Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fret Work on the Western Red Cedar/Bigleaf Maple Classical Guitar and Buffalo Bill Cody

I immediately began my career as a buffalo hunter for the Kansas Pacific Railroad and it was not long before I acquired considerable notoriety.

William F. Cody, aka "Buffalo Bill", 1879

William F. Cody, Buffalo Bill

Enrico Caruso at Will Cody's grave 1920, there's an "x" above Caruso's head.


Visited Will and Louisa Cody's grave site yesterday on Lookout Mountain above Golden, Colorado, it was sort of a pilgrimage for me. My great uncle, Merrill Black, ran away from home around sometime around 1900-02, so the story goes, because he got tired of his father being so strict. He headed for North Platte, Nebraska where he signed on to be a rough rider in Buffalo Bill's Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. My grandmother and her little brother told me that Merrill was quite the rider, used to pick up dollar coins off the ground riding a horse at a full gallop and other tricks. My grandmother wasn't sure how long he rode for Will Cody, she didn't hear from him until his wife, Hazel, wrote to grandma from Denver. Merrill died in Denver around 1938, I can't remember the exact year, but I was always told that he requested that his ashes be scattered over Cody's grave. Yesterday I paid my respects to my great uncle and one of the greatest showman the world ever knew. Visit the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave website and if you ever have the chance, visit the museum, it's a great little museum.


Here's the cedar/maple guitar with bridge installed.

I taped off the fingerboard to protect the ebony from fret filings and the junk generated by sandpaper.


I glued together two pieces of acrylic and made a block that is about 2 1/2 x 8 inches and glued 220 grit sand paper on one side, 400 grit on the other side. I used that block to level all the frets. It's like jointing the teeth on a hand saw, you joint/flatten until every fret has a bright shiny flat spot on it, some will be flatter then others.

After flattening I re-crown the fret tops with a fret file filing most of the flat away, I leave a tiny flat spot to give the straight edge something to register on when I check the finger board for flatness.


Once the re-crowning is done I go over the frets with wet/dry sand paper starting with 400 grit. I work through all the grits to 2000 grit and polish the frets with jeweler's rouge rubbed onto the paper backing of the 2000 grit sheet. Doing this makes your fingers a little dirty.

After that, I installed the Sloane tuning machines and strung up the guitar. It sounds so wonderful it almost made me cry. I guess I did something right. It is the guitar that every classical guitarist wish they had had when they started first playing-a full, rich sound with a depth to the notes that is hard to explain, other then the sound makes your heart sing and makes you want to play the guitar all day. I can only imagine what it will sound like after six months of hard playing. As soon as I finish the guitar and get access to a digital recorder I'll post a sound clip!

YouTube of the week-Nataly Makovskaya playing a piece by Roland Dyens.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How to Glue on a Classical Guitar Bridge

Wood is our most versatile, most readily available building material, and a general knowledge of the physical characteristics of the various woods used in building operations is extremely desirable for the carpenter. An intimate knowledge of this subject is only attainable through long experience.

Harry F. Ulrey, Audel's Carpenters and Builders Library No. 1, 1972


Gluing on a guitar bridge is as nerve racking as routing out the binding channels. Placement is important: the proper distance from the nut with compensation (652mm is what I like to use); measuring that the bridge is parallel to the 12th fret and that the holes for the first and sixth string are parallel to the fingerboard. I grow nervous as I do the measurements, I want the bridge to be in the proper spot, it makes you sweat. (See Cumpiano's book for full details on gluing down a bridge)



It takes several tries to get the bridge to align on all 3 parameters and then you have to hold the bridge in place with your "off" hand while you scribe a faint line with a razor knife with your "on" hand. (Sorry for the horseman terms, I just can't say use your left hand to hold down the bridge and scribe the line with your right hand, that would be politically incorrect on my part.) Above photo shows that the bridge has been marked.



Now you carefully place masking tape adjacent to the line and build up three layers, the tape will help hold, or capture, the bridge in it's proper position.


You have to recheck all 3 of your measurements before you glue down the bridge.


Clamps, a gluing caul and a Charles Fox bridge gluing jig from LMI.


I did a dry run with the Stew-Mac bridge clamps and decided against them, they kept twisting the Fox clamp out of position. The caul has been taped to the inside of the sound board.

I used Titebond to glue the bridge and some homemade cam clamps, they don't twist the Fox jig out of position. Notice the wedges placed underneath the backs of the clamps, this is done to keep the clamps from distorting the sound board.

Whoops! I forgot to include a photo of the bridge after the clamps were removed. Next post!


Check out Jonas Nordberg playing a theorbo, aka "monster lute". It's a gorgeous clip.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What I Forgot About Guitar Making, Part 2

On every hand, the machine is doing the work that once called for the concentrated ability of men.

Walter Rose, The Village Carpenter, 1937


Fretting begins (to fret-to be constantly or visibly worried, origin Old English, to devour), 12% nickel/silver fret wire (fret-each of a sequence of bars or ridges on the fingerboard, origin 16th century, unknown)

What I forgot about guitar making is that you have to do it all the time, not just piece work on the weekends or other stolen moments, you have to set aside time every day to concentrate solely on the skills used to complete each task. It should be play, when you play you become absorbed by the work and lose track of time then find yourself revitalized. It is not a job, it is work (Ora et labora-pray and work). It takes practice, when you study a musical instrument you devote time to practice scales and arpeggios properly, you work on problem areas in a piece and you take time to sight read works that are new to you. Skills must be maintained and sharpened.


A Sears-Roebuck cobbler's hammer found at a flea market

It's been awhile since I've done fret work and I forgot what I needed to do and have-make sure the tang enters the slot straight on; be careful of the fret ends, to hammer too hard will make it loose in the slot; make sure that you have a bag of #2 lead shot to set the neck on; work slowly and efficiently and keep the guitar top protected with card board, aluminum or brass. Be prepared for set backs-accidental dings caused by the support block along the neck that will need to be fixed.


This is a clinch block that I used it a lot during my time as a horseshoer. It clinches the nail ends to the hoof wall after the shoe is set, it's more complicated to write about it then to actually do it. I use it now to back up the fret board as I hammer down the fret over the sound box.

What I forgot about guitar making is at this point you concentrate on every blow of the hammer, you become absorbed, you have to because the neck is the most important part of a guitar. This is where you make music. Disagree with me if you want, but to play open strings is to play open strings, you have to fret a string sometime.


Installing frets is not quiet work, when you get into the sound box region the sound of your hammer gets amplified and becomes a little disconcerting.


For the 19th fret I use a clamp to pressure fit the wire. On several other guitars I've widened the fret slot and epoxied the wire in. I will take the circular sanding block that I used to create the end of the fretboard to smooth out the ends of the frets over the sound hole.


A block that holds a chainsaw raker file to file down the ends of the frets. I know that a guitar maker is supposed to do this free hand, but I like this block. Next step is to superglue the frets to the slots, you can see this process at Stew-Mac! After that I will glue the bridge on and complete the french polish.

What I forgot about guitar making is that you need to let go of every thing you do, don't plan for tomorrow, don't fret over yesterday, do the work at hand.


YouTube for the day-Aysa Selyutina. Again, I can't get over how many wonderful young guitarists there are these days, we are so lucky!


Thursday, February 9, 2012

Frets, Fretboard and a Western Red Cedar/Bigleaf Maple Guitar

American child are musical. American adults are not and the chief reason lies in the wasted opportunities of childhood.

Thomas W. Surette, Music and Life, 1917

The last couple of days have been work on scales, arpeggios, Prelude No. 2 in C# minor by George Gershwin transcribed for guitar by Douglas Niedt, Sarabande by Francis Poulenc and trying not to be sloppy, keeping the fingers clear of the strings. We got 32 inches of snow with the last storm, the snow has settled and I don't have to use snowshoes to walk up the gulch with the dogs.


Several hours were spent this afternoon on flattening the fingerboard on the cedar/maple guitar, I forgot that one needs to work at lutherie all the time, it is easy to forget how you should do things like make sure that you have enough sanding blocks the proper length. And make sure that all sandpaper is adhered to the block or you will be surprised by the results of your labor, then you will have to correct your mistake.


I forgot to take a photo of the guitar with its piece of railroad cardboard that protects the top, a vital thing, I've had enough problems with this top. Ron, if you are reading this post please don't be concerned by the lack of shellac on the top, the top developed a hairline crack that I fixed with copious amounts of superglue and cleats glued to the underside. The repair actually increased the pitch of the tap tone, a good thing. I decided to go ahead and fret the fingerboard, attach the bridge and then complete the french polish.


I run a saw file along the fret slot to aid in installing the frets and reduce the chance of chips emerging if the frets need to be pulled. I used 180 grit sandpaper to flatten the fretboard and followed up with 220 grit and a light polish with 400 grit. After the frets are installed I'll burnish the surface with steel wool using a 50/50 mixture of linseed oil and naptha.

It seems like I can never make enough time to complete all the work that I need to.

YouTube of the week, once again, Tatyana Ryzhkova, an incredible player who just happens to look like my daughter, Alisa. Enjoy.


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