It all began way back in 1996 or so, during my freshman year of high school, when I first started to mess around with building musical instruments. It was during that time that I became obsessed with the banjo. I saw the movie "Deliverance" with my best friend and we both got hooked on the banjo. I was playing guitar at the time and wanted to get into the banjo but knew nothing about it. So, I began my search for a banjo shortly thereafter and found a beat up old gut-head 4 string and thought I had found the answer to my banjo needs. I began to listen to all the Bluegrass music I could get my hands on, but couldn't for the life of me figure out how they could play so fast. It wasn't until my best friend also got a banjo that we figured out what was going on. He had a 5 string and I had a 4. Who knew there were different types of banjos? Now I was faced with the problem of converting a 4 string banjo into a 5 string.
I was checking out the construction of my banjo and realized that the neck could be easily removed. Since that was the half of my problem that needed fixing, I drew up some really rough designs to work off of. I did a little research to find out what I was getting myself into and then set out to get some wood. I, being a 'High Class' individual, thought that some curly maple and an ebony fingerboard would be the perfect materials for a beginner to work with. I found a decent block of maple and a chunk of ebony at an exotic lumberyard and began my journey. Having virtually no tools to use, and no real idea what I was doing, I did what I could to get the job done. The final result (pictured left) was an awkward, chunky, slightly warped, fretless neck that actually worked fairly decently considering my circumstances and playing level.
Then in 1997, during my sophomore year, I enrolled in a wood shop class at my high school, thinking that all the other students in the class would be as excited about woodworking as me. Yeah . . . not so much. Somebody neglected to tell me that my high school wood shop was a place for some of the less "common sense" having kids at my school to go and throw stuff into the table saw to see if it would launch it into the wall and get stuck. Wow.
So, my teacher showed us how to properly use all the tools and then told us about the projects we were to have completed by the end of the quarter: a large re-creation of a chess piece, a cutting board, and a clipboard. That sounded great and all, you know everyone really could benefit from a big, ugly poorly constructed pawn sitting on your mantle, and you can never have too many cutting boards when you are 14 years old. Feeling a little more ambitious than the others, I asked my teacher if I could make a banjo. He looked at me and had the "are you F---ing kidding me" look on his face. He had been teaching woodshop for quite some time and seen too much of the crap and good intentions that came out of that place to think that I was even remotely capable of making anything that even came close to a banjo. I didn't blame him though, judging by the dumb-dumbs in my class, I wouldn't have faith in me either. But, after a little convincing, I got him to agree to let me attempt one . . . after all, what did we all have to lose.
At the time I was only 14 with a dollar to my name
(kinda like now) so I convinced my Pops to help with the parts
expenses. I found that the most feasible way to make one would be to
make the body 'wood-topped' (Pictured Left) instead of the 100 plus
pieces of metal and plastic that make up a normal banjo pot. I talked
to my local music shop guy (Dexter Johnson at Carmel Music Co.) and he
hooked me up with some nice cedar for the top and some well needed
information about how to pull this project off. I went back to the
lumberyard and got some more wood and jumped right in. It started as
normal classwork but as I slowly gained the faith of my teacher I was
able to work during lunch hours and after school. It didn't stop there,
though. I would haul all the pieces of my instrument to and from school
every day mostly so I could work at home during the evenings but also
because I didn't trust anything around my classmates. Leave anything
around and it's fair game to throw into a power tool.
After all that work, the wood-topped banjo came out better than I thought I was capable of producing at the time. After all, I was only 14 years old when I made this! Because of the quality of this instrument as a final product, this turned out to be the quantum leap in my instrument building career and gave me the bug to want to build other things.
As with all of my early instruments, my next one came from the want to have, but the lack of money to buy. I had just started my senior year and had been thinking about building a guitar for a long time but was really reluctant to try it because I couldn't wrap my mind around how to bend the sides. I went down to Carmel Music Co. to see Dexter again and to see if I could get some help bending the sides. He had been building guitars since his early twenties and not only offered to show me how but also supplied me with some nice quilted maple for the body. By this time my woodshop teacher was so pleased with my abilities that he was doing everything in his power to help me produce some quality work. He would even change up saw blades to the 'nice' ones when I was going to do some cutting. Without his help and the help and tools of my best friends fathers, I would have never made it through this project with all my fingers.
Then came graduation. I had looked into pursuing the career of being a Luthier (stringed instrument builder) and discovered that if I wanted to someday be able eat something more than bologna and ramen I should probably keep some doors open. So I decided to major in Biology at UCSB. That lasted all of one quarter before I wised up, followed my gut, and switched to an Art Studio major. First thing I did was go to the University wood shop and see when I would be able to build my next instrument. Basically I was told that it wasn't going to happen for a long time, if ever. I was told that building guitars is craft-work, and not art. I had never considered that to be the case but figured I would lay low for a while and let my creative side flourish in other ways. It wasn't until my senior year when I was able to take independent studies that I could again build a guitar. My professor agreed to let me make one on the condition that I focus on the artistic aspect while utilizing the craft side.
What I came up with was the idea to make an accurate guitar that would take on the appearance of flexing or melting under the pressure of the strings. Given the delicate nature of wooden instruments and the constant pressure and environmental perils they experience ever day, I decided to title it "Neglect" after what can happen if you don't treat your instrument correctly, like Gremlins. I developed a distorted body and an angled neck that would look the part. I had a great time problem-solving the angles and elements of this guitar, but part of me was always questioning the amount of work I was putting into a purely aesthetic instrument. I feel that a functional musical instrument can be extremely artistically oriented and doesn't have to be an object.
I was asked to put my Altered Body Dreadnaught Guitar (pictured upper Left) in the University Undergraduate Art Show in the University Art Museum. Although I only received an honorable mention, for it I was more pleased to overhear onlookers wonder how a regular guitar got so warped and bent. Success in conveying my idea was the most meaningful part.
Following my bent guitar, I was able to make a normal functioning guitar again. I decided to rework the bracing logistics and keep the altered body the same, given that I had all the molds and jigs made already. I thought that it was an attractive shape and that the increased bass area, combined with the bracing, could produce a better bass response.
I had the body and neck close to completion when . . .
All I have to say is: The old saying of the "major accidents happen within the first and last 15 minutes of your work time" is TRUE. Table saws and "just a quick easy job" don't mix. I feel that I have paid my dues to the Luthier Gods now and somehow was lucky enough to get out of it with all 10 fingers (at least as a technicality). Now I have something to remind me of safety every time I fire up a power tool.
Now, you think these look bad ... These pictures were the good-looking ones taken after my first checkup already sewn up.
This is my index finger one year after. It was cut directly down the middle and through x-ray you can see the bone cut directly in half. Pretty cool. The plus side to the whole ordeal is that I can finally fret the really small frets at the top of the neck easily and have interesting fingerprints should I ever get arrested.
After some re-constructive time to mend, I got back to
building. I finished a few guitars and somehow graduated. Following
college I have continued to build instruments and experiment with
different materials, woods, hardware, electronics and designs of many
different types of musical instruments. I believe that traditional
guitar construction has only scratched the surface of its potential. It
is because of this that I have many, many, many ideas and concepts for
instruments in progressive development. I am open to all ideas for
custom instruments, so bring it on.
This Website is a means to generally inform people of my custom Manke Instruments and to provide a contact point for anyone interested in the construction of a personalized musical instrument.
I'm very proud of the instruments I've built over the years and hope you enjoy them, too. Please feel free to get in contact with me (info on the Contact Info page) if you have any questions, comments, or order interests.
More about Scott . . .
This is me in the Summer of 2004 performing with my cover band 'Dirty Sanchez and the Rusty Trombones'. I am playing one of my Through and Through Flamed Maple Electric Guitars with double humbuckers and ebony fingerboard (pictures on the 'Electric Guitar' page).
This picture is also from the Summer of 2004 on the Camp Blue Stage in Pinecrest, CA. As Music Director at the Cal Berkeley Alumni Summer Camp I spent every day "Battle Testing" this Manke guitar in all weather,temperature, and environmental conditions.
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