Saturday, January 1, 2011

Continuous Improvement - a Hard Road

I tend to be hyper-critical of my own work, so it's gratifying to be able to identify at least some aspects of my instruments which I have difficulty finding fault with. Perhaps after 20 years of trying I've simply had enough practice, or perhaps as I've slowly accumulated a decent collection of tools and equipment, developed a range of useful jigs and constantly reassessed and refined my processes, a satisfactory outcome is now more likely.

Now that I've finished congratulating myself, I might add that there's plenty of scope for improvement in several important areas including fretting, setup and finishing. Even more significantly, having any real control over the tone of the finished instrument - except in the broadest sense - seems the most formidable challenge and is one reason I'd be reluctant to take on commissioned work should I ever decide I'm ready to sell my instruments.

An important part of the process of continuous improvement is an dispassionate self-appraisal of my work, involving a comparison of actual results with the work of others and the benchmarks I've set for myself. If my own personal vision of perfection is a valid goal - as it almost certainly should be - it helps to be mindful of the old conundrum involving travel: if we manage only to halve the remainder of the journey each day, we'll approach but never quite reach our target destination. It's a useful metaphor to reflect on when striving towards mastery of any skill; the parallel where my guitar building efforts are concerned is that rapid progress seemed far easier to achieve as I began this adventure, but as time has passed, improvements in the quality of my work seem less significant and more infrequent and difficult to achieve. I do wonder at times whether it's the challenges I constantly confront that form an important part of lutherie's appeal!

While I'm certainly in a position to cast a critical eye over the standard of my own workmanship with a reasonable degree of objectivity, my own limited playing skills will stand in the way of any useful self-critique where tone and playability are concerned. Bearing in mind that it's the views of the guitarists I build for that should be of primary concern, I really do need to seek constructive criticism from skilled players if I'm to make progress with those all-important aspects of the craft. Soon, perhaps, I'll hunt down a willing local participant with that goal in mind.