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Old 11-20-2016, 08:43 PM
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fazool fazool is offline
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Very interesting thoughts Howard.

I agree about the relic-topic: that's not "real", it's just "fake" natural wear.

I wonder if opened up guitars count as Wabi Sabi? I think they might, because it's a natural evolution of the object changing from use and time.

Perhaps the spiritual thing to try to find here is the ability to embrace something's "inner" beauty. It's imperfections don't detract from that - in fact they are part of it.

Like a rock that is worn by water - it is imperfect as a rock once was, but it is beautiful in it's time-worn state. And no less "functional"

It will be interesting to see your take on embracing this.
Fazool "The wand chooses the wizard, Mr. Potter"
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Old 11-20-2016, 08:48 PM
M Hayden M Hayden is offline
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It's an interesting aesthetic, and it seems very much attuned to the real world. Instruments are ultimately tools for making music, and honest wear is inevitable and to some extent, desirable insofar as it indicates that the tool is in use. Scratches and dings that don't impair function are part of the life of an instrument, however little we may llke that fact.

Not certain how it factors into design, although i can see it being akin to Bob Lundberg's "good enough" aesthetic for his lutes, which, while handmade, were never less than excellent.

I'm curious to see how your interpretation goes. It seems a rather formidable challenge.
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Old 11-20-2016, 10:47 PM
Pippin Pippin is offline
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Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
... So the wabi-sabi designer has to tread a narrow path--not rejecting natural features that might be considered flaws, but not flamboyantly seeking them out, either....
I'll say that it implies the elements of honesty and integrity in the builder on top of the skills. Can be a rare find in this commercialized and gimmicky world.


Last edited by Pippin; 11-21-2016 at 01:05 AM.
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Old 11-20-2016, 11:10 PM
runamuck runamuck is offline
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I'm glad you've written about this here, Howard. It's something I've thought a lot about myself - not so much regarding guitars but mostly furniture design - which is how I make my living.

One of the guiding questions I ask myself is: how will this design fare when it has gotten its first scratch or 100 scratches, when the finish wears through in places, when it has been in the world long enough to honestly become a "relic"?

A brand new Strad, I'm sure, didn't have the aesthetic charm it does today and neither did a fine colonial highboy or a Stickley rocker.

Certain things age well.

Stuff that starts out flawlessly shiny don't, in my opinion. And that doesn't mean we intentionally introduce flaws or rationalize the ones we can't avoid. But anything that can't take what time does to it with at least a little grace and a smile - well, I think that thing has a flaw in its soul.
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Old 11-21-2016, 04:06 AM
gitarro gitarro is offline
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Interesting discussion of what it means to build a quality guitar and the distinction between high regulation and the illusory "perfection".

Is there any example extant of a guitar that was made by a luthier according to this wabi-sabi approach?

From what I have seen of the guitars of Japanese luthiers and companies, their work seems to be along the lines of "high regulation".
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Old 11-21-2016, 08:36 AM
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Burton LeGeyt Burton LeGeyt is offline
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I'll be very interested in how you approach this! I think about this stuff too. It hasn't stopped me from stressing about details, and likely won't in the near future, but I do think a lot about how the guitar will age and which details might be problematic, or look self conscious when no longer perfectly clean, down the road.

I had a (dried) glue drip on the inside of a recent guitar and got everything out to go in and clean it up (an utterly un-fun task) and, after staring at it for a while, decided I liked it and just left it. It is totally visible but it started to feel crazy to spend all that time to make it disappear and I truly did start to like the look of it. I also recently had a french polished (steel string) guitar back in the shop and realized I liked the look better. When I look at a perfect gloss guitar I sometimes am constantly watching the surface for ripples, sunken spots, small dings etc.... It is exhausting!! And, for all practical purposes, a true waste of time and attention. The FP'd guitar, having already absorbed obvious use, didn't make me worried looking at it in the same way.

Neither of these examples are directly relatable (I imagine) to the true spirit of Wabi-Sabi, and I admit I am projecting what I imagine it to be as I haven't read about it in depth. It is interesting, though.

I do take great pleasure in making something as perfect as I can, and having worked in precision metalworking tolerances I can say that my sense of how precise something CAN be has grown exponentially- That isn't to say I find tremendous value in making things that don't NEED to be perfect so but that the sense of accomplishment for me hasn't diminished yet. Your comment about that being vain feels true- I feel that when I look at my work sometimes but it is a vain-ness that feels completely accepted and encouraged.

I think a lot about the difference between handmade and homemade. I think it is an apt way to describe a perceived difference in quality- Sometimes, though, it feels like we are working more handmade vs. robot made. On this forum we certainly don't see much that would be considered homemade. I'll be very interested to see how you pull back from the "robot" made aesthetic on this project. I'm sure I will be inspired by your approach!
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Old 11-21-2016, 08:43 AM
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The seeming dichotomy of Asian philosophy...

On one hand, you have a culture known for seeking mastery or perfection in execution and technique. On the other, an acceptance of the imperfection of nature and reality; and an appreciation of that.

Perhaps an example would be a French polish. It takes a lot of work and practice to get it right, and it's glorious when complete. It's relatively easy to damage though, and not particularly resistant to wear. Wabi-sabi accepts and appreciates both aspects.

Great thread Howard.
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Old 11-21-2016, 09:15 AM
jmat jmat is offline
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Hey Howard, lets see where this goes! I just attended a mindfulness session where we were apprised of the science underpinning of the difficulty of maintaining an open mind. But awareness may be half the battle and one never knows where inspiration will be derived.

A tangential thought:

When BMW/Oracle racing unveiled their air foiled trimaran ( I was fascinated. It was on one hand an ugly process given the legal tussling and egos. Unveiled however was the fastest sailboat ever developed, the pinnacle of thousands of years of human knowledge and, to me, illustrating many of laudable attributes of our eusocial species. Humans had passed down and enhanced the knowledge and skills to build such a boat, from my view that was a *wow*. Landlocked as I am alas I am no boat racer and when I broached the topic of the Oracle trimaran with actual sailors I was surprised to learn that they had a different reaction. They thought boat racing should be focused on another finely tuned eusocial skill, namely the human factors associated with sailing (leadership, tactics, teamwork, etc.) and that such an advanced machine obscured these most essential aspects of humanity! So who was right? Well you already know the answer: both/neither. Interestingly Oracle won that cup on the technical aspects of their boat and won the next one based, more or less, on sailing skills and leadership.

What does the above have to do with Wabi Sabi: well nothing really. It does illustrate - for me – that there are a lot of ways to enjoy life and if we are fortunate we can enjoyably experience this world from many perspectives in our brief allotment of consciousness. The same human can for example be driven to madness with dovetails and also contemplate transient functional simplicity. Bless that man.
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Old 11-21-2016, 09:45 AM
jt1 jt1 is offline
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A wonderful thread, Howard, and apt quotation of Mr. Cohen.

As you know, the violin-making community has been struggling with this same topic. About a year ago, famed violin maker Michael Köberling, published an article in "Strad" entitled, "Does the quest for perfection discourage creativity at lutherie competitions?" He raises these same concerns"
At this year’s Triennale [violin show] all instruments that reached the final were of outstanding quality; some even had unique and personal characteristics in, for example, their varnish. Nevertheless, perhaps a special prize should be given to makers whose instruments have real personality because, although this would be a highly subjective category, it might encourage luthiers to be creative. We should not forget that in concert halls worldwide today, we still hear only a few outstanding modern instruments. Most are the wonderful old ones that were born out of luthiers’ hearts and souls.
The craft of individual lutherie seems to be at an all-time high, but I wonder about the art. One case in point: many of the works I see at the major guitar shows feature finishes by the same fellow. Nice finishes, to be sure. Shiny and nearly flawless. But, imvho, not the equivalent in thinness to the finishes applied by some individual luthiers.
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Old 11-22-2016, 01:36 AM
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Default A contradiction in terms,

It is an interesting sentiment that is impossible to judge. It combines too many exists to appreciate what is natural complete with battle scars. And while I absolutely agree with all that Wabi Sabi finds beautiful, I certainly don't agree with what it does not.
I own a guitar built by a master of modern lutherie and I care about its condition a great deal. It has a top that is shaded using a specific natural wood as inspiration...the opposite of Wabi Sabi. Bruce Sexauer built a guitar I was privelaged to see a while back that he "relic'd" and it was indistinguishable to that of a very old guitar-i thought it was a gorgeous. I marveled at it...the skill and knowledge it takes to do that, to know when to stop.
I think this will be a really difficult project,and I applaud Howard for taking it on. I am looking forward to watching it progress.

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Old 11-22-2016, 02:23 AM
LSemmens LSemmens is offline
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It certainly will be a project worthy of our attention. My concept is more about "the story". A bloke who lives his life in cotton wool and dresses accordingly is most likely the most boring bloke imaginable, whereas, an old salt who has the scars visible on his body usually has an interesting story. I think of Jesus after his resurrection. He was God, he did not need to have scars on his body, but for his "story", for the likes of Thomas who did not believe, that Jesus had come back from the dead. A guitar that is not "perfect" is the same, regardless of its looks, if it sounds wonderful and plays well, who cares. Its primary function is to tell a story, not win beauty contests.
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Old 11-22-2016, 03:52 AM
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j. Kinnaird j. Kinnaird is offline
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I want to see a concrete example of this build philosophy. Let the pictures begin.

I do remember a Navajo lady explaining why they left one thread in their hand woven blankets loose so as not to anger the gods with their vain attempt at making something perfect. But that's probably not the same thing.
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Old 11-22-2016, 06:07 AM
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TomB'sox TomB'sox is offline
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I believe I understand the concept that is being discussed, what I have a problem with is understanding how it will transfer to the guitar building world as well as the market for said guitars.

I love a live edge table or coffee table. It is what I look for, the beauty in the natural element and the irregularities present, the irregular grain patterns, the neat twists and turns. That is my style. I made a great table out of a hunk of Oak I was cutting for firewood once because the live edge and grain was so pretty I could not burn it. I have a mantel cut from a big ole' pecan tree with a live edge, some holes, not quite the same thickness, it is perfect to me and how I understand this philosophy.

Now when it comes to paying 5 figures for a handmade guitar, I want it perfect. I would not pay that for something less than perfect. I guess that makes me vain, but I see a difference between using what has natural beauty vs. building something of quality from woods, transforming the wood to perfection. That is different to me. Now maybe Howard is talking about using woods that sound great, but perhaps may have natural flaws that in other builds would be discarded...OK, I get that, maybe would even like that based on my tastes, however, the build for me, would still have to be perfect craftmanship. I guess it is like the live edge Koa headplate on my Hatcher build, I requested that, I like that. My current Kinnaird build, I picked out a headplate which will not be symmetrical because I liked the grain and sapwood pattern in it....perhaps this is Wabi-Sabi, but the incorporation of these odd woods needs to be done with perfection IMO for me to pay the premium of a hand build.
PS. I love guitars!
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Old 11-22-2016, 07:43 AM
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I'm more or less with Tom and his explanation of this. I have a Stehr that has a knot in the neck. Joel offered to make a new neck, but we both kind of thought of the knot as a "beauty mark", and I like how that looks. But the execution of the neck is "perfect" to the extent that we can make anything "perfect". I love seeing the grain patterns on my electric guitars and appreciate a rustic quality to the woods, but I want them sanded and finished with a level of craftsmanship that tells me the builder is a master of the craft.

My expectation of "perfect" increases with the amount of money an instrument is going to cost me. If I am buying a guitar from a premier builder, and I am paying premium pricing, I have much higher expectations in terms of mitered corners and other finishing aspects, in additional to exceptional tone.

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Old 11-22-2016, 07:52 AM
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I absolutely love this. When I learned about Wabi-Sabi a couple years ago I totally adopted that mindset when building my barn wood guitars. The wood comes from a 100 year old barn that I managed to scrape enough quarter sawn boards out of for several guitars. If they have nail holes, knots, worm holes or what ever it all gets incorporated into the design.

I very much look forward to seeing what you come up with.
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