Subhed: The guitar maker enlists robots to build custom guitars.
Short Description: Paul Schwartz knows how to make guitars from scratch, by hand. But recently, he's hired some helpers: a CNC machine and a guitar tuning machine called the Plek.
Longer Description: Paul Schwartz, owner and operator of Peekamoose Guitars on 30th street in Manhattan, has built guitars by hand since he was 28. Thirty years later, Schwartz is still at it but the laws of physics and age are a relentless strain on his body and his mind. The craft of building a guitar is part science, part art. There are the aesthetic choices that the maker incorporates like paint finish and body shape. But the points where the musicians body touches the guitar must be measured by the millimeter. It starts from the top of the neck, where each fret is individually curved, ground, sanded, and polished so guitarists' fingers can dance lightly over the strings. There's the way the grain of the wood on the guitar body must be planed exactly with the grain of the wood to release the most intonation. Schwartz fine-tuned his feel for these details long ago, but the work is tedious and exhausts his mind.
That's when he hired robots.
A couple years ago, Schwartz was talking with a fellow guitar luthier who had discovered the Plek machine. The Plek is a robot that can be programmed to grind and polish frets to perfection. But the machine is complicated and Schwartz says the robot can only do what it is told -- it's only as good as it's master.
Then his customer, a professor of Industrial Design at NYU, had an idea to use a CNC machine to build the head stock of the Peekamoose's guitar. Soon enough, a CNC machine moved into the show room and the two began the year long journey of designing a 3D rendering that would translate to Peekamoose standards. Schwartz still designs the bodies, and final shaping of the bodies.
Blog Notes: I have always been fascinated by the artisans who dedicate their lives to their craft. As a journalist, I appreciate the dedication to fine-tuning every detail. In an time when more and more of the products we own are mass produced somewhere in China, I wonder whether humans will one day forget how to work with their hands. I hope not, and Paul was kind enough to allow me into his workspace to spend hours talking with him about his decision to use machines and his journey as a custom guitar builder in New York City. What is left unspoken in this piece are the economic pressures of his location in midtown Manhattan. His bread and butter are repairs and tune-ups. That stream of revenue allows Paul to spend time to build his custom guitars that nearly play themselves. I know because I plunk and when he placed one of his creations in my hands, it felt as it I couldn't play a wrong note. It just let me play and got the hell out of the way.
We're known for making instruments to be as touch sensitive as responsive to human input as possible. Our philosphy has always been the instrument should just get out of the way and let the musician be a musician.
The hardest part about doing what we do is there are these mechanical requirements they have to conform to laws of physics that will not change.
So we have to find a way to sort of straddle the line between the actual mechanical requirements of an instruments and what the musician is bringing to the table.
Then you have to be able to reproduce those solutions with great consistency over and over and over again. Thousandths of a millimeter matter in terms of how it's going to sound, in terms of how it's going to feel.
[machine 'music' interlude]
If you spend eight hours carving every body getting it ready to spray, how much are you going to charge for that? who's going to be able to afford that?
I was able to work with the machine and adapt what it does to deliver an end result that looks and feels the way I would have done it by hand.
Oh crap, I'm being replaced by a machine!
A lot of people look at that machine and think it's evil because it's taking the art out of it. That's ridiculous. If anything you need to bring more art to it to get a machine to emulate what a human is capable of doing.
So its a lot less wear and tear on me. its a big difference when I was 28 and worked 14 hours a day and not feel it. Now i feel it.
So having a machine that allows me to still do what I could do relentlessly is a good thing. It's that simple.
1) The Bowery Mission cooks the largest Thanksgiving meal in New York City. They fed an estimated 6,000 people this year. This is the story of one cook, part of a huge team, who helped in the massive venture.
2) "People come in here hungry and hurting," said Cannon Green, a cook at the Bowery Mission. Green was a heroin addict at 13 because it was part of his family and in his home. He became a dealer but ended up using his own product. He eventually became homeless and found his way to Bowery Mission where he entered their program and eventually graduated. During his time there, he rediscovered how much he enjoyed cooking and became a staff cook. Many staff at the Bowery Mission share Green's testimony and his goal, "My responsibility is to see to it to see to it that people get a good meal, but a meal that served with love."
3) The Restaurant: Love & 500 Turkeys
500 turkeys, 4,000 lbs of potatoes, 1,500 lbs of green beans, and gravy pot going to weigh about 1,000 lbs.
Everybody’s got to eat.
I have a passion for cooking i’m constantly,i’m thanking God. All you know is just wow man...it’s better than being in jail, walking the streets homeless, you know I still have a restaurant. I have to supervise well hundreds of people.
It’s a platform to join people together..something earthly to begin with to conclude with something heavenly in meaning. Jesus ate fish he was cooking.
I was on heroin at the age of maybe 13 years old -- it was in the household.
Your product could become your worst enemy --
I started out as the seller and become the user. Things just went haywire to the point where my family got disgusted with and I just left home lonely, very lonely.
At those times, you can’t get high enough.
When you first come here if you have to help doing the domestic work of the bowery, you clean you wash.
In the midst of all that I was in the kitchen probably doing some dishes or something and I open up my mouth. I know how to do this.
I realized after coming here is what I didn’t have is discipline and stability
People come in here hungry and hurting.
And my responsibility is to see to it to see to it that people get a good meal, but a meal that served with love.
That's what I love doing.
Even if we don't say it its something they have to see as they go through the Bowery Mission.
It’s not what I expected when I wanted a restaurant...
What I’m wondering is if I’m going to have one in heaven.
5) bowery.org/ nyc.gov/html/dhs/html/home/home.shtml hfny.org/
6) Bowery Mission hired me to document their meals, men’s and women’s home, and portraits for their annual report. While I was working, I met Cannon in the kitchen. I got to talking with him during my many hours there and found him a great character and he was willing to share his life and story with me. The crew that makes the Thanksgiving meal each year flies in from Florida and works for four days straight in shifts that run through the night. Cannon and the team started cooking turkeys on Sunday at 10p and went straight until Wednesday night.
He calls himself the sorcerer's apprentice. His magic connects people with wildlife. Stephen Quinn is the head wildlife artist at the American Museum of Natural History. And these days he's on hallowed ground in the Hall of North American Mammals. With brushes of a paint brush, Quinn refreshes faded beaver fur and a little spit restores the sparkle in a 10-foot brown bear's eyes. Quinn oversees the museum's $2.5 million project to rejuvenate colors gone drab from decades of fluorescent lighting.