And here we go

Go a lot done today. I bent up the sides for a new guitar — Ovankol, which is related to Rosewood, but is not endangered– and glued up the back.

320 degrees.

The bending went “OK” but not perfect. Some minor cracking on the inside bend at the waist, which I believe I can repair, but may rule this one out as my tour de force guitar. I don’t think I had the heating blanket set high enough– I’ve never worked with bending Ovankol before. I found some nice backs in Cherry in my wood stash, which bends beauifully and sounds great, so maybe I’ll zip around this afternoon and source some cherry boards to mill up for a set of sides. It never hurts to have more than one guitar in the pipeline.

 

The last thing I did, since the shop is nice and warm and good for gluing, was glue up the Ovankol back. First I plane the edges where the 2 halves go together, closely enough that when I hold them up pressed together to a light I can’t see light through. Then I glue them in the jig below.

The trick is, you set the 2 halves together so they form a triangle, then clamp wedges on each side of the 2 halves. You apply glue and then (first removing the support stick) press them flat. The fact the edges are stable means the 2 halves exert pressue on each other. You clamp it down with a gluing caul and let it dry. Done.

As long as the planing was done right, and none of the clamps move, you can’t even tell there’s a glue line there.

Lots of upgrades in the shop… getting ready for my best guitar ever.

So I find I have more time on my hands than I’ve had in decades… as I have joined the millions idled due to COVID and I no longer have a day gig for now. But I spend my mornings looking for paid work and I can spend my afternoons in the shop.  Building guitars is great for the soul.

I have big plans. I am going to make my best guitar ever, and it’s going to be the real deal.

I have upgraded my guitar-side-bender, and I have built some forms to hold them in shape while I attach the sides to the end blocks and insert linings. The guitars should be considerably more symmetrical now. 😉

Lastly I am FINALLY going to get the CNC machine working. I am chewing through pine 2X4’s, finding faults with the machine and the program that runs it… but one fine day, soon, I will be able to rough out a neck and have it ready for final hand shaping. If you look at the video, turn off your speakers: it’s not a pleasant sound.

N95 masks and extra gloves donated… STAT!

The Minnesota Nurse’s Association put out a call for unopened N95 masks and gloves… those poor people are trying to deal with the pandemic without protective gear.

I found some unopened in my supply cupboard. It’s nothing… but it’s something.

Stay safe out there people.

Here’s one I finished up a few weeks ago. Thin bodied jazz box with a Stratocaster-style neck.

I have been remiss about posting, not that anybody reads this or anything, but anyways here’s another I built.

It’s an acoustic guitar with one passive humbucker pickup, and a bolt on Stratocaster-style neck. You can see the big honking neck block that the neck bolts into:

The internal bracing is ladder-style, much like that of a Maccaferri Selmer gypsy jazz guitar, the idea being that I wanted it to have punchy attack and short sustain. I even used a manouche-style rosette – albeit rotated 90 degrees – to make it conjure up that kind of look. Cedar top on this one so it wouldn’t be too bright-sounding.

The idea here is to create a jazz box you can play without amplification, with a very familiar hand-feel to people who play Strats and Telecasters as a rule, but with the option to jack in when you’re on stage.

This was the second guitar I’ve built that I used a water-based lacquer on. The stuff looks good but you need to rotate the guitar body in 3 dimensions while it flashes off, otherwise it runs down and forms drips. I am thinking about a way to make a machine that will rotate the body while I spray it and continue to rotate it until it’s really dry. I like the finish, even though it’s tricky, because I am dead-set against any more chemical exposures.

It’s a nice guitar. I think somebody is going to like it. I like it.

 

Reconditioning an old old guitar that breaks ALL the rules of what a fine instrument should be

I picked up an EKO Rancher XII today… and by ‘picked up’ I mean when I bought it I almost got a hernia. The thing weighs 7+ pounds. It ws made in the 1960’s or early 70’s.

 

I have been looking around for an inexpensive 12 string for awhile and playing a bunch. I can honestly say this 50 year old thing is the best sounding and best playing 12 string guitar I tried out over the last week. The only thing is, it shouldn’t be. Everything is wrong on this guitar and yet it all conspires to make it just right.

It’s a 50 year old 12 string. Guitars warp insanely or just collapse after 10 or 15 years of fighting all that string tension. This one has no warpage and the action is perfect. There are cracks in the lacquer and normal scuffs. Otherwise it’s fine.

The top is not solid spruce or solid cedar or solid anything. It’s plywood. Plywood sounds bad, as a rule. Plywood usually sounds dead, bcause glue doesn’t resonate. This sounds great though. The notes are articulate and airy.

The neck is bolt on. That’s rarely done in acoustic guitars. It can affect sustain. This guitar rings all day long, though. There’s also a little shim underneath altering the angle of the neck,  so the neck isn’t even in full contact with the neck block. This should also adversely affect sustain. It doesn’t on this guitar.

Other weirdness: It also has a brass I-beam running through its entire length. I guess that’s why it’s heavy, and also why it survived 50 years without twisting or taco-ing.  The trapeze tailpiece also helps the guitar’s integrity– the top is only fighting down pressure, not torque or pulling. So the top hasn’t collapsed.

It has a ‘zero fret’.  People have looked down on zero frets for decades. This one works fine, the action is low as can be and does not buzz at all.

The saddle and nut are made of aluminum. I’ve never seen that. Nobody uses aluminum.

The saddle adjusts with 2 big screws that twist into brass ferrules in the body. Very poor practice as a rule. The saddle should rest on the full width of the bridge to tranmit vibration into the guitar’s top. This one only transmits the sound through the ferrules. It’s wrong;  This guitar makes it work.

 

.

 

At some point, somebody recoated the lacquer with some thick clear stuff, of the kind you use when you want to put a deep, thick coat on a bar and inset pennies in it in a tavern somewhere in northern Wisconsin. By rights, this thick lacquer should kill any resonance the plywood top has. But it doesn’t.

While I was shopping for inexpensive guitars, I did play expensive ones to get some idea of where price and sound intersected with these. This thing is a joy to play and sounds better than an 1800.00 Taylor 456e I tried, a Larrivee 12 string that cost 2400.00, 2 different 500.00 Guilds, and a vintage Harmony Regal. This one cost 300.00. SCORE!

This thing just shouldn’t sound good but it does. It’s a wonderful guitar. I’m adding a Fishman under-saddle pickup and then it’s going to play out sometime.

Guitars are magic and sometimes it all comes together when it shouldn’t. When the magic happens, it’s worth taking note of.

 

 

Affixing the bridge, while making sure intonation is dead-on correct

I put the bridge on the guitar today. Because accurate bridge placement is crucial to making sure the guitar plays in tune all the way up and down the neck, it’s something you need to get right the first time.  I have a trick.  I don’t think anybody else does it this way.

When I install a bridge, it’s actually almost the last step in building the guitar. I’ve finished the body, except for a patch where the thing gets glued on. To determine the exact spot the bridge needs to lie, I’ve dummied up some temporary devices.

  • I temporarily attach a trapeze tailpiece to the guitar so I can anchor the strings.
  • I actually string up the low and high E and tune them up to pitch. Notice, the bridge is not secured to the top at this stage except by string tension. The two little blocks you see are to make sure that the string spacing is correct at nut and saddle since everything’s floating free.
  • I test the tone with the open strings and tune them with an electronic tuner to be precisely E (low and high). I then fret each string at 12 and make sure it is exactly E, but one octave higher. I can adjust the intonation by moving the bridge fore and aft, until it is dead on with both strings. I won’t accept even a penny’s variation.
  • I also slide the bridge back and forth across the belly of the guitar so the strings lie correctly athwart the neck.
  • When I am satdfied the bridge is EXACTLY where it needs to be, I box it in with painter’s tape.
  • I take the strings and trapeze off, and drill 2 tiny holes whee the bridge pins are going in at the 2 E strings.
  • Using glue, 2 wood screws, and clamps, I glue the bridge down.

That’s it. Any variation in intonaton that i find during final setup can be addresed by beveling the saddle one way or the other, strng by string. This mounting method is accurate enough that I find I have no issue with the final tweaks.

The area the bridge needs to attach to is unfinished.
temporary trapexe attachment
The trapeze is just held on with a nylon loop around the strap button.
Once I’m satisfied with bridge placement I block it off with painter’s tape.
Clamps and screws exert respectable gluing pressure.

Getting back in the game

Last April when I had my kidney removed I knew I was going to have to reduce my exposures to chemicals and solvents to near zero.

 

I was very concerned about the luthiery because of course, I used lacquer to finish the wood… very fumey and bad for me.

Today for the first time I tried shooting a low-VOC water based lacquer through a cheap HVLP paint gun, and I am very encouraged with the results. I did lay it on a little too thickly (first try, after all) and so I’m going to need to do a light sanding and respray tomorrow, but in general I’m VERY pleased. I think it looks great and the whole process was easier and faster than I expected, including cleaning the HVLP gun. And there was hardly any smell in the shop, and I’m actually going to save money doing it this way– the cans of lacquer I used to use were 10 bucks apiece (one per guitar, basically) and it looks like I might get 5 or 6 guitars out of this water based stuff , at 30 bucks the can.

Back from a posting hiatus

It’s been awhile since I posted (in fact I took time off from building) because of some personal stuff coming up but anyways I’m getting back into the swing of things.

I mounted the neck on my newest Dreadnought today. Curly Maple back and sides, Sitka Spruce top, mahogany neck. In terms of size and resonance, this thing is directy pointed at the Super Jumbo space.

It sounds like a big old drum when you tap it, but the sound is tight and not sloppy. I’m getting pretty excited.

I have to find a way to lacquer it without exposing myself to solvents.  This is going to be a challenge.

Nearly done

Here’s where she sits… standing up under string tension The initial setup is done, and the action is good. But this was a random collection of stuff a few days ago and now it’s a guitar, so it will take time for the timbers to take a set. I’ll let it hang out for a week or so and play it every day (it sounds nice!) and then change the tension on the neck brace if needed and set up the action again.

Also I need to add fretboard markers. In the past I’ve put in cherry plugs as markers when the thing wasn’t fretted yet, sanding them flush. This time I had the “brilliant” idea that I was going to ‘brand’ symbols on the fretboard and let those serve.  It seemed consistent with the ‘Ostinato’ brand on the headstock and the burned pattern on the rosette. I like the simplicity and directness of burning symbols onto wood, it’s unequivocal and final. Boom. In the case of the fingerboard markers, it turns out the idea was not brilliant at all; the rosewood did not take kindly to the treatment. maybe Pau Ferro or some other fretboard material would work, but not the rosewood.  So anyways  have to figure out how I’m going to add markers to a guitar that’s already complete and already has frets. It’ll be fiddly work but nothing too tough.

Other than that it’s a great instrument. Once I have it completely dialed in somebody is going to want it. Maybe even me, although I’ve been trying to thin the herd. I have too many guitars, both made and store bought.

 

Shellac: done. Lacquer first coat: done.

I laid down the shellac (I mix my own) today and after a long enough time for a hard set, laid on the first coat of lacquer. I usually do 3. I sand a little bit in between each coat.

If I can lay down coats 2 & 3 tomorrow, I may be able to make & install the bone saddle and bridge, and the tuners, on Sunday. Then stringing up and setting up, tweaking, and playing in begins.

I love this color. It makes new Spruce look seasoned and deep, and brings out the grain of the walnut.