The mythology and folklore of a wide array of cultures includes some form of aquatic, chimeric creature that is part human, the human portion usually that of a female. Similar to the siren in mythology, mermaids are often portrayed singing their lovely and sometimes deadly songs, enchanting men to their deaths upon the seas. The mermaid has become so interchangeable with the siren in a variety of cultures that the name for mermaid in many languages is a derivation of the word "sirena" or "syrena," as in the French, Spanish, Italian, and Polish languages.
The legendary mermaid seemed the perfect motif for one of my carved instruments, allowing me to combine the fantastic with the female form. I've been planning this guitar for quite some time, having created the original concept drawing you see further down this page over a year ago. I wanted to develop a mermaid character that I could take a few creative liberties with - such as the tail - rather than just portray the typical mer-creature's tail. I wanted an image I could coax into an involved and complex rhythmic form, in a fashion not dissimilar to the way I approached her hair. I wanted to be able to feel the tail whipping through the water.
Click here for a larger view of the above image.
I'm displaying a large number of photos on this page to allow the online viewer to get a better sense of this remarkable instrument. It was a joy to create, to slowly reveal the mermaid within the wood and then, to imbue her with the ability to sing her siren's song.
The guitar body is constructed of two layers of aged and air-dried walnut, both of which are from a batch of walnut I have that was rescued from the Missouri River. The front of the guitar is a single piece of walnut with just the right amount of figure and a a nice grain configuration that really enhances the form of the mermaid's tail and vice-versa. The back consists of a bookmatch, also with a nice grain configuration that seems to follow the form of my iO body design. I like to work with woods that exhibit or showcase the variation that nature provides and take a lot of time to arrange the stock just so to suit both the shape of my instruments as well as whatever forms of embellishment I may choose to incorporate.
The "heel" of most of my set-neck guitars is virtually non-existant. I spend a lot of time with the guitar in my hands in playing position while I'm working the shape over with a wood rasp to insure that the instrument is comfortable and the upper frets easily accessible. And while I frequently blend the neck into the body all around the neck joint, on this instrument, I also wanted to make the pickup and commercial bridge become more a part of the guitar body than if they were just bolted onto the top of the instrument. These are just a few examples of the extra touches that can turn a guitar with its various components into a more unified or harmonious instrument design.
For a little tonal variation and added rigidity, I like to include a couple stringers of maple or other hardwoods in the lamination of a walnut neck, especially if the guitar body is solid walnut, so you'll note the two maple stringers in the neck in a few of these photos from behind the instrument.
While this guitar may be more embellished or sculpted than most, it is crafted and set-up to be a high-end professional grade instrument with the action and playability you would expect from any of my guitars.
CREATING THIS INSTRUMENT
Wood isn't a typically fluid medium in which to work, so great care has to be taken to convey an image with the fluid grace and beauty of the mermaid. When I begin a piece like this, I'm immediately conscious that I'm in it for the long haul, because of the enormous amount of time it takes to not only execute the details, but to refine the form and surface to a level of artisanry I hope history will consider extraordinary. Slamming out just a "satisfactory" carved instrument is never my intent, so I always plan to spend whatever amount of time it takes to accomplish something extra special and unique.
Even the number of drawings I do and changes I make to those drawings to develop one that is "just so" can take many hours or even days. Once I arrive at a design that is acceptable to me, I begin work in a medium in which I've spent thousands and thousands of hours: clay. In clay, I can effectively develop the 2-dimensional drawing into a 3-dimensional form. The drawing contains minimal information, so the form comes to life nurtured by experience, observation, and imagination.
When I have the form worked up sufficiently to use as a reference for my carving, then and only then can I comfortably start working in such a subtractive medium as wood. I could wing it or fly by the seat of my pants by just diving into the chunk of wood, but a few wrong turns can reduce a great piece of walnut into kindling. I'd much rather work from a detailed map that I've created from the ground up. The development of the form in clay gives me a familiarity with the subject that I wouldn't otherwise have any other way... like a rehearsal of sorts.
And because of that familiarity with the form, I'm able to make some decisions or changes on the fly, much like a good jazz soloist. You may notice a few of the changes I made around the bridge area that differ from the design in clay. I liked the way the curves at the end of the center block were complimenting the overall gesture and motion of the figure itself and hated to choke it or draw too much attention to that area than was necessary. Less is truly quite often more.
It was also at this stage of the carving that I snagged Donna's daughter Ashley to lend me a real live arm for a model. You can see the ambiguous musculature I had blocked in on the arm above and compare it to the refined final arm below.
solidbody, carved walnut
Neck: walnut/maple, soft V carve, angled 3x3 headstock, carved badge, dual-action trussrod
Fretboard: cocobolo, 12" radius, Mother of Pearl sidemarkers, Evo gold fretwire
Scale length: 25", 24 frets, zero fret
Nut: graphite, 1.70" width
volume control only
Tuners: Sperzel locking
Finish: Danish Oil