Thursday, January 28, 2010

How do you get that shape?

Whenever I get a visitor to the workshop, they’re always intrigued by how the sides are shaped. Well here’s the answer! For this instalment of the “Parlour Guitar: design & construction” videos, I thought that I’d show you how the sides are bent. The video’s a bit long, but I didn’t want to leave out any important information for all of you budding luthiers!

Antiques Road Show?

Well not quite! I was delighted to get some photos from Dave of an early Nava! I made this classical guitar in 1979 and remember it well. It was originally sold via the London Guitar Gallery for £200 in 1979 and Dave bought it second hand from the Camden Lock Music Shop in 1983 and has been playing it ever since! The guitar was built during my last year at the London College of Furniture and was the 13th that I made. The back and sides are made from Brazilian Tulipwood; I remember going to a wood yard to buy some mahogany boards for necks and saw this discarded, tatty, spilt board.

I had a small plane with me so I took a few shavings off the surface and claimed it!! I could only get narrow pieces out of the board; hence this guitar has a three-piece back. Oh how I wish I had some more of this beautiful wood! The rosette is also interesting, it was one of three that I made to this design.

All of the mosaic rosettes that we made at LCF were made from 1mm squares cut from pre-made strips. I felt that this didn’t give a fine enough pattern so I made some smaller mosaics by producing my own 0.6mm squares from veneers. Two of them were used in guitars (this one and its Indian rosewood sister) and here’s the third; in my workshop still unused. To be honest, this one’s a bit scruffy and was the prototype!

The shape of the guitar is similar to the one that I use on my classical today. At this time I was doing all the repair work for a Spanish guitar shop in the Fulham Road and I had to re-finish the back of a stunning Brazilian rosewood Manuel Contreras flamenco. At the time it was one the nicest guitars that I had ever handled and so I based my shape on it.

Richard’s Mandolin

Just in case you’re wondering if I ever glued that neck on! Here you see how the neck fits; it may look like a small joint, but there is over 21 square cm of surface area to glue so it’s strong enough!

Fast forward..............What I do like about making instruments with floating bridges and tailpieces is that you can get them set-up and playing before finishing. So now I have Richard’s mando playing it can be striped back down and be French polished.

Those eagle-eyed followers will note that my bridge design has changed- I’m using a separate saddle this time. Two reason, firstly less wood is used hence it’s lighter but more importantly it offers a relatively easy way to adjust the action. The saddle can be taken out and reduced in height or shims can be put underneath it, to raise the action. I’ve made up two saddles one bone the other ebony and once the mando has been played-in, Richard will be able to give me feedback about the tonal differences (cheers Richard!).

Labels: , , , ,

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all! Fortunately the snow let up for long enough to allow Amanda and I to drive down to Hampshire and deliver El Corazon to Chris. It was a 6 hour round trip and we were very grateful that Chris’s wife cooked us a delicious lunch. So, did Chris like it? Let’s just say, we’re already talking about the next project: nuff said!

So, what’s on the bench? Well, Richard’s mandolin is coming along; yesterday the last piece of binding was glued on. The purflings and bindings consist of 31 separate pieces so the whole process takes a fair bit of time.

The bindings are ebony and take some very careful bending: it’s always a surprise when such a hard, dense wood as ebony bends to the tight curve of the mando’s waist.

With the mandolin bound, the next stage is to fit the neck and below you can see how I route out the slot which takes the neck’s tenon. That’s tomorrow’s main job.

Whilst I’ve been waiting for the glue to dry on the mando’s bindings, I’ve started work on Martin’s baritone uke. You might remember the Thuya Burl that I’m using for the head overlay- I’ve made up a matching rosette and have started to brace the front. Below you can see the circle cutting jig that I made for my router. My router seems to appear a fair bit in this blog- but it is the one power tool that is invaluable to any luthier.

Unlike many uke builders, rightly or wrongly, I approach the uke’s construction in the same way as a classical guitar and although it’s a much smaller instrument it still takes a fair amount of time to construct; probably too long for what you can charge for a uke!!


Ray Burley

You may remember that a while ago I mention the acclaimed classical guitarist Ray Burley? I was absolutely delighted when Ray put a favourable comment about my work on his website.

Anyway, he has now got some excellent videos on YouTube with John Etheridge and Gordon Giltrap: take a look.....


I hope you saw Sting’s “If On A Winter’s Night” on tele over Christmas. What a change to see some real musicians on the box, instead of all this derivative X-Factor rubbish!! What a great collection of instruments he had......I’d like to get a closer look!

Matt Bellamy

You may remember that earlier in the year I made a classical guitar for Matt Bellamy? I see he’s featured in this month’s Total Guitar magazine as “Guitarist of the Decade”: quite an accolade eh?

Grumpy old man?

I get quite a few emails every month from would-be luthiers asking for advice and generally, I’m glad to give it. When I was starting out there was no internet and information and guidance was difficult to come by; so I do have a deal of sympathy. However, I’m getting a bit grumpy that I spend time answering these enquiries and get no thanks or acknowledgement. As my Nan used to say, “Manners cost nothing!”