Charlie is on TV

April 24, 2012

Minnesota Public Television has a wonderful show called MnOriginal which showcases Minnesota artists, artisans, musician – in other words, the creative arts community.  On May 6 they will have a segment about me, with an additional segment about Tim Sparks, a wonderful guitarist who just happens to play one of my guitars.  The segment will also be found on their web site  (www.mnoriginal.org) .  I do hope you all can check it out.

 

 

 

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CITES and the Lacy Act

September 5, 2011

There has been a great deal of talk on the web recently about a recent raid of the Gibson factory by the Fish and Wildlife Service, supposedly regarding some ebony from India which may have been “illegal”.  Perhaps the best article about the subject I have seen is by Chuck Erickson, the “Duke of Pearl.”  Look here:  http://www.luth.org/cites.htm  I admit to being confused and frightened and I used to be an attorney.  How this will all play out is hard to tell but it seems to me that FWS may have overreached by more than a little.  It could also be a sign of some major changes in our business.  I do think those in my business (and those who support us) need to make themselves heard in the halls of Congress (good luck in being heard over the din of the current “conversation” in Congress)

What I did on my summer vacation

August 29, 2011

Once again I have proven that I am a slacker when it comes to posting on this blog.  Ah well, such is life.  In about May I started my current batch – which has some lovely guitars if I may be so immodest.  Photos and comments are in the current production section of my web site.

On  July 1 my wife, my daughter and I flew to Hamburg Germany.  The precipitating event was that our granddaughter was completing her year in Germany as an exchange student and we went to pick her up -and to do some touring.  We were overjoyed to see Sari after an absence of a year.  In addition my daughter had been an exchange student in Germany 25 years ago so we got to meet her host parents (we have met most of her friends from Germany but not her host parents.)  After we picked up Sari we went to Berlin for a few days.  All in all we were in Germany for 2 weeks.  Then we went to London for a week of unabashed tourism.  In total I took over 1700 (!!!) photos (turns out that taking digital photos is basically free – it only costs $ if you get prints made) and we had a wonderful trip.  As Susan and I left to come home, Rachael and Sari left for a month of hiking in Scotland.  Amazing.

About 2 weeks after I got back I was off to the Healdsburg Guitar Festival (held in Santa Rosa Ca) where I spent 3 very full days talking guitars with potential customers and socializing (read: partying) with my fellow luthiers.   All in all a lovely weekend.  Then I hopped on the Amtrack and went up to Seattle (I had forgotten how nice travel on the Amtrack is) where I met Susan, my brother and his wife and we then went up to Vancouver for about 6 days with my sister.  A great time was had by all.

This afternoon Susan and Sari and I went out to meet our new puppy.  He is a black standard poodle and is only 5 weeks old so it will ba about 3 weeks before he can come home with us.  He is very handsome (and tiny) but we fell in love.

All in all a wonderful summer.

News; Recent (and not so recent) Observations

April 28, 2011

News:

A couple of things.  Hoffman Guitars is now on Facebook.  I think that this will be a good way to keep in touch with my customers and let them know what/how the shop is doing.  Of course if I update my Facebook as often as I do this Blog, maybe not.  We shall see.  I would love it if you (my faithful readers) would let me know what you want to see or would comment on what I say.  I know this can work:  Recently I “taught” (guest speaker) a class on Minnesota cultural history at the U of M.  I found that the most interesting discussions, BY FAR, were in response to questions from the students.  So, please, let me know.

I am just about to start a new batch of guitars – so to all of you who are just waiting to place an order for one of my guitars, now is the time.

I will be exhibiting at the bi-annual (every other year) Healdsburg Guitar Festival, held naturally enough,  in Santa Rosa California.  This show is really the Granddaddy of the Guitar shows and is well worth attending.  If you do come (and you should), stop by my table and play some guitars.

Observations:

Recently I have made several O size guitars.  Often called parlor guitars, these are characterized by small bodies and 12 fret necks.  I have to say that I am a great fan of small bodied guitars.  They have a sweetness of tone and a balance that I simply adore.  They are surprisingly loud and have great sustain.  And they are so easy to hold and play.  Of course I like 12 fret guitars in other sizes (OO and my concert size) pretty much all the time.

On the other end of the scale I have been making quite a few 12 string guitars and have had great success with them.  Somehow I have hit on a design for a (light string, tuned to standard pitch) 12 string that sounds musical and not jangly.  I suppose I should not toot my own horn, but I really am very happy with them.

The market for high end handmade guitars is still a bit weak, but perhaps getting slightly better.  We shall see.

Trivial Observations

November 29, 2010

Well, PBS is on an infinite pledge period, my granddaughter is in Germany (she is an exchange student this year), the weather is fairly blah and business is not exactly booming (November is always a slow month – I do not know why).  So, what better to do than write in my Blog.

Since my last post I have learned that I have been accepted at the Healdsburg Guitar Festival next August, so I am starting the guitars for that show.  A look at the current production of my web site will show which ones they are (http://www.hoffmanguitars.com/CurrentProduction101.htm)  It may be a bit optimistic to mention that these are available for “pre-sale.”   I may also bring the Koa O size guitar.  The two I have made recently have delighted me a lot.

Other than the economy(!!!) , the thoughts that have preoccupied me mostly in recent weeks have to do with wood.  As I have mentioned in an earlier post, I am growing more and more disenchanted with woods that are or are about to be endangered.  Not that these woods make bad guitars – quite the contrary, but the baggage that comes with Brazilian or Madagascar rosewoods is a bit more than I care to deal with.  That’s part of the issue, but the other part of it is that some relatively “common” woods that may not have the cachet have nonetheless produced absolutely wonderful guitars for me.  I have made some mahogany guitars that delight me – light as a feather (relatively speaking), clear, well-balanced and responsive.  Koa and Indian Rosewood continue to delight me as well.  Of the rosewoods I still like cocobolo a lot and I have yet to try Honduran rosewood.  We shall see.

This evening I updated my web site after a long time of inactivity.  I suppose that I should mention that I now also own Hoffmanguitars.net as well as .com.  I am considering some “new” features (for me, at least).  I plan to add some sound clips of my guitars.  I am also considering a Facebook page for the shop.  These seem relatively simple and inexpensive way to expand the ways I get the word out about our shop (i.e. advertising).  I tend to be a Luddite about these things (I have no cell phone or IPOD) but even I can see the handwriting on the wall.  Stay tuned.

New Batch

October 26, 2010

I am starting a new batch of guitars this month.  I have always built guitars in batches.  My shop is small enough that I cannot have all of my tools and jigs “set up” and ready to use.  So, it seems logical to me that if I set up for a certain process that I use it several times to minimize that setup time.  This works well for parts of the building process that depend on jigs or specific tools (shaper, spray booth, etc), but not so much for things that require individual attention (like voicing a top).  Over time I have found that a batch of 10 – 12 is about the right size.  If by chance (like now) I do not have enough orders to “fill” the batch I add a few “spec” guitars.  I find it is always helpful to have guitars in the shop for folks to play – so that they can get a clear sense of my style of building, level of quality/workmanship etc.  It is also a way to keep me interested – it is an opportunity to experiment.  In my last batch I made 2 parlor (or O size) guitars.  They were both very successful and gave me a good reminder of how much I love small guitars.

Another good reason for “spec guitars” is to prepare for upcoming shows – Healdsburg, Montreal, etc.   As it happens the list of builders for the Healdsburg show has not been announced but a boy has to hope, right??

In the next week or so I will update the Web site with info about the new batch.  If you have thoughts about the guitars I am making, or if you want to order a guitar (I repeat, a boy has to hope, right?) let me know.

Back from Montreal

July 13, 2010

About a week ago I was at the Montreal Guitar Festival (my first time at this festival).  This showcase for small shop builders like myself is held in conjunction with the Montreal Jazz Festival (the largest jazz festival in the world.)  This was a wonderful show.  It was in a beautiful city, extraordinarily well organized, and very well attended.  There was a very wide variety of builders – some “old-timers”, some at the beginning of their career, some from the USA, some from Canada and a sizable contingent from France.  Some very interesting and beautiful guitars.

I had a lovely time talking to many of the visitors – all of whom were very complimentary of my work (these shows are good for your ego) and very interested in what I do.  Since I spend a lot of time fairly isolated at my bench it is a delight to get out and talk to “real people.” the other advantage of these shows is the opportunity to visit with my friends in the business – this is a fairly tight-knit community and we often don’t see each other except at these shows.

The economy is not all that good for folks selling items that are paid for from discretionary income and this was a common topic of discussion among the builders.  I do not know how many guitars were sold at the show  but I suspect that it was not many.  I was very lucky and sold a very nice Koa OO which I brought with.  Thanks are due to Paul Asbell who did my demo concert with this guitar and got the ear of the eventual buyer.

My wife and grandson came with (we drove from Minneapolis with 5 guitars) and they had a lot of fun in the city.

I repeat myself:  Kudos to the organizers of this event.  It was as lovely as my fellow builders had said.

Guitar Festivals

April 12, 2010

We are entering the season of guitar festivals.  By which I mean events where luthiers like me can exhibit and showcase our work.  The grandaddy of them all is the show commonly called the Healdsburg Festival – although these days it takes place in Santa Rosa California, about 12 miles from Healdsburg.  this show takes place every other year in August and the next one will be in 2011.  About 7 years ago the Newport Festival (in Newport RoadIsland) was started by Julius Borges, a very well respected luthier.  And then the Montreal show.  the Newport Show is now located in Floriday and will take place next weekend.  I won’t be there (for the first time) and am sorry about that.  However I am committed to go to the Montreal show and I simply cannot find the time or money to do two shows in a year.

I cannot express strongly enough what a benefit these shows are to both the builders and potential buyers.   I rather strongly believe that the truly succesful guitar sale is one where the buyer can play the instrument (or, at least, some instruments from a given builder).  guitars at this level are quite individualistic and so are the players.  As I sometimes put it, you have to get married and this means forming a rather complex emotional bond with an instrument.  this is hard to do over the internet.  Guitar shows give builders like me the opportunity to show our work to hundreds and perhaps thousands of players/buyers. And the buyer gets to play lots of guitars and get a sense of what a given builder can do, and, hopefully, find that instrument that she will fall in love with.  there may be a bit of overload from seeing so many instruments but it is still a wonderful experience. try and visit one of these shows – you will not be sorry you did.

Endangered species

February 1, 2010

Guitar builders have a rather unusual   relationship with woods.  Basically I think of myself (and, truth be know, most other builders) as a wood slut.  I love wood of all sorts but am particularly enamored by fancy woods which make guitars that are lovely to look at and lovely to hear.  Rosewoods, koa, etc.  Unfortunately many of these woods are endangered (brazilian rosewood), close to being endangered (ebony, Madagascar rosewood, south american mahogany, etc). These woods are covered by an International treaty known by the acronym CITES.   Some may not be endangered but the “good stuff” is in short supply and expensive (koa).  Some of these woods cannot be legally shipped across international boarders without extensive documentation, which may not be available.  The other “side” of the issue is that buyers of high end guitars expect high end woods.  this expectation often puts us at odds with the supply of available wood and its legality.   So whats a poor guitar builder to do?

In my case I have thought about this a lot and I have “a plan.”  To me the greatest concern is south american (Honduras) mahogany which I think is indispensible for necks.  I started buying this wood about 10 years ago and hopefully have enough neck wood for the rest of my building career.

Brazilian rosewood:  I have a few sets that I have had for a long time and there are a few suppliers who can provide CITES certification (which may or may not be legitimate).  The prices are astronomical and the quality no where near what it was “back in the day.”

Koa is available, but the nice stuff is very expensive.  I understand that in Hawaii (which is the only source for Koa) it is now being sustainably harvested so it may continue to be available.

The list goes on and the risks are considerable.  The Gibson Company (whose president is very active in the sustainable wood movement) have been raided by the government for (maybe) illegal Madagascar rosewood shipments.  If they have been decieved by their suppliers then what is someone like me to do?   The answer, I suppose, is to be as careful as I can be with the woods I purchase and with the suppliers I rely on.  Also to suggest to my customers that there are alternatives which make simply fabulous guitars (cocobolo is, I believe, every bit the wood that brazilian rosewood is, and beautiful to boot).

Mostly, we all need to think about these issues, keep our eyes and ears open and try to walk softly on this planet.  Which leads to one final thought:  I probably do not have much sway with the Brazilian government, but I suspect that if a genuine effort was made to sustainably harvest brazilian rosewood (or other rainforest woods) the economic return to Brazil could be significantly greater than that realized by slash and burn destruction of the rainforest.  Just a thought.

A year later

December 13, 2009

Well it has been almost exactly one year since I started this blog.  I have not posted as often as I thought I might and I have not noted a tsunami of readers.  Hopefully that means that I (and my potential readers) have an actual life and can’t spend hours every day hanging out here.  I think this is a hopeful sign.

Speaking for myself, I manage to spend about 6 days a week in the shop and my current batch is moving along well.  Bodies are finished and sprayed and the necks are in the spray booth.  This is one of the more exciting times since I can see the end of the tunnel – where I will be able to hear these bits of carpentry turn into musical instruments – and maybe justify the label of “Luthier.”

The economy continues to be more than a bit difficult for someone who sells non-essential items. Still, overall, my business is down only about 10’% this year and I know businesses who would kill for that stat.  I have orders for the next batch (although it is not full).  Still, every time I talk to someone who expresses an interest in my guitars I get a flutter of hopefulness.  I tell myself that one should not count your chickens before they hatch but I can’t completely suppress that little flutter of hope.  I tell myself that this is a sign that I still love my work and look forward to every day in the shop.  Maybe I am not deceiving myself.