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
The smell of French Polish lingers in the studio, and The WildCard has finished a second Octave mandolin. This is the sister of Octave Mando 1 which currently can be seen at Thin Man Strings, in Alameda, CA.
Octave Mando front
Octave Mando, back
Octave Mando tail piece
Octave mando side
A click on any picture will lead to an enlarged version. Right click on the slide show images above for enlargements.
Today we travel out to Lafayette to Mighty Fine Guitars to try to find a home for this dark beauty.
This time the three of us will travel by BART. It’s a smooth, comfy ride out of the big city into suburbs tucked into the rolling green hills. It will get hotter’n Hades this summer, but today is a beautiful California spring day.
A short walk from the Lafayette BART station is a place for some of the finest handcrafted guitars you will ever experience.
None of the testosterone induced, amplifier busting Wha-Wha of other guitar stores I have had the misfortune to enter. Everything here is centered on the beautiful woods and sounds of individually hand built acoustic guitars. The store is a treat to the eye, and the guitars are works of art.
Stevie Coyle is a musician, teacher, and the owner of this wonderful little store. Here he is, listening to the tones of Mr. WildCard’s octave mando.
I love the look musicians get when they are checking out a sound. It is like the look my students used to get when they learned to remove all impediments to actually Seeing the object they were drawing – all the protective veils pulled away – it was like they allowed their eyes to become vulnerable. In the musician I can see the direct connection they have to the sound of the instrument they are fondling. And it is a beautiful thing.
The treat in the guitar store is to (first ask permission) take a guitar off the wall and admire in from every angle, then play it. Here is Oola with an eye-popper named “Cubist” from Michael Dunn, of Canada. Notice how the sound hole is in two parts. And – I loved this – there is a long skinny sound “hole” on the back which is made from overlapping layers of wood.
In this store it is not surprising to have some of the greats among the instrument makers show up. On this particular day Butch Boswell came into town from San Luis Obispo.
Here you see that look again. Butch plays the mando beautifully, and this instrument jumped to life in his hands. Below Butch listens to an exquisite little parlor guitar made of maple by John How from Cool, CA.
It is hard to leave the sights and sounds of a great guitar shop, but we had to head home. If you wish to see and/or try out Mr. WildCard’s octave mando, or the other fine instruments, visit Mighty Fine Guitars, Wed-Sun 11 am – 7 pm,
On the way back we stopped at the Crosses of Lafayette protest site. In 2006, as we were discovering how many American men and women were dying in Iraq, Jeffrey Heaton and volunteers began hammering memorial crosses into this hillside owned by Louise Clark. Islamic Crescents and Stars of David joined the crosses. This war protest suffered vandalism in the horrible days when to question the whole debacle was to be “disloyal”, but the protesters restored it. Now, as Americans are being moved away from that particular mode of violence named the Iraq War, the project remains to remind travelers on BART and on Hwy 24 of the 6,702 who died.
The Lafayette crosses from BART
The Lafayette Crosses, and Crescents, and Stars of David
In the McArthur BART station, the flower vendor reminds me that there is still hope for us humans.
We tried to visit Fort Ross on the northern California Coast last year only to find that the park is closed during the week. This time all was perfect.
Fort Ross was established by the Russians to harvest (steal) sea otter pelts and grow wheat for their Alaskan colonies. They brought Native Alaskans (slaves) who knew how to hunt sea otters. The Alaskans hunted with kayaks and atlatls so that they could sneak up on the otters. One shot from a Russian gun would have chased all sensible otters in the area away.
Oola and the Wild Card learned how to throw the atlatl from Ranger Hank.
What is an atlatl you ask. It’s an ancient weapon, found all over the world, which makes it possible to throw a projectile verrry far, verrry fast, so as to acquire dinner.
The Wild Card used his luthier’s skills to make one when he got home. Ancients would have used stone tools. The Wild One is not qualified on stone tools. He used his band saw.
Some atlatls have very long, sproingy dart shafts. The shaft on this version is short, as were those of the Aleuts, so that they could be manageable in a kayak. It’s also thick because it came from a hardware store instead of from a tree branch.
Note the elegant feathers. The Wild One did not have any feathers, so — the geese being unwilling — he used masking tape. Feathers are necessary to drag the rear end and make the sharp end go straight to the target. He put the nut on the tip to add weight and to make the pointer end of the dart less dangerous.
The Aleut’s atlatl would have a detachable sharp head which would lodge itself in the seal or sea otter and kill it. And the detachable point was connected by a piece of string to a toggle which could get caught in the kelp. Or to a float so that the hunter would know where the animal was and pull it out of the ocean.
The Wild One says throwing with the atlatl is an extension of his fast ball throw. He thinks that you can use your baseball or rock throwing skills to gain accuracy pretty fast.
Oola thinks it is pretty cool.
Her form is very good already. She found the shoes necessary because of the resident geese — who were not much impressed with the whole exercise.
Back in Fort Ross, Oola and I had petted a sea otter pelt. I have never felt fur so silky or soft. Those critters paid a high price for their valuable beauty. They were nearly made extinct in the 19th century.
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!)
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.