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View Full Version : Ken Timms Loses His Mind



hmgberg
10-11-2011, 04:02 AM
It's truly a sad day for ukers everywhere. Esteemed luthier, Ken Timms is suffering a severe bout of paranoia, or some such pathological disorder, over a perceived lack of perfection in his production. The poor man cannot sleep and is driven to distraction over such matters as a bridge off center to the extent that it is not visible to the naked eye as well as a dovetail neck joint that would exhibit a microscopic gap were it ever to be seen (he knows it's there). Those who are familiar with Ken's commitment to his craft understand the inclination to correct any "defect" that might in the future tarnish his reputation, however one might reasonably be concerned over some more extreme manifestations of this disorder. Ken recently sawed in half one of his instruments and has threatened to burn others that do not meet his extraordinarily high standards for perfection.

This writer suggests that anyone interested in a Ken Timms ukulele purchase it immediately, as few of these instruments are likely to be available until Ken is properly treated and he gets some rest.

-Nit Picker

southcoastukes
10-11-2011, 05:16 PM
Hello "Nit",

Being half a builder myself, I'll admit that at first read, I took this seriously! There's no such thing as a perfect instrument, and agonizing over little imperfections is something every builder does. At first, I really thought "Poor Ken" had gone over the edge.

It was only when I got to the part about sawing in half and burning that it started to sink in. Builders just redo (minor) stuff until we can live with the little imperfections - maiming or burning those wonderful woods really would be a sign of madness!

hmgberg
10-11-2011, 11:14 PM
I've begun building ukuleles myself, and despite the fact that I have a good teacher and I'm generally a good student, the imperfections I create are not minor, i.e., they are obvious. I beat myself up about them, even after they are corrected, then assuage my insecurities by pledging to make the next one better. This thread is intended as a tongue-in-cheek testimonial to Ken and the other builders on this forum who serve as inspiration. One thing I really appreciate about Ken is his sense of humor, particularly as evidenced by the pics he posted of the "asymmetrical" ukulele and the birdhouse conversions.

Pete Howlett
10-11-2011, 11:56 PM
If you have any self respect as a builder you are constantly in a state of 'losing your mind' over things no-one else will see :(

Timbuck
10-12-2011, 12:14 AM
If you have any self respect as a builder you are constantly in a state of 'losing your mind' over things no-one else will see :( Quite right..E'r are you going to explain this one Pete;) it's one of my favourites.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/execution.jpg

Pete Howlett
10-12-2011, 01:13 AM
Can't remember but it weren't right :)

hmgberg
10-12-2011, 01:22 AM
Quite right..E'r are you going to explain this one Pete;) it's one of my favourites.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/execution.jpg

Quite obviously, humidity is a constant concern. It is important to have your instrument well ventilated. Further, one can never have enough sound ports.

UkePA
10-12-2011, 01:57 AM
On a related note, my father was in the aircraft restoration business. I once saw him take a knife to a finished part because of a tiny run in the paint. I couldn't even see it, but it bothered him that much. When I say finished, I mean covered and painted with 15 coats of dope, wet sanded and ready to bolt on.

Perfectionism is a double edge sword, but it really can help you build a reputation of quality.

Erik

Pete Howlett
10-12-2011, 07:02 AM
You're right - it's about reputation.

Timbuck
10-12-2011, 08:28 AM
When I was with a team of inspectors in Engineering, and we found a component out of specification..we had 3 choices .. 1, Scrap and replace it.. 2, Rectify it..or 3, go for a concession (tell the customer you boobed and ask if it will be still OK).. the "Shop Floor Manager" would usually prefer us to do nothing and hope it will be not noticed...But! we were supposed to be there to stop that sort of thing...some battles we won:) and others were lost:(

ProfChris
10-12-2011, 10:44 AM
Quite right..E'r are you going to explain this one Pete;) it's one of my favourites.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/execution.jpg

Can't see the problem here - that seam separation at the tail should re-glue quite easily.

Pete Howlett
10-12-2011, 11:20 AM
Ahhh British humour - how I miss it :)

Susie A
10-12-2011, 11:54 AM
Quite obviously, humidity is a constant concern. It is important to have your instrument well ventilated. Further, one can never have enough sound ports.

Well, you won't have any difficulty removing the bridge plate on this one!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-12-2011, 12:46 PM
I had a similar experience using the LMI glue.

tattwo
10-12-2011, 01:21 PM
I had a similar experience using the LMI glue.

I knew that was coming :)

coriandre
10-12-2011, 05:45 PM
Quite right..E'r are you going to explain this one Pete;) it's one of my favourites.
http://i219.photobucket.com/albums/cc143/shiregreenbod/execution.jpg

This reminds me of the movie "The red violin" (excellent movie by the way), in the movie, Stradivari is inspecting a violin being made by one of his workers and he smashes it to pieces, gives it back to the worker and says " this violin was not worthy of bearing my name".

Michael N.
10-12-2011, 08:39 PM
Handmade and we are human. It's inevitable that there will be 'mistakes'. The very small cosmetic issues can usually be addressed so that they are imperceptible. Others aren't so easy to deal with.
We are also living in an age where the mass produced, industrial process produces a type of perfection. That's pretty hard to compete with or at least it is for the individual luthier. People have become accustomed to looking at objects that are largely produced by machines.
When I assess any musical instrument I try to look at the overall picture. Trying to pick one tiny mistake and then condemning the instrument is far too extreme in my opinion. In a highly competitive world; that is far too easy to do. I'd rather have an instrument with good design and confidence of execution rather than one that looked perfect and yet lacked finesse.
David Pye wrote an interesting book that goes some way to addressing the issues of the individual craft worker.The Nature and Art of Workmanship.

southcoastukes
10-13-2011, 11:15 AM
Handmade and we are human....
We are also living in an age where the mass produced, industrial process produces a type of perfection.... People have become accustomed to looking at objects that are largely produced by machines...
I'd rather have an instrument with good design and confidence of execution rather than one that looked perfect and yet lacked finesse...


This was beautifully stated. My first post on this thread (where I wasn't sure if Ken had really gone mad), comes from the conflict we have with standards for our own intruments. Here's a quote from Robert Ruck:


Some of the old Spanish guitars are just incredible, but a lot of those guitars are pretty rough. A lot of fairly inexperienced modern makers do better cosmetic work than those old Spanish makers, but they knew what was important. They were faithful to designs that played well and sounded great...

My partner, a Central American who apprenticed in Italy and Spain, is, to hear him tell it, more of an old style Spanish builder than anyone working today in Europe. His instruments have simply spectacular sound, but he's just not that concerned with the details of "exact" workmanship. On top of that, he has a predjudice against machines in general.

He told me once that someone came in to demonstrate a copier to make necks. In a "John Henry" contest, Omar built them with hand tools almost twice as fast as the copier.

I think in earlier times, it may have almost been a type of machismo: "do you want a guitar that looks perfect, or one built by hand, that will move you with it's voice". Of course, the answer today is it must have both qualities.

I will never convice Omar of that. He is very polite when we discuss these things, and would never disagree. Nonetheless, with the Latins, you learn there is polite agreement (not quite condescending), and sincere agreement, and how to tell the difference.

The instruments come to me in the (very) rough, and it's up to me to finish things up. When so much of the building is done with hand tools no matter what you do, the instrument won't look like it came from a factory, or even the more modern small shops, where machine work predominates. I happen to like this (a lot), but worrying about modern standards of quality, based on the kind of machined look that Michael spoke of, is the kind of thing that can can make you "lose your mind".

More and more, however, I find myself "becoming Spanish", and relaxing (a bit) as a result. I know little criticisms can ruin someone's reputation, but is it really worthwhile worrying so much about other's opinions if you are truly creating a quality piece of workmanship?

Michael, I'll have to look into David Pye's book!

Pete Howlett
10-13-2011, 12:07 PM
This is getting far too serious - on record: I will not allow my standards to be below those of any of my peers and you know who you are!

Moore Bettah Ukuleles
10-13-2011, 12:54 PM
I spent the first part of my life trying to be perfect and the latter part trying to undo the damage I've done to myself by doing so. Perfectionism is a losing game. Most perfect things I see are lifeless and lacking soul and character. I would take ANY guitar made entirely by hand by any one of the artisans in Paracho Mexico over the the most expensive Martin any day. As long as I've given an instrument every thing I can and it is a true reflection of who I am, flaws and all, I've done my job and I'm happy. Your standards should be your own and not measured against any one else's. I've even made a conscious decision not to look at other people's work. But I'm speaking here as an artist; I've never claimed to be a good business person.
A friend of mine here has been a builder for 40 years. This amounts to 500 ukuleles and even more guitars. He's fond of telling people that he has yet to build the perfect instrument. Maybe the fact that there's no such thing is exactly what keeps some people building.

Pete Howlett
10-13-2011, 01:14 PM
With you Chuck - I do have my own standards and surprise surprise, they are not below yours :) We all have markers. I look at the care with which you execute your work and think, that's what I do. The inlay stuff leaves me standing - I'm a very poor artist.

Barrytone
12-05-2015, 03:39 AM
just needs a blob of glue and a lick of varnish and it'll be good to go.

Pukulele Pete
12-05-2015, 04:18 AM
just needs a blob of glue and a lick of varnish and it'll be good to go.

And Bob's your Uncle .

johnson430
12-05-2015, 05:23 AM
This is a great thread.
What a wonderful experience to read luthiers discuss "perfection" and their own bouts with that pursuit.

I have my own experience with woodworking (boat building) and can appreciate the pragmatic realization that something will always be "a little off" during the build no matter how much a builder seeks perfection.

aaronckeim
12-07-2015, 07:43 PM
Ken is just the rare bird who is willing to talk about it publicly! We all face these issues. I am happy to see this in Ken's post:

1, Scrap and replace it.. 2, Rectify it..or 3, go for a concession

My boss Gordon also came from a engineering/production background and we us the same system at Mya-Moe the rare time we need it. The customer is always happier when you contact them directly about the issue. Whether we build them a new one, discount the one we built or ship as is with a repair by me, they are happy to be part of the solution instead of finding the problem on their own!
A