J. Rod McClellan
Luthier

 
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Handmade Instruments Built For The Musician
5558 E. Freedom Ln. Clinton, WI 53525 (608)365-2624
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I didn't come to lutherie by my own wits.  I truly believe it was a divine conspiracy, determined before I was born.  I've always been a musician, since I was young.  At 9 or 10 years old, I had taught myself to play basic guitar and accordion.  My uncle used to visit on weekends and would leave his guitar at our house, along with a Mel Bay book.  In my spare time, I would read it and figure out the notes and chord fingerings and do the lessons.  By the time my uncle would come the following week, I could play things he hadn't yet figured out.  That started my love of instrumental music.  Then, in 5th grade, I started playing french horn.  I learned how to really read music and was very good.  I also learned to play piano from doing my sister's lessons when she wasn't playing.  I love music and making music.  It was the late '60s and early '70 that really set my heart on the guitar finally.  More portable than a piano and more versatile than a french horn or accordion.  America, CSNY, Neil Young, Cat Stevens, James Taylor - these were the guys and this was the music.

Alas, my guitar playing skills weren't up to the task of being a way to make a living, but I've kept on plugging along for 40+ years playing.  I had to face the fact that my playing skills could never provide the means to make a living wage.  Thankfully, I have been blessed with the ability to do math and drawing (both artistic and technical), to understand mechanics and the skill to do precise work.  These all led me to take an apprenticeship as a mold maker, and ultimately to be trained as a mold design engineer.  I learned to do technical drawing with a drafting machine and pencil, and engineered many complex molds and die cast dies (the term used for molds used to mold molten metal - zinc, aluminum, etc.).  I was especially involved with automotive and consumer products, as well as closure molds.  These are the most complex types of molds, involving very complex shapes and mechanisms and, in the case of unscrewing closure molds, the ability to unscrew the parts from the mold as it opened.

I greatly enjoyed the trade for many years (20+), but as time passed, things changed.  I learned CAD, being involved with some of the first large CAD systems available (MacAuto - now Unigraphics, Computervision, etc.).  I was, and still am, very computer literate and was given responsibility to setup computer networks for several moldmakers, integrating design systems (CAD) with programming systems (CAM).  I even authored a piece of software to interface the engineering networks to the CNC machines on the floor, allowing a PC to replace the tape readers which used punched tape to store the machine code programs needed to cut large complex surfaces into the steel blocks which ultimately form the mold.  The size of the files would be so huge that the punched tape would not fit on the reels.  As a result, we would use 55 gallon steel drums on either side of the reader to hold the tape.  Many times these programs would cut unattended for 10 or 12 hours.  Putting a PC in place of the tape reader was a huge improvement.  CNC machines became the norm for almost all the cutting work, and eventually moved into every area of mold production.  I learned to surface model  (in the days before solid modeling) and solid model in CAD (using UG, SolidWorks, CadKey) and write CNC programs (using MasterCAM, SmartCAM, CT Esprit, PowerMill). I rarely had opportunity to be involved with any hands-on building anymore.  What had been a craftsman's trade had now become a technology trade.  I like technology, but it eliminates the need for any personal craftsmanship skills.  I won't go into it here, but this is the reason that much of the industrial strength which once belonged to the US alone, is now being practiced by developing countries.  Technology can be bought which allows unskilled workers to do work which was, not long ago, only able to be done by skilled craftsman.  Now, if a computer definition of something can be developed, such as a solid model, a machine exists which can duplicate that definition accurately in any number of materials (steel, wood, etc).

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