Sunday, December 13, 2015

Ed's guitars...

This afternoon, Still on the Hill performed at the Eureka Springs UU Fellowship, and Kelly Mulhollan signed copies of his new book, True Faith, True Light written about the instruments made by Ed Stilley. The instruments, as I've mentioned before are fascinating. Stilley was completely self-taught, using the tools that he had in his workshop, and had no training as a luthier, and no sense of what one might call "fine craftsmanship." On the other hand, he made over 200 unique instruments and gave most of them to children. Kelly and Donna performed on several of Stilley's instruments during the concert, and left them on display so they could be examined close up while they were busy signing books.

Instead of trying to build guitars of a specific shape, Stilley had a bending jig that allowed the shape to be determined by what the wood was willing to do. He would boil it, put it in the jig, push it to its limits and then make his guitars whatever shape came as a result. That accounts for the unusual shapes and sizes. Pork bones were used for bridge and nut, and all kinds of resonating devices were added systematically on the insides, including old saw blades, door springs and the like. Sometimes hinges were used as end pieces for attaching strings, and 1/8 in brazing rod was used for fret stock. Most luthiers would regard Stilley's guitars as crude. For example, the holes drilled to form the peg box on the guitar below is very crudely done. Each of Stilleys' guitars would seem crude to those more familiar with manufactured models. On the other hand, they are outsider art and an expression of a unique creative passion. The lettering expressing Stilley's devotional message (True Faith, True Light Have Faith in God) was routed free hand using an old Craftsman router.

As I've mentioned before in the blog, Ed Stilley is a treasure. And Kelly Mulhollan's book about his guitars and his devotion is beautiful. I should also mention that the timing of this concert and book are great inspiration for making cigar box guitars at the Clear Spring School, a project we will begin in greater depth upon returning from the holiday break.

Make, fix, create, and extend to others the inspiration to learn likewise.

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