Nick Lucas’ GalianoJune 15, 2020
Miguel Acosta Checkered GuitarOctober 19, 2020
The whole world has found itself in a unique situation due to the Covid-19 virus. There's no doubt about it, it sucks. Everybody has had to make sacrifices and it doesn't make much sense to complain about it as we're all in the same boat, though some have lost much more than others. I learned a while back that when there is downtime, you put your nose to the grindstone and work on projects you have put off and work on techniques that you've wanted to learn.
For me, I'm fortunate that I haven't had a lull in work, but my shop is in my home and I have three boys who have been home from school since March. My boys are in and out of the shop all day long, to see what I'm up to, to work on independent projects, to settle arguments, or to ask if they can have screen time. My two older boys, out of boredom and a sense of competition have finally started playing guitar and ukulele, learning the power of three chords arranged in different order. They are not alone, a lot of folks have been playing more music, either starting up or coming back to it. Some musician friends have had all of their gigs dry up and have turned to live stream concerts, reaching audiences far beyond their locale.
My buddy Jontavious Willis, an excellent young, Grammy nominated Blues musician from Greenville, Georgia,has been spending the quarantine mentoring other young players, and encouraging them to play acoustic Country Blues. Jontavious and I had been talking a bit because I was in the process of building a six string for him. He'd give me regular updates on the wunderkinds he has been working with. He called me up a few times to have some of them play a tune or two over the phone.
Jontavious also helped to organize a sort of retreat for a group of these young men to meet up, play music, learn from one another and their elders, and have a good time. The event occurred over the course of a week in July, at the Foxfire Ranch in Waterford, Mississippi. They were visited by Blues legend Mr. Bobby Rush and they went to Skip James' hometown of Bentonia Mississippi to visit Mr. Jimmie "Duck" Holmes at his Blue Front Cafe. Mr. Holmes gave them all a lesson on the Bentonia style of playing.
It gave me great pleasure and hope to hear this younger generation playing the music I've loved since I was a kid. I was more than a little bit envious that these guys are all connected, helping each other out and feeding off of one another. When I was their age, I didn't know many of my peers that were playing blues. As a result I played with many folks who were much older than me. I thought of how happy those older players would have been to hear this new round of musicians. As many of those guys are no longer around I can't repay my gratitude, but I can pass it along to the next generation, and help them as the older folks helped me.
Jontavious asked me to keep an eye out for any cool old guitars that might work well for some of them. I started looking, but the problem with old guitars is that they are often fragile and finicky and usually in need of repair and restoration work. Not necessarily the best thing for a young guy in his teens or early 20's.
It didn't take me too long to realize that I had my sons coming into the shop, and that it might be possible to put them to work, building a couple guitars that we could send down to Jontavious' buddies. I talked to my sons and they were receptive, as was Jontavious. I left all the creative licence up to my sons and the final guitars nicely reflect their respective personalities.
My younger son Oscar chose to build a classic Erma with a mahogany neck, ebony fingerboard and bridge, mahogany back and sides and a hemlock top. He went with a checkered purfling that I had made for another project. Oscar's guitar sounded really nice and smooth. It went to Sean MacDonald, an exceptional young musician from Augusta, Georgia.
Here's Sean playing Taj Mahal's "Cakewalk into Town" on his Erma
My son Felix, who appreciates flair, went for an all domestic North American tonewood Erma with birch back and sides, poplar neck, maple fingerboard and bridge, hemlock top decorated with decals. Felix guitar sounded tough, with lots of attitude. His guitar went to Stephen Hull, a fine young player from Racine Wisconsin. We Wisconsin folk have to stick together.
Here's Stephen playing Lightnin' Hopkins' "Hello Central" on his Erma.
As for the guitar that I built for Jontavious; He was looking for something similiar to an L-00, so I made a 14 fret, X braced Angelina, with a Sitka spruce top, maple back and sides, ebony fingeboard and Brazilian rosewood bridge (salvaged from an old Kay base fingerboard). It has a hand rubbed sunburst and a pickguard with a new design of material that I came up with. The guitar has a nice even tone, with good bass and projection. It's sweet when you want it to be, and nasty when you get up on it. I'm calling it the "Georgia Peach."
Here's Jontavious playing his take on the Lemon Jefferson classic "Matchbox Blues".
In these uncertain times, we have to remain hopeful. I'm hopeful of these future generations, my own kids and the many young people out there who are accomplishing great things.
If you would like to contribute to the effort of these young men playing traditional country blues, you can do so here:
A very special thanks to John Maniaci for the wonderful photos of the guitar and my sons and I.