Is music just a big… illusion?

Most of us don’t believe in magic as the spiritual force that defines and controls our world. Although this was the dominant social paradigm centuries ago, science has all but relegated the idea of ​​”real” magic to the realm of crackpot thinking. However, the idea of ​​magic as deception, sleight of hand, and illusion is still alive and well, and some of the greatest acts in the world are illusionists. Audiences watch masterful “magicians” with a sense of awe as they appear to levitate, walk on water or even make the Statue of Liberty disappear. Few of us believe these amazing feats are magic beyond our conscious world, but we marvel at the ingenuity used to create these illusions.


In a way, the music – and the construction of guitars – is pretty much the same. For those with a decent understanding of how sound and music are created, we could overlook the sense of wonder that a musical performance can elicit in civilian audiences. We can get so caught up in the technical aspects of creating individual sounds or composing a piece of music that it surprises us when even a generous audience fails to see the nuances we want them to appreciate. To them, it’s magic, and I’m inclined to agree that it is.

When I welcome people to my studio, this too constantly comes to mind. I used to talk endlessly about how the joints are machined or how the headstock and bridge angles are calculated. It was a sure way to induce sleep in even the smartest and most interested visitor. But when I start with a finished instrument and then show them a huge plank of raw wood, it’s a whole different experience. At that time, people want to to see how the magic trick is done. Once they are mesmerized by the transformation, I can go into detail about which saw I use to do this, or which chisel I prefer for this. One day it’s a pile of wood and wire, and then suddenly it makes music. It’s like a magic wand.

For those with a decent understanding of how sound and music are created, we could overlook the sense of wonder that a musical performance can elicit in civilian audiences.

I feel the same about music. People like to see behind the curtain—the rise of the Platform Overview is a good example. I find that when I watch a random video of a guitarist I’ve never heard of on his pedal board, it puts me to sleep until something is played. I want to experience the trick before seeing how it’s done, because I want to enjoy the magic first. Of course, I mean technically, but it was the taste of the food, not the ingredient list, that got me there in the first place.

Music and guitars are both creations of beauty, something that sparks your imagination and takes you somewhere else. Ingredients that create both are best when not formulated or rote. It’s not about assembling a bunch of pieces in a totally predictable way, but about surprising the audience with a little detour to a place that’s a little familiar, but also a little unexpected. To do this, you must believe in your own magic and embrace the winds that blow you down a path. If you don’t take risks and follow your feelings, you can end up with very average results. Some of my best stuff started out as a lark, or even a mistake.

I think it’s good practice for guitarists and builders to recognize that we’re in the business of creating magic. I’m not suggesting that you make up a fantasy story about how you do what you do – there’s enough for everyone. The trick is to create a sense of surprise and awe with our work. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith to perform. And that’s where the magic is.

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