Saturday, December 27, 2008

Martinez Guitar, ca. 1816

A guitar based upon an ca. 1816 Jose Martinez guitar, original signed by Fernando Sor.



The bridge is not a copy on the original, it is a "modern" bridge. It is made from rosewood and is fitted with an ebony saddle. The guitar is loud and sweet sounding with this saddle.

Douglas fir top, maple back and side, Spanish cedar neck. 614 mm string length.



A joy to play, it's voice surrounds you.

Martinez and Lacote Guitars

As promised, a photo of the Martinez and Lacote guitars.



I strung the Martinez with light tension D'Addario strings and installed an ebony nut and saddle, the guitar sounds wonderful. I have been playing alot of Giuliani's music on it and sight read through Sor's famous theme and variations on a tune of Mozart. The music makes more sense, fingering wise, on a small guitar.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Slotting a Fretboard and New Tool Chest

Ideally, the work bench should be situated near a large window that gathers north light.

Irving Sloane, Guitar Repair, 1973


I see that this blog is getting alot of hits, can you folks tell me what you are interested in: slotting a new fret board or the new tool chest? I would like to know so I can create a new blog to answer questions. Wilson 7/8/11

I recently purchased a new fret saw from Stew-Mac, my old saw was getting very dull and I am having a difficult time in finding a saw sharpening business that is willing to resharpen it. The new saw arrived with the saw blade reversed so that the teeth would cut on the pull stroke, which is fine if the teeth are shaped like those on a Japanese pull saw. Western style teeth were designed to be cut on the push stroke. Anyway, I used the saw as it came to me and I failed miserably with it, all the slots were terribly angled off perpendicular to the fret board, I wasted a $20 piece of ebony. My solution was to tap the saw blade out of the brass back spline and replace it so that the teeth cut on the push stroke. This gave me much more control.



However, even after doing that and using the block setup that you see in the above photo, I still had the problem of the blade cutting slightly off of perpendicular.



In this photo you can see how I held the saw blade against the block with my fingers making a "galoot" miter box. I managed well with this system, but was perplexed about the saw's cutting ability or lack thereof. I pulled out a set of calipers, I measured the thickness of the blade and the set of the teeth, both were the same measurement! When that happens on any saw the saw will binding in the kerf and make sawing difficult. Good handsaws, Disston, Simonds, Keen Cutter, etc., have hollow ground blades, where the "back" of the saw is ground thinner then the part where the teeth live. I measured my old slotting saw, purchased in 1992, and its blade is thinner then the set of the teeth.




What I have learned from this is that I have several options - 1.) I need to spend the money on a good Lie-Nielson saw and purchase the expensive slotting miter box from Luthiers Mercantile, 2.) I buy a slotting blade from Stew-Mac and put it on my table saw and make a slotting jig, 3.) I purchase all my finger boards already slotted, LMI does that for an additional $9 when you purchase a finger board. Hmm, not a bad idea!



I made a new tool chest for the move to Mariposa, it's loosely based on Duncan Phyfe's famous tool chest, mine isn't as large, I made the carcase out of birch plywood and I made seperate tills to hold my tools. I just have to make a lid, install handles and I am ready to go!


Early Spanish Guitar-A Musician's Review


The Martinez-inspired guitar has an intimate size but a surprising energy of volume, while exhibiting a crispness that does not lose proper warmth. The guitar maintains its sweet tone even when played hard-but soft picking with the pads, rather than the nails, does not result in mushiness. The intonation is perfect, action as delivered just low enough for a convincing flamenco rattle while high enough for clean notes even "at speed". Amplification using Markley or Schaller transducers is not finicky and the finish gives up the traces of mounting putty easily. The slightly slender neck and comfortable scale make this a good companion for a steel-string player; it simply asks to be played.

H.D.W

I received this from the owner of the Martinez copy I made, he has performed on it all summer.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

King Japanese Water Stones

Life is for doing things slow, like trees.

Makoto Imai, Japanese builder of Shrines




I finally bought some water stones from Lee Valley and all I can do is ask myself why did I wait so long! These stones are phenomenal, the speed that they sharpen at and mostly importantly, they make plane blades sharp! For years I have been sharpening my tools on wet/dry sandpaper adhered to a piece of plate glass with decent results, but whenever I would sharpen freehand the paper backing allowed the edge to roll over. The last couple of months I pulled out a sharpening jig I bought years ago and have been using it with so-so results. That is why I also bought a Mark II honing guide from Lee Valley, I want my tools sharp and I want to be able to repeat the results. Recently, I had a conversation with a friend who gunsmiths for a hobby, he enjoys working on older double barreled shotguns, about sharpening, he is having a hard time getting his inletting tools sharp. I recommended that he read up on the skill and try the "scary sharp" system of sandpaper sharpening and told him he would see better results. I hope he tries it.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Peak Bagging

In Northeastern California, at the very heart of that magnificent mountain region of the southernmost Cascades, lies Lassen Volcanic National Park.

Collins&Lind, Lassen Glimpses, 1929




"Peak bagging" yesterday, it was nice and cool here in the Northstate so my wife and I hiked up to Harkness Mountain lookout station to see our friend Rob, who is the lookout, and then drove an hour to Butte Lake to hike the Cinder Cone.



We got to Butte Lake around 3pm and were pleasantly surprised to find that the day use parking lot was almost full-consider that this is the northeast corner of the park and you have to make an effort to get here. On the hike up and back we met over 20 people, families out for a nice hike and gorgeous views, again something we didn't expect because it seems like every one has to "scale" Lassen Peak. Cinder Cone is young, it last erupted around 1670, and is part of a dramatic volcanic field. Go and check it out!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Ebony Bindings

You need very few tools to go into the woods and bust a chair out of a tree.

John D. Alexander, Jr., Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Working Green Wood, 1978



94 degrees F. in my shop just now, a lazy Sunday afternoon with a high pressure sitting on top of Northern California. This morning, I glued in the last of the ebony binding on the maple guitar, this guitar is visually very striking, the contrast between the big leaf maple and the ebony. I am not sure that I mentioned that I got this maple from a friend in Estes Park, Colorado, his name is Leo Weber and he is a wonderful furniture maker and carver. Go to www.starroutestudio.com and click on "Artists" to learn more about Leo. He gave me this wonderful maple just so I could make something and he was trying to decrease the amount of wood in his wood shed.
In the above photo I have just taped the binding end at the end seam and proceeding up to the heel. Now all I have to do is to make and install the fingerboard and the finishing begins.

More later.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

End of Summer

I know just enough about wood to know what I do not know.

Art Overholtzer, Classic Guitar Making, 1974




Thanks to all of you who have voted in my poll! Any suggestions for the next question?

Next week is my last week of work at Lassen Volcanic National Park and I am very glad of that, I will have spent 2 months doing nothing but power washing old paint off of shake roofs and then repainting the shakes. When I am done I will start getting our household ready to move to Yosemite National Park, I have a lot of work ahead of me, please be patient with my blog updates.

Check out Ottmar Liebert's diary, there is a blurb about how some computer designers are being taught to use their hands again, seems that all these people can do is move a mouse. How sad. (One of these days I will learn how to create a link to the article).

Oh, the above photo is the peghead of guitar #3, western red cedar top and black walnut back and sides.

Enjoy the rest of August and have a safe Labor Day weekend!

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Cutting Binding Rabbets

I do a fair amount of rework. No one ever has so much experience that he can do things right all the time. I tell my students, "The difference between good work and ordinary work is rework." Sometimes people will say, " Oh my, that's beautiful. How do you do it?" I reply that I do it over and over and over."

Eugene Clark, luthier, "Building with the Spanish Solera" 2004 lecture



Today I got at routing the binding rebates (channels) in the maple guitar. I used my trusty Dremel with base to rout out the rebates and you can see in the bottom photo I added a base to the base, a piece of rosewood adjusted to compensate for the doming in the top and back of the guitar. The idea is that the router bit can address the side of the guitar at a right angle, not canted because the dome pushes the front of the router up. When that happens you end up scraping away most of the bindings because the bindings lean out at the top. I did that on my 3rd guitar. Well, the idea sort of worked, thank goodness I have the skills to use hand tools to finish the rebates (rebate is the British version of rabbet). One of these days I'll have to ante up and buy a laminate trimmer and some jig to hold it.


It seems like that every luthierie article or book I read the author is saying that the only way to build a guitar is to have lots and lots of power tools and jigs. I didn't take shop in high school, my training was at a shaving mare with an 8 inch "Lakeside" draw knife learning the ends and out of traditional wood work. I was a high end finish carpenter for seven years before I went back to the National Park Service and I had over $3000 worth of power tools in the back of my pickup to help me with trim/cabinet installations. For what I did those tools did exactly what I wanted, but I have discovered when I do true high end craft work, power tools bite back because they represent speed and money. I want to point out that those old masters-Fleta, Simplicio, Barbero, Panormo, Lacote and Ramirez used hand tools, not Black and Decker, and they had to crank out guitars to make money. Even 200 years ago time was money. Today there are makers in Spain that use hand tools exclusively and crank out 2 to 3 guitars a month! I have the luxury at the moment to take my time and do things by hand, what a wonderful way to continue to improve my skills!

My attempt at an improvement without having to drop $400 on a binding router jig.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Two Guitars

All the efforts of the guitar builder, his attention to the shape, the materials, the method of construction, are for the purpose of producing an instrument beautiful to look at and easy to play, but primarily with these quality of tone.

H.E. Hutting II, Guitar Review no. 28, 1965

Today, now that I am 45 years old and have a few miles on the tires, whenever I play another classic guitarist's guitar I look at two things, how well does the guitar play and sound, to me they are one and the same. If it doesn't play well, or easy, as some would put it, why play it, and at the same time if it's voice doesn't make my heart sing it isn't my guitar. I really don't look at the purfling or soundhole rosette, to me, as a player, the construction of the guitar is secondary-the action and sound are all that I care about. Some guitars that I have played have necks that remind me of a Steinway grand piano, stable, playable and yet massive, others are more yielding and intimate. I ask you, what is a "real" guitar suppose to play/sound like?


The HyA is huge next to the Lacote. I followed Courtnall's plans as closely as I could to make a copy of the HyA, the asymetrical (forgive my misspelling!) bracing made alot of sense to me, that is why I had to make a copy. I also hope that the guitar is loud and alluring, a sound that comes from those 1950's and 1960's guitars we baby boomers (yes, I know I am at the very end of that group) grew up hearing on those wonderful LP's of Segovia, Los Romero's, et al, a sophistication (think of Frank Sinatra's singing, Martha Graham's choreography and Dave Brubeck's "atonal" jazz) that doesn't seem to exist anymore.


The HyA is getting trimmed out with ebony binding bordered with BW purfling. I learned today from Roy Underhill's, The Woodwright's Shop, that the French menusisiers called their holdfasts le valet. How appropriate!


The New Workbench

Before any definite work can be done, a bench, or its substitute, must be obtained.

Paul N. Hasluck, The Handyman's Book, 1903

The new shop, with the new work bench already hard at work holding the little Lacote. The timbers that make the stand I milled from recycled lumber, they were original boards and braces on the tank house. Of course, I am sure that my grandfather recycled those from somewhere else. The bench top is from the bench I had in my old shop, it is some ponderosa pine that I felled and milled on our property.

The northwest corner of the shop, a mess as usual. That is a cedar/maple guitar, after Hernandez y Aguado on the tool box. A new tool box is next on my list, I need a larger one to hold all my tools for our move to Yosemite National Park.

Monday, June 30, 2008

In designing a building, the architect makes sure that its foundation is sufficiently sold to support the weight of the entire structure. Similarly, in learning to play the guitar, the student must first establish the foundation of his technique.

Andres Segovia, preface, The Segovia Technique, 1972

The rosette of a cedar/walnut guitar that I need to complete the finish, I am using an oil varnish.
I recently replaced the fretboard on this guitar, it originally had a Honduran rosewood fretboard, it was very striking, but it is a little softer than ebony and I had a hard time with the frets not holding as well as they should. There were also dead spots only the neck as one played it, I hope that a new fretboard and new frets will correct that issue. The new fretboard is African Ebony, a very nice piece of wood with some mottling that is very characteristic of that species and it added some weight to what was a light guitar.

A new workbench is my latest project, I hope to have photos of that soon and photos of other guitars that I am working on. I am finding in difficult to pursue a hobby with a full-time day job, along with an 11 acre plot of land that demands attention and a 68 year old paper-maiche house, not to mention trying to maintain a blog that I am not sure that anyone really looks at. Ah, doubt. The new workbench is more or less a copy of Carlyle Lynch's woodcarver's bench, the plans that I picked up in the 1990's when I was worked at Hubbell Trading Post NHS. The materials are milled from old pine beams that I salvaged from the tank house that my grandfather built back in the 1940's, wonderfully seasoned and pitchy. I figured that since I was going to re-use the pine workbench top that was in my old shop, why not build the entire bench out of pine. The plans for the work bench are still available and can be purchased from www.toolsforwoodworking.com.

Please complete the poll on the right hand side of my blog and let me know what is most important to you when purchasing a new guitar!

I plan on auctioning one of my cedar/mahogany guitars on this blog this summer and put the money towards the purchase of a band saw. It is a great guitar and needs to be in the hands of someone who plays alot. Stay tuned!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Review

Making musical instruments is a most satisfying art and, as a reaction to our mechanical age perhaps, many people are eager to learn once more the old skills which gave handmade instruments their special value.

Charles Ford, Making Musical Instruments, 1979


Remember this guitar from an older post? It's guitar #1, based upon an Martinez from the early 1800's, and it went to a musician friend of mine in Arkansas. He received it this past Friday and I received this email from him-

I was off work this afternoon but came in at the close of business to see if the Martinez had arrived. it had, so I brought the packing case home, opened it and oh my goodness.

All was well--no evidence of any damage from its trip. and it is a little gem.

I've played it for a couple of hours tonight and am way impressed so far. Action and balance are superb and the shape just asks to be held onto and played a little longer. it feels tight enough (loud when pressed but not "boomy") so that it will probably respond well to using a transducer (another wedding gig seems likely towards the end of summer.)

Scale a hair longer than the Richter, so is a shade more comfortable for me (less finger-crowding).

very handsome wood

and it just wants to be played some more.

gotta go.

more soon,

dave

It does my heart good to hear such wonderful praise.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Sunday

I know that I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.

Georgia O"Keefe, a letter to William Milliken, April 1937


A maple bridge for the Lacote. I made 2 out of padauk, but the handle bars kept breaking, and since this is a "concept guitar" for me, I figured I might as well go for broke and pull out some maple. This wood is not as brittle as padauk.

I had a good allergy attack this morning, something in the air got me going and spent most of the afternoon sleeping in the Lazy Boy, antihistimines can knock me out.

I received plans for a Barbero flamenco guitar and a Rodriguez guitar from GAL this week, I am very excited to start work on a Barbero-style flamenco guitar. I found it very interesting that the Barbero plantilla is almost exactly the same as the Hernandez y Aguado plantilla.

For those of you who haven't discovered Ottmar Liebert, a wonderful flamenco/world/Santa Fe guitarist, check out his website and especially his diary. The website for his diary is

www.lunanegra.com/www/diaryset.html

Eighteen years ago, my friend Andrea Gunderson, www.andreagunderson.com, a wonderful artist who just placed first at the Mendocino Art Center juried exhibition, loaned me a copy of Liebert's Nouveau Flamenco I have been listening to him ever since. Do check out Andrea's website.

Trout for dinner.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Gluing on the Fretboard

" I seldom measure much, although I do use patterns as a guide, varying them to achieve different effects. I bore most of the holes by eye, although for the legs I use bevels. The result of working this way is that I have failures, chairs that are wrong. You can't have it both ways, and this is better than reducing the job to it's lowest common denominator."

John Brown, Welsh Stick Chairs, 1990


Today I glued on the finger board. It's always a little nerve racking while doing a dry run, I checked and doubled checked that the center of the fingerboard would line up with the center of the guitar and that the frets will be square to the location of the bridge. Once everything is aligned I drive in the indexing nails and then pulled them out so I can apply the glue. Then I hammer the nails back in and start clamping down the caul.


I am sure that I have mentioned that I pretty much use fish glue exclusively on my guitars now, it dries so incredibly hard that I have pulled up wood chips while trying to shave a drop of dried glue with a very sharp chisel. Fish glue, like hide glue is also reversible. Titebond never seems to dry as hard as this glue does and it seems like many high end luthiers worry alot about the energy transference of glue. Until this glue fails in a spectacular way, I'll continue to use it. I do use Titebond III to glue laminates to binding, it holds up well to heat and water.


It is always nice to accomplish something constructive during a day, knowing that I have completed a goal. Once in college, while I was having a bad bout with not being able to create, a professor told me that I should strive to accomplish one goal a day. She said, "That sense of accomplishment will allow you to complete other goals." Thanks, Ella, I still heed that advice 25 years later.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Laurel Lacote

"The many folk names of this tree (Umbellularia californica) tell a tale of the vivid impression it has made on the generations that have known it. To the Oregonians it is Oregon Myrtle, to the Californians it is California Laurel; though not strictly either a Myrtle or a Laurel, it is at least in the Laurel family and, like the classic Laurel or Bay (Laurus nobilis) with which ancient victors and poets were crowned, it has a spicily aromatic and evergreen leaf. Hence the name of Green Baytree, Spicetree and Pepperwood."

Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1953



The neck is on and the cocobolo binding, too. The fingerboard is ready to be glued on.

I love the "ice cream cone" heel.

This guitar is made in the style of Lacote, I used padauk for the end graft to contrast the cocobolo bindings.


The back of the peghead, I will install Grover friction tuners after I finish the guitar. There are many period guitars that used wing nut friction tuners, check out The Early Romantic Guitar website (click on the link in the right hand column on by blog) to view photos of some gorgeous guitars and see some of the tuners that were used.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Fretting

"Though you may fret me, yet you
cannot play upon me."

William Shakespeare, Hamlet 1601

Fretting, what an appropriate verb to use to describe working on the fingerboard for a guitar, and out of all the parts of a guitar, the neck and the fret board are literally the heart of a guitar. One can always pluck the strings of a guitar over the sound board, but you really "play" the guitar at the neck and fingerboard, that's where as a player you do the real work. Yes, one must look at the guitar overall as an instrument, it must play well and sound well, two things which to me are one in the same. If the guitar doesn't play wonderfully, it won't sound that way. I had a long phone conversation with Marc Culbertson of Gilmer Woods last summer about guitar necks and neck woods and got quite the education on fret work from him. What a great guy!

I cut slots in a fret board with a fret saw that I bought from LMI back in the '90's that has a walnut handle that I made and an engineer's square to guide the saw for the initial cuts. This work is as nerve wracking as routing out the binding channels (rebates) on a guitar body, one slip and you have scarred the fingerboard. I enjoy taking my time while doing this, I have a chance to contemplate on my recent misdeeds (thank you, Roy Underhill!). This is the fret board for the Lacote guitar, it is African (Gaboon) ebony. I have photos coming of a full sized classic guitar that has a new fret board, also African ebony, along with new photos of the almost completed new shop. I just started my summer/fall job as a maintenance mechanic with the National Park Service, but I will try to update the blog more often. Thank you to all the people who have been checking back for updates!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Guitar Assembly

Yesterday, I shaped the back braces and sanded them to 220 grit and established a back arch on the sides with a sanding board. Today, I mortised out the pockets in the back lining for the braces with a 1/4" mortise chisel. Using a mortise chisel is much easier than Cumpiano's method (whose book is still worth every cent if you want to make a guitar on your own), I got the idea to use a the chisel from luthier Clive Titmuss's website. It made sense to me and proved to be a faster and far cleaner technique. 

Working with the back today and trying to plane out the unconformity between the sides and the end blocks reinforced something that I have known for a long time-trust your intuition, trust your eyes and don't always trust the plans that you work with. I tried to make this a fairly close copy of a Lacote and tried to match the placement of the back bars with the plans I have. The brace closest to the tailblock is far too close and I had to lever the back down with clamps to meet the tailblock. The arch works, but when I first glued on the braces, my right brain kept trying to smack me to say that something wasn't right. I'll adjust next Lacote copy, but I am not going to try and slavishly copy a Lacote, all of his guitars were different from each other anyway. Though it is said that he rarely used any string length other than 630mm.

I wiped some Naptha on the back to try and pop some of the figure that is present in this laurel. I have really enjoyed using this wood, it is easier to bend than walnut and has a great tap tone. I can't wait to build with it again. Believe it or not these pieces are not truly book matched, they came from the outsides of the same board. I ripped the board on my table saw and ran into a little trouble, I got 2 nice book matched pieces from the inside of the board, but the outside boards were a little too narrow for a full sized classic guitar. Rarely can you get the outside boards to book match, but I took my time and ended up with a nice back.

Last winter I made 2 little planes, the one on the left is made out of Pacific dogwood that I harvested just up the road from me and the other is ebony. I turned the knobs on my spring pole lathe and shaped the dowels on the drill press. I made them to shave braces, they are fun and great conversation pieces.
Sunny and cooler today, had a snow flurry just a few minutes ago, back to sunshine.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Snow and Guitars

2 weeks ago we got a series of nice storms here in Northern California, by the time the sun came out we had gotten a total of 3 feet of snow. It wasn't the best weather to keep the shop warm.

I have been working on a copy of a Lacote guitar. The top is old growth redwood reclaimed from a redwood water tank that once stood on our property. My grandfather bought the tank back around 1942 from an olive ranch down in Corning, he bought 3 tanks and sold 2 to pay for his expenses. I dismantled the tank in 1984, most of the wood was so rotten (yes, redwood does "rot" it gets really soft and won't hold any kind of fastener) I got very little usable wood. I have several pieces that I will use for future guitars, the tops will be four piece.
The neck will be dovetailed into the body. The peghead is guitar shaped and I am going to use Grover Champion friction banjo tuners instead of tuning pegs. Why? You have to be fairly strong to turn the pegs to tune the instrument and friction pegs are easier to turn and to install. I also found a photo of a Lacote guitar that had tuning pegs that were very similar to the Grovers and I am not building an exact copy, but something that is in the spirit of Lacote.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Two guitars

Just wanted to show everyone 2 guitars that I put together and are waiting for me to complete the finishing process. Guitar to the left has a Sitka Spruce top, Eastern Black Walnut back and sides and a Spanish Cedar neck. The plantilla is based on Robert Bouchet's and the bracing is after Hernandez y Aguado's asymmetrical bracing. The guitar on the right has a Douglas Fir top with Honduran Mahogany back and sides with a Spanish Cedar neck. I tried to make this guitar a very close copy of a Hernandez y Aguado guitar, I used the same plantilla and the five strut fan bracing as per drawings from R. Courtnall's book, Making Master Guitars. They have wonderful tap tones and should be great sounding guitars when I get them finished.

Here's the front of the walnut guitar, I got the Sitka Spruce from Stew-Mac.

The back and sides were re-sawed from a board I purchased from Loren at the Wood Emporium in Loveland, Colorado when we lived in Allen's Park, Colorado. If you are ever in Loveland, go to the Wood Emporium, Loren's got a great supply of wood, both domestic and exotic and he used to have an incredible veneer selection.

Ebony Classical Guitar Bindings

Happiness is making (and scraping) your own guitar bindings! Earlier this week, I ripped some Macassar ebony down to 15 strips 1/8” thick, a...