Monday, October 27, 2014

Martin Guitar Factory Tour

After living in and around Philadelphia for 12 years we finally made the 90 minute drive up to Nazareth, PA to visit the C.F. Martin Guitar company's headquarters and factory. Oh baby, was it ever worth the drive!

Linked from the Visit Us Page at www.martinguitars.com

There's plenty of guest parking right in front of the famous factory. Straight through those door and you're in the reception area where you'll be greeted and asked to sign in for your tour. The tours seem to run about every hour starting at 11:00 AM weekdays.

The reception area has a couple famous guitars on display, like the D-18 (#98611) Hank Williams bought in 1947.


There are also a couple amazing art pieces like this dragon themed instrument. Paul, I love my Santana III, but Martin has your Dragons beat.



There's also a lounge area where you can kick back and play some of the less fancy instruments in front of the "Martin Players Wall".


The real fun starts with the museum. As you walk in you're confronted with the D-100. Martin employees can buy 2 instruments a year at 50% off retail. Our tour guide offered to buy us one of these for $700,000. I think I could have negotiated him down to $650K.

Did you know Martin made zithers?
How 'bout Mandolins?
Everybody knows Tiny Tim was a Martin Artist Right?
Eventually they called our tour and about a dozen Martin fans assembled to meet our guide and get our radio headsets. After the usual warnings to stay inside the yellow lines and "DON'T TOUCH ANYTHING". We entered the factory. Ahead lay wonders!

Ready to ship
Construction Overview
We navigated around a few work stations and racks loaded with instruments to a hallway where our guide explained how Martin guitars are built, providing some background for what we'd see in the factory itself.

The largest part of the shop floor is dedicated to taking raw slabs of wood and turning them into shapes suitable for guitar building. If I'm remembering this scene correctly these are the machines that make the "book match" slices for tops and backs.

Book matched top blanks

Applying bracing
 Hand shaving the braces



The machine than makes the sides for most guitars is a cool laser system that makes 4 pieces at a time. The "Authentic" line of instruments are still cut by hand.


The sides are formed on large machines using steam and hot rollers. They're then cooled in frames like these.


After the sides are glued craftsmen (and women) apply a gluing strip, holding it in places with advanced hi-tech clamps.


Top and back are pressed onto the guitar body with a little heat to cure the glue quickly and evenly.

Neck Fitting
One of the most highly skilled jobs in the factory is neck fitting. Although at this point the neck is not glued in, the neck and body will stay together for the rest of the assembly process.

Binding cutters

Binding (and the rosette) are applied by hand and taped in place.

Sanding Booth
The first stage of finishing is done by hand. Each body is mounted on a special jig and and a worker lightly sands it. There are several stages of sanding before the instrument makes it to the spray booth and curing room.

Well, the factory was interesting, but the real fun begins in The Pickin' Parlor at the back of the 1833 shop. It's a smallish room with a bunch of higher end instruments almost none of which I can even imagine being able to buy.

D-18
The universal standard by which all "dreadnaught" style guitars are judged. Bright, articulate, loud. I was using an Adamas graphite pick which probably accentuated the highs a bit.

D-28 Authentic. 1931
"Warmer" tone than the D-18 but still plenty bright. I thought it was more responsive when playing finger style than the D-18. If I could only have one guitar this would be it. Played with the Adamas pick it was stunning, even with my lousy technique.

D-35
Even warmer than the D-28 Authentic. I seemed to have to dig in a little more when playing finger style but with the Adamas pick it was wonderful. I still admire the decorative aspect of the higher numbered Martins but that D-28 Authentic has converted me.

If you're ever withing 200 miles of Nazareth, PA you owe it to yourself and your descendants to come here and see where the best guitars on the planet are made.




Thursday, October 16, 2014

Zahav Kitchen Counter

View from the bar
So, last Tuesday afternoon I was browsing my Twitter feed and what should pop up but a notice that two spots were available for Wednesday night's Zahav Kitchen Counter. After about a 3 second discussion with Beth I snagged the seats (there are only four each week).

For any of my 5 or so readers who don't know Zahav, it's Michael Solomonov's flagship restaurant here in Philadelphia. He serves what is usually described as "modern Israeli cuisine". You can be the judge.

The meal is 10 courses (and a bit more) with an optional beverage pairing. We decided to go with the booze. Let this be a warning! If you show up much before the 7:00 PM seating you'll be tempted to have a happy hour drink at the bar. Do not do it! You've got what amounts to 7 or 8 full drinks coming. So let's get started...


Course 1: Chicken Liver Mousse, Concord Grape and Nigella Toast. The Concord grape droplets were incredibly concentrated - like that grape jelly everybody had as a kid times 1,000. This course was served with a "Cortado" Sherry - a very unusual choice for a first course but it paired well with the mousse. That was a full pour of the sherry and a hint at what was to come.


Course 2: This being a Solomonov restaurant, hummus should surprise no one. It's topped with a little crumbled merguez sausage and pine nuts. There was also a delightful fluffy fresh baked pita rather than Zahav's classic laffa. It was accompanied by Uinta's Hop Nosh IPA. That's one strong IPA that cut through the unctuous hummus wonderfully. (Half a bottle each)


Course 3: Pomegranate and Walnut Tabbouleh with marinated anchovies. Oh man, this was great. Served with Wyndridge Cranberry Cider (again, half a bottle each).



Course 4: Crispy Lamb's Tongue, Roasted Turnips, Sumac - sounds scary but was delicious. I'm not sure what was in the green tehina but the whole thing was great. This was served with the first full sized cocktail - a "Smashing Pumpkin"  made with rum infused with baharat.



Course 5: Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Cous-Cous, Herb Tehina. We love mushrooms. This was very good. Until we tasted Misfits Wine Co.'s The Golem Adelaide Hills Riesling. F*ck Me. Absolutely the best match of the night. Full pour, BTW as are all the wines.


Course 6: Kabocha Squash Soup, Brussel Kraut, Pepitas, Reggiano. Beth's #1 of the night. Served with a Manzanilla Sherry "Salty Dog" cocktail. Shaky picture courtesy C2H6O.



Course 7: My Favorite of the night. Simple crudo of Bronzino, tzatziki, apple granita and a little apple salad. Served with a Sicilian Cataratto - Grecanica blend. Delicious, but since I've had my head up elBulli 2005-2011 the last few months such a "simple" dish might need snazzier plating. The pieces of fish looked a little random and Morimoto might have something to say about the slicing.


Course 8: Beef: carpaccio, tartare, and a deep fried beef tongue stuffed olive. I loved it. Beth ran into a texture issue with the tartare. By now we're pretty much toasted. This came with a delicious, jammy Loire red from Domaine du Chapitre.


Course 9: Oh god, when will it end... Halibut Chaiwadge, Romanesco, Zhoug. Thank god I haven't passed out. This was wonderful. Another Loire wine,  the sparkling Monmousseau JM Blanc.


Course 10: Lamb Neck Tagine, Fig Jam, Pistachio Rice, Lam Jus. This dish alone would make a reputation. Perfect in every way. Served with an Israeli Bordeaux blend with some added Shiraz from a winery named something like Yato - my notes are very hard to read at this point...

But wait, there's more!


Pre Dessert in elBulli speak. That's pear sorbet, Sesame praline, and chestnuts (or maybe Turkish Hazelnuts). Served with a cocktail made with Arak, grenadine, grapefruit juice and whatever else I wrote down and can not read this evening.


Dessert. Served with mint tea thank God. Carrot Basboosa, Orange Blossom. Sachleb Labne, Hazelnut Praline. Basboosa is a semolina cake flavored with almost anything. The red things are poached cranberries and the white schmeer is whipped cream cheese with some sort of flavoring which I could probably make if I could remember it...

Bottom Line: Expensive. $90 per person plus $50 P/P for the drink pairing. Total $360.40 with tax and tip. Absolutely, 100% worth it. Probably the best value chef's tasting menu in Philadelphia.

Those of you who are already familiar with Zahav have probably noticed that none of the courses are offered on the regular menu. In a conversation after the meal we learned that the Kitchen Counter is used not only as a creative outlet for Chef Solomonov and the staff but as a test bed to perfect dishes that will appear on the regular menu in the future.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Cats Laughing, a Real Thing?


It seems plans are in progress for a Minicon 50  reunion show. Just how this will be organized has yet to be determined but all the original members are up for it. Meanwhile, here's another blast from the past.

This was a fun gig. We got to watch some of the Twin Cities "names" do their thing with the Cats sandwiched in between. As you can see from the date on the set list we'd just released the "basement tape" a few weeks earlier. For some reason we decided to do all original material (I think - you'll have to ask Adam about Cream Pie Blues).


Some of that material didn't last, but my recollection is that we performed well. Fran Courteau, Beth's dad, was there and took some pictures.

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