DEAR DR. DOVETAIL, Part 2 – Ervin Somogyi (2022)

Dr. Dovetail is a [humorous] advice column for luthiers.It consists of some earnest letters of inquiry that Dr. Dovetail has been helpful with.

Be it noted that no one is named who has objected to their name being used, and other names have been disguised to protect the innocent. There is no subtext, there are no hidden messages, there is no weirdness or backstabbing going on outside of my own silliness.If I really don’t like someone, I certainly don’t make fun of them in public.I go after them in sneaky ways.

On the other hand, nothing is trickier than writing humor. It’s more difficult than any other kind of writing; it’s impossible to not offendsomeone, no matter how hard you try.So if this isn’t going to be quite your cup of tea, please don’t read on.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I recently bought a Ribbecke guitar with a huge bulge in the lower bout on the treble side of the face, at my local flea market.The guy selling it said it didn’t need de-warping ‘cause it was made like that.He said it was a bubbled-top guitar.What’s the deal with this?

Signed: Bubbles, in Champaign (Illinois)

Dear Bubbles in Champaign:

What you have in your hot trembling hands, you lucky innocent, is one of the Ribbecke bubble-top guitars, manufactured in the 1970s.The genesis of the design is obscure: at first it was thought to be simply a metaphor for the essential post-modern deconstructionist paradigm.However, industrial sources report that it was the result of a search for a way to make guitars more sexy by giving them cleavage, and Ribbecke’s bulgey design ultimately provided the inspiration for the Miracle Bra.Having only a single bubbled mound on the treble side, however, these early attempts at representing cleavage came off as rather half-assed.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

Having been a member of the National Luthier’s Guild for some years now I’m puzzled by the fact that its publication,Guitarmaker, is only published a few times a year.Other magazines are published at least six times a year, if not monthly or even weekly, and, given the sheer amount of interest in lutherie and woodworking out there, I’d expect that there would be more than enough material available to publish an informational journal more frequently.What is the explanation for such a lapse?

Signed: Elmore Pulitzer

Dear Elmore:

Being a somewhat in-house publication, it is felt that the normal rules and considerations don’t apply toGuitarmaker.It is furthermore felt that this publication, like other things in its publisher’s life, more than makes up in size and quality for what it lacks in frequency.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

My wife recently surprised me by buying me a Humphries “millennium” guitar.The sense of occasion of the moment, unfortunately, was somewhat blunted by our getting into a heated argument about when the millennium actually began: in 2000, or in 2001?If I’m right, my wife threatens to return the “millennium” guitar and says I’m free to repurchase it myself on any date I wish.Can you help clarify this most vexing situation?

Signed: Stanley Kubrick (no, not that one)

Dear the-other-Stanley:

No need to worry: no actual, current time line is violated in the purchase of a Humphreys millennium instrument.Because the cachet of the current new millennium had already been co-opted by numerous commercial franchise ventures which had bought all rights to it, Mr. Humphreys’ guitars actually refer tothe third millennium B.C.,which was still up for grabs.Keep your guitar and enjoy it.We understand these guitars are really great for playing old-timey music.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I keep hearing that luthiers and lutherie folks are diamonds in the rough.That is, lots of them don’t have a lot of formal schooling, but they’re really smart anyhow.Are any members of this group particularly educated in a formal way, and how well did they do academically before they went in for lutherie work?

Signed, P.H. Dee, PhD

Dear P.H. Dee:

Todd Taggart quickly comes to mind.He’s often told us that he was in the top 98% of his graduating class.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been excited to hear about Julian Gaffney’s new all-Brazilian-rosewood (top, back, sides, neck, braces, bridge and case) guitars, but have been hearing mutterings of dissatisfaction about these instruments.What gives?Brazilian rosewood isn’t all that bad a bad wood, is it?

Signed, Rio Janeiro

Dear Rio Janeiro:

We can only say that, for reasons which we don’t have the space to get into, it is generally felt that with the recent release of his “Save the Rainforest” line of Presentation Model all-Brazilian-rosewood guitars this man has hit rock bottom and begun to excavate.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been on the periphery of the world of lutherie for quite some time and informally followed the careers, successes and failures of some of the more prominent members of the guitarmaking community.I couldn’t help noticing that Ericson Reid, who had been active in guitarmaking and finishing, seems to have dropped out of sight.Does anyone know why?

Signed, Nah Yusseem Nahwa-Yudunt

Dear Nah Yusseem:

This firmly-established luthier made a bad mistake some time ago in building a guitar for a very important client who was connected with the Mob.He mistook the massage lotion for the wood glue and used it on that project.These substances look quite alike, you know, and this is an easy mistake to make.I’ve done it myself.Anyway, this individual had to leave town quickly and has gone into the Federal Luthier’s Protection Plan, and no one knows his whereabouts.We think he may have been sent to Costa Rica to work anonymously.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been hearing a lot about Ervin Somogyi lately: his unusual sense of design, his controversial politics, his pioneering nontraditional methods, his eccentric teaching style, his checkered work ethic, his highly Bohemian manners of personal behavior, his groundbreaking body of work, and the heroic array of medications that keep him going.This guy has made quite a splash.I hear he started out with nothing.Is this true?

Signed,Gudfur Nottingham

Dear Gudfur:

Yes.And common sentiment is that he still has most of it.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

How long have Alembic guitars been around?I seem to have heard about them all my life.And didn’t Rick Turner make them?

Signed, Old Timer

Dear Old Timer:

Turner guitars have indeed been around for a long time.As a matter of fact, diggers at a prehistoric archeological site in North Central Southeastern Germany recently unearthed a perfectly preservedpetrified woodRick Turner guitar.Experts said it was the earliest example of a rock guitar they’d ever seen.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

Why do archtop guitars have so much bigger pegheads than regular acoustic guitars?

Signed, Angelerenzorinaldi Manuelmauriccio

Dear Mr. Manuelmauriccio:

It’s because Italians have such long last names.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been trying to come up with a great, socko byline for my guitars, but I’m hitting a brick wall.All the good slogans have been taken.Do you have any advice for me?

Signed, Looking for a good Line

Dear Looking:

Before Boaz El-Laskin got on the bandwagon with his new slogan “Guitars so good you’ll plotz!”he was going to use “Miracle Guitars: if it sounds good, it’s a Miracle!”.This was originally intended to be marketed to seminary students, but he changed his mind after rethinking his demographic.It’s become available should you want it.Also, we hear that D. Angelico Corleone was going to release his new “il Padrone” model along with the sloganA Guitar You Can’t Refuse.But, since his mysterious disappearance, that one seems to be available as well.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been hearing about Larry Robinson’s inlay work for a long time and I finally got a hold of some of his books.Wow.Where does he come up with these complicated, intertwined, colorful designs and images?But aren’t they a bit on the busy side?

Signed, Snowblinded by m.o.p.

Dear Snowblinded:

Well, yes, but overall there’s general agreement that Robinson’s work is quite a lot better than it looks.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’m a wealthy collector of fine things who is considering buying some guitars.My problem is that the most expensive guitars are made of rosewood, and my home is decorated in Danish modern style, so the guitars really wouldn’t match the décor.Do you have any suggestions?

Signed, Max from the Hamptons

Dear Max:

Why yes, I do, and your timing in asking this couldn’t be more perfect.Luddite’s Mercantile Inc. wood supplier in Healdsburg, California, has just received a large shipment of extremely expensive Brazilian rosewood which was recently culled from a pocket of the Amazon basin in which there has previously been little logging activity.This new wood is quite amazing.Far from looking like the same old dark Brazilian rosewood which everyone has been using for years, different samples of this new wood have the appearances of Danish maple, oak, Finnish birch, Dutch mahogany, and even Swedish chromed metal.Our staff feels that guitars made from unique materials would undoubtedly make the perfect accent statements to go with your couch, curtains, or gazebo.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I haven’t seen any of the Greedlove guitars around in a while and I heard that the company went out of business.What gives?

Signed, I. M. Curious

Dear I. M. Curious:

Unfortunately Greedlove & Co.got involved with the advertising company that was also Enron Corporation’s former Public Relations organ.Everything started to fall apart when, through the error of a dyslexic adman, the advertising for their new Domed-Top Guitars was spelling “domed” with a double “o”.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I‘ve been a guitar maker for a while now, but I’m finding the politics and egos involved are complicating my enjoyment of the work much more than I ever thought such things could.What advice do you have for a young guy with the hots to make it in this game, but doesn’t want to either take sides, get politicized, or alienate some people?

Signed, Disconcerted Dave

Dear Disconcerted Dave:

There are Four Golden Rules to follow in negotiating the complications and pitfalls of working with others.First, look for the humor in every situation.Second, don’t take sides.Third, never tell people everything you think.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’m a bit disconcerted by the entry of so many foreigners into guitar making.Used to be that it was only real Americans that did this work — for instance like Roy Noble, one of the real old timers.

Signed, Patriotic

Dear Patriotic:

Yeah, I know what you mean, but in this case I have to pop your balloon.Roy Noble’s family originally came from Eastern Europe, where their family name was Nobulshitzky.They shortened the name to something easier to pronounce when they arrived here.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been reading Al Carruth’s articles for years now with increasing fascination.He has the most impressive grasp of musical acoustics and dynamics, and all done from a very scientific point of view.Yet, outside of his brilliant writings, no one I’ve talked to seems to know much about him.What can you tell me about this intriguing but shadowy figure?

Signed, Al Anon

Dear Al Anon:

In truth, Al is all but impossible to describe adequately.The best I can do is tell you the fact — widely agreed on by his friends — that if there were a contest for which First Prize would be a dinner with Al, then Second Prize would be two dinners with him.Third Prize would be three dinners with him.And so on.You get the picture.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I understand that luthier Martin Einstein has a PhD. in philosophy and is very smart.I met him once.I was standing on a ladder, trying to throw a tape measure up to the top of a flagpole, hoping to catch the flagpole’s tip.I needed to measure the flagpole’s height, you see, and I wasn’t having much luck.This fellow took one look at me and said, ‘hey, wouldn’t it be easier if you took the flagpole out of its socket, laid it out on the ground, and measured it like that?’Then he walked on.I thought that was a pretty silly thing to say, don’t you?

Signed, Flagpoleman

Dear Flagpoleman:

Yeah.Obviously, he didn’t understand that you were trying to measure the flagpole’sheight, not itswidth.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been hearing about something called the Doppler Guitar.Is it made by someone named Doppler?Who is he, and what are his guitars all about?

Signed, Coming & Going

Dear Coming & Going:

The Doppler guitar is the brainchild of luthier Martin Gibson.It’s based in the Doppler effect, in which objects approaching at high speed make a high-pitched sound and objects withdrawing at high speed emit a low-pitched sound — as when a car zooms past you on the highway as you are hitchhiking in the desert.

This enterprising designer saw a possibility of using this principle of physics to improve the response and tonal balance of his instruments. He is, at this time, attempting to patent a guitar the sound of which has its high end boosted as the playerruns toward the audience with it; and the bass register is enhanced as oneruns away from the audience, while playing the guitar.A special guitar harness is included at no extra charge, and this guitar provides something no other brand can boast of: tremendous aerobic and health benefits.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

My brother and I used to see Gustav Taylor at many guitar shows, but haven’t seen him lately.Has he dropped out?We’ve been really hoping to see and play some of his newer guitars.

Signed,Isaiah Wahoppen

Dear Mr. Wahoppen:

I’m happy to tell you that Gustav is still making great guitars.He went through a rough patch a while back and has simply found it hard to get to his tables at shows, because of all the restraining orders against him.Watch for someone who looks heavily disguised and it’ll probably be him.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’ve been reading your column for years and I think you’re making this stuff up.No one could write real letters like this.I’d like to see what would happen if you were hooked up to a polygraph.

Signed,Wired for Soundness

Dear Wired for Soundness:

You’re not the first one to bring this concern up.Not long ago I made an appointment with a luthier-polygrapher to settle people’s suspicions once and for all.Since he too had thought that I told incredible whoppers, he hooked me up not to a polygraph but a seismograph — in anticipation of getting truer readings.The needles held rock steady.

At least, until he plugged the machine in.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

As a marketing student on my way to an M.B.A., I know that Ford, Oracle, 3-M, Toyota, Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, Pepsi-Cola, etc. have long since zeroed in on the perfect sound-byte for increasing sales and market share.I’m wondering what might be the absolute best marketing slogan you’ve ever come across from a guitar maker?

Signed, Future Biz-Whiz

Dear Future Biz-Whiz:

My personal favorite is from Ervin Somogyi’s pre-lutherie career, when he was making vacuum-cleaners.His slogan wasSomogyi; Our Products Really Suck.His business went under just before the advertising campaing that was to use this line got off the ground.Too bad; he really had high hopes for it.We hear that he has been working on an entirely new model of guitar called “The Miracle Model”, to soon be marketed as “The Miracle Guitar: if it sounds good it’s a Miracle!”.We wish him luck.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

My most embarrassing moment in lutherie happened one night when, in the dark, my girlfriend and I mistook the white glue for the massage lotion.The next morning the fire department had to be called in to hose us apart.Living in a small town, everybody was there to see the show.It was really embarrassing.Say, thisis the “most embarrassing moments” column, isn’t it?

Signed:Togetherness in Tillamook

Dear Togetherness in Tillamook:

It is now.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I really need help.I’m an alcoholic with a bad problem that’s getting out of control.I’d like to try one of the 12-step programs, but I can’t afford them.What should I do?

Signed, My Wood is Drier Than I Am

Dear Dryer Woods:

I’m glad you wrote, because there’s a fix.Luthier’s Anonymous offers a fifteen-percent-off, ten-step, program which has had good results.To make the transition easier, L.A. takes you off the hard stuff gradually by putting you on a temporary diet of wines which are specially developed for luthiers — and which are the same stuff the National Luthier’s Guild bigwigs enjoy at their symposiums (have you ever noticed how sober they look?).The current offerings are the award-winningVin du Pay Forever, this year’s best near missChateau Clos But No cigar, the somewhat overinflatedLe GrandPinot Envee’, and the perennially asymptoticMaison Clos-To-Being-Done.Good Luck!

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

I’m puzzled by some aspects of Harry Fleishman’s persona.In his writings, he comes across as a thoughtful, highly professional and smart guy.But in person, when he lectures or gives classes, my impression of him is that he just woke up.Am I missing something?What gives?

Signed, Puzzled in Peoria

Dear Puzzled in Peoria:

Harry really is, in fact, a phenomenally gifted, charming, witty, and urbane man of penetrating intelligence who is, after everything is said and done, sparklingly brilliant.Because of this, the directors of lutherie events have long made it a point to ask Harry to mumble, stutter and say inane things when he makes public appearances.It makes people in the audiences not feel so bad about themselves.

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Dear Dr. Dovetail:

As fur as hand-applied finishes go, do ya’ think that if’n I rubbed sausage grease all over mah guitar I could call it a French Polish finish?

Signed, Jes’ Wonderin’

Dear Jes’ Wonderin’:

That does it.I quit.

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