Monday, January 31, 2011

Ergonomic Electric Guitar

Phil’s ergonomic guitar is now completed: the second ergo electric that I’ve built. The shape is based on the Steve Klein design, but when you look at his guitars (and most other ergos) you’ll notice that they are headless. Obviously Klein had his reasons for going down the headless route, but I can’t see the need for this. The head and tuners do add some weight to the instrument but it’s counterbalanced by leaving the body solid in the area behind the bridge. Take a look at the Klein below and you’ll see what I mean.

I can see more advantages of using a head compared to a headless design. Using a head you get a considerably wider choice of hardware. Phil suffers with back pain and when discussing the design of his guitar, it was clear that he would benefit from the neck leaning backwards in relationship to the body. Using this type of badass bridge you can have the strings about 20mm above the body’s surface which in turn kicks the neck backwards.

A headless design also limits your choice of strings to double-ball end strings which are a bit pricier and obviously not offered by as many string manufacturers.

I also feel that the head of a guitar (acoustic, classical, eclectic whatever) contributes to the sustain of the instrument.

There are a few subtle changes that this ergonomic guitar has over its 7 string predecessor; the body is more heavily contoured to improve comfort further. I’ve had a few enquiries about chambered and semi-acoustic bodied ergos, but if the upper portion of the body is hollow, you are drastically limiting how much you can contour it before breaking through into the hollow sections which compromise the ergonomic rationale. Also, being hollow, the body becomes lighter and I’m not 100% sure if this would upset the balance. I’ve also moved the jack-socket on to the front of the body from the edge. This guitar is primarily used sitting down, if the jack plug sticks out of a side mounted socket you limit the playing positions straight away.

I’ve kept to the straight through neck design, I’m convinced that this construction enhances the tone and sustain of the instrument (so are Alembic!).

I’ve never been impressed with passive tone controls on electric guitars so on this guitar we have three different types of pick-up each wired to a DPDT (centre off switch). The switches allow each pick-up to be turned on or off, the humbuckers can be used either in series or parallel mode and the single coil (middle) pick-up can be switched in or out of phase with the other two: this set-up gives 19 different combinations and hence a great range of tones.

The crowning glory is the spalted maple top, which the oil finish really brings to life. If play your electric guitar sitting down, you really need to try one of these odd looking guitar- you’ll be sold!

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Making the mould

I’ve started work on Geoff’s OO shape guitar. One thing that I’ve had to do, is make a new mould for this shape. The mould is used to construct the rim of the instrument- the assembly of the sides, linings, end blocks. I don’t like making moulds (chipboard kills your tools!) and I’ve got far too many, but I do like the OO shape, it’s a lovely little 14 fret guitar. Fortunately, I did some repair work on a Martin OO a few years ago and at the time a made some drawings of it.

The first step in making a mould is gluing up some sheets of chipboard to make up a thickness of about 45 to 50mm.

Once this lump has been made, the shape of the guitar is cut out on the bandsaw. As you can see, I’ve got a fairly small bandsaw, which is good for most of my needs, but 50mm of chipboard pushes it to the limit.
Once the shape has been cut out, I glue a plywood plate on to each end to join the two halves together.
I then use a sanding drum on my pillar drill to get rid of the saw marks.
Once the inside shape is smooth and accurate to the shape, I give the mould a coat of sealer: it needs to be water proof as the damp guitar sides (after bending) are clamped in to place and also when doing any gluing up, you reduce the chance of gluing your sides to the mould!
The mould is then cut into two again and another two plywood plates are used to join the two halves using screws so the mould can taken apart and re-assembled as required.
Next step, bend the sides!

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Distressed instruments

In the previous post, you’ll have seen how I have decided to reduce the price of my parlour guitar due to some finger nail marks on the soundboard. Well, I’ve been having a look on t’interweb and I’m shocked by the trend of distressed instruments. Quite simply, brand new instruments that have been artificially aged to look like they have been played (and in many cases abused) for years and years. The only advantage that I can see, is that if you’ve got an instrument that looks beat-up, you won’t be overly upset when you mark it yourself!

There’s a couple of interesting threads on the Mandolin Cafe forum that you might be interested in:

Of course this trend isn’t confined to mandolins- loads of guitars are available distressed too. It seems that there is a premium to pay for a distressed instrument due to the amount of time and skill needed to successfully carry out this weird task! I’m sure that it’s more involved than thrashing your guitar with an old bike chain! BUT WHY??!! What’s wrong with buying a guitar, playing and enjoying it and letting it pick-up its own patina of age? It’s a bit like looking in the mirror and seeing your own wrinkles and scars- they tell the story of your life.

Now, I don’t mind seeing a guitar that has been honestly worn. Sure, it maybe marked, but it was built to be used, all artefacts will show signs of ware and tear. But as a luthier, how could I spend hours, trying to make the most beautiful guitar, and then ware away polish to simulate years of playing, damage surfaces, capo marks on the neck etc. ? It goes against the grain (pardon the pun).

Maybe it’s like when you were at school and you got a new pair of shoes, you’d scuff the toes so that no one would notice. Anyway, I don’t understand it!

By the way, if you’d like to buy a brand new, distressed parlour guitar drop me a line.

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