Client: Joi Guitars
Equilibrium Wednesday April 29th 2015 Ross Bodenmann
JOI Guitars new “Equilibrium” embodies the spirit of struggle. The carefully selected materials chosen for the instrument closely mirrors the Luthier’s relationship with his estranged father. It’s a story of pain, addiction, failure and the ambition to overcome. This guitar is the result of two men “facing their demons”, the determination to win the war while discovering beauty in the process. This is the latest instrument from Luthier Reuben Forsland of JOI Guitars who has received recent acclaim for his “The One Tree” build created for rock and roll legend Slash.
True to JOI Guitars fashion the Equilibrium is unorthodox yet refined. The face of the guitar is reclaimed old growth Sitka Spruce once used as a log boom along the Alaskan coast. The log was burrowed through by a Toredo Clam forming natural rosette holes that the luthier says reflects the effects of addiction that chewed through his father. After a seven year silence Reuben had found his dad in a homeless shelter in downtown Calgary Alberta. Reuben’s own marriage had recently dissolved and he admits he was in search of meaning and connection. “It wasn’t the happiest time of my life and I was out of balance… you start to want to reconnect with things that are missing in your life. There was nothing left to lose, I was losing everything anyway so it was a good time to try to dig out some demons and go see if I could find my dad, to see if I could start putting some things back together. I took him out of the shelter for a while and he told me, ‘whatever you do, don’t smoke crack, right now I can feel it eating holes in my brain.’ ” Reuben explains that in his earlier years his father once had an IQ that certified him as a genius, yet he now watched as his father lost his mind to a chemical onslaught. “But that’s where the inspiration came from,” Reuben continues “That one sentence. ‘I can feel it eating holes in my brain.’ ”
Suffering from alcoholism and an ongoing crack addiction took much from Roland Forsland and his family yet Reuben is resolved that pain has a purpose in producing inspiring, beautiful instruments. He speaks fondly of his legacy and the inspiration his father has been to him. “The crack addict wasn’t the only guy I knew, seven years before that he was helping me build my second home. When I was four or five years old he had brought us to construction sites with him… he was a brick layer by trade, that’s the construction side of me, that’s where this all came from.” Reuben says as he shows me around his studio.
“That’s the Apple Wood. Growing up with my dad.” Reuben tells me as he begins to describe the story of balance behind the Equilibrium Guitar. “He always loved listening to records. The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, CCR… but our family album was this Johnny Appleseed record. He’d always play the story and we’d sing along” Reuben recounts fondly, “I didn’t want to build this guitar of only one side of my dad, there was another part of my life with him that was positive, that was as powerful as the drug addiction.” Gravenstein Apple Wood grown on Vancouver Island and fell by Reuben himself was used for the back and sides of the instrument and was bound with South American Blood Wood.
Reuben relates the blood wood to the inseparable biological bond between father and son. The material and the metaphor are fused as Reuben explains that the fragility of the blood wood was also a conscious connection to his father and to the human condition. “Like us, blood wood can be broken easily” Reuben muses.
Speaking of his creative process inspired by painful experience Reuben reconciles that “There’s beauty in it and a lot to be learned from it. In that sense I’ve connected the disfigured, eaten top with the beauty in the sides and back. It’s not the standard, that’s not where you usually put a rosette hole, it’s scattered, it’s different and beautiful in it’s own right. The build itself was a challenge, like my dad… Apple Wood is a difficult wood to work with. (Reuben laughs) just like him. The sound is reminiscent of an arch top for me” Reuben continues, “Full, clear, strong but not a lot of projection.” “It comes and goes fast. Enjoyable, reflective but temporary”
He laughs again as he compares the musical characteristics of the instrument to his father’s human experience. “You have to enjoy what it is and what it isn’t… it’s intimate. As a person plays it they can reflect on themselves and how their own parts connect with the instrument and find their own story in it. What they are and what they are not… It’s a reflective piece of a period in my life. This build was about using my past as inspiration. On a whole he (Reuben’s Father) had a positive effect on the things around him. To be drunk and high until two or three in the morning and then get up and go to work the next day, work all day just to get high again, I don’t know how he survived, but he survived. I don’t have a lot of great inspirational stories about doing things with him, so I found things, I had to. He’s my dad.” Catharsis comes as Reuben Forsland conceptualizes a build. “It’s a place of healing for me in here, being away from the shop is like being away from something I need. It’s where I’m supposed to be.”
The story, the wood and ultimately the sound is the reconciliation of Reuben’s struggle. In this case Equilibrium is an honest portrayal of the luthier’s vulnerability. Pain redeemed into a form of resurrection. Resolution found in the finalizing of the instrument. As Reuben explains thus guitars’ meaning is not limited to his estranged relationship with his father. The instrument celebrates what some would call deficits as purposeful and critical features; it’s an honest rendition of brokenness remade, not only whole but spectacular in its imperfection. As Reuben strikes the balance, “It’s as much about what it is as what it is not.”