Sunday, May 25, 2008

Binding the Mandocello and beginning a Cittern

Mandocello Update

The body of the mandocello is now together: this is the first time that I’ve used this shape and it’s not until you’ve got the body together, that you get a real feel of what the finished instrument will be like and I’m really pleased with the way it’s turned out. This is going to be a stunner!!

With the body together the bindings and purflings are next. The mandocello has 29 separate pieces that make up its purflings and binding so it’s quite a time consuming process. A rebate is cut around the edge for the bindings and purfling and this is done with a hand-held router.

The problem that I encountered with this shape is that the point of the cutaway is very thin and the back is curved, so the flat base of the router wobbles and the rebate can’t be cut accurately. So, at this point I thank my old tutor, Hebert Schwarz, who made me do everything by hand and get out my purfling cutter that I made about thirty years ago!

The purfling cutter is like a cutting gauge and allows you to cut a line parallel to the back or to the sides.

Once you’ve cut the line the rebate is chiselled out by hand.

There are so many websites that show guitar makers (notice I didn’t say luthiers) using jigs and machines for every operation. If you want to master the art of being a luthier you need to develop skills and know how to do things properly by hand, so that when your jigs and machines fail you, you can still get the job done!
Instruments progress in fits and starts, the purfling and bindings tend to take a long time to, you glue one piece on wait for it to dry, do the next etc.

So whilst this process is under way, I’m starting the preparation for Ruaridh’s cittern………

So how long does it take to make an instrument?

This is a question that I’m often asked; I always reply, “at least 100 hours.” The truth is, of course, I’ve got no idea! Last year I was listening to a Radio 4 program: “Malcolm McLaren salutes the talent of Christian Dior.” One of the things that he mentioned was how long it took to make a Christian Dior dress. I can’t remember the exact time but it was literally hundreds of hours (350 rings a bell!). My reaction was surely it can’t take longer to make a dress than a guitar! So I thought that I should actually log how much time it takes. The instrument that I’m going to log is the cittern that I’m making for Ruaridh. This will be an interesting build (aren’t they all!) as he wishes me to minimize the amount of tropical hardwood that I use and for this instrument it will only be the bridge and fingerboard that will be made from ebony, all the rest will either be spruce or temperate hardwoods such as walnut and maple.
Below you can see the neck blank starting to take shape. I can’t use mahogany as it’s a tropical hardwood and the usual alternative for a neck is maple. The cittern will have 10 tuners, so I wanted to keep the weight down and maple is much denser than mahogany. So, you can see my answer below, the neck will be laminated from maple, walnut and a green stained veneer.

I always laminate my necks as I believe the resulting neck is much more stable. The use of walnut cuts down on the overall weight as it is much lighter than maple.

Also the sides have been taken down to 2mm thickness, bent and fitted into the mould. Yes, it is the same shape as the Mando!

So far five hours work.....................

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Sunday, May 04, 2008

Finishing the Baritone Guitar

One of the final stages of a guitar’s construction is gluing the bridge in place. All the varnish, lacquer, whatever has to be scraped off of the soundboard, back to bare wood so that you get a good glue joint between the two surfaces. Get this wrong and you wreck the guitar!!
The positioning of the bridge has to be spot on. I’m sure that most people who are reading this will know that the bridge’s saddle has to be set back further than its theoretical positioning order to get the intonation correct. The longer the scale length the further back the saddle has to be.
Now that distance i.e. between the theoretical position and its actual position was, for the baritone and its 685mm scale length, “a known unknown.”
So I built this....

....I call it my Rumsfled jig: it allows me to experiment and find out known unknowns! By sliding the movable saddle back and forth, I can find the ideal position for the saddle for any combination of scale length, string gauge and pitch.

With the distance found out the position of the bridge can be ever so carefully marked out, the lacquer scraped off and the bridge glued on.

Some fine tuning (literally) later and we have one completed Baritone guitar ready for collection!

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