Tuesday, July 21, 2015

TAS……tool acquisition syndrome?

Lately, I’ve been enjoying finding and buying tools at various markets and car boots. I’ve become a little disillusioned by the poor quality of many of the new tools that you see around, so to get hold of something that is old,  has had some light use and can be restored and put back into use is a far better way to go. I’ve mentioned the cutters that I use for fret wire before and these were made by Starrett in 1889!
So a few recent purchases……
Never been a great fan of Surforms or approve of using tools as “object d’art” but a couple of weeks ago, I saw this lovely vintage cast one and couldn’t resist it for 50p!
Sunday yielded a particularly good haul: I’ve been after an angle plate for a while and stumbled across this one which is the perfect size for my pillar drill and for the components that I want to drill into.
The same guy had this unused reamer which is perfect for opening up end pin holes to take jack-sockets.
 And these; nos Abrafile blades, I haven’t seen these around for at least 10 years, great for the ramps on steel-string bridges and slotting nuts for heavy gauge strings.
Who could resist this tool box in “Snap-On” red…………….
.......not quite sure what I’ll use it for, but at the moment it’s a happy companion for the vintage CK box that I bought a while ago!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Pin Point Capos?

In a previous post about the mandocello, I mentioned pin point capos. This is a custom feature that Jonathan specified; the idea being that individual “capos” can be screwed directly into the fretboard, stopping the pairs of strings at the required fret to allow for a variety of open tunings.
It appears that there are very few instruments around with these devices, so as far as I 'm concerned there is no right, wrong or should I say established way!
So, from first principles…..
The fretboard has to have a threaded hole, in order to take the screws, but even ebony would not be resilient enough, so a nut has to be inserted into the ‘board. In order to get the nut in the correct position, it can only be fitted once the mandocello has been set-up.
The nut also needs to be as large as possible, so that there is the maximum possible depth to the thread. This, however, is governed by the space between the strings- it so happens that on this instrument, a M2.5 screw fits with minimal disturbance to the alignment of the strings.
So after a trial............


...................... the fretboard had to be drilled, a nut inserted and then filled over. 

After looking at many different types of fixings, I decided to use button head socket screws. They do not have any sharp edges and sit quite low, so they should have minimal interference with Jonathan's playing and as importantly not inflict any injury, if accidentally caught by a stray finger! They’re also made from stainless steel (as are the nuts) so that they will not corrode in contact with sweaty fingers.
The next choice was for the material which comes into contact with the strings and presses them down on to the frets; essentially large, soft washers. Either felt or rubber seemed to be appropriate choices but after testing, the rubber was far superior, the felt just fell apart.
Also I had to perfect a method of making the washers. I made up a mild steel punch which worked very well on thin rubber.

However, it soon became clear that a thicker rubber washer was required, so again a bit more testing.
3mm thickness worked the best but using the punch distorted the rubber, so I improvised this “press” and then made a simple jig to drill a hole in the washer’s centre. Rubber, being flexible, isn’t easy to work accurately and to get 10 good ones, I made 27!


And at last a pin point capo!
One other advantage of the rubber is that, once the capo is tightened down (so that the string is firmly pressed onto the fret) you can still tune the strings and you may need to, because if you overtighten the capo, the pitch of the string will sharpen.Now of course it took many hours to get to this stage, not only experimenting in the workshop, but also on the internet trying to source components, buying them and later rejecting them!
The next question is where do you keep those tiny capos when not in use?
Both Jonathan and I wanted them kept on the instrument and the most unobtrusive position, I feel, is the back of the head. So I designed and made this Swiss army knife inspired gismo.

 The Allen key slips into a slot and is held in place by two tiny rare earth magnets and there are embedded nuts to take the capos. Being fixed between the tuners, also helps to protect the capos from accidently getting knocked.

And there we are; you would not believe how long all that took! Now I'm ready to strip down the 'cello and start polishing.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Fare Thee Well

Last night we were fortunate enough to see “Fare Thee Well” the Grateful Dead’s last concert. What a great concept to broadcast the event around the world; luckily Wisbech (our local town) has probably one of the best cinemas in the country and we were able to watch the 4 hour spectacular from the comfort of a leather sofa with a beer in hand!
We’ve been fans of the Dead since the 70’s and their music has always been a soundtrack to our lives so, it was really emotional to watch this event unfold. We’ve seen a few gigs in our time but safe to say it was one of the most sublime musical events that we’ve ever attended.
Thanks must go to The Luxe cinema for allowing us to be part of this event with the tens of thousands of fellow Deadheads throughout the world.

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Thursday, July 02, 2015

Peter’s Mandola

In one of the previous posts you’d have seen the start of the tailpiece for Peter's mandola; here is the finished item, a juxtaposition of Indian rosewood, brass and stainless steel!
Also, I mentioned cutting the fret slots; here’s that fretboard being glued to the neck.
And here’s the front view with the compound radius put onto the ‘board, position markers inlaid and fretted.
And the back view…….
…..As I said previously, this mandola has been commissioned to match the black walnut Standard mandolin that Peter had awhile back. Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the mandolin had a walnut neck with maple laminations, but the mandola’s neck is a kind of negative image; maple with walnut laminations. Why? Well, there’s about 17% more tension in a set of mandola strings compared to a mandolin and the neck is also longer, so maple, being just that wee bit stiffer, makes a sensible choice.
 You’ll also notice that at this stage the neck is still square- just my preferred way of working!

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Monday, June 29, 2015

Mando… la & cello

Like many luthiers, I cut my fret slots using a special type of mitre box with various scale length templates.  
Here's my modified StewMac jig.
The fret slot templates are commercially available and are machined extremely accurately out of stainless steel, to ensure that the instrument is in tune with itself.  The trouble with this kind of jig is that you can be limited to your choice of scale length by the templates that are available.
For Peter’s mandola, I wanted to use a 410mm scale length which needless say isn’t available “over the counter.” So I was very pleased when I came across Carlos at  GW inPortugal who makes templates to fit the StewMac jig and was willing to custom make one for me at, I might add,  a reasonable price!
And here’s the mandocello; it’s just been set-up and I’m now working on some pin-point capos….more on those later!

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

Mandocello and more..........

Here are a couple of photos of the mandocello, now that it has been fretted and had a good clean-up.
You might think that this one is taking a long time to build…..and you’d be right! Although most aspects of the instrument had been designed before the build started, you simply can’t figure out everything until you see certain parts constructed and in front of you and that is why it’s a slow process building a one-off.
The next step is to make the tailpiece and although I’ve made quite a number them, this one, being a heavy duty ten-string version, needs some designing too.
You’ll notice that there are two ‘pieces being made, the second is for Peter’s mandola. Peter purchased Standard V from me in 2013 and he’s now commissioned a matching mandola. Always grateful when a past customer comes back for more!
Here are a few photos of the body now that it’s been bound.
Also I’ve been working on the design of a guitar for Roland, which is going to be a really interesting project. More on this one later!
Roland has also commissioned a mandolin, so at the moment I’m just preparing various components.
Looks interesting eh?

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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Instrument Archive

Well, I’ve finally got my Nava Instrument Archive up to date. As it stands, there are about 70 different instruments there. Many of my early ones are missing as they were built pre-digital photography and stuff simply didn’t get recorded.
Take a look at your leisure!
What would be really great, is to add links to any videos of the instruments being played by their owners or if you have a photo of you and your instrument I’d be happy to include it too.
Cheers Gary!

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