Good Times

Well, the time finally arrived. Last Friday morning Suzy dropped me at the airport and I headed down to Tallahassee to visit Ken and Virginia Miller. Due to a delay during my layover in Atlanta I arrived in Florida roughly an hour later than planned, but otherwise the trip was smooth and uneventful. Ken was waiting for me in the terminal, and after just a few minutes’ ride I was standing in his shop staring at the makings of my new guitar. Too cool. We chatted about it briefly, and the Ken showed me around the house and to the guestroom, where I unloaded my stuff and settled in a bit. Then it was right back out to the shop for a closer look.

I’d received an email just a few days prior saying that the side bending was done, and that was the first piece I saw. Made of highly-figured mahogany from ‘The Tree,’ the sides were now pieced together in a jig:

click any picture for larger images

Next, he showed me the top. The bracing:

The face:

The shell rosette:

The back is made from the same mahogany as the sides:

The back bracing is in place, but not yet trimmed or shaped. The center stripe support is also made from ‘The Tree’:

Ken and I chatted about the build, and guitars in general until time to start the grill for dinner. It was sprinkling rain outside, but we stood around on the screened in “pickin’ porch” and got to know each other a bit while we waited for the coals to catch out on the deck. Soon Virginia arrived from work, and joined the conversation. Before long, there was grilled chicken, baked sweet potatoes and steamed broccoli on the table, and we washed it all down with fresh brewed iced tea. (Why can’t I ever remember to make iced tea at home?) Delicious.

After dinner we all made our way back into the shop, where Ken pulled out a large storage container filled with small panels of rosewood. He grabbed a clear plastic headstock form, and I was able to dig through the woods and pick out my own piece for the headstock veneer:

We also looked over the fingerboard and bridge pieces:

To cap off the evening, we each grabbed an instrument from among the wide assortment in the living room and played a little music. It’s been quite a long while since I played acoustic music with actual live musicians, and I had a blast. My own guitar picking is nothing to write home about, but I don’t believe anybody enjoys playing any more than I do.

Saturday morning we had a leisurely breakfast and then went to Wakulla Springs. This is a nature preserve where Ken and Virginia were married. There’s a natural spring that pumps up to half a million gallons of water per minute into the W. river. On a boat tour we rode around the perimeter of the river, seeing all sorts of wildlife in the area. Various fish; osprey, anhinga and other birds; turtles; and of course, alligators. This park also served as the set for “The Creature From the Black Lagoon” and two of Johnny Weismuller’s Tarzan movies. On our way back home Virginia drove us through downtown Tallahassee, past the Capitol Building, the courthouse, and other municiple buildings. People were out enjoying a street fair on the side streets and in the park.

After lunch, I watched as Ken went about gluing the top of my guitar to the sides. This photo shows a good look at the side bracing, also made from ‘The Tree’:

The upper shoulder of the lower bout is built up with an extra thickness of wood. This will later serve as the structural underpinning for a beveled “armrest”:

The bridge support is made of dogwood:

Ken’s signature and the date are already in place inside the top:

After fitting the sides to the top in a dry run, Ken smoothed out one little area to achieve the perfect fit:

Then it was time to glue it up:

With everything in place, he weighted it all down for a tight seal:

Before long it was time for dinner. Virginia drove us to Mockingbird Café in Havana, where we ate snapper and quail and had pie for dessert. The café offers live music on Saturdays, as well, but we decided after two or three songs that we’d really rather go home and make some music of our own. Back at the house we picked a handful of fiddle tunes and Virgnia sang some good killing songs and a few gospel numbers. Unfortunately I had a very early flight home on Sunday morning, and before we knew it bedtime had rolled around.

Sunday morning at the crack of dawn, Virginia poured me a travel cup of hot coffee and Ken delivered me to the airport to make my way back home. I can’t begin to say enough about what great people I found Ken and Virginia to be. So warm and welcoming it seemed as if we were old friends despite the fact that we’d never met before. We parted company vowing to get together again, and I look forward to the next time we can do just that.