Saturday, February 4, 2012

Winning the Lottery!!

I don't know if you've ever heard it, but winning the lottery is bad news for you!  That's right!  Many people have had their lives RUINED by an excess of wealth!  No fear of that happening here, my life, at least by those standards is completely safe. I have successfully eluded wealth and even security  Not that I couldn't appreciate a little of that every now and again, I'm sure you've noticed life is expensive these days.
     I am not saying I'm not enjoying the lutherie  business.  Currently I am finishing an electric violin that I designed and will shortly put into the hands of my partner, and most insightful critic, Louise.  I am also in the process of "making over" a very pretty Chinese violin into a left handed instrument.  Why?  Well beyond the hope that this unorthodox position would guarantee a player first chair (unlikely), it would open possibilities to lefties like me who were forced to adapt to this right hand world.  Yeah, I love the quirky things I'm working on!
    Well it was hardly a surprise recently when my mother asked me how my violin business was going and I told her I wasn't really very busy, she commented, "Yeah, I didn't really think that would amount to much."  At least I'm not disappointing my mom!  But you know, it's cool work, and when it's comes together, very satisfying!
      My working career has been quite varied in a connected sort of way, all the good stuff was mechanical, that is, hand work. But, so far I have been able to elude overwhelming success!  No fear of my life being ruined by wealth! From teaching to auto mechanics, to camera repair, to violin repair it has all been an interesting journey, and with the exception of teaching, enjoyable.  For a few years, recently, I spent time as a painter and restorer at the Roosevelt Campobello International Park.  That wasn't an great fit.  It wasn't so much the fit, as the non-fit.  As a self-employed person for the past 35 years I had difficulty grasping the concept of being non-productive and wasting time.  This was, after all, a Federal job and needed to be treated with the proper non-productive respect! I think my most memorable experience occurred in my last season. 
     A bone of sorts was thrown to St. Timothy's Roman Catholic Church in the form of painting.  Usually this sort of work was performed at St. Ann's, the Episcopal Church, where the Roosevelts worshiped when they were on the Island.  It was pointed out, however that many of the servants were RC and worshiped at St. Tim's.  A gallon of primer and green paint were put in my hands and I was directed to go and paint the wheelchair ramp and front door of the church.  To my knowledge there were just the two churches on the high road:  St. Ann's Episcopal, and the church next door to it.  St. Tim's right?  It certainly needed paint!  By morning break I had managed to finish the priming but commented to my boss that the green wasn't even close to the color on the church. I pointed out to him that the church's green was a real "poison green", a true Victorian color and not the somber evergreen shade he'd given me.  He seemed puzzled, but told me to go over to Lubec and get the color I needed and charge it to St. Tim's.
     Over to Lubec, through customs I traveled and managed to get the first coat of green on by lunch.  It didn't cover very well and would definitely need another coat on that high arched door.  It wasn't until I was returning to the Park that Friday afternoon break that I noticed the sign set low off the shoulder pointing up the side road and proclaiming "St. Timothy's Roman Catholic Church".  I must admit my heart lurched a bit and then sunk as I turned up that street and discovered that there was indeed a Roman Catholic Church there, very much in need of paint.
     I did get the job done, although it took me another day.  The building I painted?  That was St. Ann's Fellowship Hall, possibly the old church. With my being "from away", nobody was surprised by what I did, but they were highly amused and promised it would be remembered in Park folklore. It was actually pretty funny and I have no problem laughing at myself, but this I thought was just as funny:  The following Monday I was painting the right church and my painting partner, 74 year old Louris from Lubec, came looking for me.  "Where was you?" he asked.  I told him I was down painting St. Tim's.  "No you wasn't!" he replied. "I needed something out of the paint truck and I went to both churches on the high road.  You wasn't there!"   Louris, let me tell you where St. Tim's is!!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The wages of foolishness!

My brother Allen has spent many years and much effort to leave ridiculous, misleading and generally foolish communications in song, prose and poetry for me on the phone.  Sometimes he doesn't even need to be involved for his foolishness to bear fruit!  This is what happened this AM that prompted me to send a note off to him:
    Let it be known that your foolishness has its effects even when you aren't directly involved!  This morning I received a call with a CT exchange that my phone didn't recognize.  Being the professional that I am I know that new customers will not be listed in my contact list, so I answer the phone.  Oh yes, there you were Allen asking me about picking up a violin you had recently left for repair, but I was on to you immediately.
     "I've been meaning to talk to you about that."  I said. "Unfortunately I left it out in the yard and then ran it over with my car.  I know it was only worth $10,000-12,000, so you're not out a whole lot of money. Your homeowners might even cover some of that."
     There was a pause, then "Allen" said, "I didn't really think it was worth quite that much..."  I then realized this was not my dear brother calling to harass me.
     "I'm sorry!"  I told the caller, "I thought you were my brother who seems to live to harass me and I figured a preemptive strike was called for!"
     "I'm not sure I'd want to be your brother!" the caller said.
     I switched directions, "We have your violin?  I didn't think we had anyone's violin just now?"  As it turned out he had dropped his fiddle off at Louise's place for a minor adjustment, which she did without bringing it into the shop, and he wanted to pick it up, but didn't have a phone number for her from the website.  "Let me give that to you", I offered graciously.  See, you just need to know how to behave in a professional manner to develop a great business reputation!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Can't See the Forest for the Trees?

     I both love and hate those pithy little adages!  My mother always had one on tap that she would throw out at us.  My brother found himself on the receiving end of "IF you fly with the crows, you'll get shot with them!" This was of course in reference to the very questionable friends my brother was in the habit of making.  I recall myself responding heatedly to mum's comment and telling her "You can't reduce life to a series of damned old adages!" I stand by that even to this day, but as it turned out she was right about those friends and it was fortunate that my brother launched out in other directions and severed those connections before they led him into serious trouble.
     There have been several times in my life when I can say I haven't seen the forest for the trees.  I can get so embroiled in the detail that I miss the big picture.  Maybe it's a near-sighted thing?  I do try not to make a habit of it, but it does, nevertheless, come back on me from time to time as I have plied my trade as an auto mechanic, a camera technician, and most recently as a luthier.
     Something that I learned in the camera repair world was that there's no accounting for the importance of a sentimental attachment to a piece of equipment, and I find that that follows in the stringed instrument world.  Louise brought me a violin to repair, a lower bout had opened, and general set up was needed.  I looked the violin over and commented that it really wasn't a very valuable instrument.  The top wasn't fine old growth spruce, the maple wasn't highly figured, in fact it was hardly figured.  The scroll looked like something chip-carved out of pine.  Louise told me that the violin had belonged to the client's grandfather, and had been brought from Germany in the early 20th century.  She wants it done!  OK, I'd see what I could do.
     It was necessary to remove the top cover for the repair after doing which I discovered, no label, no corner blocks, really not a vestige of finesse in the instrument's construction. Upper and lower blocks were completely unorthodox, cleating work was very crude, and the top cover - with the exception of what could be seen through the f-holes - was not graduated at all, and no bass bar had been installed. Clearly an amateur piece.  The "tree" I fastened  on was graduating the top plate and installing a bass bar.  There was some room in the estimated price, although in all honesty, I would be working at a loss.  I just wanted to do it!
     To make this long story shorter,  The graduating and bass bar were completed, the bout repaired, instrument cleaned, and I was pleased!  That is until I began the set up of the instrument.  It needed a new bridge and I was surprised to learn that a stock bridge would not work.  The fingerboard was so low that set up would mean cutting the bridge to somewhere into the middle of the "heart".  Looking "less" closely I then observed that the neck actually veered off to one side. Not good.  What was needed was a complete resetting of the neck, and shoot, the upper and lower block should probably be replaced at the same time.  Not something I was willing to undertake on an instrument of that mettle!
     Here's what I did do : A 3/4 bridge was installed to achieve the low height required, and a much lowered price was charged  to the client.  The instrument was better than it had been, sound improved, and still playable.  I had spent some 20+ hours, and charged $50, including bridge and had been reminded that I need to look carefully at the forest, before getting lost in the trees!  

Friday, January 14, 2011

Miscellaneous Ramblings

Greetings! Here's my official start to the Lola String Luthier blog.  The company has actually existed for more than a year on a very low profile basis, and seems to hold some promise.  I have been faced in the past couple of years with the "adventure" of reinventing myself due to the demise of a 30+ year career in the camera repair industry. I'm hardly alone in that!  Most of my past colleagues have been forced to close up shop and attempt to segue their talents into another venue.  So what do people do with broken, damaged cameras these days?  For the most part they become bookends, if they are of sufficient weight, children's toys, or find their destiny in a landfill near you!
     It is my hope to successfully combine my love of music and musical instruments, fussy pursuit of excellence as a technician at my workbench, and joy of working with wood into a new satisfying career.  I have been very fortunate to have my former violin teacher and friend Louise join me with Lola Strings.  I rely on her considerable skills in so many aspects of lutherie, music, and web-based business.  The start up has been slow, much of it can be described as "learning experience".  Where I was previously earning $50-$70 /hr. repairing cameras, I find myself netting more on the scale of $10-15 /hr.  There are no complaints though.  I enjoy what I'm doing and our customers are pleased.  Money is great but I discovered long ago, it takes more, or less, than money to give you satisfaction in whatever you do!  ciao for now. David

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lola String Luthier services is up and running!

Lola String Luthier services is up and running! we are so excited to venture into this highly specialized business.
We specialize in repair, restoration and select sales of bowed instruments - violin, viola, and cello.
please visit our website: 

The inspiration for the name

This is my cat, Lola, that inspired the name of our business.