Max Krimmel is fortunate to have learned from an early age what the feeling of being a successful artist was like. At 8 years old, he won his first prize for a Halloween Kachina costume that included a spectacular headdress, leggings, and moccasins. “At age 12, he won first, second and third places in a 1960 Denver model car contest.
His prized vehicle was a reproduction of a maroon woody surfer wagon with velvet curtains and operational door handles (still a family heirloom), and two similarly outrageously appointed reproductions.” Says Max, “As an adult, I have not been able to repeat that act of sweeping all the places in a competition.”
Max likes to make things, all sorts of things. Often his creation begins with a new hobby such as playing the guitar. Shortly after he began playing the guitar, he wanted to build one. So Max enrolled in a class called “Build Your Own Peach Box Guitar”. At the time, peach boxes were discarded from the grocery stores after the peaches were stocked, so there was lots of available free material with which to practice building guitars.
By his third guitar, Max had moved on to higher quality woods, and from 1965-1982, he built 167 guitars for such notable musicians as Jerry Jeff Walker, Stephen Stills, David Bromberg, Bob Shane (of the Kingston Trio), Carla Sciaky, Mary Flower, Chuck Pyle, and Bonnie Carol. Max states that “he was doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time.”
He is being modest with that statement; if he didn’t have the incredible talent and skill that he has, no one would have paid attention to his guitars in the first place. Max crafted excellent quality acoustic guitars and musicians bought them.
Max Krimmel’s next “right place at the right time” came after he began wood-turning. “My first woodturning was an extension of my Lutherie work. The necks of my guitars were cut from a solid piece of Honduran Mahogany so every guitar neck cut created a nice, wedge-shaped, scrap. For some reason, I saved all the wedges. One day I did the obvious thing and glued some of these wedges into a solid block.
At about the same time, I became the caretaker of a 1950s vintage Craftsman lathe. I didn’t know what I was going to do with this big Mahogany pie, but the lathe and turning came to mind. Ultimately I scraped several plates out of wedge blocks. This was about 1973. It took about two years of guitar building to make enough wedges for a wedge plate. So after I had used up all of my available wedges I didn’t do much with the lathe except an occasional small piece from solid wood.”
The next step in Max’s woodturning took place a few years later, inspired by his partner, Bonnie Carol’s quiltmaking. His ample collection of interesting wood scraps ended up in Mondrian-like(photo) bowls. Max began turning alabaster in 1986 after watching Lee Carter do a quick demonstration of alabaster turning. Eventually, he abandoned the wood in favor of alabaster. “It’s hard to say exactly why, I liked the precision of alabaster and the homogeneity of the material.
I’d also seen quite a bit of beautiful wood in my life and the stone was new. There are still wood turnings I would like to make and if I live long enough I probably will.” says Max. In 1988 he sent slides of his work to the International Turned Objects Show and had five pieces accepted into the show two of wood and three of alabaster. It was quite a prestigious show, “I didn’t know the pieces were that good,” says Max.
From June 1999-July 2000, Max Krimmel had one of his lathe-turned-alabaster vessels on display at the Smithsonian Institute’s Renwick Gallery in Washington, D.C. The piece is now a permanent part of the Smithsonian collection. This was the second time that he was honored to have his artwork in an exhibit at the Smithsonian.
The first was in 1979 when one of his hand-crafted guitars was a part of the Harmonious Craft: 20th Century Musical Instruments exhibit. Max’s work is also in art collections of the Hoyt Institute of Art in New Castle, PA, Boeing Aircraft, the Denver Art Museum, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
While having your work displayed in such a prestigious gallery as the Smithsonian is an unbelievable honor, visitors don’t necessarily equate the exhibit to someone who is trying to make a living selling such pieces. The most challenging part of his work is marketing. Max, like all of us, still needs to market his work and make a living. Max’s pieces are available in fine art galleries throughout the country as well as through his website. maxkrimmel.com
Max belongs to the Association of Professional Woodturners and has taught at several symposiums. He loves to create and also loves to see how people react to what he creates. He writes tutorials and posts them for free download on his website. Max embodies the artistic process of perfecting your creation and then moving over to the next plateau. He currently plays in a marimba band and as a result, builds marimbas.
Of his bass marimba building process: “The idea for this bass originally came to me at Zimfest ’99, while looking at the beautiful balafons made by Marimba One. These instruments, which have roots in traditional balafons, look like a warped marimba, the ends lift, and the center is depressed.
The balafons were great fun to play, the mallets seemed to bounce back over the bars, and with just a bit of vector correction land on another note – cool. I’d been thinking about bass for Chimanimani. Why not a bass balafon? Ugh! What a mechanical nightmare, well maybe just a bit of bend to it, or maybe bend it in the horizontal plane rather than the vertical plane. Hmm, that would waste a lot of space, …. unless I were to make the bars wedge-shaped, …. would wedged-shaped bars even work? …. the frame would then be a big curve,
And that would be a lot of trouble to make. So the idea just sat there, I made some drawings but kept getting stuck on an easy way to make the frame. There are lots of ways to bend wood, but all of them seemed like too much trouble. Then I thought of an easy way to make a form and my fate was sealed. I had a two-week window in Oct. ’99, I thought that would be enough time. OK, I would build that bass.
If it worked – great, we’d have a bass. If it didn’t work I’d have some interesting and expensive firewood. Now, months after that two-week window, I’m still tweaking the bass, other projects are getting embarrassingly late or have been scrapped entirely. Are there no twelve-step programs for bass-building addicts?”
“So, to either spare others the trouble or perhaps create more members for the BBA (Bass Builders Anonymous), I offer the following information,” says Max: maxkrimmel.com
Max Krimmels Top 10 Tools
1. Rockwell Uniplane – 30 years old
2. Rockwell Disk and Belt Sander
3. Rockwell Bandsaw
4. Rockwell Thickness sander
5. Lathe – the workhorse for turning
6. Craftsman Lathe – the first lathe given to him
7. Radial Arm Saw
8. Hercules Dust Collection System
table saw, joiner, planer, and mortiser
9. Various hand tools