Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Music from the woods of England

A while ago I mentioned a project called, “Music from the woods of England.” The idea is to get British Luthiers to make some steel-string guitars entirely from indigenous woods, which will go on exhibition and will be given to the Nation as a permanent collection.
After doing a bit of research, it transpires that indigenous woods are those which grew in the British Isles before the last Ice Age and there are only about 30 or so species and some of the woods that I had wanted to use did not fall into that category. I doubled checked with Neil, the organiser of this project and he said that naturalised species were also allowed. So below is a drawing of my initial idea.

So far I have produced full-size drawings and am about to start making an external mould. I have got some fabulous English Walnut that is going to be used for the back, sides AND soundboard and the neck is going to be made from rippled ash. I have been fortunate to come across Andy, a great supplier of fine quality wood and he has been really helpful in sorting me out with most of the woods that I need.

All of the guitar’s internal construction will be from Scots Pine, if I can find any that has tight enough grain. The main stumbling block is the fingerboard, I’m trying to find some Laburnum or Hornbeam; if you’ve got any, I’m your man!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Commissioning a guitar part 4

You can see that the body of Richard’s guitar is complete. He came over to see it last week and to discus its neck. He was really thrilled with the work so far, I haven’t seen someone so excited for a long time; that’s the kind of reaction that makes all the hard work worthwhile!
So what details regarding to neck were discussed? Well here’s the list...
Width of finger board at nut.
Amount of curve on the fingerboard.
How the edge of the fingerboard is finished; some steel-string players like the edge rounded off so that it’s more comfortable to fret a note with your thumb.
Inlays; where and type...Richard chose dots (he also chose the size of them!)
Action and gauge of strings.
Profile of neck.

When you go for a custom built guitar you get to make these choices and if you are not confident about making the decisions for yourself, the luthier should be able to help you. With this new information the rest of the construction work has been taking place.

I’ve just completed fretting Richard's guitar. Once the frets have been hammered into their slots, any protruding fret wire must be cut-off. Over the years I have used many different types of cutters and none have been 100%. You need plenty of leverage so that you can cut cleanly through the fret wire without tugging and twisting and hence disturbing the newly installed frets, also you want to be able to cut as close to the fingerboard as possible, this cuts down on filing. Below are my “new” favourite cutters, these were made by Starrett in the 1890’s and are still going strong!

This is my new Veritas spokeshave, you’ve seen my wooden ones. This has much better adjustment and allows you to take really fine shavings; thoroughly recommended!

I’ve been listening to Martin Simpson’s new CD. Apart from his superb playing, one thing that I like about him is that he plays luthier built guitars and always gives the luthier credit on the CD liner notes. If only there were more players like him!!

Yesterday we went to West Dean College for their guitar summer school open day. Various luthiers had their guitars on display; it’s always interesting to see what your fellow craftsmen are up to! Andy Manson had his Mermaid on display, an amazing piece of woodwork.

Andy’s hybrid guitar

This guitar is taking me longer than normal as there is so much to think about. The sides have been bent and you can see the cutaway. I shall start carving the top soon. One problem for me to solve is the rosette; the guitar is going to have an oval sound hole, which requires me making special jig to cut the hole and slot for the rosette. This in itself is no problem, just the same procedure as my mandolins. The complication is that the top of curved and not flat! As I said much to think about.................

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Commissioning a guitar part 3

Commissioning a guitar part 2, you saw the ideas sheet that I prepared for Richard; after some consideration he made his choice for the style of rosette and above you can see a portion of it completed. It’s made from the same piece of burr walnut as the head veneer. Hopefully, you can see how I like to work with the client to ensure that they are 100% happy. The body is almost completed and I now have to consult with Richard on the final dimensions of the neck. Also the fingerboard inlays have to be decided upon. Once I know how wide the neck will be I can prepare the neck joint and bring both elements together.
Commissioning a guitar Part 1
Commissioning a guitar Part 2

Luke’s Bass

I mentioned in my last post that my son wanted me to make him a short scale bass. Well I’ve made a start! It will have a straight through neck construction and you can see the laminations above. It’s made up
from highly figured maple, 2.5mm black walnut and 0.6mm green veneer.

One of the first guitars that I made was a bass with a straight through neck. I made it at school when I was 17 as an ‘A’ level project. I remember watching the Old Grey Whistle Test and seeing Return To Forever with Stanley Clarke playing one of the first Alembic basses. I’d never seen anything like it and thought that I must build one like it. In those days (pre-internet) information was difficult to get hold of so most of my design was based on guess work, looking at whatever photos I could find. I made every part expect for the strings and machine heads. I wound the pickups by hand and made their covers from brass sheets that I had chromed plated. I also made the bridge! It served its purpose as it got me my A level pass and in to the London College of Furniture to study Modern Fretted Instruments. I eventually sold it for £60. You can see that Stanley’s Alembic still influences me!
A couple of years ago, I spent some time in the USA, visiting various luthiers; one of them was Rick Turner who was one of the co-founders of Alembic. It was quite exciting to meet a guitar making hero/legend and a genuinely nice guy!

More Repair Work

This is a 1960s Martin 00-18 that I have just done some repair work on; it’s a sweet little guitar and I’ve made some drawings for future reference. Some of my recent repair work has involved me in putting right the work done by someone else. This Martin’s bridge had been “repaired” so well that the strings could not be inserted from the front and had to be threaded through the sound hole! I cannot understand how anyone could “repair” a guitar and take someone’s money for work that is clearly not satisfactory. The bridge pin holes were in such a state that I had to fill and re-drill them. Below you can see a simple jig that I made to ensure that when I re-drilled the holes, they were centred exactly where I wanted them to be.