Triggers : various inspirations.


Cameras and Guitars

I love old machines.

I think I've managed to cure myself of the guitar collecting bug ( by learning to make them instead ), however my love of analog photography ( we used to just call it 'photography' ) has resurfaced.

Here's my current favourite : a Kodak Panoram model 1d.

Built somewhere between 1908 and 1920 something, I can confidently call it 'around a hundred years old'.

It uses film that is still readily available and worked a treat the first time I loaded it up.

The Panoram cameras were a product of fin de siecle USA. Panoramic images were a popular way to depict the broad landscapes of the expanding American West or to show group shots of people or street scenes in the big cities. Visit any museum and you'll see images created by these Kodaks or their contemporaries.

This camera has a simple cigar-box style construction with a 'swing lens' - a spring-loaded moving lens which paints a band of light across an 18cm long negative ( giving 4 images per roll of 120 film ).

Wye River, Victoria. A year after the fires.

Just down the road from my workshop, Yarraville, Victoria.

*Note the distortion caused by tilting the camera and it's curved film-plane away from the horiontal. Many panoramic cameras have a small spirit-level built in to the body to combat this, but hey, I'm a guitarist, I enjoy a nice slice of distortion.

There are comparisons to be drawn between our beloved, old musical instruments and hi-fis, driven by valves ( vacuum tubes for my friends accross the pond ) and the archaic, clockwork and chemical processes of analog photography. I'm working on a nice long article detailing the overlap between these obsessions. In the meantime, I think of this NewYorker cartoon everytime I develop black and white film in the laundry sink or load an ancient, valve bass amp up a flight of stairs.




some chairs 











When Is A Triangle Not A Triangle ?

The overlap of three circles as shown below forms the simplest polygon of constant width : a reuleaux triangle.

Useful if you are designing coins to allow use in vending machines alongside more conventional circular coins.

Or a little closer to home - a guitar pick with a symetrical shape - easier to orient in the hand without stopping to look.

What form can possibly replace the circle for a manhole cover without falling in to the manhole itself should it be misaligned ?

Shown here in the streets of San Fransisco.

And with slight modification the geometric simplicity and strength of the Reuleaux Triangle forms the piston for the Wankel Rotary engine - patented in the 1920s and perfected in post war Germany. These engines provided a soundtrack to my youth in the Australian suburbs, the bark of little mazda sedans climbing the Brisbane hills and seemingly never changing gears ...


Not leading anywhere particularly useful in guitar design today - other than a lovely shape for some control covers with symmetry in more than one axis and echoes of past engineering conundrums.

One of my favourite tangents to this story is the development by a small US toolmaker, ( still extant and manufacturing without a website ) Watts Brothers Toolworks of Wilmerding, Pennsylvania of the square drill assembly. 

If a cutting tool in the form of a the realeaux triangle is allowed to rotate and it's 'centre' to move freely within the constraints of a hollow shaft ( a 'floating' chuck ) it will trace the outline of a perfect square ( give or take the fine points at each corner. )

I always knew such tools existed but didn't realise the connection to the Reuleaux Polygon until recently.

And finally to illustrate what a shape of constant width can do when extrapolated into the third dimension - here's a 3 dimensional version : as the reuleaux triangle is to the circle, this form is to the sphere, having less mass but providing constant support.



Time and Design 

Parallel universes and sliding scales.

By 1963 guitar manufacturers in USA were gearing up towards their peak output of 1966 - the year that electric guitars hit the Christmas stockings and teenage paper-round hire purchase hitlist like never before. Germany, already in the grip of it's 'beat-guitar' boom was pumping out Höfner and Framus et al solid-body guitars ( see just how many 1962 or 63 dated Höfners appear for sale to this day - plucked from the attics and cellars of european houses ) and many of my favourite guitar designers and makers the world over were enjoying a boom. Australia's own Maton had it's golden-era flagship - the Fyrbyrd in the hands of antipodean garage bands and country singers.

Sometimes however I like to wind the focus back a little from musical instruments to look at design in other parallel worlds.

Here's Raymond Leowy's landmark design for Studebaker, the 1963 Avanti.

... and Australia's own EJ Holden ( my father's first car, proudly picked up from the Darwin Holden dealership ) from the same model-year.

This Holden was a big deal in Australia's market when introduced the previous year, following the requisite three to four years behind the US parent company General Motors' move from the bulbous 'fendered' body shapes of the 1950s to this conservative version of the sleek slab sided rectilinear look.

One of these cars represents an unfiltered, bold move designed to save a company from ruin through innovative design, the other an incremental update tailored to a small, conservative market by a major player in the car industry.

I always enjoy these moments when worlds collide and overlap. Guitar history is full of such contrasts of course. The Stratocaster, surely the most conventional, ubiquitous shape in electric guitars today, was once a science fiction statement, straight out of left field and into the musical mainstream within months of it's release then juxtaposed against the traditional 'guitar shaped' guitars on stages and television performances.

Another of my favourite such 'overlaps' occurs when looking at vintage photographs of Modern Architecture, especially domestic houses from the likes of Frank Lloyd Wright or his Australian acolyte Walter Burley Griffin with a ( then ) contemporary car parked in the driveway or carport of a particular piece of timeless architecture. Spotting a sombre 1930s saloon in the drive of an ageless modernist, cantilevered masterpiece building always rings a jarring note. The unfiltered vision of the architect meets a product of it's own time, subject to the restrictions of mass production and often a result of 'design by committee'.




Espressway To My Skull

Yes folks, I do love a good cup of coffee ... I'll say that again "I do love a GOOD cup of coffee"

My fascination with mid-century industrial design dovetails nicely into that obsession with crema. The same gleaming metals and lacquers that I love on a fine guitar found their way into dressing up the mysterious inner workings of that astonishing post-war Italian device - the espresso machine.



Many of my current fascinations are fueled by images of these machines.

The contrast between materials - chrome, moulded resins and plastics, aluminium with textured, machined surfaces, back-printed plastic and glass sheet, logos floating above fields of lacquered metal etc etc

Each machine betrays it's designer's thought process - whether to allow form to follow function or to drape functional parts in sparkling science-fiction materials.

Cheers, AP