Four years ago Oola and I traveled to the tiny luthier shop of Wildcard Guitars in Oakland, CA. Since then Wildcard (Steve Card) has moved to Port Angeles, WA ( where the world is clean, quiet, friendly, affordable, spacious, polite, smart, beautiful, uncrowded, capable, curious…) and he opened his shop there. Here’s a peek.
Here’s the other side of the show room, with Port Angeles Chamber of Commerce doing a ribbon cutting. Oola was fascinated by those big sharp scissors. No one seemed to mind.
One of Steve’s Canadian neighbors brought by a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of champagne in welcome. The champagne was soon polished off, but the flowers seem to catch the eyes of passersby, so Steve continues the habit. People like their flowers here. Hard to grow tomatoes though.
Moving right along, there is much more room for Steve to work.
Above is a neck and fingerboard for a new commission. You see the slot carved out for the truss rod.
Because of the rain and humidity Steve built an 8ft. x 8ft. “box” inside his workshop to keep his wood from distorting, and to get good glue joints. He demonstrated how the Go Bars might be used to glue a bridge to a guitar top (you have to imagine the top).
Steve has so much space now he calls it “Palatial!”.
If you ever travel to the area, you can find the Wildcard shop at
This mysterious collection of guitar pieces limped through the door begging for help. Wildcard of Wildcard Guitars checked it out and was asked “What the Hayl is that?” “Should we just turn this into a 6-string guitar”? But the Wildcard noticed that the neck was off center and tipped. The instrument was well-made of Brazilian Rosewood (a rare commodity now) with good materials all around. It deserved respect.
You see a white wired LED light that Oola gave to Wildcard so he could see what’s going on inside. He could see that there were broken braces inside. At this stage Wildcard was involved with detective work: “How did this happen and how can I reverse the process?” “What are the weaknesses of the design and how much modification/reinforcement can I ethically do and still represent this as an antique?” So Wildcard sent some photos off to Gregg Miner of the Harpguitar Foundation. Gregg is a collector, player, promoter, scholar, and maven of Harp guitar — The guy to ask. And he said “It’s a Dahlman theorbo guitar, and it will be worth it.” The Wildcard explained to Oola that Theorbo means there are extra bass strings on the guitar. Wildcard didn’t know what would support the extra strings. He thought the brace might be made out of wood, but Gregg showed him that in reality a stainless steel tube was the historically correct replacement.
In the middle of this repair, the Wildcard was called away to Port Angeles, Washington, to find a place for his new workshop. He found this space, a couple of blocks from the ferry to Victoria BC. The bottom three lower windows on the left will be the new Wildcard Guitar pickin’ parlour. The three window cluster next to the center door will be Dove Studio. Once back in West Oakland, the Wildcard resumed his repair. Here the broken pieces are replaced and glued, and the binding restored and replaced. Here it is with its stainless steel reinforcing tube. Here it is finished with strings, ready to play. Its sound has a shimmering quality because of the sympathetic bass strings. This is a guitar from the time of Debussy and the sound is reminiscent of the music of that period. This instrument was used as the bass in the mandolin orchestras which were popular at the turn of the 20th century. Classical music was played on this type of instrument. Segovia played and recorded the same music on 6-string guitars. Segovia became famous because of the recordings. And today, Oola notes, most guitars are of the 6-string variety.
Here’s Mickie Zekley, owner of Lark in the Morning. (The WildCard and I used to love visiting his shop of odd musical instruments in San Francisco.) Here he is in the WildCard shop with his newly restored theorbo guitar. You can hear him playing 30 seconds of his own composition at https://vimeo.com/111315643. The clip gives a good idea of what this instrument sounds like.
You haven’t heard from me because I’m busy turning graphic designers, artists, small business owners, and other assorted students into users of Cascading Style Sheets on the Web. ‘Nuff said.
Shortly before Spring break, the Wild Card/Mysterious One, Oola, and I decided we needed a break.
Oola and I dropped the Mysterious One off in More Music in Santa Cruz. There he delivered a restored Gibson and a beautiful new WildCard original guitar. The latter he made out of a piece of an old mahogany table he found in a ghetto pile. They sure knew how to make wood in those days! This new guitar plays “like buttahhh” and sings like both an angel and a vamp. The antique Gibson plays great now, too.
Then Oola and I drove east over the hills into Steinbeck country, and the land of the Salinas people and the Chumash people, on to Santa Monica to visit Hiromi’s once again. The fun thing about driving a long trip is that you get to let your mind off its tether to wander purposeless among the hills, the sky and asphalt.
Now the trick is not to let the mind wander too much, or you do what I did – drive Hwy 101 north instead of south – for many stubborn miles. The lady in the black box kept saying “Recalculating”, “Turn Around”, “Recalculating”, “U Turn” in the most annoyingly patient voice. And I knew she was wrong, until I found out she was right.
I saw a sign for Aromas. That reminded me of all the many times I traveled Hwy 101 in my red Datsun station wagon, which I had purchased with the $300 remaining from graduate school. One mechanic friend took a look at it, shook his head, and declared it a sick little car. I clearly remember one long stop in Aromas. Just me and my young daughter, K., in the gas station parking lot, waiting for help. We happened to have some plasticine clay. I entertained K. by making small blue ducks and lining them up on the dashboard. When there was a long enough line of ducks in a row, I entertained myself by making a fist and smashing the little blue ducks one by one. K. made up stories to go with the game until my Bro arrived with a new alternator.
Then there was another time in Greenfield. I was alone, it was getting dark, the car acted funny, I pulled off Hwy 101 and made the mistake of turning the engine off. After a while, a CHP man pulled up. I told him that if I could just get it to start, my car would run. So – miracle of miracles – he positioned his power car behind mine and gave me a push. The valiant little Datsun coughed into life and got me the rest of the way home. I have never been able to thank that man. So if you’re out there, consider yourself hugged.
Then ….. should I tell you about the time K. looked out the back of the red Datsun and asked me if there should be smoke and fire coming out of the back wheel? Uh…no.
Where else did my mind roam off Hwy 101? I accidentally put a lot of cinnamon in the coffee for the thermos that morning. The taste was almost of incense behind the nose.
Paso Robles, and the beautiful Oak trees of California! Mission San Miguel.
Somewhere there is a black and white picture of two cousin-waifs puppy-posing in front of the Mission entrance. The entrance is still there, looking much the same. The children are gone – K. to Dallas, a family, and a waitress job, M. to San Diego, a family, and a mucky-muck job in a huge software corporation.
In the long lost B&W photo they are still the same, the rollicking birthday party kids in the back of the red Datsun, distracting me so that I did not see the “No U Turn” sign at the intersection – and I got pulled over – and the cop approached my window — and the two children suddenly became earnestly well behaved – and I explained about the noise and the birthday party at McDonalds – and the cop looked at the solemn bug-eyed kids in the back seat ………… and he let me go!!! Funny how things turn out.
Before he became a very good mucky-muck, M. became a teenager. With the consent of his parents, I gave M. the red Datsun. He and the Mysterious One worked on that poor little car and rung a couple of thousand more miles out if it — until M. thought it would be cool to have a sun-roof…………….
Cruise control on 70, I watched thick clouds forming to the south above Hwy 101. The day before I had watched terrifying news videos of clouds swirling down out of a black sky over Dallas. The tornado tossed big rigs along its path and ripped roofs off houses. I phoned K. She was shaken but her family was ok.
There is a billboard on the side of Hwy 101. In a huge font it tells you there are 65 miles to “Win Country”. I puzzled over the spelling mistake. I was traveling through a land which is very good for vineyards, a growing Wine Country. Several miles later there is a billboard with the same spelling mistake, and the word “Chumash”.
Chumash…Chumash. My brain came up with only the great and ancient and vandalized paintings found in sacred places in the land of the Chumash people indigenous to this part of California. Long ago I visited one of these sites, a horseshoe shaped outcropping in the grasses of the Carrizo plains to the east of San Luis Obispo. I marveled at the quality and power of the overlaid paintings and drawings on the limestone walls. And I marveled at the despicable arrogance of the people who scratched their names over the paintings and used the drawings of suns and dreams for rifle practice, an action akin to the burning of libraries or to the unspeakable attack of the Taliban on the Buddhas of Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
There is a limestone cave in the hills above Santa Barbara. The Chumash paintings in that cave are now protected by a heavy iron gate.
As you gaze into the darkness of this cave the paintings slowly and almost magically emerge from their limestone walls. After a long, hard look I broke the spell with a flash — just for you, dear readers.
So, back to the bill boards and “Win Country, Chumash”. There was a word missing, and I finally acknowledged it — “Casino”. “Win Country, Chumash Casino”. What mixed feelings I got! Almost as if the big disks in the paintings were turned into roulette wheels.
But the main strand is this. The ancient Chumash who painted these spectacular paintings and the Chumash of the 21st century were and are REAL people, not romanticized ideals. We are all human puzzles of mixed characteristics and motivations. And the Chumash, like other native peoples, had gaming as part of their culture long before the Spanish showed up. Known for her ironic sense of humor, Oola says that given the history of disease, enslavement and Christianity dropped onto the Chumash people, somehow the billboards seem to advertize sweet revenge.
More about the Santa Monica part of this trip in the next post.
Starting at beginning of the Trip to Berkeley posts:
When you come to Wildcard Guitars (formerly known as Mr. Rioso Guitars), you will recognize it by this clever sign. Ring his bell and be taken upstairs to his loft shop. It seems very cramped, but the Wildcard says there are many luthier shops in the world which are much smaller and produce much more.
The Wildcard has built a tiny humidity controlled room. The ceiling is so low that the Wildcard discovered he could convert the room and a desk into a Go Bar clamping system thereby avoiding the costly and space-wasting piece of equipment currently available to luthiers.
His Wildness makes stringed instruments, mostly guitars, according to client requests. But his favorite past time is working up experimental (crack-pot) guitar ideas. Since pictures are stronger than words:
Here is Carlos Oliveira, local Chorro giant, happy camping with his new pro-sete guitar. This was an Oliveira/Wildcard collaboration specially built for travel between here and Brazil on airplanes. Carlos plays this guitar when there are lots of drums, and he needs to play loud, and he doesn’t want feedback. It has RMC pickups so he can get a great acoustic guitar sound and synthesizer sounds at the same time on his custom 7-stringer.
Larry’s favorite color is purple, so Wildcard made the fingerboard, bridge, and other incidental parts of this Dionysian model solid body guitar out of Purple Heart wood.
Oola likes and endorses Wildcard Guitars.
You may have seen the above national ad campaign earlier. She brought her Cubist 2.5 in for some custom work.
Wildcard also repairs guitars. This Russian 7-String gypsy guitar came into the shop in many small pieces and a few well preserved large chunks. Here it is restored. It plays beautifully. It needs a home. Does anyone know any 150 year old Russian Gypsy’s who might want a restored 150 year old Russian Gypsy guitar?
Little known factoid: Yul Brenner played one of these.
Wildcard had a little bit of wood left over from a seven-string project, and only five of the six parts needed to make another guitar. Never one to waste, he made a 5-string mando from the scraps. It is 70% as big as a regular Dionysian model. Oola designed the reduction on the computer. It’s the perfect Oola sized instrument.
If you want to find out more about Wildcard Guitars, try www.wildcardguitars.net. You can email him for an appointment, a phone number, a seance. (He’ll tap your guitar to hear the voices!)
I’m back from a road trip and supposed to be working on developing my new online class “Advanced CSS” at BCC. But I’m still fired up from Sonora, and putting the finishing touches on this image is so much more fun.
It’s just what I do, mucking about in Photoshop, putting Oola in sometimes awkward situations in Western Art History. Some of you, gentle readers, may be familiar with the 17th century paintings of Artemesia Gentileschi. One of my photos got in the way of the action here, and I am so grateful. Oola however had a grand time working on some of her anger issues.
If you are not familiar with the paintings of Artemisia Gentileschi (she was a rock star of 17th century Europe), look her up.
Off again in the ubiquitous-blue Prius with Mom’s Memorial Chihuahua in the back window, this time to reunite with Morro Rock on the central coast of California. Actually, Oola doesn’t remember Morro Rock, as she has been only a packet of plastic clay until recently, at least in geological terms.
She was fascinated by seagulls and spent some time mothering a youngster.
Also fascinated by Peregrine Falcons
Please excuse that she did not know about the prohibition on climbing to their nesting sites on the rock.
Mr. Rioso’s guitars
Part of the trip was to get Mr. Rioso’s guitars into the hands of some guitarists and guitar dealers who will recognize their fine craftsmanship and easy playability. To that end we visited More Music in Santa Cruz and left three guitars there where you can see and play them. One is Mr. Rioso’s acoustic jazz guitar, an original take on a traditional floating bridge guitar design. Here is Oola playing it on the beach.