Sunday, March 01, 2009

Two heads are better than one?

The Red Mandolin is now being French polished and I’ll post some more pictures when it’s shiny! The other two instruments, the nylon string guitar and baritone ukulele, that I have working on are now well under way. They are going to be two of the most exotic instruments that I have ever made: sinker Redwood tops, Pink ivory rosettes and bindings and African Blackwood back and sides!

An interesting aspect of this project is that the clients have supplied the wood. Last year I had a call from Morgan Nicholls, he had just come back from a world tour with the band Muse. Whilst on tour he and the guitarist Matt Bellamy had collected some really beautiful wood, which to cut a long story short I’m turning into instruments for them. Morgan is having the uke’ and Matt the nylon string guitar. Matt was recently described by Alan Yentob in BBC’s “Story of the Guitar” as “the first guitar god of the 21st century.”

Since getting the commission I’ve been listening to Muse in the workshop and must say they remind me of my youth, when rock bands were actually populated by guys who could really play!!

Morgan has been overseeing the project and it’s a pleasure chatting with him: he’s a knowledgeable guy, having made a guitar himself and fortunately, we seem to be on the same wavelength design wise.

You’ll remember the design sketches for the head shape, well shape C was chosen so I though that I’d show you how these drawings were realised.

Firstly the neck blanks with scarf joints for the heads are prepared. The necks have been cut down the middle and laminated with some African Blackwood, as both decoration and for additional stability.

A slot is then routed for carbon-fibre reinforcements. Once the carbon-fibre has set in place and has been cleaned-up, the head overlays are glued on.

The head overlays are made up from 5 pieces of wood: two pieces of Blackwood with a pink ivory strip down the middle and backed with white and black sycamore veneers to give some fine lines around the edge of the head. As the overlays have a definite centre line they have to be glued on in exactly the right place; small wooden pegs aid this.

With head overlays in place, next is some very careful marking out. The marking out is done on masking tape so that I can see where I’m going!

The sides of the head are planed down to the final size and then the holes for the tuners are drilled. As these are classical tuners, they have three rollers fixed to a plate and the roller extends almost to the centre of the head, therefore the holes have to spot-on else they will bind whilst tuning.

Once the holes for the rollers have been drilled, the next step is to cut the slots through the head. Large holes are drilled and the bulk of waste removed with a good old-fashioned coping saw.

I then use a router and a special jig that I’ve made to clean-up the slots.

With the slots cut-out, the head shape is roughed out on the band saw and then follows some careful shaping by hand to get the final out-line.

The last stage is to file the ramps where the strings run from the tuners to the nut.

And there we have it two finished headstocks!

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