Archive for the 'Home Home on the Blog' Category

Summer 2015

July 23, 2015

Yes it has been way too long since I’ve updated this site.  Yes, I’ve made promises to myself to reestablish my guitar building activity.  Yes, many things have happened in the intervening days since I last put chisel to wood.  Yes, I’ve been dangerously close to abandoning building guitars and let that era pass.  There have been many reminders; mostly spam posts chiding me on my content and spelling on this site from bots designed to toy with my ego and fall for the ploy that all could and should be improved if I would just get off my ass and care a whit about how I’m presenting myself to those who are actively judging me.

I have been without a nearby workspace for over 2 years.  I relocated my shop to a rental space several miles away.  When the shop was in my home, it was difficult to motivate myself to walk down 15 stairs and put myself in front of the project du jour.  Imagine how that motivation waned when the shop got farther away from my recliner.

Saturday, upcoming, a bevy of beefy boys will assist me in moving the last of the power tools from the rental space into my newly concocted workshop in my newly procured home.  I’ve been in my new home since November, and have finally devised a way to get my shop into the basement bedroom adjacent to the garage, where I will have all I need (sans a spray booth) to resume my “hobby”.  There will still be 15 stairs between my recliner and the shop, but past experience has shown that more gets done in proportion to less distance between recliner and shop.

Phase One

The basement bedroom with pegboards and workbench installed.

Can I Get Back in the Saddle?

For the past 2+ years I have barely held a dull chisel, powered up my defective drum sander, or applied health detrimental nitrocellulose lacquer.  Life has interfered with craft.  My workshop is located far from home and only gets visitation to pay the monthly space rental.

Today I put the gears in motion to buy a house.  I’ve been renting since June 2013.  In November, I will move to a new house which contains space for my workshop.  When the muse strikes, I will only need walk down a flight of stairs to the workshop.  Will that be enough to get me back in the saddle?  It must.  I have several commitments to complete guitars and ukes which I’m sure have caused some discomfort in those awaiting.

I need to take care in knowing the difference between dreams and reality.  I will only know when it happens.  November 15th?

UPDATE:  I have made it so!  I moved into my new home November 17th, and am working on converting the garage and downstairs bedroom into my workshop.  This process should take about two months, before I can begin the resumption of my craft.

Small Fortune

Q: How do you make a small fortune in the guitar business?

A: Start with a large fortune.

The following is an excerpt from an online blog:

When you see a guitar builder charging $3,500 for a boutique bolt-on instrument, do you think somebody’s getting rich? I don’t, and here’s why: The “small fortune” adage has been applied to many hobbies-turned-businesses for good reason. Passion for the product is all well and good, but in business—even the guitar business—it may have to take a back seat if you want to survive.

Guitar building—either from scratch or from parts—has become a cottage industry in recent years. It seems like every starry-eyed dude with a board and a butter knife calls himself a builder. Web-based luthier-supply stores have empowered thousands of hobbyists to create instruments at home. These outlets offer just about everything you need to become a fledgling guitar maker. In fact, these vendors have become so sophisticated that many of the large factories now buy from them.

Assembling guitars in a basement or garage gets many people daydreaming about a home-based guitar business. After selling guitars to a few friends, this may seem like an exciting adventure. But if you’re used to getting a steady paycheck, you may be in for a surprise.

Counting costs. In addition to building my own brand of guitars, I work as a consultant for both small and large operations that are serious about not only making guitars, but building a business as well. (Let that sink in for a moment.) No matter how much you love guitars, you have to be prepared to put that aside in order to see things objectively. And sometimes that means putting business first.

When I’m hired to help streamline or improve a guitar shop, the first question I always ask is: Do youreally know how much it costs you to make and deliver a guitar to a customer? I often find that people have no idea. Many builders tally the cost of parts and materials, and maybe throw in some extra dollars to cover miscellaneous expenses. If they are paying people to help out, they might add their salaries to the tally.

Passion for the product is all well and good, but in business—even the guitar business—it may have to take a back seat
if you want to survive.

Whatever profit they think they’re making is likely kept in a pool for things like new tools or the rent for a small space. They probably aren’t planning for the day when a stoned employee puts an X-Acto knife blade through his thumb and decides to sue. Did you figure liability insurance into your business plan? That increases the cost of your guitars. Your time mopping up the blood is a cost too.

The best way to view your operation is to consider anything you do an expense that must be offset by your billings. Turn on a light? It’s a cost. Turn on the heat? It’s a cost. Use the phone? All of these and more are ongoing costs that figure into every instrument you sell. Other services that get used occasionally, such as hiring an electrician or an attorney—yes, there will be lawyers—should be built into a financial plan ahead of time in order to smooth out your cash flow and help you establish your pricing structure. I advise asking an accountant to mentor you. This is going to be fun, right?

Material matters. Acquiring raw materials is another area where planning pays off. You need to know how much wood is needed for a single guitar, including the waste that inevitably occurs. For example, if you buy 1,000 board feet of neck wood, you will not be able to convert all of it into product. Your wood supplier will do their best to sell you usable lumber, but there are always defects in every board that must be worked around or scrapped.

A good place to start is to add at least 30 percent to what you think you will need and include this in your cost estimates. You may find that you’re doing better than that on average, so you can adjust downward for future buys. Another helpful tip is to ask your supplier to cut your boards to a length that is a multiple of the individual blanks you need, which helps eliminate waste, reducing your cost.

The same logic applies to hardware. No matter how well made your vendor’s hardware is, there will be occasional duds. You won’t have to pay for a replacement, but it might stall the completion of your customer’s guitar, and every day it’s delayed is money you will never get back. The knee-jerk reaction is to keep loads of hardware in stock, but inventory costs you money. Be sure to inspect and test as soon as a shipment arrives so you can get replacements before your cash flow stalls.

These are all basic business and manufacturing concerns, and we haven’t even gotten into promoting, selling, or the most basic streamlining of the actual building process! When you endeavor to turn your passion for guitar into an avocation, the very thing that got you interested may be last on your “to-do” list.

And oh—don’t forget to include the cost of that shipping box.


sMg Guitars – Summer Update

August 20, 2013

Yes, I am still here.  What’s not here is a shop to build guitars.  I haven’t handled a chisel or squeezed any glue or set any frets since well before this summer began.  My shop was in my house which sold in July.  I located a new space which since July has merely been the storage location for all my tools, benches, wood and components.  I have been slowly organizing the space to allow me to do actual work, but summer treks, settling into new accommodations, and preparing for the new school year have taken me away from shop work.

Life has interfered with making dust, but it hasn’t squashed it entirely.  Every day, I’m a bit closer to picking up the chisel.

Back from Alaska

July 8, 2011

I just returned from 12 days in Alaska, touring in an RV with Carol and William.  I did miss working in the shop, and have some serious catching up to do.  I recently purchased plans to build a CNC machine platform.  I’m not sure what I’ll use the CNC for, but I’ve got some ideas about neck shaping that might come to fruition.

Next Thursday I will be traveling to Lava Hot Springs for a cousin reunion.  There was a germ of an idea that I would have my sister’s uke ready for delivery, but it looks iffy.  I’ll still schlep a bunch of finished ukes and we can have a uke-fest anyway.

The summer will be busy with diversions from building, and I’ll have to squeeze in shop time between excursions.  Lava Hot Springs next week, then Ste. Agathe, followed by Guitar Camp (  I’ll have some time in August after camp before I attend training for my new job (High School Math Teacher!), then volunteering for the Boeing Classic golf tourney as a walking scorer.  School starts September 7th.

Moving Forward

May 15, 2011

“He who works with his hands is a laborer.  He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman.  He who works with his hands and his head and his heart is an artist.”  St. Francis of Assisi.

Is there any significance to May 15th?  Half way into the 5th month of the 11th year of the 21st century?  Maybe.  The significance for me is that I’m done with my student teaching, and I will be co-teaching at my high school only until June 8th.  On that date I will submit my portfolio to CityU, and they will go through the process of confirming all my requirements in order to issue a certificate of completion so the state can provide me with my teaching certificate.  Then I can start looking for a job teaching high school mathematics.  The prospects are dismal.  In 1978 I was granted an elementary education teaching certificate in an era very much like this one.  Tenured teachers were sitting on the bench waiting for job openings, and no jobs were being offered to the newly minted teachers like myself.  That’s when I got into Information Technology, into which I dallied and tarried for the subsequent 30 years.  Deja vu all over again.

I ventured into guitar building in 2008, not to support myself financially, but to leave something behind and to find my inner artist.  I come from a family of very much NON artists.  Our upbringing did not emphasize artistic exploration, and none of us siblings showed any signs of artistic expression.  At least, that’s how I saw it until my sister Cyndy exploded with prolific artistic output that made me question where it came from.  Maybe there was some of that artist in me too.  Thus began the artistic investigation through guitar building.

My building fills many holes I suspected needing filling.  Manipulative skill and craftsmanship have always been important to me.  Music has been part of my life since I was a teenager.  And, beauty.  This guitar building adventure has been filling those holes in a very satisfying way, and I can always find better instruments and other equipment at sites like   I have to eat, support a family, and keep the dog alive.  Building won’t satisfy those requirements, hence the teaching as income endeavor.

So, the path is defined for employment for income (OK, I do like teaching and math).  But the path for craftsmanship and artistry is also defined, and I am planning my journey, which includes:

1.  Finish Uke number 1.

2.  Finish Uke number 2.

3.  Help Devin finish his Walnut OM and watch him leave with a guitar and a smile.

4.  Start/Finish Jim’s Hybrid Macaferri.

5.  Design a new guitar for my daughter Rachel.  She keeps playing Carol’s parlor.  The most beautiful guitar in the world is worth shit if you don’t play it.

6.  Start another Uke.

7.  Plan the next 3 guitars (which is two less than the number of back and side sets I have waiting in the wings).

Welcome Allied Lutherie

February 18, 2011

On page 8 of Allied’s weekly specials, one of my guitars, the parlor with the sinker redwood top, is featured.  There’s a link there to this blog, so if you are here via the link, welcome.

My blog is a blow by blow account of the building of my guitars and ukes, where I expose myself through my mishaps and victories.  If you are a builder, hopefully you can learn from my mistakes and help me celebrate success.

Leave comments, make suggestions, ask for advice, I always respond.  I do get spam, and am quick to dismiss if you offer prescription salves over the interweb.

Facebook Link – Now my posts here go there

November 24, 2010

Yesterday I installed a plugin on my blog which is supposed to feed my posts to my wall on Facebook.  This way I can annoy additional people who don’t visit this blog and “reach a wider audience”.  I’m practicing my social media vocabulary.  What follows is a post I made yesterday before I installed the plugin to see if it really works.

Today is a snow day, which means I don’t have to work!  Work being teaching math at a high school.  The power is still on, so my power tools and lights work down in the shop, and I’ve got lots I can work on.  I’m juggling several projects right now, a koa dreadnought, a bubinga uke, and a new entry, a palo escrito hybrid with my first cutaway.  I’m also supporting an intern who is working on a walnut OM.  In addition, I’ve got lots of workshop organization and cleanup to do.

I introduced a new power tool into my garage; a planer.


I moved the compressor to a temporary location to make room for the planer, merely delaying the inevitable; where do I put the compressor?

Anyway, minor issues, lots of work available to choose from, and I’m damn excited.

In Memorium: Rob Girdis

July 15, 2009

I received a call on June 30th that Rob Girdis had taken his own life.  I was stunned and thoughts raced through my head saying it couldn’t be so.  A few weeks earlier, I was with Rob in his workshop and he was talking gleefully of his upcomming Opera Cruise with friends in Italy.  He was upbeat and seemingly carefree.  I heard later, through an acquaintance, how he returned from the cruise with pictures and stories of his grand adventure.

I had worked with Rob a handful of times in his workshop where he gladly imparted wisdom and gave me constructive instruction on how to improve my skills, ease some tricky techniques, and showed me the value of having, maintaining, and using the right tools.  He preferred the hand tool vs. power tool option, and spent lots of his energy on unique jigs and fixtures for assembling guitars.  His shop was like a candy store.

Our conversations at the shop were both technical and personal.  He wasn’t shy to talk about things going on in his life other than building, and I got the sense that this was a person comfortable with the transitions he was experiencing, not a troubled soul who would choose ending his life.  On his website,, friends and colleagues have been leaving tribute messages, and it’s clear that no one around him knew he was prone to take the action he did.

“Genius is pain”, loosely attributed to John Lennon, but says to me that our troubled souls aren’t soothed by our outstanding qualities, but that they have a life and momentum independently.  “You are what you eat” also doesn’t stand.  I know some people are pissed, as his actions hurt those remaining, and it seems incredibly selfish.  But, perhaps Rob felt he could be a more content being devoid of life.

I will miss him, miss the opportunity to learn from him, and miss seeing more of his spectacular guitars get made.  I started building guitars because I looked at what I had accomplished in life and felt that I was missing tangible legacy; leaving something behind, a footprint of some sort.  Rob, even though he is no longer with us, left behind a beautiful and plentiful legacy.

Phinney Neighborhood Center Auction

March 30, 2009

sMg Guitars are featured front and center as a live auction item in Phinney’s upcomming fundraising auction.  The auction is for the labor to construct the guitar of the winning bidder’s choice.  You can access the auction list at

There’s a link in the listing to this blog.  If you’ve arrived at the blog from the auction link, and are a potential interested bidder, use the comments feature here to post queries.

Next »