we 'try' to solve them. Typically the person working on the problem would be stymied until, upon reviewing a seemingly unrelated anecdote, the brain is somehow inspired to make a connection behind the scenes - using insight to solve the problem.

Jonah tells a story about how they tested a monk that typically spends ten hours a day meditating. He was stuck on a series of insight problems and couldn't 'figure' them out any quicker than anyone else. And then he decided to clear his mind and meditate. Suddenly he was able to solve the problems one after the other in rapid succession.

This just floored me. It profoundly relates to what I've been working on in my own journey. Basically, it verifies my sense that creativity can be willfully brought to bear by following a practice of mindfulness. Or meditating. Or by practicing whatever spiritual method necessary to bring one to a state of newness so powerful that the thought self is no longer in the way. Zen Buddhists call this beginners mind.

I have felt this in my work, and in several other areas, going back to when I started making basses in my garage. I would reach a place during the process of assembling the woods into a bass where time seemed to disappear. There was nothing but the wood and the process of working it to the right shape and level of finish. It was sporadic at the start, but its become much more common as I've learned and studied more about being present. I even felt it today when I sanded that ash vJ body.

I've felt it when playing guitar and occasionally bass. I've felt it driving and cycling. I've even felt it when working out relational issues between folks(including me!) in my shop. I've also felt it when 'doing' passive things. Most profoundly while listening to music. It's that space where the sense of self goes away. And pure existence is left. "Real" is what's left - razor sharpened all encompassing fullness of experience of all that 'this' moment is.

I feel pretty clumsy and perhaps a bit frustrated here trying to relate this "thing" that I'm calling mindfulness and how I've experienced it. I think writing this now in my slightly unfocused state will help me solidify some of this as I go forward, but I don't feel I've been very clear about it.

Ah well. For now I will let this little thought stream go out and live on the interwebs. I'm sure I'll be back on this idea here soon, hopefully with examples - probably basses and music.

Time to get some rest. More mindfulness to be practiced and more sanding to be done soon...

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Studio Spaced

False alarm on the Marantz. It just needed to have the card formatted. Doh.

For today's installment I want to show off my musical creative space. It's the studio I put together in the front part of the new shop space in Redlands. I cleaned it up today so it would look good here. It'll be a nicer place in which to hang out now as well.

Here's the live room. This drum set was acquired for recording purposes. And to jam(of course!). It's a great little kit and I can't wait to dig into drum miking. Especially through all the great gear that's in the rack in the control room.

And here's the control room. I've got it sounding about as good as I could hope with it being a generic office space. The Genelec monitors are absolutely wonderful.

Here's another shot highlighting the gear rack.

This space is really great to work, read, nap, or even make music in. (There is a couch if you're wondering how it could be good to nap in. It's where the last picture was taken from.)

I went to recording school many years ago. Almost 20 now I guess. It was The Grove Center for Contemporary Music. It had been the Grove School of Music, but the LA riots happened and all the foreign students watched the madness on TV and decided not to come to LA. Can't say I blame them. I generally don't care for LA at all, even if there's no riots going on. I guess that might be because I spent large portions of my childhood in rural Minnesota.
So the school lost half of its students and with them half of its income. Reeling from the blow, it relocated to a small office space in Woodland Hills and had to change it's name because it lost it's accreditation.
Anyway, I was attempting to pursue music from an engineering angle. I completed the now shortened six month program and got a job at a major studio in North Hollywood called Devonshire as a runner. I had my foot in the door. The big soundproof heavy door. My career changed direction towards guitars a few years after that, but that's a story for another time.
I relate this particular story here because I want to comment on how my studio feels to me having come from a world of "real" pro studios with all the channels of Neve and SSL and Studer tape and racks and racks of Eventide, Lexicon, bla bla bla.
I have to say I really am blown away at what technology has done for aspiring engineers over the last few decades. For a tiny fraction of what those rooms cost to equip back in the day I have a space that is truly very, very comparable in terms of the final product that can be produced. I have ProTools 10 with a Digi 003 Factory for the main interface. I also have a UAD Quad card with all their plugins. Which are amazing! And, the rack you see in the above picture contains a bunch of preamps, compressors and EQ's. Most of the gear was built by my friend Howard from kits that can be found on the webs. I am truly blessed to have all that gear on loan from him (THANKS HOWARD!) Personally, I put together a Seventh Circle Audio preamp box with three preamps in it. Great stuff! And of course we're working on that DI pedal. And have plans for a tube DI and a whole bunch of other fun stuff. Again, a story for another time...
The point is I have a really reliable space with a ton of creative potential. Now I just need to find the time to use it and people that I want to use it with. Eventually I hope to present the fruits of the space here soon.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fermented Farm Music

So I blew my commitment to post every day. The weekend caught me unprepared. Not sure how I'm going to deal with that in the future. It sure is easy to get carried away with weekend stuff and just completely forget to follow through on this. Maybe I'll need to "preload" a couple posts...

But I made a commitment and I'm going to do my best to stick to it. So in that spirit, here's a photo from my rib grilling adventure yesterday:

They were a bit spicier than the last time, which is interesting, because I used the same rub. I wonder if rubs get hotter as they sit. Or maybe I just had too much of it caked on the ribs. Not sure. In any case, they were quite delicious. Just not the best thing for my 10 year old daughter.

The idea to put the squash in there, in the rib rack, was the new thing for me. And it worked quite well. That's my creative solution from the weekend.

On to today. I get these little ideas every now and then when I sit down with my guitar. I've finally gotten a little used to recording them. I have a little Marantz recorder that I try to keep handy so when the idea comes and the internal critic thinks it's worthy I can pull it out and hit record.

I put one of these ideas up on my Soundcloud page. This one is from a couple weeks ago. I recorded another one today, but my recorder seems to have stopped working. It just says card full. Which it's not. So it's time to see if I can get that thing warrantied.

This sort of highlights where I'm at in my musical creative process. One thing to do would be to take these little ideas and try to turn them in to "songs". Then maybe see if lyrics come along and hammer on that for a bit. Or just record them as they come out. Hopefully without too many mistakes. I guess these things will be what they will be.

I read a book a short while ago about song writing. It's called Tunesmith and it's by Jimmy Webb. I'd recommend it for anyone interested in learning more about writing songs. It was quite good and has helped give me some direction. It's time now to just sit and learn the instruments and some theory and just write. Over and over. To try to get to that place that Ira Glass talked about where the internal critic is satisfied.

It's going to be a long process. Unless I follow through with an idea I had to go up to the family farm in Northern Minnesota alone with some recording gear and just make music. Kind of like how Justin Vernon made his first album. It sure sounds like a fantasy at this point. But I'm letting the idea ferment. We'll see where it leads...

Friday, April 13, 2012

Shooting Myself

Today was a strange day. I had to do something that I find simultaneously exciting and intimidating. I had to take some photos of myself. Bass Player magazine has a column called Meet Your Maker that features a different prominent bass luthier every month. I guess I'm prominent because they (Rod Taylor specifically) came out and interviewed me just after the NAMM show this last January.

So today Adrian and I adjourned to the studio with a camera and an eye for lighting. I started by taking a very flattering shot of Adrian to get a feel for the space and the light:

Then I handed the camera to Adrian and we got down to the serious business of photography:

After taking some 60 odd shots we ended up with this one as my favorite:

I think the reason this type of thing is confusing to me is that it's easy to get caught up in the criticism of self necessary to do this. There is a level of presence needed to make an image that is true and real and genuine. Getting caught up in the self criticism is a trap that will impede this goal. And yet it is inherently self promotional in some regards. And for me that's the sticking point.

I've found that I have an aversion to self promotion for some reason. This is something that I've been working on in my personal journey lately. Somehow I have an old behavioral pattern that makes me afraid to stand up and take ownership and credit for my work and to be present and take a risk without fear of being judged and possibly invalidated.

It's strange because there's another part of me that is somewhat fearless in this regard. I have taken tons of risks in my career. Some of them completely hair brained with the benefit of hindsight and the wisdom of age and experience. A quick example: When I started this whole thing I bought a house and quit my job to work in the garage and start building basses. The wise part of me is horrified by that now. I quit my job and cut off an income stream! But I did it and it worked out. I guess there's something to be said for the exuberance of youth.

I suspect these two dynamics are opposite sides of the same behavioral pattern. I'm working on bringing consciousness to the whole thing. I'm me, I'm here, and I want to share my creative output, whatever that may be. Ultimately, I realize the risk of being perceived as arrogant or self absorbed must be set aside for the goal of presenting a better representation of myself to the online world and the readers of Bass Player magazine.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Hey! I made that!

Here's a blast from the past creatively.
This pickup was made before I had a laser machine. Or a cnc winding machine. The holes were marked and drilled on a drill press. The perimeter of the parts was cut with a router and a template.
The cover was made with a template to rout the pocket and then trimmed to size on a table saw.

This is the bass the pickup was in:

This bass was made in my three car garage probably about a year after I quit working for John Suhr. Totally "hand made". I even sprayed the finish myself.
Sometimes I seem to forget that I made these things. I'm not sure why. They show up for some tlc (this one had a problem with the pickup and the owner just wanted to have it 'gone over') and I pull them out and think "wow, this is pretty nice".
Maybe I was so in the moment when I made them that I let them go completely shortly after they leave (from a spiritual perspective this would be ideal). Or maybe there's something darker there. A rebellious sense of wanting to not be too connected to - and have my identity too strongly linked - to my work. Somehow I think I find that limiting. Lots to explore there.
"In the moment". Big stuff.
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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Where's the "Real"?

Not off to a great start with this thing. Maybe for today I'll just link to Jonah Lehrer's site about his new book. It's called Imagine - How Creativity Works.

I'm about two thirds of the way through it and find that I'm constantly comparing myself to the examples in the book. (Ego sneaking up on me again and again.) Mostly though, it's really inspiring. It really makes the point that creativity is something that can be fostered and brought about in one's life.

I agree wholeheartedly. For me, it's always been central to my existence going back to my first deep experience with music, which lead to me embarking on a life long search - longing for more of the "real" that I had found in that experience.

These days I find more and more that I want to sit and look inward and see what wants to come out (musically). Sometimes it's nothing. More often though there's a lot there and it ends up being frustrated because the tools aren't in place to put the feeling into a medium. Bits and pieces float to the surface, but none of them have come together to be fully realized yet. And then I sit in the studio and fumble about, feeling like I'm going somewhere, but knowing it's going to be a long bumpy ride while I learn how to drive and navigate. There's a great quote from This American Life's Ira Glass out there somewhere that is totally appropriate here but I don't know where to find it at the moment. Actually I just found it here. Check it out.

As I have achieved the skills necessary for success(whatever that means) in other avenues of creativity in my life, most notably in the wood shop building basses and guitars, I have a sense that it can be done. I know now that I just need to find the time and space to do it. And I need to stick with it.

So these days I'm wanting to spend a lot of time gaining facility with my guitar, bass, drums, voice, and in my studio. I want to put the mechanisms in place to allow that expression to see the light of day. Hopefully in a way that can be recorded and not fumbled too badly into a medium that can successfully convey the "real" that I feel like sharing.

How do I reconcile that with a busy life as a business owner, father, and committed boyfriend? Good question...

Ok. I guess that's not too bad a start. This just might be a lot of fun.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012



Curious if this is going to work. Hopefully it does and I can start a project I've had in mind (well no, not in mind - in heart, I guess) for a while.

The idea is to present here at least one creative - something - per day. It could be anything; music, work on a bass or guitar, a photo, food I've prepared (most likely grilled), a solution to a vexing problem, even a simple thought or compelling idea...

This should be interesting. As I'm writing this I'm beginning to feel that I may be creating (hah!) quite a challenge for myself. It's going to take commitment to stick to this, and commitment is something I may or may not have an issue with.

Here we go...

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