Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Making an Antonio Torres Style Guitar: Top Bracing, Attaching Top to Neck and Bending Sides by Hand

A truly great guitar needs the human touch, intuition, and insight; therefore, I still primarily use hand tools so that I may feel the wood as I work with it.

Dake Traphagen, Master Luthier


Last posting of 2014!

Thanks to all of you who have visited my blog and those who have left comments!

Thank You to Paul and Joseph Sellers (I hope I got that right!) for keeping Unplugged Shop going and posting my blog posts on it.

Thank You to Luke Townsley for starting Unplugged Shop.

Thank You Leif at Norse Woodsmith for his aggregator.

Here's a photo essay with captions of my process of creating a copy of Antonio Torres' FE 19 1864 "La Suprema" guitar. This guitar is for a young, up and coming classic guitarist in the Denver, Colorado area.

The body shape is a copy of FE 19 as drawn by Neil Ostberg, click here for his site, but the top bracing is based upon a guitar made by the great Santos Hernandez in the 1920's.




Braces are glued on with hot hide glue, the clamps are not clamping the braces, but holding the top to the shape of the scooped out work board. The hide glue dries in under four minutes, no need for clamps!



My glue pot. Available here.



Glueing on the transverse braces. Note the slanted, or angled, lower brace, this is some that Santos did on some of his guitars with the idea that this would tighten up the treble area of the top, to help the treble strings be as loud and even as the bass strings.





Glueing on the last transverse brace.




Granadillo sides, this wood is a bear to bend!




Electric bending iron and the sides in the background. I will touch up the sides before I attach them to the top.




My Stanley No. 271 router that I use to clean up the shelf on the heel where the top attaches...




Getting ready to apply the glue to the neck/heel union. The straight edge aligns the neck and top center line, I nail the top to the heel with three nails...




Waiting for the glue to harden...




In this photo I had just glued the end block on to the top. The next step is to attach the sides!

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

My Chair Maker's Bottoming Iron

The term 'Bottoming Iron' was used for a curved Shave for taking out the Adze marks on Windsor seats.

R.A. Salaman, Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, 1989




I have an order to make a close copy of a 1930 Santos Hernandez guitar and since its plantilla, or outline, is a little different than the one used by Antonio Torres, another solera, or workboard, is needed to build this guitar. Once the top is glued to the neck, all the work done to assemble the guitar will be done on this work board.

The soleras that I use are scooped out to create a dish so that when the braces are glued onto the guitar's top the braces will hold that arch once the glue dries. A domed top gives a guitar a real voice, one that has volume and lyricism.





I usually use a curved bottom plane to hog out most of the material, but this time I pulled out a "travisher" that I made quite a few years ago, back when I thought I could make some extra money selling Welsh stick chairs.





I bought the blade from Country Workshops, and I followed the instructions for making a chair bottoming iron that is in Drew Langsner's great book, The Chairmaker's Workshop. The book is still available but Country Workshops no longer carries any kind of curved spokeshave blades.





The body was sawn from a chunk of maple that I purchased from Loren at the Wood Emporium in Loveland, Colorado...





The blade is held in place with just a few washers and screws.

I've never had the blade come lose or change position while working with it.






I re-shaped the area in front of the mouth and it works even better than it did when I first made it 17 years ago.

The dish on the work board is completed, I just need to give the pieces a bunch of coats of shellac, as much as the MDF will hold, to help stabilize the material. How I make a work board will be another posting.

Merry Christmas, everyone!



Monday, December 22, 2014

How I Made an Eight Inch English Layout Square

The Joiners Square is a tool used in the production of right angles, either in the drawing of lines or in the planing up of stuff...

George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902



I've been using a 4 inch drafting square that I bought in a hobby store 20 years ago to do the layout for transverse braces on guitar tops and backs. It's not the squarest square anymore and I use a 12 inch steel ruler to extend the line off the square when I use it and I've noticed that those lines often are truly square to the center line drawn on the top or back. I correct it by pulling a 3-4-5 measurement to check the squareness.

I rarely make tools for my luthier work anymore, making a tool takes away from spent at the bench creating a guitar, but I'm getting a little tired of fighting that little square.

So I made a layout square based upon the old English layout square that seems to be every where on the wood working internet these days.

I hope many of you have made this English layout square, it's awfully pretty and appealing.

The square I made doesn't have the fancy ogees that are on the Schwarz-ian square, just simple ogees and partial circles.

The wood that I used was some California laurel (umbellularia californica), click here to learn more about this gorgeous wood, that I have on hand.

I apologize if some of these photos are a little blurry, I used my iPhone to take several of the shots and didn't pay enough attention on the area where the camera was focusing.


I drew a simple ogee on the legs, roughed that out with a sloyd knife and then refined the shape on small sanding drum chucked into the drill press.




The half lap joints were sawn and then finished with a chisel, the blade on my Stanley No.271 router plane needed sharpening, again I didn't want to take the time, a sharp chisel and a safety edge file cleaned up the joints.





Laying out where the brace cross member goes...





All the pieces ready to be glued...



..and the glue up!






The finished square! I squared it off the edge of a piece of foam board.

Why an eight inch square? The classic guitar models I make are usually no wider than 15 inches.

The area inside the legs and brace reminds me of a gable on the Rouen Cathedral...




The square in use. It should make work a little easier!


Here's Isabelle Selder, enjoy!



Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On Being Vise-less, Paring Chisels and Carving Guitar Necks

Straight end chisels must be "squared up" on the grinder and shaped to the correct bevel.

Lester Griswold, Handicraft, 1951




I've noticed lately that there are several wood workers in the world of Internet wood work blogging that are bragging about being "vise-less".

Good for you!

I've used hold fasts almost exclusively on my bench for that last twenty years or so, hold fasts are cheap compared to a metal vise and I never got along well with leg vises. I don't make boxes or cut dovetails anymore, I make classical guitars which need much different clamping devices than say, oh, a Federal highboy.

Don't get me wrong, I do need to use a vise for some tasks.



One thing I enjoy about using holdfasts is how quickly you can hold a piece of wood and you don't have to use a pretty piece of wood as a clamping caul.




Hold fasts are efficient for most tasks, they are great for holding guitar necks!



Smoothing the slots in the head stock

I do own and use a Shop Fox brand vise that I bought from Grizzly some ten-eleven years because it was cheap and I needed a better way of holding certain objects.



One inch wide chisel on the left with a 30 degree bevel, 7/8 inch chisel on right with 20 degree bevel

While carving the heel of a guitar neck the other day, I notice how the steep bevel of my one inch chisel kept bumping the chisel out of the cut. I was using the chisel with its belly down.

Hmm.

Most of my chisels are ground to a 30 degree bevel, this is left over from the days when I did chop dovetails and mortises, so I thought I would take one chisel and experiment with a 20 degree bevel.

I took my 7/8 inch Stanley No.720 chisel to the grinder and then locked it in my old Eclipse 36 Made in England honing guide.




A close copy of a Santos Hernandez guitar heel

The 20 degree bevel worked like a charm, now I want to experiment with a 15 degree bevel, but, again, the amount of time I have in the shop grows short.

I have two orders for custom classical guitars, a router table is waiting to be built so I can make muntin, rail and stile stock for eight sashes for the new porch enclosure which that also needs to be finish before winter really sets in.

Did I mention that our water heater developed a good leak the other day?

It's going to be a busy winter!


Another YouTube of Isabella Selder, enjoy!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Stanley No. 45 Combination Plane, Type 7B, 1901-1906

The craftsman in wood may ask himself "Why should I possess a Multi-Plane?"

Hampton and Clifford, Planecraft, 1934




I splurged the other day and ordered a No.45 plane from one of my favorite antique tool dealers, Sydnas Sloot.



I've always wanted a No.45, but I never could find one at an affordable price and then the other day there was this beauty on Sandy Moss's website. I couldn't resist. Thanks, Sandy!



It doesn't have all the bells and whistles that come with some of the 45's, I figure I can buy extra blades and soles as I find them.




The box no longer has its sliding lid, I can live with that, perhaps one of these days I may make one and repair the box.

I love this box for the decal, the box is cool enough to use to hold just high dollar guitar tuning machines...




It has all the parts I need, in the next few weeks I will use this plane to cut drawer grooves. I could use it for sash work, but I'd have to find or make a blade for an ogee, I'm not too partial to ovolos on the muntins, rails and stiles of a sash.




The instruction sheets.

For more information on how to use these beasts click here for the Cornish Workshop and here for a pdf copy of a Stanley No.45 instruction booklet.

I will definitely read through Alf's (Cornish Workshop) tutorial on how to tune and use a No.45.


The UPS driver just arrived with Spanish cedar neck blanks for two of the guitars that I will be making this winter.

It's snowing outside at the moment, guess I had better get back to work...


Here is a YouTube of Isabella Selder...enjoy!


Monday, November 17, 2014

Disston Rip Saw, Stanley Scrub Plane, Douglas Fir Guitar Top

Towering up to heights as great as 220 feet, with sometimes 100 feet of trunk clean of branches, arrow straight, and with almost no taper below the crown discernible to the naked eye, an ancient Douglastree may be 17 feet in diameter.

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



Douglas fir isn't often used as tonewood for classical guitars, many makers think that it is too heavy of a wood to be used for guitar tops. The strength of Douglas fir is phenomenally strong, its specific gravity is 0.50 and its modulus of elasticity is 1.95! Compare that to Sitka spruce's specific gravity of 0.42 and its modulus of elasticity at 1.57.

I think it is great wood, and, yes, I am biased because I was weaned on a chunk of Douglas fir, it was a playmate along with ponderosa and sugar pines, incense cedar and black oak.

The point of all this is there is a young classical guitarist who wants me to make him a guitar with a Douglas fir top.



This is the last piece of old growth Douglas fir that I possess, it was salvaged from old bleachers and I acquired it from a trim carpenter who was making doors out of this stuff.

Just think of all the butts that sat on this wood...




Ripping it down with my trusty No. 7 Disston rip saw...




To the saw horse for the last few inches...




One problem with ripping out tops from a piece of wood that is under an inch in thickness is you don't always get to rip out two sets of tops. I suppose if I owned a real he-man Norm-ite 10 ton style re-saw bandsaw this wouldn't be an issue, but I enjoy the gentle noise of a hand saw.

To make sure that I end up with two pieces that are 5/32" to 3/16" of an inch thick, I reached for the No. 40 Stanley scrub plane.

Running this plane over and through the wood I can get a sense of the sound, the voice, this guitar top will have. I just listen to the blade cut the wood and I hear music...





The top after is has been smoothed with a No. 3 Stanley plane.

I have drawn the plantilla, or outline, that is based on one created by Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado, in 1961.




The grain on this piece of wood varies from 15 rings per inch to 32 rings per inch.

Very beautiful wood.

I can't wait to start working on this guitar...



Here is a YouTube of Karmen Stendler playing one of my favorite pieces by Joaquin Rodrigo.

How to Make a Box Sing, Part 2

Here is a video of Kyle Throw playing the Torres/Santos style guitar that I finished this summer. The guitar has a Engelmann spruce top with California laurel back and sides, 650mm string length.

This guitar is very responsive, very loud and is capable of many musical nuances, with proper playing and care it will continue to improve and become a magnificent guitar!

Kyle performs the Fandanguillo from the Suite Castellana by Federico Moreno Torroba.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

How to Make a Box Sing

Stephen Valeriano and Kyle Throw, both classical guitar students at Metropolitan State University, Denver, stopped by my shop last weekend to play two guitars that I have on hand. Kyle also came by to pick out the wood for the new guitar that I will be making for him over the winter.

Stephen played Heitor Villa-Lobos' Prelude No. 1 in e minor on a Sitka spruce/black walnut guitar that I made a while ago.

He does a wonderful job with this piece, he is a very sensitive musician and I expect great things from him.

Enjoy!

1860's Greek Revival House: My Work Is Done!

Greek Revival A style popular in the first half of the nineteenth century, it favored the Greek version of Classicism over the Roman. This meant eschewing arches in favor of post and lintel, basing forms on the Greek temple, and using the Greek version of the Orders.

Mark Gelernter, A History of American Architecture, 1999



Two weeks ago, I and my co-worker, Michael Lohr, were able to walk away from the 1860's era Greek Revival farm house that we worked on all summer.

Siding was replaced, a new door matching an original was added, several days were spent in a skid steer landscaping the grounds, and paint was applied to the building.




Here is what the house looked like when I started working on the building...




Siding and landscaping completed...



A fresh coat of paint...



reveals a true gem.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Hernandez y Aguado Style Guitar - Douglas Fir Top, Mahogany Back and Sides

The classic guitar is a delicate equation painstakingly conceived to produce a brilliant, balanced tone over its entire playable range.

Irving Sloane, Classic Guitar Construction, 1966


The young guitar student that I mentioned in my last post came to my shop yesterday to take delivery on the Douglas fir/mahogany guitar. It is a close copy of a guitar made in 1968 by the great Spanish makers, Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado.




The top is from a salvaged Douglas fir board...





...and the back and sides are Honduran mahogany.


The young man played several Catalan songs arranged by Miguel Llobet, I thought I was listening to an old recording of Andres Segovia! This guitar has an old Spanish-like quality to it that gave me goose bumps, it sounds so wonderful! I can't wait to hear this guitar in six months!

I hope to get a chance to record the young man and his guitar this winter so I can post the videos on this blog.




He and his father gave me a deposit so I can start working on another guitar for him.

He really likes the Douglas fir for its sound, now I need to convince him to let me use sustainable woods that grow here in North America for the rest of the guitar...

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Best Wood, Part 2

Federico Sheppard: Do you ever use cedar tops?

Antonio Marin: Yes, but only two or three per year. This is a spruce town.


From an interview with the great Granada guitar maker, Antonio Marin, American Lutherie #117



A young man visited my studio the other day to chose a guitar from my inventory, he was looking to replace the Asturias brand guitar that he is currently playing. His two complaints about the Asturias were the string length (656mm) and the neck is too thick and rounded.



Spruce/Walnut Guitar


I handed him a spruce/walnut guitar (photo above) with a scale length of 650mm. He loved the neck and the string length, but I noticed right away that he was struggling to get a good sound out of it.




Spruce/California Laurel guitar, Torres/Santos Model

So, I pulled out one of my latest guitars, the one based upon Antonio Torres's guitar FE 19, which is loud, has an amazing voice and capable of many nuances and again, as he played this guitar I noticed that he didn't get along with it.

"Wilson," he said, "I really want to play that Douglas fir/mahogany guitar that you brought to the Guitar Celebration at Metro State."





I got that guitar out of its case and handed it to him.

It was startling to hear him play that guitar, it was clear that a spruce topped guitar was not for him. The piece of music that he played was immediately clearer in sound and quality, no flubs with the left or right hand.

This guitar has a 640mm string length, one-half inch shorter then his Asturias, which he noticed right away and mentioned that the neck on my guitar made it easier from him to play.

For a little experiment, I let him play my old battle axe, a cedar top Hernandis guitar with a 665mm string length that was made in Japan in 1973 and imported by Sherry-Brener, the one that I played at the Christopher Parkening master class (click here for my posting on that) all those years ago. Yep, he could play that guitar well and it turned out that his Asturias guitar has a cedar top.

I told him that at this point in his studies he is a Douglas fir and cedar man.

I never would have thought that wood could influence a classical guitar player that much.




A true Spanish guitar is made of spruce and rosewood, like the woods in the photo above. I strive to make as Spanish of a guitar that I can, even though I am not Spanish, I want to capture that sound I heard in Segovia's and Sabicas' recording when I was studying the classical guitar.

Working with these young musicians is showing me that I need to make instruments that fit them, that fit them physically, sonically and dare I say it, emotionally. The guitar they play should blow their minds so much that they can't stop playing it and through that constant playing they become better musicians. That is a goal worth working for.

The young man will come back next weekend to pay for and take delivery on the Douglas fir/mahogany guitar. He mentioned to me that he wants me to make him a guitar for his senior recital, which will be in one year.

I all ready know what woods I will use for that guitar: a Douglas fir top; black walnut back and sides; walnut for the neck; black locust for the fret board and bridge; and braced with Engelmann spruce.

All woods that grow in Colorado.


Douglas fir that was salvaged from an old bleacher seat. I've had this piece for 15 years

Time for me to go have lunch and get into the workshop and do some work!


Monday, October 20, 2014

Wooden Straight Edges

It is not advisable and can even be dangerous, to entrust someone else with the search for a fiancee, the purchase of a pair of shoes or the choice of a guitar.

Jose Ramirez III, Things about the Guitar, 1990




I didn't get everything done today that I wanted to get done, but I did get started on a few things.

After morning chores, I took the dogs for a walk through our wonderful backyard, which is part of Arapahoe National Forest, and then started making legs for a router table. I have about ten windows (6-9 pane) to make before the end of December and I am not about to plane all the muntins, rails and stiles by hand, I have an expensive router bit for that.

I got the legs glued up, went for a 2.5 mile run and had lunch. The afternoon, I thought, was going to be dedicated to working on a copy of a 1968 Hernandez y Aguado classical guitar, click here for a post on that guitar, I need to thickness the fret board and glue it onto the neck.

First thing I wanted to do was to check to make sure the gluing surface of the neck was still straight, and, as usual, I once again discovered that my 24 inch long Lee Valley straight edge is too long to check the neck. One end of the straight edge ends up on the guitar body which has dome to it so the straight edge won't sit flat. Duh.



The answer was to make a straight edge. If you don't already have Chris Schwarz's article on how to make such a beast, click here and take a gander at how to make a wooden straight edge.

I wanted to use some mahogany that I have, but it isn't quartered well enough. Once again, it was California laurel to the rescue.





The straight edge that I needed most was this one - 16 inches long to check where the fret board will sit. I should have made it 17 to 17 1/2 inches long.





I had a 10 inch piece left over which will be perfect for checking the other side of the neck.





I love California laurel, I wish had some more. It has a wonderful smell, is very easy to work with and makes incredible sounding guitars. I suppose I ought to order a few laurel boards from Gilmer Wood or Northwest Timber.

The fret board will have to wait until next weekend, tomorrow is back to work at my day job.



Here's another YouTube of Leonora Spangenberger.

A Basic Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar - Another Look

I was looking at a blog post of mine from eight years ago, Basic Hand Tool Kit for Making a Classical Guitar, Revised and saw that I have m...