Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Coffin Guitar...

I've worked in the guitar industry for a long time.

In all those years, at both the retail and manufacturer levels, I've seen some nice guitars. Suffice it to say, I am no longer easily impressed by a guitar.

Now, I get to spend a good portion of my work week taking glamour photos of really nice guitars. It's a meld of my two favorite things: photography and guitars. How can that be bad?

Well, it can't, so just put that thought out of your mind.
 
With a little bit of "photo down time", though, I decided not to shoot any of the Collings, none of the Martins or the Taylors. I get compliments on my guitar photography pretty regularly, so I figured the time had come to take some glamour shots of my guitar.

This is what my daughter jokingly refers to as "The Coffin Guitar", because that's where it's going. I know she's lying, though. She'll lay it in the casket with me for the wake but, right before they slam the lid on it, she's gonna' pull this guitar out. I know she will.

This is my 1986 Alvarez-Yairi DY-66:
 


Alvarez-Yairi DY-66: Maple back and sides, Red Cedar top...

I'm often asked where I got this guitar. The truth of the matter is that there aren't a lot of these out there. While there are many with the "DY" designation, which sport Kazuo Yairi's signature on the lower bout, there aren't many DY-66 models. Some "blue books" don't even have it listed.

Anyway, the story of how I got it is mildly funny.

I re-enlisted in the Navy, the first time, in December of 1984. When I did, I received what was known as "SRB", or "selective re-enlistment bonus" (of which half was paid up front). Because I was also transferring from San Diego to Charleston, South Carolina, I was able to take up to three months of advanced pay, and advanced travel pay. When all was said and done, I had about $14,000.00 just burning a hole in my pocket. I found my way to Jim's House Of Guitars (long now defunct) and bought myself a 1974 Gibson Blue Ridge acoustic guitar. I didn't really know anything about guitars back then, aside from the fact that there were premier brands out there, and Gibson was one of them.

$480.00 later, I walked out of Jim's with my new, used 1974 Gibson Blue Ridge.

I played that guitar for a while, but was never really happy with it. In 1987, I took it to a repair shop in Charleston to have it looked at, and was told that the neck was twisting, ever so slightly. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything that could be done about it. I decided to cut my losses and sell it for $400.00.

I hung the guitar in that Charleston repair shop. The owner didn't charge a consignment fee or anything; he just liked having guitars hanging in his repair shop. Well, I walked in one day and sat down, and picked up this one guitar. I'd never heard of the brand, but thought I'd give it a strum anyway.

Whoa.

The clouds parted and angels would sing. It sounded amazing.

I looked at the price tag: $400.00.

"John", I said, "You gotta' sell my Gibson so I can buy this thing!"

"Well, the guy selling that wants to buy your Gibson. Why don't you just take that with you and I'll call you if the guy's got a problem with it.

That was 26 years ago, and I still haven't heard from him.

In the time I've had it, I've only done three things to it. First, I added a pickguard. Why? For no other reason than I'd never seen a steel string acoustic guitar without one.Second, at some point; maybe the late 1990's, I added a pickup to the guitar. I had just joined a band in San Diego and acoustic guitar would be needed. Lastly, I changed out the original brownish pearloid tuning buttons with ebony ones. They have no performance advantage. I just think they look better:


The headstock of the Yairi DY-66...

The addition of the pickguard was a fortuitous thing that I hadn't actually considered the benefits of. I put it on only because I thought the guitar looked naked without it. I never even considered the protective properties of it. Nor did I think I would ever need those properties as much as, obviously, I do:


This is what 26 years of good, honest guitar playin' looks like...

On the upper bout, just above the fretboard, I've worn about two thirds of the way through the top. When I started to get a degree of wear on the guitar, my friend Bob "Moze" Mossay, of Moze Guitars in San Diego, offered to put some finish on the wear spot to help protect it. I opted out, and I'm glad I did. Not only do I absolutely love the way this guitar looks, but I'd have worn off any finish Moze would've applied, anyway.

During the Zendog years (Zendog was my band in San Diego), we played a lot of Stones stuff, and a lot of Stones stuff uses acoustic guitar. Well, couple that with the fact that I didn't possess the most sound strumming technique to begin with, and wear and tear was bound to happen. I've even cracked the soundhole from years of putting a Feedback Buster in and pulling it out:


The cracked soundhole of the DY-66...

To me, this is simply the perfect guitar. I've owned Taylor and Martin and Fender and Gibson and Hamer and... damn, name it. I've owned countless guitars over the years, but only one has the distinction of being "the first" to stay with me for so long. This guitar has fallen down stairs, has been in a flood, has been on fire, and has been hit by a car.

I can't kill it.

It won't let me.

When I got this guitar, it was in absolutely pristine condition, as if it had just come from Final Assembly. I was blown away by the craftsmanship of this guitar. Yes, very good guitars come out of Japan, my friends, and this is one of them. I've had the unqualified pleasure of putting every ding, scratch, scrape, crack and chip in this guitar, and I wouldn't change a single thing about how this guitar has traveled through the years.

My friend Todd Mylet, owner of Portland Fretworks here in Portland, did some upkeep to it the other day, and brought it back to me with the news that, after 26 years, the guitar could use a fret job. There isn't enough metal left on them to recrown them, so they'll have to be replaced; at least the first five or so.

It's an expense that I'd rather not incur, but one which I know has come about as a result of years of enjoyment. If I extrapolate it out, it's the equivalent of about $1.31 per year, per fret. I don't know of anything else that's such a bargain.

So, why write all of this?

Well, I am constantly amused when people buy nice guitars and then don't play them. They stick them in a closet and forget about them and, when they do pull the guitar out, they don't let anyone else play it and they baby it.

I guess I can understand that when a guitar is an "investment piece", but if you spent hours playing a guitar and falling in love with the sound before you bought it, play the damn thing. Play it and make it earn its keep.

God knows this Yairi has done exactly that...


"The Yairi"...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

"This Is Local?"

There's an episode of "Portlandia" that my dear friend Mike Gladstone turned me onto. In it, a couple is in a restaurant learning all about the life of the chicken they were about to eat for lunch. Not only is it kinda' funny, but it's pretty dead-on in its depiction of what some Portland locals are like. The restaurant where it takes place, The Gilt Club, is an actual place, located in Northwest Portland:





This past Sunday, I was going to be shooting an event at a restaurant in Northeast Portland, but I found myself with a couple hours to kill before the shoot, so I decide to wander over the Broadway Bridge into Northwest Portland, not far from what's known as the Pearl District. I've driven over the Broadway Bridge countless times, and have always wanted to shoot Union Station, which serves Amtrak here in Portland. I figured that a walk back across the Broadway Bridge could offer up some nice photo ops, as well.

I figured, for a change, that I would stay "local".

Okay, so that was a pretty lame set-up. But the show is funny and you should watch it.

Anywho, I found my way over to Union Station, parked the truck and gathered up my gear. Unlike other outings, and despite the pleas of some well-respected photographer friends, I made the conscious decision to shoot HDR this time out. For me, HDR isn't only about light, but about texture, as well. I've been seeing the textures in the train station and Portland's bridges for months, so I was eager to shoot them.

I don't really have a great deal to write about any of this, I just wanted to share some of the HDR stuff I shot this past Sunday, and to tell you to watch Portlandia. It's funny.

 
The first thing to catch my eye was this old Mini. It was just parked off to the side of the lot, all by its lonesome. For some reason, I find the "NO CAMPING, NO FIRES, NO DUMPING" sign kinda' funny. This shot's not HDR, but I like it:

 


After shooting the Mini, I walked over to Union Station. Unfortunately, I was only able to get exterior shots. I don't know if my shooting inside would've been frowned upon, but what I do know is that it was ridiculously crowded inside, and I just didn't want to deal with the crowds. When I have more time on my hands maybe I'll do that, but it wasn't happening this time out:



Two different views (processed with two different presets) of Union Station...

As trying to shoot inside was proving to be a pipe dream, I decided to try to get some more shots from the foot of Broadway Bridge:







I imagine that, providing I don't run afoul of security or law enforcement, I could shoot in and around Union Station all day. While it doesn't enjoy the grandeur of, say, New York's Grand Central Station does, it's certainly one of the more interesting places, from a photography perspective, that I've found in Portland.

Union Station was only part of what I was here to check out and shoot, though.

Broadway Bridge spans over the Willamette River, with "Northeast" on one side and the Pearl District on the other. I decided to hoof it to mid span and take some photos:

Looking east from the west end of Broadway Bridge...

Broadway Bridge...

Condos along the Willamette...

Steel Bridge, looking south from Broadway bridge...

The Albers Brothers Milling Co. Building...

Looking east along the north side of the bridge...

The eastern bank of the Willamette River...

The tower at Union Station, as seen from mid-span on Broadway Bridge...
I'm not entirely sure that I'm diggin' how the clouds look in these photos, but I guess I can work on that next time around. All in all, I'm mildly satisfied with how things turned out. I also learned that I can get a first class seat on a train to Seattle for $51.00, so I may have to give that a shot before too long.

With having just a couple two hours to shoot, I'm happy with what I came away with, and it reminded me that, when I get the jones to do some shooting, I don't necessarily have to gas up the truck and drive to the mountains or some waterfalls in some gorge somewhere.

Sometimes it's enough when someone looks at your photos and says "So, this is local?"

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Gorge...

It's been almost a month since my last foray out into the the Oregon wilderness so, yesterday, I decided it was time to change that. The weather here in Oregon can be dicey sometimes, and it can change in an instant. Still, the weather report was calling for it to be partly sunny, so it was worth the shot.

I packed the gear into the Explorer, turned onto I-84, and headed east up the Columbia River Gorge.

The Columbia River cuts through the gorge between the northern edge of Oregon and the southern edge of Washington. It's the only navigable route through the Cascade mountain range, and stretches through the gorge for over 80 miles. I wouldn't drive quite that far on this trip, as the town of Hood River was the "turnaround" point. 

I'm always on the lookout for photo ops when I'm driving. The difficult part about that is, once you identify them, you've missed the exit to get to them. I had no such problems on this trip, thankfully, and made the first stop at Mitchell Point, overlooking the Columbia River:

Looking west down the Columbia River...

A barge being pushed west down the Columbia River...

Looking north across the river into Washington...

Three ways to get through the gorge: Highway, rail (see the tracks?) and waterway...

After Mitchell Point, the next stop was the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Originally named "Hotel Benson", this place is pretty awesome. It was built in 1921 by lumber magnate Simon Benson, and quickly earned an international reputation.

The hotel went through a series of ownership changes from 1925 and 1952, when it was sold to the Neighbors of Woodcraft, who operated it as a retirement home. It was sold again in 1978 and, in 1979, the 42-room hotel re-opened following a $1 million restoration. The hotel shut down due to foreclosure in January of 2009, but was re-opened in October of that year after it was sold by the foreclosing bank for $4 million. The property underwent an extensive renovation between 2009 and 2012. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1979:
 


The entrance to the Columbia Gorge Hotel property...

The 42 room Columbia Gorge Hotel...


The backside of the hotel...
A portion of the lobby...

The reception desk, right where it's been for 92 years...

The hotel is also rumored to have been a favorite retreat of Rudolph Valentino, for whom the hotel lounge and attached terrace are named:
 
The Valentino Lounge...

Sign on the wall leading to the outdoor deck...


Actors, politicians and musicians have all stayed at the hotel. Here's a partial list of past guests:

  • Shirley Temple
  • President William Howard Taft
  • President Calvin Coolidge
  • Newt Gingrich
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt
  • Eddie Money
  • Tom Cruise
  • Burt Reynolds
  • Anthony Quinn 
  • "Doc" Severinsen
  • Olivia Newton-John
  • Clara Bow

The hotel sits on the site of a previous hotel, known as the Wah Gwin Gwin Hotel, which was named for the 208' waterfall which is on the property grounds:

Wah Gwin Gwin Falls...

I almost immediately started to consider coming out here for a weekend, but it would appear as though rates at the hotel can be a tad spendy, climbing close to the $300.00 a night price point during the summer months through Labor Day. A better bet might be to drive another 200 yards down the road to stay at the Vagabond Inn:

The Vagabond Inn: Cheap, but in the same zip code...
You can get a suite at The Vagabond for as little as $95.00 a night (leaving you a few hundred bucks to take over to the Valentino Lounge for dinner and cocktails if you need to feel like a high-roller).
 
With the hopes of making fancy hotel reservations quickly dashed, it was time to get back on the road and continue heading east, to the town of Hood River.

Hood River was incorporated in 1895, and sits about 30 miles north of Mount Hood. It's got a total area of less than 3-1/2 square miles, and has a population of around 7,200. For the most part, it's a quiet, cool old town. But it's become a mecca for windsurfers and kite surfers, as the Columbia River offers some of the best conditions in the world for both.

The first thing to do was to get some lunch, and the Big Horse Brewery was the place to go. It was situated on top of a hill, and offered a great view overlooking the town:

The Big Horse Brew Pub...

Cold, tasty frosties await...


The view from the Big Horse Brew Pub, with the Columbia River and Washington in the background...

After lunch, it was time to go walking around this cool little town in search of some cool little town photo ops. The cool thing about cool little towns is that it normally doesn't take long to come across cool little town photo ops:

The entrance to the historic Hood River Hotel; less than $200.00 a night during the peak season...


The Hood River Hotel...

The "main drag" in Hood River, complete with a wine tasting room and a Masonic Lodge...

The Naked Winery...


Hood River City Hall...

One of the reasons I'm already planning a trip back to Hood River is the Mount Hood Railroad. The Mount Hood Railroad offers scenic, four hour excursions into the Hood River Valley, offering views of both Mount Hood and Mount Adams in southern Washington. Think of it as a rolling photo op; a photo op on rails. Whatever you choose to call it, I'm going.

In the meantime, though, the train cars sit idle in the train yard on the banks of the mighty Columbia:

Mount Hood Railroad cars...

Mount Hood #2920...

Heavy metal...

Mount Hood Railroad cars await the beginning of their season...

Going nowhere... For now...

As nice a place as Hood River is, I guess it's no surprise that, despite it's small size, it also has to put up with some of the same issues as larger cities, such as graffiti. To be fair, though, that underpass was the only place in the entire town where I saw anything which smacked of "urbanism".:

Graffiti in Hood River...


An underpass in Hood River, just about the only place in town with graffiti...
One of the cooler aspects of a town like Hood River is how they go about advertising. They don't really have space for billboards in the "downtown" area, so they make due:

"Kodaks"? "Films Developing"? Classic...

Where else can you buy sporting goods, wire rope, paint and bridal gifts all in one place?

After walking around Hood River for a little while, it became apparent that the hour had gotten a little on the late side, and it had gotten quite cold and very windy. While it would've been nice to, say, drive the loop up through Mount Hood and back down into Portland, common sense reigned supreme and a more direct route to Portland was planned. There were more things to see on the drive west (like Cascade Locks, Bridge Of The Gods and Bonneville Dam), but it had just gotten a little too dark a little too quickly. Hell, that just means another trip has to be made!

All in all, the Columbia River Gorge is an amazing piece of pacific northwest scenery, and one that simply shouldn't be missed. Whether you drive on the south side in Oregon, or the north side in Washington, you're likely to see some of the most amazing vistas this part of the country has to offer.

So, if you ever find yourself in the pacific northwest with a little extra time on your hands, try to work in a trip up the gorge. And, if you happen to find yourself in Portland, I'll drive...



Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...