13 Sep 2016
12 Sep 2016

Instant Feedback

One of the most awesome parts about being a maker is instant feedback.  When I sand a neck, it has scratches or it doesn’t.  When the guitar is set up, it buzzes or it doesn’t.  It’s not arbitrary, someone else’s judgement call, and I don’t have to wait to find out.  I do something and I know how I did- instantly.

I also love systems.  If there isn’t a system in place for keeping track of finances, keeping track of orders in regards to price increases, I can’t learn anything.  Then I’m dependent on happening to notice things, and then happening to remember.  The system doesn’t have to be right or perfect, in fact when its not its precisely how you learn. I’m a maker but I’m also an owner and as such I find myself running from shiny thing to shiny thing.  Take this morning, I was making a neck blank but then remembered  I didn’t get an order of switches.  Back to the computer, on and on. I wasn’t following the system I have in place of making stuff first and doing computer stuff at the end of the day.  The system works.

Are there ways we can make systems to provide instant feedback for other parts of our lives and businesses?  How many times do we just show up and wing up and keep making the same mistakes, or don’t learn anything but just blindly directing our effort? There’s so much waste involved.  I heard from a friend of mine that used to work in process engineering that if you switch tasks it takes about 12 minutes to get up to speed.  How much switching/relearning/not noticing do we do? Don’t expect yourself not to switch, or to notice more. Make a system. Then learn.

08 Sep 2016

If it’s important…

TIG weld Guitar

…do it everyday.

This is a quote by wrestling coach Dan Gable. It’s one of those things that’s so simple and common sense you wonder why you haven’t been doing it all along.  If it’s important do it everyday.

This is one of the huge problems with batch building of anything.  If you fret 15 necks in a week, ho wlong before you fret again? What did your mind and hands learn and then forget in that time? That’s not how we learn anything. We don’t cram Spanish for a semester and then remember it all when its necessary? Sound familiar?  The most effective route, the most powerful, is slowly and persistently chipping away towards the goal-everyday.  It’s the way I’ve directed my build process for the resonators, one at a time. Not because it’s romantic, but because that is how we learn.  I want my hands to remember what they learned the last time they did something, and the shorter the time between the operations the better.

The Mulecasters are TIG welded and there’s quite a learning curve.  TIG welding, I’ve learned, is one of those things that are so simple and zen, there is no end to the learning and that is why its addictive. It’s important for me to learn and so I do it everyday.  The above picture is a test blank that I do every morning when I come in.  Here’s important qualities for setting up your ‘do it everyday’ learning.

  • Small chunks. If you want to make it a habit start with something so small that its impossible to make excuses out of it.  It takes me maybe 10-15 minutes to weld it.  As I get faster…. I do the same amount.  Maybe it will be only 5 minutes.  Doing it more is not the point. Doing it every day is the point.  Its a reward for your efforts.
  • Learn one thing every day.  See the writing on the blank? I make notes of my welder settings I use.  If I change something, I change only that thing. That way at the end of the week I can look back with fresh eyes and see what make the best, or worst, improvement.  If I change a setting, I stick with it for the whole blank. Your initial  impression might be wrong. Learn to deal with the change and you’ll learn VASTLY more than if you abandon ship. Lean in.  It might be a disaster, or it might be a game changer.
  • Specificity.  The welds on the mulecasters are corner welds so, for now, that is my blank. They are 22 gauge stainless steel, so that is what my blank is. I have one goal for my TIG welding- make guitar bodies. Not shelves, not tube frames- guitar bodies. I don’t grab whatever scrap I have. Same blank. Same material. Same technique. Mastery is the goal, not generality.

What is important to your progression in what you do ? Distill it down to three things. Not four, or five. It has to be able to be accomplished each day, regardless of situation. Create a system that you can be successful in regardless of schedule, health, or mood.  You don’t get points for staying up all night every month to ‘get after it’. Relentless forward progress. Every day.

07 Sep 2016

Adele and the Mule

This is a video from last night of Tim playing his Mule resonator guitar on stage with Adele. I’m not sure there’s much else I can say about that, it was tremendous but I’ll try because I want you all to be part of the story too. I saw it on stage during the second song and we desperately tried to find pictures of it -“was it a cutaway? Etc” to confirm it was the Mule before we got excited. Then he picked it up and played it during Rumor Has It. On stage. With Adele. In an arena. I’m sure some front video will show up and I’ll post it. Tim is much more than Adele’s guitar player, he’s the creative director and a damn fine human being. If there was anyone who could have asked for a deal it was him and he didn’t. He was so excited during the process. He got us tickets and then came up after the show and told me how much he appreciated the guitar, and we geeked out on guitar stuff for a while. She was awesome, such a voice, and such a giving performer. You leave feeling like you know her, the way she so authentically has a conversation with the audience. You forget there’s 30,000 or whatever people there. If you own a Mule or are on the list I want to make sure you know you’re more a part of the story than you may feel. The TOP question of any obsessed guitar maker is “how can I get people to buy these so I can keep building them?” Four years ago after a Kelly Joe Phelps show when These guitars existed in “I wonder if I can make one? But not shiny?” there was no ability and no customers. I spent a year trying to figure out the first four, spent all but about $500 I had and went back to work in a factory. For two weeks. Now there’s 200 mule owners, 70 more waiting for theirs and this video below. When me and Phil and Smither’s and my dad are done with them they are beautiful but they are just things. Seeing them go out and be used like this is a joy only instrument makers have. It’s just such a story and thank you to the people who have purchased guitars for giving it to me.