I met Penny Lang at the 2003 Ormstown
My daughter Julia was halfway though her solo set when Penny arrived.
Julia was playing her maple performance acoustic-electric, and Penny experienced its soaring sound firsthand.
She was enthralled.
We had spent decades in cross-orbits around the same planets, and fate had decreed that we meet at last.
"Wolf" she said to me, "I've been looking for you all my life."
(I'm told this a lot by my clients.)
Down through her performing and touring decades Penny had played and owned virtually every make of production acoustic guitar.
None satisfied her.
She had become convinced that only a custom instrument built to embody her concepts and ergonomics would really make her happy.
"I have a guitar I'm going to bring you.
It's my favoritewe'll use that as a starting point."And so she did.
Her favorite guitar, still in her possession, turned out to be a diminutive O model.
The serial number dated it from 1954it was her first guitar.
Her father had bought it for her.
The guitar was still a runner.
It bore many battle scars, and produced a big, woody sound, although the piezzo pickup was prone to howling feedback.
So many visits took place last winter.
I drew up the O just to document it, and then started blending Miss Penny's wishes into the recipe.
She wanted frets only to the first octave, then a smooth fingerboard to produce glissandi and pizzicato effects.
A cut-away was necessary to access the higher endI opted for flush aluminum bars set into the fingerboard to indicate where the pitches would be.
No real problems here.
"Can we put in F-holes?
I've always wanted a guitar with F-holes."
I worked that in as well.
"Oh, and I have a problem seeing my dots on a dim stage.
Can they light up?
And the side dots too?"
This was a whole new galaxy indeed.
I knew the only way of pulling this off was with recessed LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) powered by an onboard battery packsomething I've always avoided with the pickups.
"I'll figure something out," I innocently said as my brain went into hyper-warp overdrive dealing with the technical ramifications.
"Oh, and I want you to have both magnetic and piezzo onboard pickups," I added.
I knew Penny was a miked player, the only option down through the decades.
This would be the finishing touch on this innocuous little guitar.
"I don't want anything glitzy.
This is a LOW-END instrument," were her final instructions.
Well, the cat was amongst the pigeons.
She had opted for a Florentine cutaway, requiring a tricky tight bend.
I intuitively knew that mahogany back and sides would produce the woody sound she wanted.
I also had some of the century-old pine left, with blue nail streaks even.
The karmic synchronicity of the now dismantled Ormstown house supplying the top that linked to Julia as well could not be ignored.
Again, the woody sound dictated a mahogany neck, actually a through-neck as I am wont to do even though the normal 24 fret range had been reduced to the original 22, and I had decided to use a false heel as the external battery compartment to power the fingerboard lights.The LEDs themselves required a tremendous amount of R&D.
I got them to work.
The effect is magical.
The guitar turns into a musical spaceship on some new and distant voyage of discovery when those LEDs light up.
I made a point of playing the guitar nothing but its mistress' voice over the shop speakers during its entire inception and birth.
A karmic vortex.
Tight bends were negotiated, wood thicknessed, shaped and glued.
Penny wanted a flat fingerboardI used a 20" radiusalmost flat but easy for barring.
The bracing was century-old BC fir, extremely hard allowing for miniscule, light structural members.
Purpleheart binding and centre stripes set off the deep red flamed matched mahogany back and sides.
The body finish was low-lustre satin hand-rubbed shellac, creating glistening sinuous highlights on the hard purpleheart corner curves.
The neck was finished in rubbed lacquer creating a waterproof finish.
Lights, batteries, electronics and strings were installed.
The guitar spoke with a large, boomy, woody voice reminiscent of it's O ancestry.
Would Miss Penny be pleased?
She had come out several times during its birth to lovingly fondle and stroke the evolving components.
"Look!" she exclaimed.
"It responds to my voice!" fondling the neckless body in her arms as if it were a new-born child.
Well she certainly is pleased, and then some.
Enthusiastic telephone calls when she started to find other hitherto new sounds in her guitar.
She had been permanently locked into one picking position due to the ergonomics of her previous Dreadnaught style instrument.
This new guitar fits her like a glovethe two had already been on intimate terms before the guitar actually made music.
Yes, Miss Lang is pleased.