Thursday, December 26, 2013

Problems that drive innovation ....

Problems: Are they what drives us to innovate? Somehow they back us into a corner and force us to develop a better, more efficient process ...or die. Status Quo is not a sustainable option! Case in point: "The Achilles heel" of GuitarViol building (unlike guitar or violin building) is that of the fingerboard. That single aspect is responsible for bottle-necking these builds into unpredictable backlogs over the last 12 years. My Guitar and Violin building colleagues do not face these things. With guitars, installing frets is pretty straight forward and routine (if not flat out tedious). Violin builders: most don't ever deal with fixed frets  (a few contemporary exceptions). Creating an optimal playing surface for this unique instrument is no small task! The complex geometry requirements are exacting and demanding. This complex elliptical curve surface is the most hostile scenario possible for traditional guitar fret wire. Sure, in guitar production they either get hammered in or arbor pressed. This won't fly with a different curve shape every fret! Worse, the extruded mushroom shape frets that work so well on guitar recoil and fight every bloody step of the way (I know, I have fought this battle for at least 150-170 of these things that fought the whole way!). There had to be a better way ...

Enter the era of *Stealth frets. I first prototyped stealth frets on a personal instrument back in 2009. By Hand. It took a whole week! Clients would visit, and try my instrument, and go "I want my fingerboard like yours". I'd say "no way" (not that I did not want them to enjoy the benefits I had on my instrument). The ridiculous amount of work would not only set backlogs back further, it was not at all economically sustainable. So in 2011 we had wooden fingerboards blanked to the 95% on CNC. It was a step in the right direction but had it's own set of issues. The smaller fret peak wire we used cooperated a lot better but with wood being wood doing horrible things with climate changes, there was often a lot of corrective work to do. A typical Stealth Fret neck/fingerboard glued up in the rough took 2 to 3 entire day shifts to polish to a final playable product. Not cool considering the cost added cost of the CNC part. Some very fine stealth boards are out there, and a big improvement on boards I made in the past. On the other hand, the delicacies and intense geometry that a GuitarViol requires are at direct odds with what it takes to produce it. I have a very clear knowledge and vision of what the end requirements are. (After all, it is my instrument ... my life's work ...  and I am pleased that a number of you have embraced it against all odds!) There had to be a better way to make the ultimate GuitarViol fingerboard....

I had to ask some very serious questions. Status Quo would guarantee that fewer people in the world would ever enjoy playing a genuine TogaMan GuitarViol! Further, not solving these problems had another meaning on the spreadsheet. So, after a dozen years of fighting a bloody battle on every fingerboard, I had to address the following questions:
  • What would the ultimate GuitarViol playing surface be like regardless of material?
  • Could it be made from one piece? Even the nut?
  • Could it be consistent every time? 
  • Can it actually be better? Superior playing even?
  • Are we talking about "Frets" or "Stopping Points" ?
Wood was out of the question. Too delicate and subject to climate extremes to be reliable for this application. I had a very clear vision as the end I was after. So for 2013, there were a lot of trials in this endeavor. Hi impact resin casting was the logical repeatable and reliable direction. A lot of bad examples were made before hitting a winning proprietary formula suitable for this application. The word here is unwavering tenacity. Giving up was not an option. The problem had to be solved and the solution had to be Better. Superior. I was cautiously optimistic. These composite boards do require a good day of dialing in but are more cooperative! What really took my breath away was just how blown away I'd be at my first playing trial. Oh my, it played and felt like silk! Like zero friction! Vibratos like butter! No finger noise! And, a more even frequency response! (essential for recording)  It felt like Gliding... This is why I call this fingerboard the ViolGlide ....  It is gratifying to get reports "from the field" by players who have played GuitarViols for a number of years, of how blown away they are with the new ViolGlide fingerboards!

Problems. Now, if we could only solve what a mess this world has become... For now, I'll see what I can do about getting these built for players on a long backlog....

*To understand the concept of Stealth Frets, think in terms of "stopping points". Material is (scalloped) removed  between these stopping points. This is not scalloping for the sake of scalloping; it has suprise benefits. For one, it allows full barre chords (otherwise next to impossible to do well on a fretted curved board where the material gets in the way. Traditional early music Viola da Gambas had tie around frets which are otherwise limiting for post 20th century techniques; the very performance aspects the ViolGlide was intended for.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Journey to the elusive delegation mindset

Say it isn't so! I neglect this blog in the name of (figuratively) throwing water at fires all week/month/year. Well, I have a need to write that is often trampled over and over by the day to day. I also have a need to compose music and that sits in a dusty corner as well! My first love was drawing and painting. When was the last time I did that? About 10 years ago?  I am not complaining as much as I am lamenting and pondering real and positive ways to better this situation .....

So, where does one begin when the day to day life of running a business and delivering one's craft (product/service) are at odds? The creative (productive) side is at a constant war with the "taking care of yucky details" and being a slave to the urgent. The yucky details all too often win. In other words, the yucky details impede production and production produces the very thing (cash flow for instance) those yucky details consume more ferociously than a fat kid eats cake at a birthday party; leaving the birthday party (purpose of business) itself in the balance.  And, there are only so many years into middle age one can work a 16 hour 7 day a week grind, tread water, burn out, get depressed, short change the family, and not have a life.(I have made boundary adjustments in that area a couple of years back) Is it possible to be so "self reliant" that delegation is a dream at best? On the other hand, I admire many of my successful clients who seem to delegate with ease (as if it is no big deal). "My assistant will take care of it". One client in particular could not even remember the last time he signed a check because that task was done for him for so many years. This allows him to focus on his product/service (boy, do I want that!). So, (for the rest of us) how do we overly self reliant (too many hats) types get to that place? How do we identify and overcome the mental mold that keeps us running in circular ruts? Is there some sort of  fear of "letting go"thing that is hindering us? What are the common tactics/tools these people (perhaps unknowingly but naturally) use to overcome these obstacles even when resources are stacked against the necessary outcome? First, the bad news...

Some things I have found to be true in business (a real day in the life of Captain Flustercluck
  • The perfectly planned and executed day/week/month does not exist. It is a myth. (or at least rare). On a battlefield, the enemy will not conform or cooperate with your checklist. If applying the checklist to rigidly, you will most certainly be cannon fodder (or at least, dodging bullets and not moving forward at all). The MISSION (goal) however remains stationary. The day to day will throw hurdles and complications to our checklist plan. We must then adapt and overcome those things to advance our mission. Run that ball over the line with all our might!
  • Solve problems and innovate we must. Question the bottlenecks. Is there, in fact, a better way?
  • Deadlines are magnets for unforeseen deadline killers. If we are not careful , deadlines can kill us through extreme stress. Running on adrenaline wears the body down like revving an engine in the red 24/7. If you can help it, don't over commit. (But don't under-challenge ourselves either). A fine line for sure.
  • There is no time for a risk benefit analysis when a Lion (urgent matter) is chasing you leaving zero time to "think it through". That menacing call from (whatever crisis demanding "immediate attention" or else...) often happens while you are focused on your game (worst possible time) doing something that can't be neglected (primary purpose) without consequences to the ends of both things. What do you do? Must we question if that Lion can in fact wait until you can get back to the office and assess the situation? Can the Lion be tamed for a minute or will the lion eat us alive?
  • Managing the stress of the Catch 22. Consider this scenario: Having to choose between paying utilities on time (or else!) or purchasing supplies so that the job can be delivered (or else) so that the utilities can be paid (or else?). Does the cart trump the horse? Can the cart wait a minute for the horse to eat? Can it be worked out? To be able to evaluate these things with a clear calm mind rather than freezing  in a panic/anxiety holding pattern is the goal. How do we overcome this?
  • A day/week/month can and will get away fast!! This results in details that fall to the ground like a giant mound of autumn leaves. How do we rally up help to rake up the overflow of  leaves that could not fit into the cart of allotted time? Time sucks. It is unforgiving and you never get it back. Final life outcome is certain.
So the real questions: 

What are the steps to becoming that guy who can work in the zone without becoming a slave to other details? (Others are competently handling it).

How can a person who is not naturally a master at delegation adapt and change his/her story?

How can the needed help be rallied in the absence of required resources?

These are questions for the quest .... and I'll be interviewing those creatives who are also masters of delegation.  Till next time!! "Fear sees obstacles, faith see a way..."

Your thoughts are welcomed!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

GuitarViol album press release

For immediate release
Contact: Jonathan Wilson
CEO/Master Luthier
GuitarViols Inc.
(818) 268-5602

Builder of exotic bowed guitars used by many known film composers, is now promoting his solo album “GuitarViol”.

Sylmar, Ca. (January 2013) - What do the movies 300, Watchmen, Clash of the Titans, Conan the Barbarian, The Way, TV’s Revenge (ABC), True Blood (HBO), CSI Miami (CBS), Hell on Wheels (AMC), Video games Borderlands, and Medal of Honor have in common? The TogaMan GuitarViol; an exotic bowed guitar (Guitar and viola hybrid) used by a growing list of film/TV composers for their musical underscores. The visionary builder of the GuitarViol makes a return to the primary reason he created the instrument: his own music. Jonathan Eric Wilson’s album “GuitarViol” showcases the instruments sounds in a variety of musical compositions that range from heavy layered orchestral rock to sparse ambient film score style minimalism. The album is available on Lakeshore Records and is distributed through Amazon and itunes.

GuitarViols Inc is a boutique custom stringed instrument firm specializing in rare guitar formatted bowed stringed instruments known as TogaMan GuitarViols.

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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why the GuitarViol?

"What the &%#* is that?" "Is that some sort of viola?" "Why not just take up violin?" "Didn't Jimmy Page do that?" "Why?"

Being the creator of a curious instrument called the "GuitarViol" (bowed guitar, guitar formatted viola...), you can imagine I get a lot of that. Bowed Guitar, it seems, is an oxymoron. But, that is also part of what makes it so damn fun! I never tire of seeing bemused faces whenever one of my rather heretical instruments appears in public. One of the questions I am asked all the time is "What made you want to do this?". Honestly, I don't know. Perhaps it's potent ADHD and being able to envision or care about things few others can see. All I knew was that I wanted this instrument so badly I had to do it. Apparently I was the one who would have to make it happen. Others opinions would do nothing more than seek to distort my vision. I knew exactly what I wanted. Part of it's appeal to me is a lot of people just could not understand, get their head around it, and probably thought I was just wasting my life on some instrument that, if it was a viable thing, someone would already be doing it. Even if there were once upon a time similar instruments like Viola da Gambas or Arpeggiones (few of today's musicians know about these), none of them were exactly as I required or would fit the vision of how I wanted to play it. After all, this was for my own musical expression and not anyone else's. I am amazed at how people want to criticize what they don't understand. It is almost like those who lack imagination take it personally or even are offended that I am doing this. How dare I create something other than a traditional guitar or violin! Others, many others, are just fascinated and even inspired. My initial inspiration came from my love of Guitar and Violin and I just thought it would be so cool to have a guitar formatted viola that I can approach from my native guitar fingerboard harmony point of view. An alternative stringed instrument I could understand. I did not want to be just another electric guitar shredder playing Paganini or Vivaldi with loud Marshall stacks. Rather, I love being able to play Nouveau Romantic, Classical Baroque themes with the unscripted improvisational mentality of a Blues, Rock, Jazz musician. If this is crazy, so be it. This is the flavor of my joy.

An understanding of my philosophy of music is essential to understanding the spirit of the instrument I created. First of all, I am a poor "utility musician". I am the wrong man for an ongoing top 40, wedding band, Jazz standard combo, "playing to the charts" (though I do read/write music). I just do not live in that universe without being bored and unhappy out of my scull. Just writing pop hooks is not what music is to me. That stuff is great and I respect those musicians for what they do. Really, I can't do what they do and remain sane. To me, music is far deeper. I don't write stuff to dance, cheat on wives by, for the homies in the hood, or to sell Viagra. That has it's place, just not where I live. To me, Music is a deeply spiritual and poetic expression of sound that words can not adequately express. Just as each day is different, each time I play even the same (or new piece) is different. A sonic painting that is ever developing and being drafted by the moment. The GuitarViol just happens to be an essential paintbrush (ingredient in the recipe) of my sonic artistry.

It seems that I live in a similar musical mentality as many film composers do. The GuitarViol has proven quite compatible to their needs for a "special musical paintbrush" . As such, it has taken me on a journey of advanced luthiery (the art and craft of stringed instrument building).
I never intended for that to happen (to become one of those bearded luthiers buried in saw dust), all I wanted was to have my instrument and play it. Ironically, I do not play it as often as I would like these days because most of my hours are consumed by building them for this clientele. (Yes, this is a good problem!) So, this "bowed guitar thing" some frowned at years ago is my livelihood. I must say, it is quite surreal going to movie openings with my family and hearing my creations (even accompanied by orchestras!) on a growing number of movie scores. I should point out that building exotic and expensive instruments is not a way to be rich. (Would you like fries with that?) However, I experience a satisfying quality of life few others experience and I am grateful for it. Why the GuitarViol? I don't know. I just can not imagine another life.....

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Q&A with Erdem Helvacioglu

Q&A with Erdem Helvacioglu - July's featured TogaMan GuitarViol artist!

Photo: Alanistanbul T√ľnel

Electronic Musician/Producer/Composer Erdem Helvacioglu has been making far reaching waves (sound waves that is!) on his TogaMan GuitarViol .... all the way from Istanbul Turkey. He has received numerous international awards including prizes from the Luigi Russolo and Insulae Electronicae Electroacoustic Music Competitions. Further, Erdem is now expanding his reach into the US markets.

Growing up in Turkey, how did you get your start in music and what initially drew
you to it? Were your first encounters with traditional Turkish music or was it popular music?

My initial start to music was the popular music of the 80s. I have been a big fan of 80s hard rock bands and 80s synth-pop music. The big sonic world and the great production quality of the bands such as Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, U2, Van Halen have really inspired me to play the guitar and to think more about music technology. I remember writing letters to the fan clubs of various bands asking which pedals and fx processors their band members have been using for the album productions. It seems that I have always been a fan of interesting timbres and good sound quality. Although I have always heard traditional Turkish music in my life through radio and music television, it has never been my main interest until recent times.

What was your very first instrument?

My very first instrument was a cheap classical guitar. I have started playing when I was around 11 years old. My first electric guitar was a very bad Japanese copy of Gibson Les Paul.

In your work, you tend to embrace the best digital media has to offer while at the same time utilizing natural and manually induced sounds (as opposed to canned library sounds). Do you see sound design as something that goes hand in hand with musical composition?

I do not like using library sounds for creative music. I think they are good for jingle type mainstream styles but not as good for album work or interesting film music. Sound design, texture and timbre are one of the most important elements of contemporary music in my opinion. We can see this phenomenon everyday in our musical lives. The best example of this is the sonic difference between the current film, pop music and the works of the 50s and 60s. In today’s music world, a unique timbre is as important, if not more, as a good melody. I love the combination of a great playing on an instrument with the advanced sound design. For me that is the best of both worlds.

Is there a body of work (a particular album) that you feel best embodies your
scope as an artist on all levels? How would you define your work if you only had 20 seconds to do so?

It is not easy for me to define my work since I compose in many different genres. But what I can say about it is that it is cinematic music with a combination of the latest innovations in sound design and hybrid instrument technologies. “Altered Realities” album is based on the unique use of live electronics with the special software Audiomulch and acoustic guitar while “Wounded Breath” is based on contemporary sound design and electroacoustic music on of which all sounds were created with softwares such as Metasynth, Soundhack and Audiomulch. “Sub City 2064” is a combination of sound design and hybrid instruments while the “Black Falcon” album is based on the subtle use of hardware electronics setup and world music.
I have finished recording three new albums that I am very proud of and excited about. “Resonating Universes” is a 60 minute work for ceng (Turkish harp), concert harp, electric harp and electronics. It has been released by the prestigious British record label Sargasso. The harpist on this album is the acclaimed Turkish harpist Sirin Pancaroglu. The other album “Timeless Waves” will be released in August by the Belgium label Sub Rosa. This is a 50 minute work based on the sounds of Togaman guitarviol, sine waves, various analog pedals and hardware fx units. The third album is a work that I have done with the American sound artist Bruce Tovsky. This is an album of Togaman guitarviol, electric lapsteel and live electronics. It is a very cinematic album and I think it presents the capabilities of the guitarviol and hardware-software electronics setup very well.

We live in a brave new world of technology. For instance, you and I became connected through the specialty instrument I built for you (The GuitarViol). Yet a world away (Istanbul and Los Angeles - and unbeknownst to each other at the time) we contributed tracks to the same video project! (Borderlands). What are the chances of that? It seems in some ways borders and distances have become nonexistent to some degree through cyber-technology and digital recording media. Global collaboration in this industry Matrix seems to have no borders. How important is physical location to you in the business?

It is really interesting and wild that we are on the same video project! Physical location
in our business has lost most of its importance. With the Swedish composer Per Boysen, we have released the album “Sub City 2064”. We finished the whole album without seeing each other at all. We have recorded material in our own studios in Stockholm and Istanbul, then edited and mixed the whole project through the internet. But on the other hand, I think it is still important to meet people face to face before starting a big project. Also for certain projects and aesthetic like the contemporary film music and sound design you need to be at certain cities like London, NY, Los Angeles for some part of the whole year. That is where you will get your new inspiration and connections.

And finally, you play TogaMan GuitarViols. Where do these fit into your life as an artist? I imagine it is quite a conversation starter when you do live performances from Istanbul, Turkey to looping festivals in Santa Cruz California. How did the GuitarViol wind up on your radar and was bowing a guitar something you attempted before?

Togaman guitarviols have been the most inspirational instruments that I have played in a long time. I have always been interested in the sound of bowing and I have tried that on electric, acoustic and classical guitars, but have never been happy with the results. Togaman guitarviol has completely changed that. It is not just a great instrument for film, theatre music work but also works great in commercial music formats as a great alternative to actual quartet recording. Other thing that I like about the instrument is that it is not just a bowing instrument; it is also great for percussive sounds, responds to overdrive beautifully and has a great electronic part to it. I use high quality preamps like the Millennia STT-1 and Grace Design M-101 with it and the sounds I get are so transparent and amazing that I nearly do not need to do any eqing during the mixing stage.

Thank you for sharing with us and your time!
Jonathan Wilson
© 2011 GuitarViols Inc.

For more information on Erdem:

Agent : Esin Uslu