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.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Advice for an Aspiring Classical Guitar Maker

I shall start off by stating something that could sound rather surprising coming from a guitar maker: a guitar is not a work of art - it is almost fundamentally a technical opus.

Jose Ramirez III, Things About the Guitar, 1990


The following advice is for those who want to make a classical guitar in the Spanish tradition. I do not make steel string guitars, I am not interested in them, but, perhaps, some of this advice can be used to help you succeed in making a steel string guitar.



#1: Buy the following books:

Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology, by Cumpiano and Natelson, click here;

Making Master Guitars, by Roy Courtnall, click here;

The Guitar Maker's Workshop, by Rik Middleton, click here.

And you must buy every book written by Roy Underhill. You will learn so much about hand tools from him!

Read them from cover to cover several times before you start to make a guitar or buy any tools.





#2: Buy The Naked Woodworker with Mike Siemsen (click here).

Buy all the tools needed to build his version of Nicholson's work bench. This DVD will also help you when you go to purchase other tools for guitar making. Remember, you will need a work bench on which to build your first, second, third, etc., guitar!

This DVD is another "must" for your education!





#3: Keep the tool list simple.

Buy only what you need.

Stick with hand tools for your first guitar or two, hand tools are much quieter than power tools, but can bite as badly.

Safety should always be your first concern.

Click here to read about my list of tools for guitar making.





#4: Pick a guitar to make.

Click here to see some plans that are available from the Guild of American Luthiers.

I suggest that you make the guitar in Guitarmaking for your first guitar.

Do not deviate from the instructions in the book, you can do that on your second or third guitar.

Or you can pick a historic guitar, such as the 1912 Manuel Ramirez guitar that was used by the great Andres Segovia (click here for a video), and use the instructions in Courtnall's book to build it, but no matter which method you chose you must follow the method to the letter and remain true to whatever guitar you pick!





#5: Here is where I am going to get into trouble from the cyber wood working world.

Do not visit any forum on guitar making!

Forums are a waste of time, you should be in your shop making a guitar.

Do your own research on guitar making! Read every thing you can get your hands on and then spend time in the shop working on guitars!

Many would be guitar makers express their opinions on guitar making in those forums and that is just what they are - opinions. Then the professionals weigh in and it gets messy.

Remember this: your goal to is make a guitar that a guitar player will play and use. Very few professional guitar makers are professional musicians.


Tico Vogt playing one of my guitars




#6: After you have made two or three guitars start researching how the traditional Spanish guitar was/is made. Or maybe you will buy into the school of making where every guitar should have a double top with lattice bracing.





#7: When you have completed your first guitar, do not take it to a professional guitar maker for a critique! A guitar maker will not buy your guitar, only a guitar player will buy your guitar!

Players/performers are the ones who will tell you if the action is too high, if the guitar is too quiet or too boomy, they are your best critics!





#8: Perhaps the best piece of advice I can pass along is produce, produce, produce.





#9: You can ignore what I just said and hie yourself to the nearest guitar making school.

I know that Red Rocks Community College in Lakewood, Colorado has a great program, click here to learn more. I know that there are other such programs through out the nation.

One reader told me that he was able to find a guitar maker who was willing to teach him how to make a guitar, that is another great avenue to proceed on!

Better yet, get a grant so you can go to Granada, Spain and study with Antonio Marin or John Ray or Antonio Raya Pardo! Learn how to make a truly Spanish guitar!

A guitar is a romantic creation.





#10: You must live, eat and breathe classical guitars! That means you must love them and that is all you want to make! Money should be of no concern to you, think not of making a living at making guitars! The only thing that matters is that you make them!






#11: If it were easy then everyone would be making guitars...




Now, turn off your computer or other device and get yourself into the work shop and make something!


Here is a wonderful phenom, Leonora Spangenberger. She is only 11 years old!









Thursday, October 9, 2014

Made a Draw Down Stand for Saddle Making

The one piece of equipment that is almost indispensable is the drawdown stand.

Lee M. Rice, How to Make a Western Saddle, 1953



I recently attend a local heritage days celebration, there were many great volunteers on site who did a great job of engaging the kids in butter churning, quilt making and several other skills.

I did notice a volunteer who was trying to teach two young boys how to rope, the volunteer couldn't handle a rope any better than the boys, he just handed them the ropes and walked away.

I went over and showed the boys how to build a loop, how to hold the loop and rope coil and how to catch a calf with a simple under hand throw. Then I showed how to swing the rope over head - one boy caught on and roped the dummy calf, he was very excited. On the way home I told my wife that I should volunteer next year and be the cowboy.

Horses were always a big part of my life, I rode whenever I had a chance and my brother and I occasionally got the chance to ride for one of our uncles who owned a large ranch and ran about 500 cows. We could rope and ride with the best of them, but back then (1980) the best wages I could get was only $600 a month with no benefits. So, I went to college.

The day after the celebration, I found an old slick fork saddle at a local antique store for a decent price. My idea is to fix it up enough to use it as a prop for my 1880's cowboy living history program. Though to even start the necessary repairs, the first thing I need is a way to hold the saddle so I can work on it.



The stand is pretty much the one that Mr. Rice describes in his essay, "How to Make a Western Saddle", you can find it in the book How to Make Cowboy Horse Gear, by Bruce Grant.

I used some piss fir (white fir, abies concolor) construction lumber that I had on hand to make most of the parts.

The slot that you see in the leg is to accommodate a 2x4 that is hinged to the back leg. In turn a short board is bolted at right angles to the 2x4 to which you attach a 36 inch long strap of leather that goes from the cross piece over the saddle to the other end of the cross piece. You then put your foot on the 2x4 and push down to tighten the leather. You have to figure out a means to hold the 2x4 in place.





It's a simple stand and for something like this, I used power tools to make it, I had other chores to get done the day I made it.





Here's the saddle I bought.

There is no maker mark on it, all I could find was "Warranted Steel Tree" and the number 077. After a little research on-line, I came to the conclusion that is was made for either Sears and Roebuck or Montgomery Ward, and was probably made between 1905-1915.

It has a seven inch wide fork, a fifteen inch seat (a little short for me), double rig (a "rimfire") with a five inch cantle and it's in fairly poor condition. I suspected that the cantle was broken when I bought it, that was confirmed when I got it home. This isn't too big of a deal, once the saddle is down to the bare tree, I'll strip the rawhide covering off the tree, repair the cantle and recover the tree with fiberglass and epoxy. I know that that is a lot of work to do on a saddle that is not collectible, but some one used this saddle hard and liked it well enough to have had some repair work down on it.





It'll be a side hobby this winter, I will need some time away from guitar making!

Ebony Classical Guitar Bindings, New Neck for a Lacote Style Guitar

  There is still one guitar in the shop for repair, with the other repairs out the door I have some extra time to catch up on other work, li...