Awake at the Wheel

Exploring the intersection between work, play, and the creative process.

Want to Make Better Stuff? Be a Better Person

Watching a video of him in his workshop, I’m mesmerized. Have to know more.

What?! Our flight is cancelled?!

Four of us sit stranded at the airpot in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our connecting flight to Tri-Cities airport in Tennessee grounded.

Two choices. Wait 7 hours to take the 1 hour flight. Or grab the only remaining car, a macho cream mini-van, and hump through the mountains to Abingdon, VA , a small hamlet at the crossroads of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. A place where the choice between bourbon or whiskey is a matter of what side of each state’s border you happen to be standing on. And you don’t want to choose wrong.

We drive.

Two days later, I find myself at the Heartwood Artisan Gateway, a beautiful facility where I stumble upon a video of a luthier or guitar-builder named Wayne Henderson. Wayne lives about an hour and a half away in Rugby, Va. I’d been researching building guitars for the last few years and become obsessed with the craft. But I’d never heard of Wayne before.

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Watching a video of him in his workshop, I’m mesmerized. Have to know more. Turns out Wayne is a National Heritage Award recipient and bit of a legend in the guitar-building world.

Two reasons.

One, he’s a true master, been honing his craft as a player and a builder for more than four decades. He plays like a savant and builds some of the most sought after guitars in the world. Which leads to number two.

He once made Eric Clapton wait 10 years for a guitar. Not out of spite or ego, just because, well, he’s one guy, he still does most things by hand and the list of people who want guitars from him is 10 years long. Though, as I’d soon discover, that wait time is potentially hackable with persistence and a regular flow of fresh pies. Still, it’ll take years.

I had to know more. So I did some digging and discovered a book about Wayne, his life and deep devotion to guitars, music and craft…and the Clapton story. The book is called Clapton’s Guitar, by Allen St. John. And for anyone with a deep appreciation for humility-driven mastery, it’s a must-read.

Something at the end of the book really grabbed me. Something I’ve believed for a long time, but was written in a way that hit home.

The author, St. John, was talking with legendary guitar-builder and repairman, T.J. Thompson. He asked T.J. a question:

What is it that separates a magical guitar from a merely great one?

To which, T.J. responded:

It’s a combination of about 600 things….Number 1 is the state of mind of the person building the guitar.”

Allen comments:

In a single sentence, he had articulated the hypothesis I had gradually been creeping toward. An instrument is the sum total of not only the builder’s experience, but his experiences. You need to be a good man to build a good guitar.

Thompson adds:

Be a better person. You can’t keep your personality out of the work. It’s impossible…. If you’re rigid or you’re distorting reality, it goes into the guitar. And when you play it, it comes back out. It’s disturbing. I used to believe that but I never had any proof of it. But I’ve played enough handmade guitars and then later met the maker. Sure enough, it’s inseparable….

For a long time, I’ve felt the same way. About business, the craft side of entrepreneurship. About art. And the process of making anything for anyone.

Craft isn’t just about craft, it’s about essence.

Who you are. How you live your life. The way you engage with the world. It all flows through you and into what you create.

So, when you’re working to figure out how to “get to the next” level. How to transcend your current cap on what you put into the world and the impact it has. Look at skill.

But, maybe more importantly, look at you.

Thoughts?

 

[Photo credit: cc: Peter Hedlund]

 

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Jonathan Fields is a serial-entrepreneur, business strategist, speaker and author. His latest book is Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance. Fields writes about performance-mindset, innovation, leading and entrepreneurship at JonathanFields.com

Jonathan Fields is an attorney turned lifestyle-entrepreneur, speaker, and author of Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel For Brilliance.

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