Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Making Slots in a Classical Guitar Peghead

When I was a boy my father had horses, over a hundred of them, some of them rank, and I sat them well.

Mark Spragg, Where Rivers Change Direction, 1999



Was looking at my last post, I love stirring the pot.




I cleaned my workbench after breakfast, but it didn't stay clean for long. I worked on making the slots in the peghead for a copy of a Hernandez y Aguado guitar (earlier post of rosette in redwood top). I drilled out holes at either end of the slot and cut out the remainder with a coping saw.




I forgot that I could use the vise jaws to help me file the edges of the slots true and square, I wish I had remembered it earlier. Once everything is finally sanded I need to do some carving and texturing to make the peghead look like this:

What a Workbench Should Really Look Like

Home. Home. I knew it entering.

Richard Hugo, "The Only Bar in Dixon", The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir, 1973


Sorry for the teaser of a title. It's 6:22am and it is still dark outside, the sun won't be up for almost another hour. Today will be a busy day, calls to make, errands to the flatlands and then work on guitars and the garage floor.

My workbench, simple and efficient for what I do. That is what a work bench should be.


My workbench on a good day

If my bench isn't cluttered it means that I'm not working, I get so involved with what I'm doing that I don't take time to put things away as I go. I know this is heresy in the woodworking world. My dad, who was a wonderful mechanic, always told me to never take a car to a mechanic who has a clean shop and clean hands, that means that he isn't getting customers or he spends more time cleaning then working. I've read that most musicians who become woodworkers tend to keep scrupulously clean shops, I guess I'm not much of a musician, I'm sure that James Krenov would take me to task for being so cluttered and disorganized. This is me, this is how I work.

Two guitar necks, on the left a copy of the crest used by Hernandez y Aguado, on the right, my version of Daniel Friedrich's crest.

I feel that I am buried under a backlog of work, I have so many guitars to french polish, but I need to keep up with my woodworking skills so I am forging ahead with 2 new guitars. That goes back to my last post, What I Forgot About Guitarmaking, there are so many things that I have forgotten how to do and I will probably post under that heading again, there are a few more points about working with hand tools and wood that I want to make.

YouTube of the Day: I studied with Warren Haskell from November 1994 to May 1995, he is a very generous man and a wonderful teacher, I feel fortunate that I had the chance to study with him. I was delighted to find his website yesterday, so here is one of his YouTubes. Enjoy!



Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Inlaying a Guitar Rosette

The world is made of stories. Good stories are hard to come by, and a good story that you can honestly call your own is an incredible gift. These stories are part of a bigger story that connects us all.

Gary Synder, Back on the Fire and Other Essays, 2007


Sorry to post again so soon, but I installed a rosette in a spruce top yesterday. Today, before I head down the hill to Home Depot for lumber to start framing the floor in the garage, I wanted to inlay a rosette on a redwood top. David Schramm has a great article on his website for inlaying a rosette, it's quite detailed and I highly recommend reading it.


Here I've finished routing out the channel, the scariest part is not making it too wide, at the inside and outside edge I'd take less than a 64th of an inch at a time. The rosette was purchased from Luthiers Mercantile International, Inc. (LMI), it was made in Russia and goes well with the redwood.


The channel is completed and the rosette fits well.

Yesterday, when I went to drill the hole for the pivot pin for the Dremel base, I had forgotten that my drill press is small enough that I can't get the drill bit exactly over the center hole for drilling. I had to find my father-in-law's old Reliance eggbeater drill. I did a good job on the spruce top drilling the center hole, but because redwood is softer then spruce I had a little trouble with getting the hole to center on the right spot. I had to enlarge it some and then put some double sided tape to hold the top down in the right spot. This is going to cause me some heartache when I go to cut out the soundhole. Oh, well.


This is how I glue down a rosette. I heated up a piece of pine board in the oven, drilled a hole for the center pin, slathered glue in the channel, installed the rosette and used almost every book I have on guitar making. Will post more photos of tops with rosettes later.

YouTube for the day: This kid (I call him a kid 'cause he is only 30!) is amazing! There are so many wonderful young guitarists today.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What I Forgot about Guitar Making

Though he lived for years in a Farnham alley, he failed to pick up any of the manner even of a little country town. He was all rustic.

George Sturt, The Wheelwright's Shop, 1923





Yesterday's sunrise. I had to scramble to find the camera.


A friend of mine once told me that he didn't get up early enough to watch the sunrise until his daughter was born. Then he got up to feed her and realized what he had been missing by sleeping in past the sun's greeting to the day. Now he doesn't miss one.


What I forgot about guitar making. I made a beginner's mistake yesterday. I spent about an hour sanding in the profile on the fretboard of the spruce/walnut guitar, I like to sand all the way to 2000 grit so your fingers slip on the ebony. The profile was gorgeous, but I forgot to check across the fretboard for flatness. The mistake. I cut 2 pieces of fret wire and set them, then realized if the board was going to have an arch it needed to be uniform. I pulled the frets and, as you can see the ebony chipped, now I need to fix those chips. Stew-Mac sells sheets of Teflon to make "fret dams" while you fill in the chips with sawdust and super glue, one of today's chores is to call Stew-Mac and place an order for Teflon and pipettes.


What did I forget about guitar making? It is something that I need to do all the time, like anything else, to be good at it you must practice it well. It is something that I should do each day. I got out of practice because I got a full time job as a historic preservation carpenter at Yosemite National Park, I worked 10 hour days and had a hard time trying to make time for myself, to do this thing called guitar making. I forgot what it was like to shoot the joint for the top and back of a guitar, how to smooth the surface of the tonewood with a plane, how to re-saw a board for tonewood and I forgot what it was like to sit and carve the heel on a guitar neck. Those things are too important to be forgotten. Elegant woodworking should be akin to writing a short story or going into the field for plein air painting. Wood working is not dumb or brutish, nor is it something that we should strive to make money at. Yes, I speak as a heretic in this day of pop woodworking rags, but the act of creation is not an act to make something for sale. That is down the road, but it shouldn't be the sole outcome of the act. I want a guitar I make to be played and to make music.

YouTube for the Day: Here is another wonderful young guitarist, Tatyana Ryzhkova, playing the prelude from J.S. Bach's 'cello suite #1, BWV 1007

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Cutting Slots in a Classical Guitar Bridge

The world is full of bastards, the number increasing rapidly the further one gets from Missoula, Montana.

Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, 1976


More wind today, gusts up to 80mph, all of us who live here at the headwaters of St. Vrain Creek have been wondering when it was going to get breezy.


I don't know why I spend so much time on this blog, there is work to be done. Today was a day to make another bridge, this time for the Douglas Fir/Maple Martinez copy that I really need to finish and get out of the studio. Another piece of padauk, a small back saw, a clamp and a piece of Spanish cedar for a straight edge.



I am duplicating a modern style bridge that I had on the guitar, but the top was starting to cave-in, I had glued it on incorrectly the first time.



A few licks with the saw and a chisel or two and the slots are done. Yesterday, I cut the slots with a table saw, which always bothers me because of the noise and the chance of a digit engaging the saw blade. I decided that I would make this bridge the old fashioned way, entirely with hand tools.

After using a huge new and wonderful SawStop cabinet table saw I don't like using any other table saws. I've seen how quickly the blade is stopped by the brake on the SawStop, a $5,000 saw is cheaper than $250,000 plus in hospital and therapy bills.

A few more hits with a file, this bridge will be done, except for gluing on the piece of bone that tops the tie block.



3 bridges-ebony for the blond guitar, the padauk bridge that I made yesterday, the one made today and the one that is being replaced. To shape the bridge wings I use a variety of files, such as an old hoof rasp left over from my days as a horseshoer, a chainsaw raker file (the best file for this job) and a file used to sharpen auger bits.



Presents in the mail today, this book on Andres Segovia, which was outrageously priced at $55, I bought it because Volume 1 is out of print and sells used for almost $300! And I got fretwire for the blond guitar and the spruce/walnut guitar. No more excuses, I have to get to work.

And then I need to sharpen my tools.



YouTube for the day, here is an amazing young guitarist, Asya Selyutina.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Drilling String Holes in a Classical Guitar Bridge

It would be possible for an expert joiner to purchase the steel blades and make his own wooden planes; but I feel that it is due to what may be termed "Craft Masonry"-the recognition and respect for skilled workmanship-that makes him reluctant to do so and, instead, to purchase the tools that an unknown fellow-worker has prepared for him with such infinite care.

Walter Rose, The Village Carpenter, 1937



I'm making a bridge for the spruce/walnut guitar out of paduak, it's nice and light and stiff, I read somewhere that luthiers Jeff Redgate and Greg Smallman use padauk for the bridges on their guitars. I would have posted more photos of actually drilling the holes, but it is 12 degrees outside with wind gusts up to 34mph making the wind chill down to minus 10 degrees. My hands were getting chilblained from touching the metal of the drill press, I need to find my gloves!




I made a little block that I attach the bridge to with double sided tape that keeps the bridge at the proper angle for the string holes. It works. I don't own a drill press vise, this is my best solution.




Now I need to go out and set up my table saw to make the longitudinal cuts for the saddle and the tie block. If I could only find my gloves! It's cold out there! My other shop isn't insulated!

For your enjoyment here's a YouTube of Chris Parkening, his playing still inspires me to go and practice for an hour.



In response to Tico's comment here's a link to Dampits, the original string instrument humidifier. If any other guitar players want to suggest other humidifiers please let me know!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The 10 String Classical Guitar-My Latest Obsesssion

In the works of the Cubists the stringed instrument-notably the guitar-quickly became a popular motif. Why? Because it was there.

Gregory d'Alessio, Pablo Picasso, Monument or Mountebank, Guitar Review 46, 1979



Snow today, I just heard that the visibility at Denver International Airport is only 1 mile, the snow here is coming down sideways. Today is a good day to work on guitars.

Speaking of guitars, here's my latest obsession, the 10 string classical guitar.

Standard Tuning for a 10 string classic guitar.



The great guitar maker Jose Ramirez was always searching to make a better guitar. In Things About the Guitar he wrote

An obsession with achieving an enriched sound in the guitar led me to study an old, obsolete instrument: the viola d'amore, which has a very interesting feature. There are as many strings on the inside of this viola as there are on the outside, which are the ones that are played. The inner strings vibrate sympathetically and, together with the outer ones, produce a loud harmonious sound.




Jose Ramirez III



He set to work on this problem and created a guitar with two sets of strings.

The result of this whole contrivance was a powerful, beautiful sound. I immediately presented it to Maestro Segovia who was in Madrid at the time. He was very enthusiastic about the sound but at the same time he pointed out to me the invention's main failing: the inner strings kept on sounding and muddling the continuation of the musical piece being interpreted. It was necessary to cut off the sound of these strings just as in the pedals of a piano. But how? Segovia urged me to find a solution to this drawback, but he never offered opinions or solutions on technical matters that as far as he was concerned belonged to another world.




Narciso Yepes

Ramirez continued to work on the guitar's problems.

All the solutions that occurred to me were totally anti-guitar, until I showed the thing to Narcisco Yepes who was also enthusiastic, but as he has a very analytic personality and an untiring investigative spirit, he rose to the challenge to try to help me solve the problem.

...then Yepes telephoned me from somewhere that he had gone to give a concert, and told me: "Forget the inner strings. If you add four strings to the normal six strings all on the outside and these strings are tuned in a certain way for which I have made a study, we will have the same resonant and harmonic supports as with the inner strings, but with the advantage that by using a special technique, they can be easily muffled with the right hand whenever necessary." In fact, this was a ten-string guitar. I easily designed this special guitar and built it with no trouble.

At a private meeting, I turned this guitar over to Yepes, who began to try it out by playing a piece. He resembled a first year student or even worse. After some time, he looked skyward. I feared he was going to release a string of insults, but he didn't. What he said was this: "What a marvelous mess I have gotten myself into."

When I was a young guitar student in the late 1970's, most guitar teachers at the time had a bit of a prejudice against any guitar that had more than six strings, this came from Andres Segovia, to him there was only one plucked string instrument worthy to study and perform on. I never thought much about a ten string guitar, I knew that it could be used to play Renaissance and Baroque lute music on it, I thought that was the only reason for the extra strings.



Then I saw this video and my eyes were opened. As a classic guitar player this guitar makes so much sense, you can hear how the guitar is more resonant, I can only imagine the sound that surrounds a player when they perform on a 10 string. In my web research on this beast of a guitar, I did come across a quote from a well known concert classic guitarist who said that a player would spend more time dampening the resonant strings then actually playing.

Now I get to the reason why I build guitars-I get to make a 10 string guitar so I can play it! Every guitar I have made I made so I could play it. Pretty cool, don't you think!

This morning, instead of doing real work like carving a neck, I asked myself "what if Manuel Hernandez y Victoriano Aguado had made a 10 string guitar?" What would it look like. I pulled out some brown wrapping paper, enlarged the H y A plantilla by 6mm to make its overall length 496mm and with the help of William Cumpiano's book I drew a full size plan. I increased the string length from 650mm to 660mm which is a little closer to the 664mm string length that Ramirez used. My first guitar, which I still play, is a Hernandis which was built in Japan for Sherry-Brener Ltd. in Chicago, it's basically a copy of a Ramirez and it has a string length of 664mm. I played the thing for years and never thought about the string length until I played a guitar the was 650mm, I found that more comfortable. After playing the shorter scale 19th century Romantic guitars, I was surprised to find that it was easier to play the 664mm length. I had to stretch my fingers further and there was more room to hit the strings and the frets, I wish I could explain it better. Long story short, when I make a 10 string guitar it will have the longer scale.


It looks good, though I think that I will buy Roy Courtnall's plans for a 10 string guitar to make sure that I get the peg head dimensions correct, along with Scot Antes plans for a 1966 Ramirez. I'm trying to be a copyist, you learn good skills that way.

All I have to do now is to find an ebony fingerboard that is over four inches wide and some really nice Spanish cedar for a neck. I have a really nice piece of Sitka spruce for a top and my last set of Indian rosewood for back and sides, I could re-saw some bubinga too for this project.



Here's a video of Narciso Yepes playing several pieces from J.S. Bach's Lute Suite in e minor, BWV 996. Enjoy!





Janet Marlow is a wonderful performer and composer, here she is playing one of her pieces on a 10 string guitar.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A "Mae West" Style Lacote Guitar, Part 3

I have had three wives and three legitimate guitars, flirting, however, with many others.

Andres Segovia, "A Conversation", Guitar Review 43, 1978




Work goes slowly on the Mae West Lacote. I decided to install the bridge before I complete the french polish, before that I needed to see what thickness to make the bridge. I put a straight edge on the fingerboard and discovered there was a huge back bow. I spent about 40 minutes sharpening the irons for a block plane and a No.3 smoothing plane and then got to work.




You can see how much wood I had to remove to make the fingerboard straight, well, I did put a little dip in it between frets #7-#12. After I install the bridge, I will sand it smooth and then install the frets. As I was planing the fingerboard I discovered that I had failed to orient the grain direction of the ebony so I could plane from sound hole to peg head. The way that it was probably was the best, I butted the box of the guitar up to the stop and planed away. Ebony is quite the wood to hand plane!


I am so far behind on all of my work. Today, I need to drive down to the lumber yard and pick up material to frame in a floor over the dirt floor of the garage. We have 2 cars and a one car garage won't take 2, I'm slowly converting it into a wood shed and shop/storage space. Then there are guitars and guitars and guitars to finish, make bridges for, necks to carve, back and sides to thin, rosettes to install.

By the way, are there any other classical guitar players out there in blogger land? I know of John Dimick and Christopher Davis, please check out their blogs.


A video of Izhar Elias playing what appears to be a copy of a guitar made by Johann Stauffer, who taught C.F. Martin how to make guitars.

All Wood Double Top Classical Guitar

  Double top , or composite top, classical guitars are all the rage these days, especially among young guitarists and I decided that I would...