WHO IS BART BLANKENSHIP?
LUTHIER, ADVENTURER, & MAD SCIENTIST
After I was finished being a nuclear engineer in the Navy, I served 25 years with Outward Bound empowering people of all ages in the wilderness. My motto consisted only of two words: "Go outside". After all, that's where I could work with you through your fears rappelling off a cliff, kayaking whitewater, or navigating at night through the Everglades.
On these adventures I often brought along my fiddle, ukulele, or wood flute, and added a musical touch to canyon sunrises, evening campfires, and calm anchorages. The flutes I started building after one blew up when my co instructor let go of the rope she was lowering my backpack with. It fell 160 feet! I was glad I had carried my fiddle on that rappel. But eventually, rafting, a student sat on it. My ukuleles also have suffered in travel.
All this led to me repairing my instruments. Then I found out there was an entire sub-culture of instrument builders using garbage and up-cycling used materials like cigar boxes, shovels, axes, and oars to make electric guitars.
If anyone is in doubt, look up Justin Johnson, shovel guitar on the web.
Getting back to my motto. One day after playing a tiny guitar I'd made, bending and sliding the notes, I started to feel chemicals being released in my body similar to to what I'd feel after a long run or hike. A great sense of well being came over me.
Ever since then, I've taught anyone I could how to build and play these instruments. After interviewing to lead a workshop on guitar building at the VA in Bay Pines, Florida, I found it hard to leave since so many Vets in the hallway would come up and ask, "Is that a guitar?"
And in response, I'd set my tiny amp down and bust out some Skynard and Seger. Vets came over in wheelchairs, smiles on their faces. The floor manager said I could come play anytime.
And if it was my last day, I'd love nothing more than sitting down with those folks, playing familiar songs, and watching them smile.