Saturday, October 27, 2007

Making an Archtop guitar (my way!) Part 1

I started this commission for a hybrid archtop guitar a while ago ( Link to original blog entry) and have spent along time thinking about the shape of the sound board. This isn’t my first archtop, I made the one pictured below in 1977!

It was the 7th guitar that I made and it was built during my second year at the London College of Furniture. I got the guitar out of storage the other day to help me with the design of the hybrid, I can’t believe that I made this 30 years ago when I was 19
At the time two other students Bill Dinsdale and Mark Lacey were also making archtops. Herbert Schwarz, our tutor had a great deal of experience in building this type of guitar, when Bill and I had completed ours, Herbie arranged for the jazz guitarist Ike Isaacs to try them. I can’t remember his reaction, but needless to say it was quite a thrill for both of us.
One of my favourite parts of this guitar is the art-deco styled tailpiece.

It was all hand made by me out of brass and then gold plated. I can remember taking the brass tailpiece to be plated, somewhere in the East End, long before it was full of bars and art galleries and the guy asking me how many microns thick did I want the gold? I didn’t know anything about microns so I asked for ten quids worth! That must have been a good amount as it’s still in mint condition with no signs of corrosion. You’ll notice that the Nava “N” has changed a bit!

Anyway back to this one, after much thought and research I produced some full-size drawing to work from. Robert Benedetto’s book Making an Archtop guitar is invaluable for anyone wanting to build this type of instrument; I wish he had published it 30 years ago! There are also some great articles in the Big Red Book series published by the Guild of American Luthiers.
I joined the top a while ago, so the next step was to get the underside completely flat, even though this will be hollowed out later, it must be flat around the edges, where it will be glued to the sides. Having flattened the bottom it's turned over and planed down to the overall thickness. It makes me laugh when people talk about going to the gym, just plane up some wood; it’s great for upper body development! Many archtop specialists use a 3D pantograph machine for these roughing out stages. Hey, but when I say that my guitars are handmade guitars, I mean it!!
The following sequence of photos show how the shape emerges from the initial wedge of wood.

Now the outside is done, I’m going to put this aside for a couple of weeks. Two reasons; firstly so that I can come back to it with a fresh set of eyes and decide whether or not I want to modify the profile and secondly to let the wood “rest” and stabilised to its environment now that a large amount of its mass has been removed. I’ve no doubt that building a guitar over a long period of time improves the stability of the wood once the guitar has been completed.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Getting back to guitar making!

The bulk of the work on the new workshop is completed and I can now get back to the business of making guitars! I’m so pleased with way it’s worked out; I have so much more room!

As I haven’t blogged for a while, I thought that I’d update you on what’s currently being worked on.

Richard’s guitar is being sprayed; the reorganisation of my work space has allowed me the extra space to be able to spray lacquer under more favourable conditions. The guitar is pictured outside the new ‘shop.

The maple mandolin’s French polished finish has hardened nicely and here I’m fitting the hardware and making the bridge. This was made speculatively and I hope to be able to offer it for sale via my website in a few weeks time. The great thing about making an instrument speculatively is that you can do anything you want and try out new ideas that help you grow as a luthier.

Luke’s bass in coming along nicely and as you can see the next major stage is gluing on the fingerboard and shaping the neck. As well as an adjustable truss-rod, there are two lengths of carbon fibre laminated into the neck.

The classical guitar that was on sale at the Spanish Guitar Centre was sold and at some point I need to build another guitar for them. I’ve started making up pieces for the rosette. The steel string that I had for sale on website has also sold, so at the moment I’m sold out! I need to build a new demonstration model and I’ve just got hold of some stunning Macassar Ebony that I might use for it. It has an incredible ringing tap-tone and will make a fantastic instrument. It will need to have a three piece back, but that’s not a problem.

There are a few more instruments that are in the design stage at the moment, more on them later.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Commissioning a guitar part 5

Richard’s guitar is now being lacquered and you can see it pictured above. I am now offering two types of finishes, lacquer or French polish; again this allows the client to have exactly what they wish for, when they commission a guitar from me.
Whilst Richard’s guitar is being lacquered, one of the other things that I’m working on is a baritone guitar commission for Ian. Below is my initial full-size drawing for Ian to consider, he has already been over to choose the wood; a bear-claw sitka spruce soundboard and some wonderful English walnut for the back and sides.....and so the circle continues!

I always buy too much wood, so fortunately I have a good stock which allows most clients to choose whatever they wish. For back and sides, I currently have 3 varieties of walnut, 2 varieties of mahogany, 2 varieties of maple, and a good selection of Indian Rosewood in stock. Other woods are surprisingly easy to get if you are willing to pay the price. Last week I was offered 15 sets of Brazilian rosewood but the cost was prohibitively expensive; but the point is it’s out there! For soundboards, as well as the usual Spruces and Cedar I’ve got Douglas Fir and a stunning Californian Redwood soundboard that I can’t wait to use on something; watch this space!