Planing and planning Featured

9:33am EDT July 22, 2002

Let me tell you about my home office.

Well, it's not really an office. It is, however, where I spend much of my time at home these days. And it's a place where I do work that is as challenging and rewarding as anything I've ever done for a living.

First, a little background. About 20 years ago, I came across a book that described how to build musical instruments. I already owned a few woodworking tools, so I decided I'd give guitar-building a try. A few months later, I had actually managed to put together a crude but remarkably good-sounding guitar.

Thus encouraged, over the following two years or so I built a few more, each one a little better than the last, although by no means a great instrument. Since then, however, I've done little more than dabble in it.

Last summer I visited the C.F. Martin Co. in Nazareth, Pa., the most esteemed builder of acoustic guitars in the world. After a tour of the factory, where the scents of freshly cut rosewood and mahogany teased my nose, I got the bug to build again.

This time, though, I decided that I needed to get my shop in order first. I laid out a floor plan to try to get the most out of the 11-by-15 space in my basement. I researched to find the right tools to outfit the tiny shop and reviewed my books on guitar-making.

I spent a day sharpening my old chisels, planes and knives. I trekked to stores well out of the way and pored over endless pages of catalogs and brochures. I built three new workbenches. I made patterns, jigs and guides to handle the specialized operations that building guitars requires.

I kept in mind that I was laying the foundation for not just the first instrument but for the second, the tenth and, if I get really good at this, perhaps the hundredth.

So far, things have gone really well, although I'm going to make some changes to the original plan. I've finally admitted to myself that the ugly brown cabinet that's been in the corner for who knows how many years should go. And I'm not real happy with the metal utility shelf units that I thought I could live with.

But the changes I've made will make those other things a lot easier to alter. I've got 300 percent more bench space and a lot more storage capacity, and it seems like I actually have more room to work, thanks to a better floor plan and relocation of a few things to the garage.

Two additional light fixtures and three more electrical outlets make things safer and more convenient. New power tools take some of the guesswork and drudgery out of the work.

In retrospect, I suspect, doing this isn't much different from building a business. I needed to have a vision of what I wanted to accomplish, a plan to implement it and the motivation to make it a reality. I needed a little cash and a lot of sweat equity. Lacking any of those, I probably wouldn't have accomplished anything close to what I've come up with. It's not Norm Abrams' shop, but, hey, I don't have my own television show.

I haven't finished my first guitar, so I can't judge the overall success of this venture. I got one surprise, though. The planning and the preparation to reach the ultimate goal turned out to be an end in itself.

I've learned firsthand what a lot of entrepreneurs have been telling me over the years: Getting there is at least half the fun. Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com), associate editor of SBN magazine, now is pursuing the other half of the fun. And don't worry; he's getting there. Wanna buy a guitar?