Saturday, July 31, 2010

Grateful Dead

I had a bit of a binge playing Grateful Dead CDs in the workshop yesterday and then had a look at the Dead website last night. I didn’t realise that it’s the 40th anniversary of the release of one of my favourite records of all time: Workingman’s Dead.

Apart from their music I’ve always been admirer of the Dead’s graphics and a few years ago, I did this inlay (into the body of a bass guitar) based on their “Steal Your Face” logo. It’s made from rosewood and nickel silver. I etched the detail with Ferric Chloride.

Now I’m going to play my vinyl copy!

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Jonathan’s 12 fret steel-string

Here is a little bit about Jonathan’s steel-string; one of the projects that I’m currently working on. This is very much a subtle custom build. Although the guitar is based on my Model 1 shape, Jonathan wanted a 12 fret neck.

As I’m sure many of you know, it has long been the common view that 12 fret necks “sound better” than 14 fret necks as the bridge is positioned more towards the centre of the soundboard. It’s certainly true on this guitar that the bridge is closer to the centre. But if you look at how many classic American guitars have evolved, I don’t think the same can be claimed. Look at early Martin 12 fret dreadnoughts and compare them to the 14 fret neck version, you’ll see that rather than the bridge position moving south, the shoulders are squared off giving a smaller upper bout. The same is true of the 000 and other models. Some may argue that the larger upper bout increases the physical volume of air inside the guitar and that enhances the tone. However, I do think that it is the position of bridge, moved towards the centre of the soundboard, that will really make an audible difference (as of course, does Jonathan!)

So, having decided upon a 12 fret neck, Jonathan also asked for a cutaway to enhance access to the upper frets. I’ve made quite a few 12 fret cutaways in the past and feel that this is an excellent arrangement.

You have to continually evaluate and improve your guitars and something that I had wanted to do for a while was to extend the carbon fibre neck stiffener into the body and Jonathan’s is the first one that I’ve incorporated this idea into. (I’d been trying to figure out how to route the slots!) The CF is glued into the neck block and the neck itself and runs across the neck/body joint. This must increase the rigidity of the joint and to my mind improve the guitar’s performance as vibrations can’t be absorbed. Also, it should eliminate the possibility of distortion of the fingerboard over the body joint that can happen over a prolonged period of time.

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Saturday, July 17, 2010


I’ve been asked a couple of times whether or not I use hot hide glue on my instruments and the simple answer is, no.

When I was at college, Herbie (tutor) tried to get all of his students to use hot hide glue and there are sound reasons for using it, but I simply do not like the idea of subjecting my wood to unnecessary heat and moisture when there are excellent alternatives available. One of the arguments for using hot hide glue is that you can take the joint apart easy; great if you are repairing 200 year old violins, but do I want to take my guitars apart? Do I want my guitars to come apart!

I mainly use Titebond Original, this glue has been used by most luthiers and manufactures for decades and its performance is proven. My early guitars were put together with it and after 30+ years the glue joints haven’t failed. Apart from its strength, it dries very crisp and therefore, I feel, won’t dampen vibrations. I’ve also been using Titebond dark occasionally; the main thing about this version of Titebond is that it’s waterproof. I’ve used it to glue purfling lines to bindings before bending them; they can then be soaked prior to bending. It can, however, make glue lines visible on lighter woods (even mahogany) and doesn’t dry as crisp as “Original”. I also use Titebond hide glue for temporary joints, like you saw in my wooden rosette post. Hide glue for temporary joints...see what I mean!

I use epoxy resins for gluing dissimilar materials i.e. carbon fibre to wood. Slow setting Araldite is my favourite; I find that the Rapid version never really goes completely hard and therefore I tend not to use it. I’ll use Araldite when I’m gluing components together that will be subjected to some kind of stress. If I want a fast setting epoxy, I like to use Z-poxy; this is good for inlays.

I also use epoxy where I have to glue to end-grain (the neck block in cutaway guitars is a good example). As all woodworkers know, you shouldn’t glue onto end-grain, this is because the glue is taken away from the joint by the exposed tracheids in the end grain. Epoxy uses these features of the grain as a key to increase grip.

Cyanoacrylate or super glue is also extremely useful. I think that most luthiers tend to use it now for securing frets. Some CAs are so thin that you can place little drop on the end of a fret and capillary action will pull it along the whole length. This phenomenon also makes it useful for repair work when gluing cracks together. On some burr veneers which naturally have small holes, I coat the veneer’s surface with CA and sand whilst the adhesive is still wet, thus any holes are filled with matching dust. Take care- if you use lot there can be an exothermic reaction and you can burn yourself. Oh and be careful not to glue yourself to the guitar, it’s just plain embarrassing!


Monday, July 12, 2010

Parlour guitar for sale

Well the parlour guitar is now complete and I’m currently looking for a new home for her. I’m extremely pleased by the way she’s turned out. My intention was to build a guitar that looked like it was built in 19th century, but also satisfies the needs of the 21st century player. Tonally, the guitar is very well balanced and the relatively short scale (625mm) makes it easy to play. I’m sure who ever buys her will delight in the subtle details such as the tiny “N” inlaid in the ebony heel-cap.

Anyway, you can judge for yourself in the video.

Many thanks to all those who have watched, and judging from the feedback that I’ve had, enjoyed the series.

I’ve greatly enjoyed building this instrument and would like to build another (maple?) at some point. But fortunately, in spite of the economy, commissions continue to come in and I won’t have time for another speculative build like this for a year or so.

If you are interested in purchasing the parlour guitar, it comes with a fitted hard case and is priced at 2000GBP.
You can contact me via my website.

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Thursday, July 01, 2010

Gluing on a bridge

I’ve just glued the bridge onto the parlour guitar. This time, I didn’t video the process because I find this very final stage the most nerve-wracking of them all. You’re working with a variety of sharp tools on the freshly finished soundboard and need to concentrate 100%; months of hard work could be written off in the blink of an eye!

However, I know that there is a lot of interest, out there, in this particular stage, so I thought that I’d explain the process for you.

The first step is to cover the general area, where the bridge will go, with masking tape. I use a low tack tape designed for delicate surfaces; it is possible, if using very strong tape, to pull the finish (particularly water-based lacquers) clean off of the guitar! Don’t ask me how I know!

Next, some very careful marking out; I use a soft 7B pencil so that you don’t have to press too hard to make a mark. As I was marking out I counted that I needed 4 different types of ruler to measure with!

Once I’ve checked 27 times that the bridge is in the correct position, I scribe the outline with a scalpel (brand new blade!). You have to cut through the tape and lightly score the surface of the finish; once through the tape you can feel (under the blade) the different densities of winter and summer growth on the soundboard. A small piece of double sided tape locates the bridge nicely.

Remove the tape from the area under the bridge and scrape the finish away; you’ve got to get back down to the bare wood so that the glue bonds.

I use a chisel for this; I run a burnisher over the edge to form a burr so the chisel can then be used as a scraper.

With the surface of the soundboard clear of finish, the bridge can be glued on. I find that the tape is enough to stop the bridge sliding around and once the glue has grabbed, I gently remove the tape; this helps to remove excess glue that may have oozed out.

Once the glue has dried the holes for the pins are drilled into the soundboard and the bridge pins fitted. You must a get a tapered reamer for this.

Hopefully you can see why you need 100% concentration!

A number of readers have asked why a give my secrets away? Put it this way, I’ve watched my Stefan Grossman “Fingerpicking Country Blues Guitar” DVD many times and can I play like Stefan? You’ve seen my YouTube demos!

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