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  #31  
Old 11-22-2016, 08:44 AM
Richard Mott Richard Mott is offline
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Howard--Such a great post! I too have wondered (worried) about the far swing toward a certain extreme of visual perfection, or maybe desirability, in guitar making. Some guitars, esp. with CNC-ed necks for example, seem so sterile to me. And some of the truly great builders who let a little of the "hand of the maker" show through, seem more real.

I think there's maybe been a little of the Wabi-Sabi ethic creeping in, as in the use of spalted rosettes, and even sapwood on backs and on the edge of tuners--all of which seem to say "Nature's irregularities can be more lovely than human manipulation". Maybe they are all a step in a good direction.

Perhaps there is a separate Wabi-Sabi dimension in 1) The materials selected; and 2) How the materials are handled and controlled. If so, perhaps in the first category, this sunken sitka top from a dock in Alaska I believe, had an interesting pattern from worms that had burrowed into it. What an image!


Last edited by Richard Mott; 11-22-2016 at 09:46 AM.
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  #32  
Old 11-22-2016, 11:28 AM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Originally Posted by Rudy4 View Post
Howard,
I found your post very interesting as I have been studying some of the Japanese concepts that you are referring to. In my pursuit of building instruments I've purposefully went more and more to a simplified aesthetic.

My daughter-in-law is of Japanese descent and we have talked occasionally about the meaning of some of the Kanji and what exactly they represent. In that vein I discovered Shibui, and it's much closer to the definition of what I want represented by my instruments. If you are unfamiliar with the term I think you'll find a bit of research very enlightening. Probably the easiest to grasp would be the Wikipedia topic:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shibui#References
Thanks so much for this post, Rudy. I need to read more about shibui and have ordered the Yanagi/Leach book that appears to be the best source. I see that some of what is supposed to be wabi-sabi is criticized for introducing intentional flaws, which would not be done in shibui. I have taken wabi-sabi to reject artifice, including such things as relicking; I also take it not to reject all decoration. Perhaps my understanding of wabi-sabi is more consistent with shibui.

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Originally Posted by TomB'sox View Post
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.
Market? You mean people buy these things?!

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Originally Posted by mikealpine View Post
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.
I selected this post, but I have seen a couple of others along the same lines, and received backchannel communications from a member who felt personally attacked by this thread. I won't identify him, but I will paste an excerpt from my response to him because I am a slow typist and don't want to type it again:

I never said that those who enjoy a certain aesthetic, either as builders or players, don't care about sound.

We live in an age in which people are quick to take umbrage, especially over what they perceive may be some slight to them on the internet. I think it is too bad that so many people do not know the difference between criticizing an idea someone may hold and faulting him or her as a person.

You are using the phrases "appreciate the aesthetics of a guitar," and "who simply like a beautiful guitar" as if there is only one aesthetic for guitars and one standard of beauty. I am exploring and explaining a different aesthetic and sense of beauty. That is the point of the thread, and I can see that it has drawn the attention of many people who find it interesting and are being supportive of it. I hope find out for myself what that aesthetic might do for my work, and to share it. I have not called one aesthetic wrong and the other right, but as I said, clear contrasting examples help me to explain the difference. I was also very clear that I have not abandoned one aesthetic in order to work in the other one.


As some have also pointed out in this thread, the guitar has some formal aspects that require highly regulated work--the neck, frets, bridge. This makes the application of wabi-sabi very challenging as compared to, say, a coffee table. I am approaching the project as a student with an assignment; I don't really know where it will go. Those who expect to see something radical may well be disappointed. The outcome is most likely to just be a simple guitar. So, sorry if I raised expectations too high.

My next post will set out more of my positive agenda.
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  #33  
Old 11-22-2016, 12:57 PM
redir redir is offline
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Along these lines there is also the aesthetic, or philosophy, of Kintsugi. Kintsugi roughly translates to 'fixing with gold' or something like that. If you drop a piece of pottery then the pieces are put back together with a gold 'glue' and often times looks better then the original but preserves and even honors the brokenness of the piece as it exists on in the future.

Luthiers always make mistakes and we strive to cover them up on our finished instruments. The master luthier is the one who makes less mistakes and is better at hiding the ones he makes. So if you drop a chisel on your wabi sabi guitar just leave the mark, or even bring attention to it, as a testament to our human frailty
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  #34  
Old 11-22-2016, 12:57 PM
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Howard, I understand what you mean about having a disagreement without taking things personally. However, I think when you start using words like "smug" and "vain" (as in vanity), you begin to venture out of the arena of pure intellectual criticism and into the arena of value judgement, so it is no surprise to me that you are getting emails through the back-channel. On the one hand, you have stated that you aren't abandoning the pursuit of high regulation on your guitars, and yet on the other hand you are criticizing your customers for valuing (or perhaps over-valuing) those things. Perhaps you are frustrated by the market's demand that you maintain a high degree of precision and perfection (colloquial usage) on your guitars?
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  #35  
Old 11-22-2016, 01:15 PM
JoeCharter JoeCharter is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
I never said that those who enjoy a certain aesthetic, either as builders or players, don't care about sound.

We live in an age in which people are quick to take umbrage, especially over what they perceive may be some slight to them on the internet. I think it is too bad that so many people do not know the difference between criticizing an idea someone may hold and faulting him or her as a person.
I'm glad you cleared that part, Howard. And I'm also glad that you've edited the post that was, IMHO, not as nice as you had intended it to be. In my book, stating that someone's preferences "can become a smug display of connoisseurship" goes beyond criticizing an idea.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
You are using the phrases "appreciate the aesthetics of a guitar," and "who simply like a beautiful guitar" as if there is only one aesthetic for guitars and one standard of beauty. I am exploring and explaining a different aesthetic and sense of beauty.
In fact I've always had a very open mind when it comes to visual beauty. But regardless of the style, I appreciate work that is well executed.

Even in Japanese concepts that incorporate imperfections, there are rules to be followed. After all, we are talking about the reigning kings of anal retention.

That being said, I'm convinced that whatever you come up with will be a stunning piece of art and look forward to seeing the rest of the thread.
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  #36  
Old 11-22-2016, 01:16 PM
Sam VanLaningham Sam VanLaningham is offline
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Howard, I really appreciate your relentless pursuit of creativity. When I was young I thought creativity had to be spontaneous and non-intellectual. For me now, any effort I put forward to challenge my own beliefs and philosophies in the creative arena has been time I'm glad I've taken.

Being that you have achieved much in the meticulous and detailed aesthetic , I think you are an ideal guy to push the other way. I do believe this is an excellent way for each of us to find our own personal middle ground or place in our art that is very much our own.

I have personally taken one of your shop mantras (that I saw on your wall in a pic) as my own and it seems valid no matter what aesthetic you shoot for:

"Take the time"

Thanks for your inspiration,

Sam
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  #37  
Old 11-22-2016, 01:22 PM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Originally Posted by justonwo View Post
Howard, I understand what you mean about having a disagreement without taking things personally. However, I think when you start using words like "smug" and "vain" (as in vanity), you begin to venture out of the arena of pure intellectual criticism and into the arena of value judgement, so it is no surprise to me that you are getting emails through the back-channel. On the one hand, you have stated that you aren't abandoning the pursuit of high regulation on your guitars, and yet on the other hand you are criticizing your customers for valuing (or perhaps over-valuing) those things. Perhaps you are frustrated by the market's demand that you maintain a high degree of precision and perfection (colloquial usage) on your guitars?
Juston, I used "vain" in In the sense of 'futile' as an illustration of the wabi-sabi approach; not to characterize any individuals on the forum. As for "smug," I went too far. I apologize for it and have removed that sentence. Only one person has contacted me backchannel, BTW. I think he understands my purpose better now.
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Last edited by Howard Klepper; 12-14-2016 at 11:01 PM.
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  #38  
Old 11-22-2016, 01:46 PM
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Howard, for what it's worth, I hope I didn't come across as "offended" in any way. I have my expectations, as I stated, but am open to understanding a different perspective. Guitars are a passion, and I have great respect for those with the skill set to create them. I am sure you are still looking to craft beautiful and excellent-sounding instruments. Looking forward to learning more about how you plan to use this approach on upcoming builds. I think it will be easier to understand once you have a guitar built, at least for me, as a visual learner.
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  #39  
Old 11-22-2016, 01:58 PM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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The easiest way to introduce wabi-sabi into a guitar is in the wood selection. After that, it suddenly becomes a lot more of a challenge.

Among the things I have decided on:
--simple trim, but with some restrained decorative elements that use natural wood figure; no plastic or fiber trim.

--no pore fill. As any builder who does his or her own finishing will tell you, this is one of the curses of lutherie. It is like picking a fight with nature. It adds a small amount of dead weight, as well.

--matte lacquer finish. The plate glass gloss finish is hard to create, and someone who has developed the skill to do it can well be proud. I've spent many years making small, incremental improvements to my finishing skills and think that finishing is an essential part of my craft. But the gloss surface is also a burden. I have heard that Bob Taylor once said to Bill Collings, "If we can find out who it was that decided guitars should have perfect gloss finishes, let's dig up his grave and kill him again." Teachers of design and aesthetics such as David Pye have said that the gloss finish detracts from wood by making the surface all about reflections on the finish, instead of seeing the surface of the wood. Many pages could be written about this.
Wabi-sabi crafts have settled on minimal finishing that does not call attention to itself. But guitars need the protection of a film finish, so thin matte lacquer it will be. A matte finish tends to show its wear by developing glossy areas. That will be a way for this instrument to show the passage of time and use, and the seeming order reversal of wear creating gloss rather than diminishing it is one that I think is both amusing and in the wabi-sabi spirit.

--My 15" small slope dreadnaught shape. For one thing, I have been getting great results with this body size and shape. For another, the dread shapes seem to me to be more in the style of a folk instrument, owing less to the classical guitar shape.

Let's begin with wood. I joined this red spruce top a year or so ago. It is quartersawn and has an excellent tap tone. It's downgrades are all purely cosmetic and will not affect its function. It has some variation in grain line spacing, and areas of darker color. These would drop its grade by traditional standards to about A, which I thought might not preclude using it for one of my economical "Performance" model guitars. But it also has some small pitch/resin pockets; these can be very shallow, and I hoped they would disappear when I thicknessed it, but doing so only revealed some new ones. This kind of small pitch pocket does not affect sound or structural integrity, but it is considered to be a disqualifier for a top. So I put it aside. Now it will have its chance to shine (metaphorically, of course).



Here is a closeup showing two small spots of pitch, along with grain and color:

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Last edited by Howard Klepper; 12-14-2016 at 09:17 PM.
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  #40  
Old 11-22-2016, 02:12 PM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Next the backset. Surprise! It is pernambuco, a rare premium wood. Again, I am embracing a sense of contradiction by using a high end material. I actually don't know if that is wabi-sabi, but I only claim to be wabi-sabi inspired.

This set goes from near-quarter to flatsawn, and has several dormant bud clusters (areas that tried to become branches, but didn't get far enough to form a true knot) and a couple of small bark inclusions. These flaws are common in pernambuco. There is a bookmatched pair of small (1/16") insect holes, a trivial downgrade. It also has several tight, nearly invisible checks near its centerline. I have stabilized those by saturating them with CA glue. But for these reasons, I could not offer this set to a customer seeking a high-grade set of pernambuco. It may develop more fine checks in the future. That happens regularly with pernambuco (and with Brazilian rosewood, too). But in this guitar they will not be flaws. Ahhh.



Back:



Closeup of sides:

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Last edited by Howard Klepper; 11-22-2016 at 08:48 PM.
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  #41  
Old 11-22-2016, 02:16 PM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Originally Posted by mikealpine View Post
Howard, for what it's worth, I hope I didn't come across as "offended" in any way. I have my expectations, as I stated, but am open to understanding a different perspective. Guitars are a passion, and I have great respect for those with the skill set to create them. I am sure you are still looking to craft beautiful and excellent-sounding instruments. Looking forward to learning more about how you plan to use this approach on upcoming builds. I think it will be easier to understand once you have a guitar built, at least for me, as a visual learner.
Not at all , Mike. I just chose a post that I thought represented the contemporary guitar aesthetic values.
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  #42  
Old 11-22-2016, 02:42 PM
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Market? You mean people buy these things?!

[/QUOTE]

Not necessarily . Let us see what you come up with.

So far it seems my prediction was correct, imperfect woods, but with great tones, but still assembled with high quality workmanship... I think I am close...
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  #43  
Old 11-22-2016, 03:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
Next the backset. Surprise! It is pernambuco, a rare premium wood. Again, I am embracing a sense of contradiction by using a high end material. I actually don't know if that is wabi-sabi, but I only claim to be wabi-sabi inspired.

This set goes from rift to flatsawn, and has several dormant bud clusters (areas that tried to become branches, but didn't get far enough to form a true knot) and a couple of small bark inclusions. These flaws are common in pernambuco. There is a bookmatched pair of small (1/16") insect holes, a trivial downgrade. It also has several tight, nearly invisible checks near its centerline. I have stabilized those by saturating them with CA glue. But for these reasons, I could not offer this set to a customer seeking a high-grade set of pernambuco. It may develop more fine checks in the future. That happens regularly with pernambuco (and with Brazilian rosewood, too). But in this guitar they will not be flaws. Ahhh.



Back:



Closeup of sides:

I love the sides. My brw sides have similar markings it's my favorite feature of my guitar. I look forward to the journey you are going on.
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  #44  
Old 11-22-2016, 07:06 PM
Howard Klepper Howard Klepper is offline
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Three ring rosette--wenge outer and inner, and blond mystery wood center. The wenge will show early/latewood patterns not seen well here.

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Last edited by Howard Klepper; 12-14-2016 at 11:05 PM.
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  #45  
Old 11-22-2016, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
This makes the application of wabi-sabi very challenging...
I think there's an underlying notion about "application" of wabi-sabi, from the comments on glue squeeze out, comments on a "relic'd" finish, to the story about the master and the cherry blossoms. Perhaps it's just semantics, or misunderstanding (whether mine or others); but I don't think wabi-sabi is "applied" (but see the part regarding pens at the end). My understanding of wabi-sabi is appreciation of normal inevitable wear. Old stone steps that are no longer flat because of wear is wabi-sabi. The fact that cherry blossoms will still fall is wabi-sabi. The master didn't "apply" it so much as he recognized how it should be and made the correction.

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Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
The outcome is most likely to just be a simple guitar.
I think simplicity is a principle of wabi-sabi, in some Aristotelian "fulfilling it's purpose" sense; but I think you're really going with shibui here...

Quote:
Originally Posted by Howard Klepper View Post
Next the backset. Surprise! It is pernambuco, a rare premium wood. Again, I am embracing a sense of contradiction by using a high end material. I actually don't know if that is wabi-sabi, but I only claim to be wabi-sabi inspired.
... this seems to really be headed toward shibui - particularly in terms of contradiction. The contrast of the plain ornamented slightly is more beautiful than either by itself.

Now regarding pens...

The Japanese love fountain pens, and there are still makers that turn ebonite, celluloid, horn and other materials on manually powered lathes. It's quite amazing to see a human cut triple-start threads free handed, and if you have some free time a search of YouTube is worthwhile (or let me know and I'll post some links/videos).

There are many ways they ornament these pens. Urushi lacquer is the most common, but there are many ornate styles ranging from maki-e to chinkin. Nakaya does a "relic'd" finish (negoro), which pays homage to wabi-sabi. Here is a link to many different styles

Maybe some of that is helpful, or a lead for sources of inspiration. I look forward to seeing your finished guitar.

Derek
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