Photos from the Sonic Arboretum Guggenheim Show

The Sonic Arboretum event began at 8 am on Thursday, August 4, 2010, and ended at 2:00 am the following morning. During this time the entire Sonic Arboretum was loaded into the Guggenheim, setup, tested, re-tested, and then Andrew and his road crew ran soundcheck, fine tuning the setup to coax every possible enchantment from the horns.

The museum was closed that day, giving all of us a very private and privileged view of the Guggenheim’s revered collection. David Byrne also stopped in to check things out. Needless to say, meeting him was an unexpected thrill!

By 4 pm, a line of fans snaked around the museum on 5TH Avenue. Some had been there since morning, many without tickets, hoping for some luck.

When the doors opened at 7:30 pm, the Bird Devotees took their place stage side (where they did not move for nearly 5 hours), while the rest of them (2000+) mingled among the horns, took in the Dark Sounds exhibit, and found their ideal vantage point for the show.

At 8 pm promptly, Andrew took the stage and the crowd fell silent – instantly. For the next couple hours Andrew bewitched them. Sounds rose up from the horns and floated unimpeded to the atrium five floors up. The crowd watched the show from the museum’s ramps, looking like rings on a tree. The museum, bathed in purple light, was ancient old growth, the hornlings and hornlets young saplings. It was a Midsummer Night’s Dream.


Building the first Sonic Arboretum

Without a tremendous amount of notice, an opportunity arose for Andrew Bird and me to launch a concept we had spoken about for quite a while. I had been wanting to create a system of horns that could be used as a creative tool, both for composing in new spatial ways and also for making unique recordings of spatial sonic phenomenon. At any rate, work commenced immediately to produce 48 horns for the Guggenheim show.

We assembled a special crew of workers and trained them in the art of newsprint and dryer lint assembly. Crash courses in french polishing all around. Special traveling crates were devised at the last minute to get the horns to New York in one piece. My ultimate goal is to reach 96 horns paired with 96 single ended triode tube amps. I would like to make 96 channel recordings to play back over the system. You can see photos of the horns and from the show here.


Ibanez Roadstar Repair

This guitar is owned by a well-known music photographer (he took the album photo from John Hartford’s Aereoplane). I think it originally started life as an Ibanez Roadstar. Over the years, the owner has come back repeatedly to have us further lighten and amputate various appendages from the guitar body we have drilled as many holes as can be drilled to honeycomb the body wood. It has also been set fire to several times (not by us). When this guitar is in the shop, it never fails to attract stares of disbelief and amazement.


Repairing a Bowl Back Mandolin

This is from a recent Advanced Guitar Workshop. A student brought in a Venetian bowl backed mandolin with some cracks in the top. Bulbous objects are difficult to clamp, so we made a custom cradle that allowed us to flush-up the cracks in the top for clamping and gluing. This type of improvised procedure is common at Specimen.


Gibson Bass Guitar Repair

This bass had incurred a terrible stage calamity. As I understand it the concert was of a hardcore punk nature. The crowd got a little rowdy and were “body surfing” a large rolled up carpet around the room. Enough velocity was attained to actually vault the carpet up onto the stage where it collided with the bass player. This Gibson bass bore the brunt of the impact, probably saving the players life, but shattering the neck joint in the most horrible way.

I first used black epoxy to glue the neck pocket back onto the body with the emphasis on placement, not adhesion. Then two slots were cut with a razor saw to accommodate carbon fiber splines. This time thorough impregnation and complete fill were the goals. After a full cure, all was sculpted back flush for a completely fortified neck pocket repair. Note the little piece of metal window screen that came stock with these basses from the factory to help keep the neck aligned in the sloppy neck joint. A nice little Gibson/Norlin touch.


Making the Warm & Rich Bass Guitar

This is another intriguing project. Its body is a slab, J-style design made out of Basswood with white binding on the front and back and a two-tone, black walnut sunburst. It will also feature Specimen’s customary non-adjustable steel reinforcement in the neck to yield the finest absolute tone. The neck is made from quarter-sawn rock maple with an ebony fretboard and its dimensions are those of a Rickenbacker. Splendor in simplicity. Dignity in purpose.

You can see the finished instrument here.


Gibson Les Paul Guitar Repair

Very often headstocks get broken. Very often I must fix them. I have probably repaired over a thousand and not a single one has come loose, ever.

One little trick, instrumental in closing the glue joint, is the wind up rubber technique. As a youngster I became intimate with wound up rubber strips from building model airplanes with rubber motors. I used a crank driven hand drill with a hook in the chuck to stretch and wind the motor carefully stepping forward as I monitored the tension. This would often result in magnificent flights of extreme duration. One day I was having trouble closing a particularly shattered headstock fracture when it occurred to me that I had a good-sized box of old bicycle inner tubes that could serve as a stretch clamp. Utilizing the skills obtained in my youth, I was able to close the joint perfectly and obtain a gratifying amount of glue squeeze out.


300B Single-Ended Monoblock Tube Amplifiers

This project has been in the works for quite a while. It uses the circuit I have been dreaming about for more than a decade. Loosely speaking, the circuit is based on the 1934 Western Electric Model 91, but the front end has been modified to take a line-level input direct from an iPod if you wish. This blending of cutting edge miniature technology coupled with such antique circuitry makes me roll around on the floor with joy.

Many audiophiles maintain that this is the most linear audio circuit ever. Each monoblock puts out around 10 watts and weighs close to 60 pounds. I decided to go “all the way” with details like the engine-turned sub panels that the tube sockets mount on to. This lends a nice visual contrast and provides excellent convection ventilation for the circuit.

These amps are formidable structures and their additional expense and size (compared to my Single-ended Stereo Amp) puts them in a league of their own. However, I have never heard anything so sweet. These amps also pair beautifully with our Little Horn Speakers.

You can see images of the finished 300B Tube Amp here


Making the Ubercaster Guitar

This new guitar’s title is the Ubercaster. It is called so because I think it has everything one can possibly put on a guitar (or at the very least it has a lot).


This commission sends me in a different direction from my usual design ethos. The guitar has 24 frets with a deepened cutaway for access to the very last fret, twin-carbon fiber neck reinforcements and a chambered basswood body with a highly flamed book-matched maple cap for the lightest possible weight. It will also have two Lindy Fralin high-output humbuckers with coil taps, a Wilkinson vibrato unit with hexaphonic saddles with midi interface outputs and piezo acoustic output as well. Oh, and there is also a kill switch.

You can see the finished instrument here.


Building the Key Wester Custom Electric Uke

This custom ukulele is being built for an electric ukulele player living in Key West, Florida. It is embellished like John D’Angelico’s New Yorker guitars made in the 1940s, complete with cursive pearl logo, stepped “Key Wester” engraved marker, and pearl position markers on the neck. The body will be black like a Les Paul Custom and feature a special new custom bridge and our superb magnetic ukulele pickup.

Here is a slideshow of images taken during the building of this little beauty. You can see the finished instrument here.


Building the Little Horn Speakers

This octagonally fluted horn shape began as a drawing. The simple juxtaposition of two curves imbued with a rigid octagonal format automatically established this elegant shape. Nature utilizes simple geometry to create elaborate functional structures and so does the little horn. Perhaps this is why these shapes seem to have grown this way.

Once the basic three dimensional silhouette is established I can derive the flats by draping and embossing moistened paper over the skeletal structure. Once I have my set of templates, flats are cut out, steam bent like the sides of a guitar body and assembled using dryer lint, baking soda and cyanoacrylate glue. This prototype is surfaced to its final form and a mold is taken from it. Horns can then be layed up in whatever material desired. We have used both fiberglass and urethane with excellent results and continue to experiment. You can see pictures of the finished Little Horn Speakers here.