Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Transcendental Wooden Objects In My House... Wonderfully Entertaining

1918 Gibson A model, not mine, but like it.
My therapists these days are guitars and mandolins. They are capable of moving all 285 pounds of me to any place they wish me to go, simply by my playing them. I have no control over the visions that overtake my conscious self when I pick up the mandolin or guitar. I transcend my own self when I begin playing. I just drift away over the rooftops like Mary Poppins. More like the Goodyear Blimp, perhaps.

I have recently tried to remember as I play what I'm thinking. It's like dreaming. I can see places and people where these tunes were learned or played sometimes. At other times it's a place that I have been and forgotten, or it can be just a physical place I don't know. I suppose everyone sees a different vision when they play the same tune. I learned a tune, Shenandoah Falls years ago in West Virginia and everytime I play the tune, I visualize a place named Sylvan Falls in Rabun County, Georgia.

Most of my instruments, mandolins and guitars,  are from the early 1900's thru 40's. These are instruments made from trees that were alive over 160 years ago. Those trees, Maple, Spruce, Birch and others, knew all the things about the woods. They saw it all.  They did not know acid rain, nuclear fallout, 2-4-D or tree trimming crews. These trees lived a more pristine life than those today, yet finally fell to the axe and saw.

These trees were eventually sold to the Gibson Instrument Company to become guitars, mandolins, banjos and other instruments. Someone saw potential in some of the logs. Careful eyes and hands that crafted them into the instruments they are today. I'm the recipient of all the effort contained in a small wooden box with metal strings on it. Sit in the chair, put it in you lap, and enjoy.

An original Gibson label
The old Gibson Factory in Kalamazoo Mi.
 Orville Gibson was a minor genius that had a knack for innovation. he threw the book away and began to desing and build instruments that were considered radical. the old "tater bug" mandolin shape became a "punkin seed shape, and much easier to play.. The new Gibson  instruments were affordable, and became the choice by the masses. Hundreds of instruments were made, and  many survive today, and demand prices many times the original cost. The Gibson F-5 is  the most copied mandolin the world.

The older of my  two Gibson Girls  was born in 1918, the same year as my Mother; both are alive and well, although my mandolin has had more "health problems" than Mama.  I often wish each of my  mandolin could talk and tell stories about there early days as Mama does.

The 1918 mandolin came to me in Washington. D.C. I was poking around Jim Bumgardner's shop in the summer of 1975, and found a box containing the remains of a Gibson A mandolin. I looked at the grain in the top and it spoke to me. I gave him 75 bucks for it. I talked Paul Yeaton and Paul Reisler, of the old Trapezoid group, to put it together again. She was everything, and more, that I ever wanted in a mandolin.yet Unfortunately, it had been apart for so long, the wood had stresses that caused her to come apart. We re-glued her but it was gonna' take a couple to more operations to get her comfortable in her own skin again.

I needed a stable mandolin, and called my buddy Nowell Creadick. He came up with another winner; a 1923 Snake Head Gibson...a real blabber mouth with a much different personality than the old '18. I was playing a lot, so she got put aside for about 10 years.

 I met Harrol Blevins, and in conversation said he'd look at the old girl. He operated successfully and put her back on the front lines for good. Glenn Carson came up with a new  tailpiece that smacked her to life like a dose of Geritol, and she's talking louder and sweeter than ever. Them old trees is still singing.

Each of my instruments have a story...some of it I know, most I don't know. Who built them, who bought them and played them, are questions that will not be answered. I do get a feeling when I play certain tunes that the 1918 Gibson  has played the tune before. Wonder who it was that taught it that tune?

Playing a musical instrument helps us transcend our own mundane lives. Others enjoy it so it's contagious. A good thing for us all..

The old original "Banner" label stating the
"Only a Gibson is Good Enough"

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