Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts About Guitar Theft

Just when you think you've seen it all, a quick slap in the face comes as a reminder. Last week a customer contacted us out of the blue looking for a Signature Guitar for his son. He seemed informed, convince and prepared, so we arranged to next-day ship a beautiful Brazilian/cedar Stand Up Signature to his home in Long Beach, COD cash/certified funds. This is a pretty common way to sell a guitar, and we have done this many times over the years.

Within two days we got the certified check and about the same time he called us to say his son loved the guitar, couldn't put it down. He loved the guitar too and did we have another? I did have one Brazilian spruce Stand Up remaining, the last one, and he checked out the pictures on line, and we negotiated for him to buy this second guitar. He worked me for a discount, and in view of the situation I agreed, and we sent the second guitar, same deal.

Larry and I debated over the security issue, and I decided that in view of his knowledgeability, his seeming genuine appreciation of the first instrument, and even the fact that he asked for a discount (who wouldn't) we should go ahead and sell him the second (and last) guitar. After all, tax time is coming. We concluded that the only real risk would be that the certified checks would be counterfeit.

I'm sure you have already guessed the ending. The certified checks were counterfeit! Jeesh! I've always operated on the hypothesis that the traumas that life serves up are never what you expect, that they come from some place you're not looking. Well, this time I was wrong.

The peculiar part of this to me is that this is a lot of trouble just to get a couple of guitars. Forgery is a serious crime, FBI territory, and there are many other scams that could net such a conspirator a much better cash position. I suppose he can put these on ebay, but fencing classical guitars must pay about one penny on the dollar. The only way to get the real value out of the instruments is to play them, and it seems that that's what he and "his son" were doing, all the while scheming a significant five-figure rip off. And, he even talked me into a discount! Why?

Nothing like this has happened to me before. My dear wife Roberta, God bless her, has often asserted that I am naive about security, and at this point who could argue? Maybe this is the most troubling part of the story. I like being naive, it gives me time to focus on other things, like guitars, music, family, the garden. In retrospect I see a number of warning signs, and I chose to over ride them. To be sucked into a new class of worry offends me. Maybe it's a sign of the times, but I still assert my right to be part of the "up", not part of the "down".

This guy could be reading this blog right now. What a turkey. I've tried to imagine what it would take for me myself to pull a stunt like that, but I just can't. I've got a lot of faults, God knows, but I just can't conceive of getting any joy or satisfaction out such a scam. I enjoy a good heist movie as much as the next guy, but this one is pretty tawdry.

He should just send the guitars back and walk away. At this point, if I get them back I think I'll give them away to some student, someone who deserves them. It would even be better to go on a pilgrimage and throw them into the volcano. Then, maybe the gods of doom would back off for another day.

The two guitars are Hill Signature Stand Up model guitars, #2687 and #2684. Both are Brazilian rosewood, one with spruce top, one with cedar.The customer ordered them by phone and paid COD with counterfeit certified checks seemingly from Bank of America. The checks were very convincing to me, but the bank was not convinced.

The perp's name is:
Jonathan Silk
1915 San Francisco Ave
Long Beach CA 90806.


Of course the phone numbers don't work. Of course, avoid this person.

If you hear anything about the guitars or Mr. Silk, please contact us, or contact local law enforcement. If someone offers the guitars for sale cheap, buy them and I'll buy them back. Or just buy em and enjoy em, but please let me know.

Kenny Hill
Jan. 28.2009

Postscript, 3 days later: A few things. First, I talked with the REAL Jonathan Silk, and he is a very nice guy now living in Netherlands. He was a Professor at UCLA, but is now working near the Hague. He had nothing to do with this. I don't know our con man's real name,but I'm guessing this isn't it.
Second, I've contacted several law enforcement agencies, and even a private detective at $90.00 an hour, and none of them have done anything at all. It seems we're on our own out there. And third, Traveler's Insurance, my soon to be EX insurance company, says they sympathize but there is a tiny exclusion carefully written into my policy, so coverage is denied. They are very good at writing exclusions it seems. They are also good at taking money year after year, tens of thousands of dollars, and providing no service. This is at least as frustrating as the original rip off, in fact in a way it feels worse.
Nevertheless, the guitar community has been amazing, and indeed reminds me why I'm in it. It is magnificent to hear from friends and strangers alike, and feel how close knit we are in fact. So good, heart is not lost.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Designing/Building a New Signature Model #1

Today I'm attempting to build a new model of Signature guitar. This may be a crazy idea, because my current design is only 2 or 3 years old, and it is doing very well. It sounds and feels great and many fine players are seeking it out. It even keeps getting better. So why mess with it?

I guess I'm just going for more extreme. My current Signature Model guitar has a beautiful sound, it's strong and well balanced, and has a rich tone palette, easy to contr
ol, easy to explore. At least that's how I feel about it - I absolutely love it. What I'm trying to build now is something for the person who simply wants the loudest guitar on the block, who chooses power over anything else, the Hummer or dragster of classical guitars. I'm going to try to deliver that power, but at the same time try to coax some beauty and sweetness out of it too. I don't really know if this is possible, but I'm going to try.

I'm throwing in the kitchen sink. I'm ignoring the usual "scientific" admonition to change one thing at a time, so one can measure or evaluate the effect of each change. Instead I'm making many changes at once, trusting the seat of my pants, or my chubby Buddha belly to whisper to me what's what. Anyway, I'm not patient enough to go through that kind of method. At least not today.

It's wacky also because I'm getting ready for the NAMM show next week, so I'm having to squeeze this work out of stolen moments. Too much to do, but still, it's exciting.

One of the main elements I'm introducing is lattice bracing. I've never been fond of the sound of lattice braced guitars. Although it is capable of producing tremendous volume, and often super resonant bass, I usually find the sound two dimensional, quick to fatigue and unappealing. I have heard some exceptions. I'm not using the usual materials of balsa and graphite for the lattice, but rather red cedar, in hopes of squeezing more warmth from the bracing.

I am going to attempt to blog a diary of this process. I've already begun the work, by replacing the tops of some existing instruments, working out some of the preferences of the bracing, listening to the results. But now I'm starting an instrument from scratch. Making a new model is always a big undertaking, building new molds and jigs, making a lot of mistakes and finer and finer adjustments. It will inevitably take several instruments to "get it right", or at least stable.

The real story here is that I may well fail at it. I could produce something horrible, or I might make something that appeals to some constituency, but not to me. Then what? I might confuse my already satisfied customers.

If your interested, follow along. With the help of my associate Larry Darnell I'll try to get pictures and some narrative as this process unfolds. I've developed new models like this many times before, but I've never documented the process, nor have I gone public with it. There will be a lot of more-or-less standard guitar making techniques shown, although by no means comprehensive, and many techniques that are unique to my method, and others that are different than I've ever done. I'll have to work fast, in spurts, and write quickly to make this happen, so please forgive sloppy writing and poor housekeeping. At least it's sincere.

So keep in touch, and wish me luck!

Kenny Hill
Jan 7, 2009.

to see this article compiled with photos click here or to download a 10mb pdf file Building.pdf