August 4, 2006
Some explanation and apologies
for those of you who have been on my
waiting list for years
(and anyone interested in the possibility
of commissioning an instrument from me):
Im writing this letter especially
for those of you who contacted me at some point between 1999 and 2003 (and
in some cases, more recently), about the possibility of commissioning an
instrument from me, and were put on one of my waiting lists. I know some
of you were given the impression that after a certain period of time your
name would reach the top of that magic list. Presumably, I would contact
you at that point to begin the process of designing and building you an
instrument, should we both still wish (and be able) to undertake such a
project. Indeed, I imagined that it would work that way!
Some of you I have talked to or corresponded with in the intervening years,
and so you already know something of my current situation. A few of you
will be getting instruments from me in the next several years ("God
willing and the creek dont rise!"); hopefully you know who you
are, and realize that this letter doesnt carry any implication that
your commission is in danger.
Im sure many of you have wondered, "whatever happened to that
waiting list I was supposed to be on?". Heres the story:
In the summer of 1999, after building
instruments for over 25 years, something clicked, something achieved some
sort of critical mass, and I began to receive interest in my work at a rate
far faster than I could keep up with. It is very flattering to have people
desire my artwork, and I basically never said "no", but began
putting names on my first "official waiting list". I assumed that
in fact I wanted to do all this work, and could, and eventually would. At
about this same time, Suzy and I were in the process of constructing a new
house and shop; this project is still ongoing, although we are living and
working in the "new" buildings now. This has slowed down work
in other areas of life. And the interest in my instruments has continued
I have some odd and annoying chronic health problems, including sensitivities
to a myriad of different foods and chemical substances. These problems almost
certainly are related to misuse of toxic finishing materials in my ignorant
youth. Though so far never life-threatening in an immediate sense, they
really can impact my quality of life, and have a big effect on my ability
to work. As with most health problems, mine are exacerbated by emotional
stress. I had a particularly difficult period in spring of 2001, where I
couldnt do any work for several months. At this point I had about
33 people on my "waiting list", for a variety of instruments.
The instruments I was making, and most interested in making, were becoming
more complex, both functionally and artistically, and taking longer and
longer to create. When I finished the Oracle, the first Harp-Sympitar, in
early 2001, I realized that it was the only instrument I had been able to
complete in a year. During the months that followed, when I was not feeling
well enough to work, I reviewed my waiting list. I realized that if I continued
being able to produce only one instrument a year, my waiting list would
take my entire remaining working life, if not well into my next lifetime!
And that would be only making other peoples instruments, other peoples
dreams. As an artist, I have a head and heart bursting with ideas for instruments
that want to be built. I saw my life laid out before me, with no time or
energy for following those inspirations. In a brief moment of insight, I
knew that whether or not there was any reality to this vision of my creative
life being swallowed up, there was certainly reality to the underlying stress
it had been causing in my life. Of course, Im aware that not many
of the instruments on my waiting lists are projects that would individually
take me an entire year to make under normal conditions, but this feeling
was still strong and real to me. I decided on the spot to stop working on
commissions for a year and make one of the instruments that I had inside
me wanting to come out. That instrument was the Flying Dream; more of its
story appears on elsewhere on this web site.
At that time, I also stopped adding names to what I still thought of as
my "official" waiting list- the stuff I would somehow try to get
to. But I couldnt ever bring myself to simply say "no" when
people called or wrote, wanting one of my creations. So, I started a second,
"unconfirmed" waiting list (the "wanting list"). Here,
I was clearer ( I thought) about how there were no promises of anything,
just an acknowledgment of someones sincere interest, and a time relative
to other entries. I put nearly another 30 potential clients on this list.
Now, although in theory I wasnt taking new commissions, I had about
60 people that I had taken on some sense of responsibility towards. And
what if I didnt end up being an instrument builder in my next lifetime!!??
I stopped formally adding names to the "new" list sometime in
2003, but of course the interest is still there, the calls and emails keep
coming, and I really do want to make everybody happy.
But Im not about to start a production shop and hire employees...thats
just not something I can or want to do.
So, I have to figure out some way to be selective about what work I actually
want to do, and feel able to do.
All this has been churning inside me
for the last several years. During that time I have not been addressing
the waiting lists in any strictly chronological way, but rather choosing
the projects that seem most aligned with what I want to be doing, the direction
my art seems to want to move. Ive felt a lot of guilt about this;
somehow, some part of me feels like Ive failed all those people who
I intended to create something for and havent yet, and might never.
But it also feels like the true way to be, like Im finally accepting
who I am and what I can and should be doing.
OK, this has been a lot of words; if
youve made it this far, thanks for hanging in there! Heres the
Ive realized that this being true to myself, true to what I feel is
coming through me (what I sometimes call the Creative Force, or God, or
various other names) is really the thing I need to accept and honor, to
become. Of course, I still need to make a living, and I still love making
instruments for people who make music/art with them. So heres what
this means for those of you still vaguely (or avidly) hoping to get an instrument
out of me:
1) Im currently not making Dreadnautilus
guitars. This is a wonderful instrument, and Ive entertained notions
of licensing its construction to someone else. But that hasnt
happened, and its not the work Im meant to be doing right now.
Should the Dreadnautilus go into production again, or some child of it,
Ill do my best to let those of you who wanted one know.
2) Im currently not building replicas of any of my previous instruments,
or those of other builders (i.e. historical). This is not an inflexible
rule (all this is open to change), so feel free to offer me unreasonably
vast amounts of money to replicate something; I will feel free to say "no".
3) I am moving toward building my own inspirations, rather than working
on commission. When I do consider taking a commission, factors influencing
my decision will include whether the "tool", that is the functional
aspects of the instrument, is something that interests me and feels in line
with my perceived direction, or will teach me things I want or need to learn.
Projects that allow my creative inspiration to take charge in some way,
and ones that inspire that creativity, are the ones that are most likely
to get built, and to get my best energy put into them.
4) At this writing, my focus is on developing the instrument I call the
Harp-Sympitar, of which Oracle, the Flying Dream, Big Red and the New Dream
are examples that can be found on this web site. I welcome especially any
interest in creations along the lines of these instruments. Commissions
for instruments like these are currently among the most likely to get my
5) Prices. Yes, they have had to go up! I still try to base my prices on
time and materials, but my expenses have increased, and Ive even begun
to think that there may be a time (hopefully not for another 20 or 30 years!)
when I cant physically do the work anymore, and perhaps I need to
think about making more than just what I need to live on this year! This
is all new to me (even after 34 years!) and Im still figuring out
what my "need" in terms of getting compensated for my artwork
really is. It does turn out, no matter how I figure it, that an instrument
that takes 1000 hours to build (i.e. The Flying Dream or the New Dream)
has to be priced at what I would have not too long ago considered "absurdly
high", to say the least. Ive been using an odd rule of thumb
recently, for these Harp-Sympitars; that is to figure about $1000. per string,
to get a rough idea of what a project might cost. So a 39-string instrument,
like those mentioned, ends up being about $40,000. This has worked out so
far, in covering time and materials, shop overhead, and other identified
or projected expenses. But it may turn out to not be enough. Compared to
other builders, $40. per construction-hour is not at all out of line: I
know a number of builders that are getting more like $100 per construction-hour.
In closing, let me say that Ive
been very moved by everyone who has expressed interest in my work; your
enthusiasm has supported and encouraged me to keep doing this crazy stuff.
Your patience with me as I go through my process of discovering what I can
and cant do, what my truth really is in all this, has my deep gratitude.
Im not throwing away my waiting lists. I hope that some day Ill
get to make some of you amazing instruments. In the same spirit, please
dont give up on me. If you have any desire to pursue getting an instrument
from me, taking into consideration what Ive described above as my
current needs and interests, please let me know.
If I have instruments that become available
for purchase (used or newly made)
I will try to let people on my lists know about them, if I think there might
Again, thanks for your patience with
me, for your time reading this lengthy letter, and especially for the joy
you take in music and instruments, and your continued expression of that
joy. Such joy makes the world a better place!
In Peace and Music,