As the 70s were wrapping up I was languishing and discontented with progress I was making in life, which was pratctically nill. I had completed only a couple of semesters of college coursework and had avoided dying in a couple of close-call accidents–one while hiking, the other while driving a motorcycle. So I decided to head in a new, concerted direction linked to what interested me most. Music. The search (even in those pre-world wide web days) for a good undergraduate school to attend didn't take long.
In winter of 1978 I finally auditioned for admittance into music school at a university in a town called Denton. Jazz guitarist Jack Petersen liked how I played well enough to recommend entry into the performance guitar program at the school and I managed to snag a dorm room at the last minute at the corner of Avenue C and Sycamore there, very close to the music school's cluster of classrooms, practice rooms and performance halls. My room was in McConnell Hall. Bruce Hall across the street was where music and performance arts students lived. It was a good arrangement and I stayed on attending classes there for two full years before running out of money and returning to the workforce as a common laborer for a couple more years.
Recent arrival of a pair of custom-designed guitars has sparked memories attending music school in Denton. At that time my instruments were barely affordable ultra-low budget models. I was a bit ashamed at that time to not be playing something much better, but they were good enough to learn on. And after a key recital and subsequent 2nd-year jury performance (which I somehow aced) I learned the lesson that a low-budget instrument can be made to sound good if played well. My university-appointed private instructor, Michael Craddock, subsequently had enough confidence in my budding abilities to invite me to go to Spain where I would be able to study under Segovia. Sadly, when that invitation was received I had already burned through the survivable limit of my college funding and had to turn down the invitation to return to work.
Readers of intro pages to this web site will have discovered how averse I am to all things related to commercialism, but with permission of the artist who so graciously created these new guitars I cannot resist plugging here a bit for Lava Drops. And while no amount of my gushing or my amateur photos of the guitars do justice to the fine artistry they embody, I am compelled to share about them here. Both the creations and company of artist and musician Rapolas Gražys are describable in a word: superb.
Not being commercialized to any level of obscenity so many companies resort to in this day and age, it took some focused digging to find out about Lava Drops. Compelled to finally find a fretless electric guitar of my dreams, I spent months poking around on the world wide web until YouTube's AI assisted a little by throwing up a single, highly effective video of Tommy Emanuel trying his hands at playing Lava Drops. Then after more search work I found a video of the artist responsible for creating what appeared to be some astounding instruments playing a unibody fretless Lava Drop. That video and the guitar presented in it convinced me to try to contact the artist and inquire about creating some for me to replace those lost in the Hermit's Peak Fire this past spring.
I've rarely experienced more satisfying interactions with anyone or any company in my life. I have absolutely nothing negative to share about the experience I've enjoyed with Rapolas and Lava Drops.
This unibody Lava Drop (right) is my first fretless guitar and it is pure pleasure to hold and play, even though I have a long row to hoe learning to create music on a fretless.
The fretted Lava Drop (below) is not as challenging to play, but I still need to learn and hone new skills to play it effectively. The workmanship invested in creating such beauty is daunting to think about, but it's easy to not dwell on that while playing them. They smoothly propel my thought streams into the universe of musical composition as I explore and experiment with them.
Photos I've posted here are crude, but the artist may eventually publish much better photos of them on his company web site. My intent with this small amount of commercial promotion is entirely user-focused, and as I become accustomed playing them, I'll probably share more about that in future posts.
These two guitars of much finer quality, one of them sporting no frets on its ebony fingerboard, make me feel like I'm starting over from the beginning again in music school. It's almost like I don't really deserve to be in possession of them, having grown up playing low to medium quality instruments throughout my entire musical life, which has been a lot of fun, regardless.
Exciting and intimidating at once, I expect this new musical creativity journey is going to be a lot of fun, too.
So with these two instruments in hand, I've been surfing the world wide web this weekend for inspiration from sources I've as yet heard nothing about. Being a bit slow on the uptake my entire life, I suspected there would be something going on out in the wide, wild world instigated by someone or some group intriguing enough to trigger my aging neural pathways sufficiently to kindle inspiration of any significant, enduring effect.
Lo and behold that inspiration just sprang from a documentary stumbled across on YouTube this very night titled "Snarky Puppy: We like it here", released in 2014. Ah, ha! Being so reliably slow on the uptake pays off at an opportune time of life again. The words Snarky Puppy triggered some vague memory I couldn't quite nail down until I searched the world wide web and there it was. A band born in 2004 in the same town where I had attended music school about 25 years earlier. The documentary was intriguing beyond expectations and it sparked inspiration at a level appropriate for leveraging these two new guitars, possibly to some deserving degree of achievement.
Backing tracks for a new tune titled Mavoji (the name of a music school friend of so long ago) has been roughed out. Time to get on with composing the guitar part and laying its track down.