Pilgrimage to Bremen 0
Autumn, and time for me to make the annual pilgrimage to Bremen to attend the Van Thom Weekender, accompanied by my travelling companion of old, Hollowbelly. It's an extravganza of alternative music organised by Andreas Reidel, aka DJ Tourette van Thom, and a great opportunity to catch up with old friends that we've made over the years. It was also a stepping stone for us going on to the 1st German cigar box guitar festival the following weekend.
It starts with Hollowbelly driving up from Devon to my gaff in the Midlands, and then heading off down to the Channel tunnel. On this occasion we arrive half an hour late for check-in (the first time I've done that) and we get knocked back 4 hours before we can get on the shuttle..not a great start. Still, it's a well trodden path for us, and once on French soil we are ready for the long haul ahead, expecting to arrive around midnight in Northern Germany after around eight hours of driving.
After a few hours we arrive at the dreaded impasse of Antwerp around rush hour, but this time we take the northern Leifkenshoek toll tunnel and have a trouble free run...cruising onwards across the Netherlands.
A quick phone call to Andy when we arrive on the outskirts of Bremen to remind me of his address and we are greeted by him at the midnight hour at the side of the road outside his house.
Breakfast at TvT's
On Friday, after breakfast we head off to scout out the venue, "Tor 13" (Gate 13) which is a unit in the old goods railway station in the centre of the city...very alternative and very groovy. In the evening we meet up with our old friends, some in the audience, some on stage.
The bar at Tor 13...constructed for the occasion and decorated with TvT's collection of cigar box guitars.
Chillin' on the loading dock... Photo: Till Billy
Mel O'Dee and Don Voigt rehearsing by the railway tracks.
Totally crazy that there's no fence, no security, no health and safety to stop you walking across the tracks and into the main railway station...but I guess that in Germany people are credited with a degree of common sense.
Flatbilly DeVille Photo: Till Billy
Smal Water from the Netherlands. Photo: Till Billy
Hollowbelly headlining Friday night at Tor 13
It's a long old evening, with 5 acts, and we didn't get back to Andy's place until around 3.am. I was sleeping on the couch, Hollowbelly took the air matress on the floor...living the dream as our friends constantly remind us.
So, Saturday arrived and the big deal was that Revd.Beat Man was going to be headlining. Nevertheless there were plenty of other cracking acts, all well worth catching.
The entrance to the venue...just out of shot is the yurt with wood fired pizza oven...very groovy.
Hanging out with Revd. Beatman.
Stringtone Slingers...a good-time outfit with a great authentic rockabilly sound. Photo: Till Billy
Vincent Slegers from Belgium. Photo: Till Billy
Karsten from Mack Drietens. Photo: Till Billy
Karsten and Sonja were kind enough to offer us overnight accommodation on our way down to the CBG fest, which was great, as their place was pretty much in the middle of our journey down south...this is the sort of happy co-incidence that can happen out on the road.
Revd.Beat Man bringing the house down on Saurday night. Photo: Till Billy
On Sunday we took the day off, and had a lazy afternoon watching the football, Andy's team Werder Bremen didn't get on too well unfortunately. It was our way of paying back the hospitality.
Mofo the dog watching football with us on Sunday afternoon
We had a few days to kill before our next gig at the German cigar box guitar festival, so we built a new set of garden gates for Andy.
At the DIY store buying timber.
Starting work..fortunately we had all the tools and workbenches with us as part of the gear we carry for the workshops we'd be doing later that week.
Taking a break after completing the job.
Back on the road after a few days in Bremen..and heading a long way south for the German cigar box guitar festival in Pleutersbach.
It's not all hard work, a civilised lakeside lunch stop on the way to our overnight stop in Wuppertal.
"Dius" the Magirus fire truck..our overnight accommodation in Wuppertal.
Relaxing in Karsten and Sonja's allotment garden. What a beautiful place, hidden amongst the houses and factories there's a maze of little leisure gardens, all immaculately kept and with little cabins where you can relax, have a beer and sleep over if you want, so different to the UK's version of allotments.
If you want to see what happened at the German cigar box guitar festival, check out my blog on Cigar Box Nation...
Andy..aka DJ Tourette van Thom..the man who made it all happen.
- John Wormald
The Eight Days Of Glastonbury 5
Glastonbury - the biggest greenfield music festival in the world. Way back in October 2015, me and my sales manager (my daughter Anne) decided we'd have a go at getting a trade stand there...why not?! Anne dowloaded all the forms - there was an enormous amount of info that they needed...a complete inventory of what we were selling, together with prices, where it came from, the percentage of recycled, local, fairtrade goods etc, together with our trading history, business ethics etc. They don't tell you how much it will cost, that comes with the offer if you are successful, so we set ourselves a budget of what we could afford to pay for a place (...hearing that food traders are paying £30 000, we were expecting it to be big money), and waited. Five months later, in February of this year, on the very last day of the deadline for being notified we heard that we'd got in, and it was within our budget. We got to work drawing up a schedule of things we had to make and buy, and got cracking. It became our main focus of work for months, and it was a hard slog, as I lost nearly a month's output because of other stuff I had to attend to with family and home commitments. Nevertheless, we reckoned we were sort of ready....buying a new tent, a roofrack for the van to fit on all the extra stock, making new guitar stands and racks, ordering in thousands of pounds worth of merchandise...and loads of new cigar box guitars to get boxed up and ready for sale.
We had a full four months to get ready, but it wasn't easy - our online business keeps us steadily busy, we had the house enveloped in scaffolding having the windows replaced, and I took 2 weeks out of my schedule replacing all the timber cladding whilst we had the scaffold to work off. My father died at the beginning of March, so that was stressful, emotional and just generally all-consuming...also daughter Liz was heading off to Japan for a week right at the time of the funeral: there was just lots of stuff happening all around me that was really difficult to cope with. Also I had a road trip with Hollowbelly to southern Germany for gigs and workshop and a couple of festivals, so time was tight to get things ready. Daughter Liz was due to finish university early June, so she jumped at the chance to come to Glasto to help.
As well as making guitars there's a whole load of official stuff to get through, submitting public liability and employer's insurances, health and safety assessment, fire risk assessment, site plot, making sure our first aid kit, fire extinguisher etc were up to the proper standards...it's a serious job getting ready for a big festival like this.
DAY ONE. Glastonbury is officially a 3 day event, but gates open to the public on the Wednesday, and we had to arrive on Monday. We were advised by the organisers to delay setting out as ground conditions were very bad due to the rain, so we loaded up during Monday morning and were ready to head off by mid afternoon. Every inch of the van was packed, and we had 96 guitars strapped onto the roof.
The van all packed and ready to go, with barely an inch of space to spare...and 120kg of guitars on the roof.
The weather forecast was looking pretty good, so off we set. A quick stop at the motorway services and we arrived at around 6.45pm, no traffic problems, but it had obviously been raining recently, with lots of standing water on the approach roads. We got through the initial ticket check, and then it was onto the temporary metal trackways laid across the mud. A few more checkpoints saw us issued with vehicle pass, health and safety induction sticker, windscreen marked up to show how many people we had onboard...then a final ticket inspection and into the site proper. That's where we started a couple of hours of panic...with no idea of our way round the 1000 acre site, we couldn't find our pitch, and nobody we asked could help...even experienced traders were getting lost. We parked up and the girls donned wellies and went out to try and find the office for our section of the traders' market. Half an hour later it was beginning to drop dark and I was worried..it was wet, muddy, bleak and dropping ever darker..and no word from the expeditionary force. I got a call on the phone to tell me they'd found the office (despite there being no signs to it), the map had wrong the wrong colour coding, so no wonder we got lost, but they knew where to go to find the pitch. I drove down to the office, got wristbanded, got back in the van, and slowly, slowly we crept around remote parts of the site to arrive at our pitch...which was basically a rectangle of muddy grass, reached by driving across 20 metres of treacherously sticky mud. We dragged the tent out and set it up, all of us getting thoroughly smeared in mud. After a bit of grief we also manged to get our electric hook-up sorted by the site electricians, so that was another worry resolved. At least we'd managed to get some protection against the elements for the night, and so settled down for some well earned rest.
DAY TWO. On Tuesday morning we set about getting the marquee up and setting up the shop. We'd had some overnight rain, and I spent a couple of hours shovelling wood chippings over the ground in front of our site and where the marquee was going to stand to try and soak up some of the mud. I'd had the foresight to bring a small shovel and it proved invaluable for this task, and lots of other stall holders were soon taking it in turns to borrow it, to scoop up chippings from a mound that had been dropped by a dump truck a few stalls away. After a couple of hours of back breaking work we were ready to put up the marquee and start setting out our stall. Anne is well versed in this, so I let her take over and direct me and Liz as to how she wanted things setting out.
Stall all set up and trading for the first official day. That's our personal security team by the little hut on the right of the stand...there were 3 teams of them doing shifts in rotation, all really friendly and helpful folk, staffing that spot 24 hours day, rain and shine.
We took it steady, and by the end of the afternoon everything was sorted and we were ready to trade. During the course of the day we made quite a few sales to other traders and musicians.
Typical Glastonbury ground conditions, just round the corner from us (OK, just round the corner is about a mile away at Glasto) at the Left Field stage.
DAY THREE. Wednesday saw the first proper day of being open to the public, so we decided on our team uniform for the day - Plague Doctor Tee shirts and hoodies. Glastonbury's own radio station, Worthy FM dropped in to interview me and got me to play a tune. This turned out to be a very handy bit of publicity, as lots of people over the next few days told me they'd heard me on the radio as they were queuing to get in. We'd heard reports of 12 hour tailbacks as festival goers waited to be admitted to the car parks...it sounded pretty grim. A bit later I had Ulster FM at the stall, asking me to provide them with some live music while they did a report...2 broadcasts in one day, not bad! We had a decent day's trading, and I was doing a fair bit of playing and "barking up" in front of the stall, and continued to do this until around midnight, when we decided to shut up shop.
Just in front of our stall...the machine in the background was delivering barrels of cider.
The arrangements for traders are a lot more civilised than for the general public - we were camped directly behind the stall, with our van acting as our stock room. In the secure compound behind the stalls are traders' camping, rubbish skips and toilets, for the exclusive use of traders. The frontages are all secure - a team come and fence the gaps between the stalls to ensure nobody can get "back of house", and the service access to the compound is manned 24 hours a day by some really friendly and helpful volunteers, who did a sterling job. We were right next to the service access gate, so we had our own personal security staff look after the marquee, literally on our doorstep.
DAY FOUR. Thursday's uniform was hickory stripe prison shirts and denim work aprons. Our day's trading was was pretty much the same, a long long day, some decent sunny weather and some showers. We sold out of ukuleles - I was setting them up as quickly as I could, and they were selling as soon as they were ready. One thing which was really nice was that the setting sun shone directly into the front of our stall....as if we were magically aligned to catch the last rays of the sun, bathing the guitars in a soft golden light.
Customers jamming at the stall - from Manchester and Bulgaria.
Electro stomper board in the mud..and it still worked after days of being submerged in liquid mud.
We packed up around 1am after entertaining revellers in front of the shop with some live music. I started to reflect that this really was an endurance event...Thursday and the music hadn't started properly - we had three serious days of work ahead of us to get through. Just getting through the day at Glastonbury is a real effort, every step through the mud is hard work, and you simply cannot get away from it. The mud gets everywhere...on your skin, clothes, tent, amps, cables, even on the money! We sat up quite late, drinking whiskey and talking about the prospect of what tomorrow would bring, as it was the eve of the referendum.
Muddy cables, muddy amp, muddy PA system...
DAY FIVE. Friday was a gloomy start all round with rainy weather, and a general feeling of apprehension of what might be to come with the announcement that the UK had voted out of the EU. It was a bit weird, as we felt in a sort of bubble, just picking up scraps of news via our phones about what was happening in the real world outside.
Woke up this morning, mud all around my shoes....
Still, there was no time to dwell on that as we had a job to do. Sales were fine, but not as strong as Thursday, as it was raining on and off for a large part of the day. Anne was keeping a ledger of the sales, so she had a running total, and also logged when the sales were, so we could see what part of the day we were doing the most sales. We had one little lad of around 9 years old come by with his mum and dad - he's been busking with a uke and earned £140, so he bought himself a little cigar box amp with his takings! He also came back the following day to buy a lead and a slide...from another £90 which he had earned.
DAY SIX. Saturday was a pretty busy one, but I managed to get an hour off to see ZZ Top at the Pyramid stage. It's a festival, and of course people get a little, er, relaxed with drink and various substances, but one bizarre thing we noticed was how many people were so far gone, they came into our stall and asked for cigars, cigarettes, or Rizlas. It seemed in their befuddled state they saw "cigar" on the banner outside, and they didn't get to read the whole "Cigar Box Guitars" thing..and the fact that there were dozens of guitars on display seemed to pass them by. This wasn't an isolated thing, dozens of people did this...one posh boy even complaining to Liz that "it was misleading" to have that on the sign....jasus knows what he was on. Another thing we observed was that we must have had the air of being well-organised, because we had regularly had people dropping by to borrow the shovel, ask if we had pliers, or cadge plastic bags and elastic bands. Fortunately we'd gone pretty well tooled-up and equipped and we were happy to help people out. I thought that perhaps I'd overdone things in terms of tools etc that we'd brought along, but I soon realised that once you are on site, it's pretty much every man for himself. You have to be resourceful and well-equipped to cope with a week at Glastonbury - if your patch is swimming in liquid mud, it's up to you to sort it out, if you need a bit of wood, you have to have it in your van or be able to scrounge it.
Rainbow above the Pyramid Stage...view from the side of our stall.
The girls cooked and supplied me with tea regularly, but occasionally we celebrated a good day's sales and bought a takeaway. There was some excellent food on offer: we had Thai, French Provencal, some great steak pies & chips (with gravy!! mmm), pulled pork, burgers, and though not cheap, many of the food places gave us a traders' discount. We'd brought plenty of our own food, so didn't have to rely on takeaways, but sometimes you need a treat when you are tired and hungry. We never bought a drink either...bringing plenty of juice, water, beer, a bottle of whiskey and Coca Cola meant that we were self sufficient.
DAY SEVEN. We'd made it to Sunday morning, and been told by our friendly security volunteers that it would be really busy, and they were right. There's a large influx of one day ticket holders on top of the 150 000 full weekender tickets, and this was reflected in the general hubbub and sales. Before it all kicked off I woke early and decided to have a stroll round the neighbourhood, so I was able to see the army of volunteers litter picking and emptying bins by the thousand. I walked in a large loop and went past two of the largest stages, the Other Stage and The Pyramid, and saw some parts of the site which were literally a sea of mud, so reckoned we'd been pretty lucky. Liz and Anne said they'd seen one stall where the mud was half-way up the table legs, and their display of clothes were trailing into the filthy gloop.
Typical sea of mud in front of traders stands.
Trashcans and mud...it's like this everywhere.
Even the baker's van is prepared for the mud.
Part of the army of volunteers picking litter in front of the Other Stage, 7.30am Sunday
Sunday 8am at the Pyramid stage, rigging for the final day.
Welly graveyard...a common sight at Glasto. We watched dozens of people in front of our stall succumb to the dreaded welly-eating mud...some poor folk loosing both boots and toppling over full-length into the mud. Liz was on hand to rush over and bring the victims into our tent for a sit down and and clean-up with our industrial strength wet wipes.
I got a coffee and danish pastry from the coffee shop which was conveniently located right next to our stall, then started getting ready for the onslaught of punters.
There had been a load of dry straw dumped by one of the dance tents, so lots of us traders rushed off to get some to help mop up the mud in front of our stalls. We were warned off by one of the workers telling us to put it back as it wasn't meant for us...so I went back to my stall, donned a hi-vis vest to make myself look like a contractor, hid some bin liners in my jacket so I could take some straw away in and went back and helped myself. You have to be resourceful and determined to survive and look after yourself at Glastonbury.
Trade was fairly brisk, but I let the girls go off and get some lunch...but however, popping out for lunch isn't a 10 minute job at Glasto..they were gone for an hour and a half when they turned up with our lunch of gourmet burgers, and the shop was over-run by customers. It was packed, and people were waving money and credit cards at me..it was like the Black Friday sales! The girls arrived back in the nick of time, although Liz starting shouting at me to ask why I was on the phone in the midst of all the chaos, but one lady was in the middle of buying guitar for her boyfriend and wanted me to speak to him on her phone to discuss which was the best model for him. The rush of sales continued until around 5 o'clock , and we sold out of amps and our budget line fretless guitars. We tried to keep the sales ledger up to date, but we got so overwhelmed that afterwards when I checked the figures, there was several hundred pounds worth of unaccounted sales that we hadn't managed to put in the book! Utter madness, but a great day's trading. For the rest of the evening I didn't do any more playing at the front of the stall, as I was so tired, but we chilled out, and we could hear Coldplay from the Pyramid state, and stepped out to watch the firework finale.
Sunday evening...time to reflect and break out that special Havana cigar and enjoy a glass of Jack Daniels and Coke. I felt strangely proprietorial standing at front of the stall surveying my enterprise and what we'd achieved over the course of the week.
I'd felt a bit bad about bringing my daughters along and them not seeing any of the acts, but they got so into the work, and there weren't any performers that they felt they really didn't want to miss, it hardly seemed to matter. They went off and caught part of Adele's set, but the rest of the time they were so supportive and hard working it could hardly have been better.
DAY EIGHT. We knew that on Monday we couldn't leave site until 6.00pm, so just took it steady packing down. We still had customers dropping by to make their last purchases of the weekend, but by early afternoon we were well on with the break-down. Traders around us were saying they wouldn't get off site until later that week, which began to worry me, so I started to figure out our exit strategy. I reckoned I could use the plywood boards that we'd floored-out the marquee with to drive the van over to get to the temporary roadway, and then I spotted the timber which had been used to block off gaps between the stalls. It had been taken down and discarded, and I reckoned the rough-sawn timber panels could be laid over the mud as a trackway and give me a fighting since of getting to the road. As Anne packed away all our camping gear, me and Liz hauled some really heavy pieces of timber to start forming our route out. As quickly as we could, we stowed all the gear in the van - this time we'd sold so much stuff the only thing on the roof rack was the frame for our sign and the guitar hanging rails from inside the marquee (remember, we'd arrived with boxes containing 96 guitars on the roof).
Yay!! ready to roll and go home. You can just see the "corduroy road" of split logs to Lizzies' left that we put down, but then had to take up before being towed onto the metal trackway.
Reversing the van out over the plywood boards proved to be futile...we managed to get the back wheels onto one board, but the ground was was so slippery, the boards skidded about under the tyres and I ended up with the tyres firmly back in the mud. It looks like that getting towed out was going to be the only option, and I wasn't optimistic about how long this would take, as there were thousands of traders all in exactly the same situation. The girls went down to the market office to see if we could book a tow, but came back downhearted, as the office was deserted. There was a paper on the table with a list of stallholders booked in for towing, but nobody about...the place was left unattended...laptops and everything, like the Marie Celeste. One of the guys dealing with getting vehicles towed shouted out to ask who'd put the timber trackway down, and I said I had. He told me that there were nails in it and would cause problems...the neighbouring stallholders started getting into an argument with him saying that we'd had to resort to looking after ourselves, I told him we were stuck and there was nobody in the office to help, and asked why we could do to get a tow. He calmly said, move the timber and we'll come and get you towed out...so I did what I was told, shifted the timber (probably about half a tonne of it) and left him to continue towing other people out. We stood around looking helpless, then he came up and asked if we were ready - we were. I'd already figured out where the towing eye was, but the guy in charge didn't need telling, he knew exactly where the tow point on a Merc Vito was, so he hitched us up to a massive tractor, told me to put the van in neutral and just cover the brakes to make sure I didn't roll into the tractor when it stopped. One minute later after skating through the calf-deep mud, the van was on the solid metal roadway. The girls jumped aboard and we settled in for a long slow crawl off the site. The prospect of a long wait didn't bother us - we were out of the mud and on our way home. It took well over two hours to get to the public highway, but other's weren't so lucky - we'd watched one trader's VW camper drive easily into the trackway as their patch was pretty dry, and we ended just behind him on the trackway, queuing to get out. Their van sounded pretty rattly and noisy, like old VWs always seem to sound, but after about 45 minutes the traffic marshalls directed us around him as his engine gave up the ghost. Further on up the road we saw an AA van on there way- I reckon they must be permanently stationed there over the festival to cope with this sort of thing.
Part of the aftermath of Glastonbury that we saw on the drive out - abandoned tents and camping gear.
It was remarkably calm and unfrustrating in the cab of our van whilst inching along toward the exit and the public roads. We'd done a good job, got off our pitch without too much drama and were headed home. Once onto the road we crawled along following an articulated lorry and two roadsweeping trucks for a couple of miles, trying to get rid of the mud being tracked out by all the traders vehicles. We had a steady drive through the glorious Somerset country side, our road gilded by the setting sun..through Bristol and onto the motorway. We stopped off at the first services we came to ...aching and caked in mud...but glad for a rest. I washed my hands five times in an effort to get rid of the ingrained dirt....but what luxury...hot running water! We gorged on fried chicken and ice cold Coke, trudged wearily back to the van....and arrived back home after a final bit of diversion due to a motorway closure around half past midnight.
What a week it had been...it had all seemed like some kind of strange dream. Did we really spend 7 nights in a tent on a patch of mud? Had the UK really voted to leave the EU? Did we really sell over 100 guitars? I can't really say that we saw much of Glastonbury Festival, but we were pleased and proud to be part of it. We'd prepared as well as we could have beforehand, and gave it our best shot while we were there. It was a full-on experience, we made good money, and more than merely surviving it, we enjoyed it.
Anne and Liz in the glowing red marquee....none of this would have been possible without their dedication, love and hard work...it was your week, not mine.
- John Wormald
Jamming with Ian Siegal 0
A few weeks back I got an invitation to a party of an old friend of mine, from back in the days when I'd just started playing guitar again. He's got married, and at the time didn't have proper celebration party..so this was their party, and he told me that he'd got Ian Seigal to come and play for him. It sounded like a great evening, then about a week later I got another message..Ian Siegal was going to do a solo acoustic set and then wanted a band to back him..could I help out?
Ian Siegal opening the evening with a solo set.
Now, for those of you who don't know about Ian Siegal, he is an amazing, performing with the slide guitar technique of Muddy Waters and the voice of Howlin' Wolf, he tours internationally and been nominated for so many awards I can't keep track of them. I asked my band, Chickenbone Blues, and they were all up for it, so we were all very excited and pleased to be asked. It goes without saying I was a bit nervous, but I reckon he took it easy with us. During the quick sound check it was apparent that he wasn't going to play in "cowboy chord" positions...capoing his guitar in F, but that was no big deal. I broke a string on my Airline resonator guitar during the first number, so swapped to cigar box guitar for the rest of the high-powered set. We certainly had to work hard...bouncing around in different keys, F, G, Bflat, C and more, but it was very enjoyable.
Mr Siegal giving precise instructions to Alan Nicholls on drums
After the performance, Ian retired to the smoking area where he was holding court, entertaining the crowd accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, with some fine renderings of "I Walk The Line" and a Johnny Cash version of "Hit Me Baby One More Time"..declaring that "Any song is improved by singing it in the style of Johnny Cash". I sat in with him for a while, playing a National resonator guitar borrowed from the host..at one point being told the chord changes by Ian as he went into a number I also play, Warren Zevons "Werewolves Of London". As I'd already loaded my gear into the van, and it had started snowing, I decided it was time to hit the road, so I left him to it, and his well-deserved 3rd bottle of wine.
- John Wormald
Internet forums...I try keeping away but sometimes I can't help myself. 5
Over the past year or so I've voluntarily absented myself from a lot of internet discussions, as I've found that proffering advice sometimes results in some unpleasant postings in return. It's not that I want to appear to be a know-it-all, or force my way of doing things on people, but when I see bad advice being given..and then taken as gospel by folks who don't know any better, I sometimes feel that I have to try and put a bit of balance into the situation.
The problem is that there are a lot of well meaning helpful folk out there in the virtual guitar making word of the internet, but not that many wise or genuinely experienced people. There are some very experienced people...but they are either too busy making guitars, or maybe so wise that they aren't going to share their hard earned experience for free with every Tom, Dick and CyberHarry.
Consequently one can observe the inexorable rise of the "overnight expert", with a view and something to say about pretty much everything. It's great that people figure out things for themselves from scratch, and it's a good way of learning, but there are a lot of people with very little experience who are eager to share their own scant knowledge with those who are seekers after truth...and people with latch onto anything and take it as the only true Gospel. Take it with a pinch of salt.
I see it all the time when people start discussing technical matters, such as how to ground (or earth, in UK ) electric guitars, what action to use for slide, how to read music, what causes a pickup to be microphonic...the list goes on and on. Someone will pitch in with an answer that's not quite right, often offering a solution that shows there's no real understanding of what the problem is caused by. If there's nobody else around with any better knowledge, this can get seized upon as the way forward by several eager people, and acquires some credence. It quickly gets accepted and indeed defended as Gospel truth, and anyone who steps in to shed a little light on the matter can quickly find themselves reviled and shunned.
It doesn't happen all the time, but I see it happen far too often than I feel comfortable with. As an example the other day I saw a discussion about how to wire an electric guitar, and someone said they were having difficulty soldering seven (yes, 7) wires onto one terminal of a control potentiometer. My experience of having wired nearly 1000 guitars told me there was something fundamentally wrong with the way this person was approaching the task, and that I could probably help to make things easier and simpler for the poor guy. There were various solutions proffered, but not one person stepped in to say, "That doesn't sound right, why are you trying to solder so many wires to one point?". Nobody had done the obvious thing and Googled "Electric guitar wiring diagram". When I posted a diagram from Seymour Duncan (a very well respected pickup manufacturer) it didn't really change the dynamic of the discussion thread, it still seemed to carry on in it's own crazy way, effectively trying to re-invent the wheel and coming up with something that was triangular in shape - i.e. a result that was impractical and illogical.
What many participants of internet discussion boards and groups are very small don't seem to grasp is that there is a real world out there that is totally indifferent to their passions and problems, and there are a lot of big fish in very small bowls. Unfortunately it can tend to create a very insular and blinkered view of the real world that exists beyond the confines of the computer monitor. There has been a lot of discussion of late about very cheap cigar box guitars, either cheap Chinese kits or people making and selling them for what appears not much more than the cost of the parts. It's obvious that there's a myriad reasons why people make and sell cheap guitars...there are plenty of people who don't value their own time, don't need to make money, haven't a clue about marketing and selling something, or are happy to palm off a piece of junk on someone who knows even less than they do...and so forth and so on. However the whole discussion seems to excite people and stimulate a lot of introspection and breast beating that really does nobody any good. What's certainly happened is that more and more people are making cigar box guitars, and selling them at very low prices. There's a bizarre "cottage industry" scene that's going on that is distorted by the very fact that people don't need to make money at it because for them it's hobby and they have a regular job or other income to support them. Consequently prices (and often quality) can be very low, and yet there seems to be an endless stream of people who want to try their hand at becoming the next leading entrepreneur in the field.
A little less conversation, a little more action...so enough of this, back to the workshop for me.
- John Wormald
2015...another hard row to plough. 0
Phew, another year end nearly come around, and I’ve kept myself busy again. 2014 saw me consolidating my guitar making and music business…with only the odds and ends of my day job as an architect to deal with, putting my elder daughter Anne to work, helping me around the workshop and in the office, a couple of festivals, workshop and so on. 2015 has moved up a gear, and has been a full-on year of getting the business on a serious footing.
My daughter Anne at Mostly Jazz Funk and Soul Festival
Anne has moved from part time to full time, dealing with all the sales, the website, packing, shipping, prepping for workshop and festivals, running workshops with me...and working on the guitars too...designing artwork, painting, finishing, soldering, fretting. It’s meant I’ve had to up my game to pay her wages, but I couldn’t do it without her…and my wife has retired, so the pressure to keep putting bread on the table has increased.
Blue Sugar Skulls designed and painted by Anne Zilpha
We’ve had to do forward planning, task allocations, weekly progress meetings…in short, we’ve had to get really serious about things. It’s meant registering the “ChickenboneJohn” name as a trademark, getting public liability insurance, product liability insurance, employer’s liability insurance, setting up trade accounts with suppliers, striking deals with overseas suppliers, and joining the Musicians’ Union…yes I’m now a card-carrying member! All of this is the stuff that you don’t see that has to be done when a hobby changes into a business…the most obvious outward sign of this change is sitting on my driveway. I sold my car and acquired a 2.7 tonne Mercedes van, as it had come to the point when doing festivals was pretty much impossible with my little Vauxhall Meriva.
The new Mercedes...how did we manage with my little Vauxhall?!
Inside the van...getting a bit more of that lived-in look.
We’d bought a big, serious “Ezy-Up” marquee that in itself weighs in at around 80kg, and that together with tables, lights, PA system, banner and all the other gear needed to sell at a festival, meant that it simply wouldn’t fit in the car. Of course, buying the van means bigger bills and business insurance on the vehicle, and it’s part of the cost I have to factor in of running a business.
3 days of this is hard work (plus 2 half days set-up and break-down)....but there are worse ways of making a living.
We’ve done fewer workshops this year, but dipped our toes into selling at Festivals, which has turned out to be pretty successful. Not everything worked out, perhaps biting off more than I could chew, and I’ve had to pull the plug on a few things…a midlands guitars show that I’d planned didn’t happen, neither did Boxstock, I missed out on 2 decent festivals. It’s impossible to do everything, it’s all been a learning experience, and now we are already planning out the 2016 season, with bookings for gigs and festivals already confirmed and more workshops and tours being planned. In 2015 I aimed to double my 2014 guitar making target…and although I’m a little short of the projected figure, we’ve made more guitars than ever, just coming up to 200 for the past 12 months.
A few new guitars ready for the next show.
Workshop at Swindon Retro & Vintage weekend
Chilling outside The Roemer, Bremen with the boss, Christian
Beorma Morris outside the stall at Moseley Folk Fest
Here’s a sample of some of the things I’ve been up to...on top of all that there’s gigs and guitar making which were fitted into the schedule. February - Students visited the workshop for filming, workshop in Calne, Birmingham Guitar Show. March - Swindon Retro and Vintage weekend workshops with Hollowbelly, Newcastle Guitar Show, Southside Blues residency at in Birmingham. April - Holiday in Japan to visit our younger daughter Lizzie. May- Thirsk Guitar Show, beginners’ learn to play workshop, visitor from Sweden comes to learn CBG with me, Swedish guitar magazine interview, pro workshop photoshoot, Up North CBG Fest, Haydock Park guitar show, Kettering Workshop, Oxford Workshop. June - Lunar Festival, Intermediate CBG Workshop, Headlander festival, Milton Keynes Workshop. July - Mostly Jazz Festival, Upton Blues Festival. August - Cumbria Guitar Show. September - Moseley Folk Festival, Bremen Weekender workshops with Hollowbelly, Nijdrop workshop ,Westerlo and Dark Star Hopfest weekend with Hollowbelly, Leeds Guitar Show. October - New Southside Blues residency, Cheshire Guitar Show. November - Recording session, Aintree Guitar show. December - Christmas Party for Dark Star Brewing, “A Winter Less Ordinary” alternative Christmas fair.
Already for 2106 I’ve been asked to go to Sweden and Germany to do more workshops, I’ve got a visitor from Germany flying over for an intensive course of how to play cigar box guitar, a nice “boutique” festival confirmed, we’ve applied to trade at a mega festival..but whether anything comes of that, it’s another matter…the 2016 wall planner is already looking pretty busy. I’ve got a stack of vintage USA made acoustic guitars to restore, Harmony, Airline, Stella, Kay, and some beautiful pre-war Oscar Schmidts..keep in touch if you fancy one of those, and I’m also hoping to be stocking an amazing range of French electric guitars.
Pre-war Oscar Schmidt Stella -if you want it, don't be afraid to ask!
How about this French beauty?...Oh la la! Scheduled for early 2016
None of this would be possible with a great network of contacts...friends, family, customers, musicians, suppliers, venues, promoters...the boundaries blur between the categories, but the kindness, enthusiasm and support of all these people too numerous to mention here have made it all happen for me. Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
- John Wormald
Problems with expensive foreign guitars.... 0
I occasionally get asked to have look at cigarbox guitars made by other people, usually to sort out problems with the neck or electrics. I'm always intrigued to get the opportunity to have a look at other maker's instruments, so that I can see how they do it compared with my approach, and maybe learn a few tips and ways that I can improve my work. It never seems to work out that way, I usually end up reflecting on how these guys charge top-dollar prices for less than top-notch work. I don't want to do "knocking copy", but sometimes I feel I have to say something, and I just speak as I find.
Well, I've just had another one in my workshop...with the customer reporting high string action. I know the maker simply by the fact that I've spotted him on the internet - he seems to be a prolific maker, and his prices are high...(the guitar in question is a 5 string and cost $500).
It came in a custom moulded ABS hardcase, and on opening the case, the guitar looked pretty much like what I'd seen on the website. The first point to note was that the pickup had fallen out...it looked like it had just been hot glued into a cut-out on the neck...but that wasn't the problem I'd been asked to look at.
Here's the hole for the pickup...looks like it was bedded on a sliver of wood with a dab of glue..and you can see the very skinny neckstick that it was glued onto.
The string action was around 5mm at the 12th fret, so I sighted down the neck (just like taking aim with a rifle) and it was obvious that the neck was badly bent. It's made from a single piece of maple with a rosewood fretboard, all properly glued-up, nicely shaped and finished, good frets..but it was bent. I put a straightedge and it was showing a 1.5mm bend in the centre of the neck..not good, especially as this instrument has no adjustable trussrod (I don't think it's got any sort of neck reinforcement).
In this shot, the ruler is lined up on the joint between the maple neck and the rosewood fretboard..you can see how much it's bent in the middle.
This is built with a through neck...and worse was to come..where the neck goes through the box, the already skinny neck had been notched to fit under the top of the box. The part that goes thought the box was only about 9mm thick...and was also bent. The neck had been glued to the underside of the box lid, and so had distorted the top out of true. The full extent of how bad this was was revealed when I laid a steel rule along the top of the box...and it was apparent that the head-end of the neck had pulled forward a lot....
The steel rule was set straight on top of the box, and the joint between the dark fretboard and the lighter coloured neck should line up with the rule...it's quite clear to see that the neck has pulled forward by about 8mm.
I've tried to take the photo so that it was in line with the top of the box, and you can see how far out of line the neck has pulled.
So..how to repair it? Well I could reinforce the bit that went through the body, maybe plane off the fretboard, install a trussrod and put on a new fretboard, and this would mean taking out the neck. But the neck is glued to the top of the box, and the box is glued shut...it would need some fairly destructive work to open the box and free the neck. This really is frustrating, as I can see how to put right the structural defects, but because of the way way it has been glued together, a repair would be very difficult if not impossible, and certainly totally uneconomic. Even a simple job like replacing a faulty volume control would be impossible because of the way the thing has been glued together.
It's got a nice set of Grover Sta-Tite tuners on it, but looking at the headstock, you can see that the nut has been cut about 3mm narrower than the neck...really sloppy work....remember, that's $500 plus case, shipping, import duty and VAT for this guitar.
I don't begrudge people charging top dollar for their guitars, and being successful at it, but this sort of thing really bugs me...sloppy work, a bent neck and a pickup fixed in with a dab of glue: for $500 that simply isn't right. I'm frustrated at not being able to economically repair this for my client...he bought this 2nd hand, so presumably he's got no recourse to the overseas maker. I feel he's fallen for the big-name reputation, and the product just doesn't live up to the hype. The workmanship in terms of fit and finish is fine, but it is badly designed and wrongly made in terms of that most basic of requirements, being able to resist the pull of the strings. Ah well... this is probably this nicest looking and most expensive "wall hanger" I've ever seen....no names no pack drill, you'll have to work that out for yourselves...and I've got to repeat ... $500 plus case, plus shipping, plus duty, plus VAT...think on, and buy British!
- John Wormald