This is an insight into my instrument making workshop. Guitars, mandolins and other fretted instruments, built to the highest standards by hand.
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Saturday, May 29, 2010
quod nos non necat fortiores facit
Andy’s hybrid guitar
As you may have gathered, Andy’s hybrid guitar has been something of a challenge. The last tricky part of its construction was making up the fingerboard extension and you can see below, a sequence of photos showing the process. One thing that I’m trying to do is to keep the soundboard free of other components being fixed to it; hence the finger board floating above the soundboard. You might like to note that the floating portion has been stiffened with a carbon fibre bar.
Once the fingerboard was glued on and Amanda and I were having our evening meal- I said to her, “this guitar of Andy’s reminds me of that saying, that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” I thought it might be cool to write this on the label- but in a less obvious way- so I got my Classics teacher friend, James, to translate the phrase into Latin for me! quod nos non necat fortiores facit
With the fingerboard on it’s all plain sailing from here!
There’s also a bit more here about French polishing for you......
I’m now underway with French polishing the parlour guitar and some of the first stages can be seen in the new video. There is loads of information on t’interweb (Bob and Orville Milburn’s is probably one of the best) about this black art, so I’m just offering a brief description so you can get a flavour of what French polishing is all about.
I’ve been French polishing my classical guitars and, indeed, most classical players demand this type of finish. I had been a bit unsure about French polishing steel string guitars, thinking that maybe most steel string players would prefer a lacquered finished. However, during my musing, I came to the conclusion that a steel-string player, paying a four-figure sum for a bespoke luthier guitar would show as much care for their instrument as a classical player and would probably be an enlightened, well-informed sort of person anyway. As it happens I was right- the next three acoustic instruments (there’s Phil’s custom ergonomic electric coming up soon!) on my list are all steel-strings and all of the clients have been more than happy to go with French polish.
It’s interesting to see how many luthiers are now French polishing and even some of the US “boutique” manufacturers offer shellac finished soundboards.
Let me re-cap my reasons-
Primarily, you are putting on the instrument- (the one that you carefully choose the best tonewood for, thicknessed to the nearest 0.1mm, carefully braced and tapped tuned) a thin finish that will not dampen the instrument's tone. I think that I use 75% less material when French polishing compared to using lacquer! The beauty of the wood is enhanced by the optical quality of the shellac and the “feel” particularly of the neck is silky smooth.
Secondary reasons are- In this day and age of sustainability and various environmental issues, French polishing is probably as green as it gets. You are using shellac which is a secretion from an insect and harvested from the bark of the trees where it deposits it to provide a sticky hold on the trunk. Alcohol as a solvent, pumice powder (from volcanoes) as a filler and its all applied by a pad made up from cotton wool and old well washed white T-shirts. To stop the pad sticking olive oil is used as a lubricant. Also, to spray safely you must have a purpose built spray booth, good extraction, spark proof electrical equipment etc.
I’m sorry that I’ve not been keeping the blog up-to-date; things have been quite busy lately. When we lived in London, hardly any clients called by- most of my business was conducted via emails. However, since moving to the wilds of Norfolk we have had many more visitors, resulting in quite a few new and interesting commissions, all involving much design work. I must admit it’s been great to meet so many new clients in person and hear them play their guitars and discuss their needs.
Andy’s hybrid archtop
I’ve finally completed the purfling and bindings on Andy’s hybrid archtop- I still can’t believe that it took me so long. However, I was grateful that my old tutor, Herbert Schwarz, made me cut all of rebates, on my early guitars, by hand and that I had that skill to fall back on. You can see the outcome below and despite the time I’m very happy with the outcome.
The parlour guitar
The parlour guitar is coming along nicely and the new video shows how I tackle the carving of the neck. The shape of the neck is one of the most important elements of the guitar regarding whether or not a player finds a particular guitar comfortable or not.
The next step is to start French Polishing the parlour guitar and there will be another video about that. Here are few picture of the guitar ready for polishing; there are a few details which I really like. I cut a tiny “N” logo out of a recycled Victorian ivory piano key and inlaid it in to the heel cap and I love these new side position markers.
The next instrument
The next instrument on the bench will be an English walnut steel-string guitar for Jonathan. Interesting spec- my model 1 shape but with a 12 fret neck and cutaway- more on this later, but here’s its beautiful back to be getting along with. Walnut can look a bit cold in this state, but when it’s polished you can’t beat it! Also I often leave the sap wood on to give a skunk stripe down the back, but Jonathan would prefer his back without and I’m happy to oblige!
I’m Gary Nava, luthier. I make guitars, mandolins and other fretted instruments entirely by myself and by hand. I am now based in the Cambridgeshire/Norfolk Fens, after a move from Twickenham, West London. I made my first guitar when I was 14 and then went on to study instrument making at the London College of Furniture, during the 1970’s. I’ve been making them ever since!