Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Making a Copy of a Hernandez y Aguado Guitar: Laminating the Sides

I will now rest a while to write about the Dalbergia Latifolia (Indian Rosewood), whose unquestionable beauty, like the rest of the Dalbergias, is more serene and demur than her explosive Brazilian sister, and offers much greater reliability.

Jose Ramirez III, Things About the Guitar, 1990

Last year I took the plunge and made several outsides molds to laminate guitar sides, one was for a smaller bodied Hernandez y Aguado guitar and the other for the famous FE 19 of Antonio Torres.

I bought Alaska yellow cedar veneer and thin strips of hard board from JS Bogdanovich Guitars, the cedar is to be laminated to the side and the hard board is for the glueing cauls. (You can read about laminating guitar sides in Mr. Bogdanovich's book, Classical Guitar Making).

The real world and a seasonal job called me away from the work shop last April so the cedar, molds and hard board sat quietly in a corner of the studio until just a few weeks ago.

I've been wanting to make another guitar based upon a Hernandez y Aguado guitar, one that will have a redwood top and Indian rosewood back and sides. Last year I posted about inlaying a rosette into the top and carving and stippling the head stock of the neck.

Last week I thinned the sides down to a 1/16th of an inch thick (that will be another posting!) and yesterday I bent the sides and the veneer.

Then I applied yellow glue to the different layers and put all of it in the mold and started clamping. I never thought that I would own 15 clamps that were exactly the same! As George Ellis says in his book, Modern Practical Joinery, I made haste slowly while doing this glue up. In this photo I've turned the mold over to clean up the squeeze out on the "bottom" of the mold.

This morning I took the side out of the mold. There is some spring back in the lower bout of this side, it's not too bad and I can deal with it when I assemble the guitar.

All and all, the process went well, though I plan on buying some hard board to make my own slats. The ones that you purchase from Bogdanovich are a little narrow for the depth of the sides that are used on a Hernandez y Aguado guitar.

My biggest criticism of "Bog's" book, and purchasing materials from his store, is that you can make only the guitar that he makes in the book and DVDs. You can't make a copy of a Torres, Bouchet, Ramirez, etc., by using his book.

If you want to make a guitar, I recommend that you use either the Cumpiano/Natelson book, or the Courtnall book. Or buy the Bogdanovich book and make his guitar. I've posted about these and other books elsewhere in this blog.

I will laminate the other side today.

Why laminate the sides?

I'm good at bending the sides on a bending iron, but I only get the chance to do it two or three times a year, I wish I could do it more often. I figure by laminating the sides the shapes of my guitars will be more consistent, which I worry about though I shouldn't.

Lamination makes the sides stiffer which will help the sound of the guitar, because really all I am doing is making a drum with strings. The stiffer the drum rim the louder the drum.

I know that Jose Ramirez III laminated the sides of his famous 1A guitars in the 1960' and 1970's and many of those guitars had an incredible sound. Michael Thames, a luthier in Santa Fe, New Mexico laminates the sides of his guitars and so do several other makers.

I also want to make the best guitar that I possible can, I need to step up to the plate and play hard ball.

Here is a video of Andrew York playing an Antonio Torres guitar made in 1888!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Blonde Guitar - Making a Copy of the FE 19 Guitar by Antonio Torres: Shaping the Neck

Wilson, the necks on your guitars are perfect!

Alex Komodore, Coordinator of Guitar Studies, Associate Professor at Metropolitan State University, Denver, Colorado

This is the one time a guitar maker gets to do anything close to carving a piece of wood - the neck.

The profile of the heel is carved nearly to completion when I attach the guitar's top to it, now that the guitar is assembled I need to blend the curves of the heel to the rest of the neck. I also need to shape the profile of the neck to a flat "D" shape. I find this shape the most comfortable for playing, though some like a more rounded neck, I think this is the best shape for a classical guitar, even Alex Komodore thinks so!

Knives, spokeshaves, card scrapers, round and flat rasps and files are the tools used for shaping the neck.

I use this gauge to check the progress of the neck's shape.

The best judge for a neck's surface and shape is my thumb and hand. As a player I know the importance of a good neck and I spend as much time as needed making the neck perfect.

I read an interview with a very famous classical guitar maker and in the interview he bragged that he could shape a guitar's neck in 15 minutes using just a draw knife. Bravo for him.

I spent close to four hours shaping and sanding this neck. I want my guitars to be playable and comfortable.

French polishing with shellac is next phase for "Amparo"!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A New Chisel, A New Handle

The use of the chisel and that concomitant tool of chisels, the mallet is quite a simple elementary exercise in principle, requiring little explanation and learned quickly through a minimum of experience.

Alex W. Bealer, Old Ways of Working Wood, 1980

I haven't bought a brand spanking new chisel for proper wood working since, um, let me think here, 1993?

That was a set of Stanley, made in England, blue handle chisels that hold a scary sharp edge. The new Marples chisels have nothing on those chisels.

My other chisels are vintage James Swan, Keen Cutter, Stiletto, etc., that I found in flea markets or bought from tool dealers through the Internet.

I wanted a nice chisel to help clean out the binding rabbets on guitars, so I splurged and bought a 10mm chisel from Luthiers Mercantile International. Click here to see their chisels. I remember when LMI offered a 1mm wide chisel!

The handle that came with it is tintul and it's not as well shaped as the LMI handles were 20 years ago. The handle is clumsy in my hand, that long barrel where the chisel shank resides is just that, a barrel with no taper and not very comfortable.

I clamped the blade in a vise, heated up the handle with a hot air gun and knocked it off. I remember my dad telling me that all the old carpenters that he knew first thing would remove the factory handle on a new chisel and make their own.

That is exactly what I did. I took a pick handle, cut off a length, chucked in the mini lathe and went at it.

I do miss using a spring pole lathe, it's quieter, gives my leg a work out and allows me to flip the work piece end for end to finesse the turning. A power lathe doesn't give you all that.

I'm a little out of practice, and to use a worn out wood working pun, I need to "tame the skew". (How many of you have really seen Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew?)

The hickory turned well and I used my standard handle pattern.

After a little work with a chisel and round rasp the tang fit well in the new handle. I used cyanoacrylate glue to hold the handle to the chisel tang.

By the way, if anyone wants the tintul handle that came with this chisel, I will send it to you for the cost of shipping, which is $5.80. LMI offers that tool handle for $5.50 plus shipping.

If you are interested, please email me at with your full name, email address, mailing address stating that you really want this handle. That way I know that you are serious about sending the money for the shipping costs. Please don't leave a comment in the comment box, I check my email more often than I do this blog!

A Blonde Guitar - Making a Copy of Guitar FE 19 by Antonio Torres: Installing Frets

One of the main problems that confronts all makers is how to increase the volume, strength and sustain of the treble notes, so that they hold up well against the bass.

Roy Courtnall, Making Master Guitars, 1993

The winds have subsided, gusts of 84 mph were recorded yesterday near Nederland, Colorado, which is just down the road from me. When the winds pick up the humidity drops, was 30 percent in my studio yesterday and the humidifier quit working. Time to buy a new one.

Installing frets isn't bad, you just have to be careful that you don't set the fret tang into the slot crooked and make sure you set it deep enough.

The frets over the sound board need to be backed with a piece of metal as you hammer them home, my clinching block (left over from my horseshoeing days) was too tall to use on this guitar. Fortunately, I had a 1 inch diameter steel rod in the workshop, I cut a piece off of it and ground a flat spot on the piece with my angle grinder. Works like a charm.

All most done!

I didn't take any photos of leveling, crowning and polishing the frets, I show that elsewhere in another posting.

I'm carving the neck, will be posting those photos soon!

One of my favorite Manuel Ponce preludes for guitar. I play it on my guitar every night!

Monday, January 6, 2014

1816 Martinez "Salon" Guitar: Gluing on a New Bridge

Everyone seeks in the guitar his own twin soul...

Oscar Ghigilia, classical guitarist

We got about 8 inches of snow here in Allen's Park with the last storm and the temperature dropped down only to -1 degree Fahrenheit yesterday. Today, the wind is howling, I can't keep the walk clear because of the blowing snow and worse, the humidity in my shop has dropped to 30 percent. I do need to refill the humidifier and hope that I can get the humidity back to at least 35 percent. Oh, well...

This little beauty is a copy of an 1816 Martinez "Salon" guitar originally made by Jose Martinez. You can find the plans for it by clicking here.

I deviated a little from the original plans, the peg head is contacted with a scarf joint, not a V-joint; the back and sides are maple; the top is Douglas fir and has a Honduran rosewood fingerboard. In this photo I am gluing on a "modern" bridge, not the original lute-style chordal block bridge. I did put that kind of bridge on it when I first made it, but it was nearly impossible for me to adjust the string action. At least with this new bridge I can adjust the string height to suit that player.

I made a new bridge from padauk, arched in the center by 1.5mm and glued in on the other day. I used fish glue and everything worked the way I wanted, when I took the clamp off the arching of the bridge stayed. This give a slight arch to the guitar's top and should give it more of a singing voice. It was a wonderful sounding guitar with the last bridge, it should be better now.

There is some French polishing left to do on the neck and the sides, then she will be ready!

I will be asking $1395 for this guitar.

The Best Workshop in the World!

The best workshop in the world is the one that you are working in! I know that there are people who complain about their work space - it is ...