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Woodworking...Guitars.... Music.

Where did it start?? 

The woodworking was kind of an offshoot from Musical journey and my short time (about 3 years) working as a luthier,  building and repairing stringed musical instruments.  Guitars, mandolins, etc.  I preferred acoustic instruments over the electrics, especially archtops. 


My love for guitars  started with learning to  play when I was about 12 from my dad.  I was in bands all through high school, had a music minor in college. Later in my 20's I studied jazz improvisation with a great local jazz guitarist here in Chicago, Frank Dawson ("Rainy Day"). 

Frank would occasionally recommend students in his "stable" for jobs he could not play, which was great in that you got to work, but not so great because everyone expected "Frank Dawson" when you got there to play, and those were some big shoes to fill.  Some interesting evenings. 

  • The weirdest?  The night with Dave Romaine. 

  • The worst?  The night with Billy Diamond.  

The night with Romaine had about 15 guys on the stand.  I asked the bassist next to me if he had played with him before, he nodded "no". Then he asked the next guy in line.  Each in turn down the line nodded "no".  No book, no nothing.  Only the pianist had played with him before. Romaine played violin. 

The pianist would start some tune and everyone scrambled to figure out where he was at.  Then Romaine would hold up two fingers. I ask the bassist what the hell that meant.  He says "two sharps",  that's the key for the next song, everyone scrambles to transition to the next tune, not know what tune it was.   Then Romaine holds "down" three fingers.  You guessed it, three flats for the next tune.  A long night of song medleys because the hardest parts are getting started and stopping. 

Billy Diamond played on the top of the Hancock in the 95th room. Piano, bass drums and me.  He keeps telling me to turn down, turn down.  I am so low, I am playing the 335 almost as an acoustic.   He tells me to turn down more, I reached around behind the amp and turn it off.  Left it that way all night.  Diamond was happy as a clam.  Oh well.... 

This was back in the days of the clubs like Orphan's, Ratso's and The Bulls on Lincoln Ave in Chicago. Job'ed and played a lot of weddings.  I never had the talent  to be a great player, just a bossy band leader.


Being a luthier was my last ditch attempt to stay in music, but money and software development appeared on the horizon and I booked. I was working at Wooden Music Company on Lincoln owned by Jim Beach, one of the last great places for vintage instruments and repair in Chicago. (some may take issue with that, but this is my site so KMA!!).   It was the best job I ever had and I think about it often.  I was too late to work  with Kim Schwartz, Ed Reynolds and Don McCotter but got to work with Cliff Bennett,  Joe Compagna and Osman Tilev.  Joe is still working in the business and has moved to sunny California.  Osman passed away a few years ago.  He was a great guy. Always willing to show you a trick of the trade. 

Jim Beach passed away in July of 2012.  I don't know how long the url will exist but here it  Jim Beach Obituary

One of the more poignant notes on Jim's passing was from Kim Schwartz in response to my final status email on Jim's condition to the alumni mentioned above.

"Hi Tim,
Thank you for all of the updates around Jim's process and transition. I had a dream last night I wanted to share. I was in a building that was something of a hardware store and guitar repair shop (you know how dreams are) and I was there to help organize things. I was in a back room when Jim walks in. In light of his recent passing, I am obviously surprised. I ask him if others than me can see him and we look around and it seems that they do not. I ask him if he knows how he is able to be there and he just smiles from ear to ear and says that he does not but is glad that he can visit one more time and say good bye. It was great to see him so happy and ready for the next adventure.

For me, this will be how I remember him. Please feel free to share this with anyone you think might find it interesting.


So, there you go Kim.  It is shared to everyone I think might be interested.  I think of Jim regularly and miss his not being a part of this world. One of a small group of people that I can immediately point to as having had a big impact on my life and who I am, for better or for worse.

At some point, I will get around to photographing some of the guitars to put up on the site.  Hell, at some point I'd like to get back to playing them. 

Music Making Comes to an End

The end of my music making journey was with playing weddings.  It was purely about the money at that point.  I played with a number of quartets, playing guitar and doing all the lead vocal work. At one point I was subbing for regular guitarist/lead vocalists in 3 different quartets.  They all did similar tunes, but the arrangements were different as were the keys. Format was largely the same.  Sax, Cordovox, Drums and Guitar.  It was interesting to say the least.  Some good players.  All were very nice guys and easy to work with.  The money was very good, the music, not so much. Top 40 covers and standards with nailed down arrangements and no opportunity to stretch out.  This was the mid 80's and the DJs were just starting to make a dent in the circuit but there was still a lot of work for live music.

One of the best quartets or the three, The Flares, (I know, right?)  had their main guy, Doug, retire and move to Florida and the leader, Randy Gunderson, offered me the spot.  I took it and at the height of working with them, we were playing 110 jobs a year part time.  Everyone had steady professional gigs during the day. Randy Gunderson on Drums, Al Itner on Sax and Kenny Nordstrum on Keyboards. 

We got along great and played a ton of gigs until finally the work load at the regular job made it impossible.  In about 1985, I bid my farewells, packed away the guitars, sold the amp and stopped playing and singing for 25 years. Listening to music was all that remained. 

And then......UKULELE!

In 2010, I some how got the idea that I wanted to buy a uke.  I still had a dozen guitars upstairs that I had not played in 25 years.  Didn't enjoy them.  I knew what great players could do on guitar and every time I picked a guitar up, the knowledge of all that made the instrument feel like it weighed a ton. My hands felt like lead. Nothing rang. Nothing flowed.  No joy.

I started browsing around the Ukulele Underground forum and got interested.  One weekend in August, I pointed the Harley south to Nashville IN.  and visited Mainland Ukuleles. I met the owners, Mike Hater and his wife Tookta.  We talked for a bit and I bought two and had them shipped home, 

a concert size Mango (left)  and a soprano size Cedar/Rosewood uke.  (They are small, take two..  )


I went to a meeting of the Chicago Ukulele Group (CHUG) that met monthly at Wells Park and played and sang my first song on uke.  The people were great and I am still friends with many of them to this day.  The instrument and the people reignited my desire to make music.  There is a wide spectrum of talent and ability in the community.  I get to resurrect some of my past experience in music to play and sing with many of them, do arrangements, figure out chords, sing harmonies and play solos where needed. They are a very accepting and caring group of people and it goes far beyond just the music.

  There is just something about ukulele people.

I became very involved with the Mainland Ukes annual Ukulele World Congress (UWC) held in a big beautiful field 15 mins west of Nashville IN.  I have done a number of projects for them from installing stage lighting, to building bridges across the creek (with a case of many uke players) to building steps and a shelter. 

Through UWC, I have met, played and performed with many uke players like Narciso 'Seeso' Lobo,  Kim RauschMatt Lindahl, Thom Palazolla and David Henry Spangler  to name just a few. There are too many to list.    I have performed with Seeso and Kim a number of times, recorded a bit with Seeso and recorded and co-wrote music with Kim.  (The Fleabitten Dawgs have never asked me to play with them.  ;) )

Some others I have purchased or have had built. The Moore Bettahs by Chuck Moore are real beauties. Not pictured are two Koaloahs, one concert and one tenor.

Moore Bettah Koa Tenor 2011 Custom Build

Moore Bettah Spruce top, Ebony back and sides Tenor 2016

Kamaha HF3 Tenors.  2016 100th Anniversary Models.  "The Twins" consecutive serial numbers

(Right)Jerry Hoffman Boatpaddle prototype Tenor 2011 14 frets to body. Cedar top Walnut back and sides.  Sides are an extension of the neck. (Right) Boatpaddle Baritone. Spruce top, Walnut back and sides.

William King Baritone.  Mahogany

Dave Talsma Tenor. Redwood top, Rosewood back and sides.

Rejoining Past Musical Acquaintances and Meeting New Ones

In parallel with my embarking on the Ukulele Experience, I tried to look up a couple of my very first musical collaborators.

 I grew up next door to a fellow name Rob Waters.  Rob played organ and we were in a couple of bands when I was in 7th and 8th grade.  Rob was a much better player than I was so he went on to play with lots better people all through high school.  But he still instroduced me to many of the musical artist that shaped my foundation in music.  Rob was really into blues and he introduced me to the recordings of Paul Butterfield, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith (I still love Wes), Siegle Schwall Blues Band to name a few.

I also sought out Steve Baranowski (a.k.a Steve Barans), the organ player in a group I sang with back in Junior/Senior year of high school which also led to reacquainting myself with Bob Mickey, the guitarist from that band, and his brother Brian Mickey as well as some players Steve had recently played with,  David Salzman and Don Laferty

Bottom line, music came back in a big way starting in 2010 and it is been very interesting.  I have enjoyed playing and singing again and rediscovering a lot of the enjoyment (and stress) that comes from it.

Woodworking and Furniture.

After leaving Wooden Music and settling into software development, I couldn't believe the lead times and cost of purchasing furniture. Especially Stickley.  At the time it was taking 26 weeks to get a piece delivered. That was my rationalization for going out and buying a table saw. That and a router and I was on my way to building up a shop.

Somewhere along the line my favorite furniture became  Mission/ Arts and Crafts /Prairie/whatever else you want to call it.  (ie Stickley). I don't know if I build it because I like it or like it because I can build it.  I love the functionality and simple lines.  It always feels inviting to me.  I have always dreamed of living in a real craftsman home (sans the craftsman kitchen and bath... technology definitely improves some things dramatically.)  Wish I had been on the bandwagon in the late 70' and early 80's when originals were to be had.. As usual, "day late and a dollar short".

I don't build as much as I would like. Certainly not enough to justify the tool investment. And wood seems to get harder and harder to find.  I design most of my own stuff, pirating liberally from the original makers.  Developing scale drawings from photographs and then modifying to suit, I then try and figure out how to build it.

To be honest, I often don't remember how I did things on several pieces. 

"Life is always an adventure with a shitty memory... "

That would be my equivalent mantra to  "The lyf so short, the craft so longe to lern"

In the following section there are several pics at the end showing the living room reassembled.  Several pieces are mine but most are Stickley.  The Media cabinet, small round taboret table, the settle and one of the ottomans are mine.

Need to get to work on a couple more tables.



Woodworking and the Living Room Project.

Took a while to get here right?  Sorry for the long trudge through the past.

I think I have finally figured out that I will never get to live in a real Craftsman style bungalow so I decided when it came time to redo the living room AGAIN, I would strive for the craftsman feel without making any irrevocable modifications to the room.  I started in March of 2006 but a lot of unrelated things came along the way and I do stuff very slow anyways.  So Finally in Nov. 2007 I got to move my furniture back downstairs into the new living room.  It turned out pretty  nice.   Although no where near as fantastic as the following example inspiration rooms, the final result tries to capture the flavor.  

Inspiration Rooms

Photo's from "Inside the Bungalow" by Paul Duchscherer and "Prairie  Style" by Legler and Korab

Click to enlarge.

An interesting (ok, more like amazing) side note was that a full year after finishing the living room (2008), I went with my brother Brian on the Wright Tour in Oak Park.  We missed one house on the tour because the line was so long.  We were leaving and realized there was still about 20 minutes left for the homes to be open, so we drove in front of the house we missed, asked if we could still take the tour and were told we were just in time for the final tour of the day.  We walked in and I immediately realized we were standing the foyer of inspiration room #3 above.  I could not believe it.

I started by moving almost everything upstairs with the exception of the media cabinet, Ellis bookcase, buffet and table.  Previously it was a much more contemporary room with track lighting (I know....) and leather furniture.  As my interest in Arts and Crafts furniture increased and I bought and built more pieces, the room became pretty wierd.  When a furniture sales person I deal with offered to make some suggestions if I brought in some pictures, I looked through the view finder and realized there was no way I could show her what it looked like. It was really bad.

I spoke to my neighbor down the block, Wayne, who is an architect and also an Arts and Crafts enthusiast, ( He has gone "all out" on his place with the whole interior done up in white oak.  Very impressive).  and got some ideas on beams to put into the room.  I looked at several examples of full box beams and some that were more like plates attached to the ceiling.  I opted to pursue the latter.

I didn't want to give up the type of light I was getting from the track lighting so I took down the track and put in recessed 3" halogen lights in part of the ceiling.,

I planned out where to install the 1x pine plates so that I could hit as many ceiling joist as possible while still keeping a pleasing symmetry to the resultant coffers,.   I chalked the outlines on the ceiling several times before I was satisfied.


After the pine plates were up in both directions  (upper photo's were before the intersecting pine plates were installed) I obtained  some pretty nice quarter sawn oak veneer via EBAY and had my local wood supplier veneer the 9'x6" strips of veneer to 1/2" thick 4x10s of MDF.  I took the 4x10s home and rough ripped the panels into 6" wide boards and then finished ripped them to the final width.  All the MDF boards had to be dyed and stained next. 

The finish was a coat of water based dye I mixed from some TransTint colors from Homestead Finishing.  The final color I call Red Aurora ( 59.15cc Medium brown, 24.7cc Red Brown to one gallon of distilled water). as it is a little redder than the homestead sites recipe for Stickley Aurora finish.  A coat of amber shellac was put over the dye to seal it followed by a  Minwax Aged Oak gel stain to pop the grain and accent the flake. (Gel stain should just remain in the grain). The final coat was Waterlox which is a tung oil varnish type finish.  Very stinky.   The 30+ boards were stacked up on the "pasta rack" during finishing in the basement.

When the boards were dry, it was time to start fitting the boards onto the pine plates.  The intersection of the boards were carefully cut and biscuit jointed.  The middle spans were sprung into place and the outer edge pieces were levered in last to give a pretty tight joint to the wall.  Since the boards are all MDF, you don't have to worry much about expansion.   (Wrong!!!  This last summer a year later I periodically heard loud pop's and bangs.  I think it was the beams in the living room. (We'll see this summer) 


The walls needed work. It had been 15 years since I combined the original two rooms into a single dining and living room at the front of the house. At the time I did a faux finish on the walls that I still liked a lot, but I did not want to redo it. I created the original glaze for the walls using artist oils and the 15 years of fade had turned it a different color than how it started.  It took about 3 to 4 weekends of screwing around to get the color matched back in where the re-plastering was done.  Pain in the butt...  But it didn't come out too bad.

I next installed the crown which created the finished coffers. The ceiling color was softened to a light tannish orange.

So I am looking at as much as I had anticipated on doing and am I happy???   Well, not quite.  When I originally combined the two rooms I found the oak floors did not line up. Not vertically, but horizontally. The seams were off by about 1/4". At the time I did not have the heart or money to do much about it so I carpeted one half of the room and left the other half as hardwood using a custom made curved oak threshold to separate the two, It is still visible in the above pics.

The room was getting closer to my inspiration rooms but now that white carpet was just looking way out of character. 

My brother Brian had just recently had his floors fixed for a new addition by a friend who I was able to get to come in and in two days we tore out the whole south half of the floor and toothed in a new Red oak so it all lined up.   Ouch!!.  Big step backwards.  A coat of sealer and two finish coats later and things were looking a lot less scary.

So now that I have a boat load more wood to look at in the living room, it was time to cover it up..... A trip to Brian's Persian rug guy, Resa at La Maison in Evanstan.  Armed with my color samples, Resa got me hooked up with a really nice Heriz 8x10 that makes my original Karastan Kirman look kinda sad...   Not long after, I bought a beautiful Mashad to replace the Kirman which looks great.

Finally time to bring the furniture back down and put the room back together. It is now November (started in March.. remember. It probably took you that long to read all this.) Later I finished the hallway and built, stained and installed  new white oak jams.  I also ordered straight grain douglas fir doors from Vancouver and installed those, natural finish.  Window treatments still need some help and probably a new front door but after that it is back to making furniture.  It felt pretty good to shoot the final pics.