Lutherie - the making of guitars
John Evarts, et al, Coast Redwood, A Natural History, 2011
Today, I glued the back onto a redwood/black walnut classical guitar that I named Luisa, after the flamenco bailaora, Luisa Maravilla.
The top is redwood that I purchased from Paul Carroll at Redwood Bears and Burls in Gasquet, California.
The back and sides I re-sawed, by hand with a Disston D-8 rip saw, from a board of black walnut that I purchased at a flea market in Longmont, Colorado.
The neck is Port Orford cedar, the top braces are from a 50+ year old white fir 2x4, the back fillet is sycamore, the back braces are black cherry. All of these species grow in Tehama County, California, which is where I am from, either as naturals or exotics.
It is a "green" guitar, meaning that all the wood comes from sustainable sources.
Here are some photos of building this guitar.
Joining the top pieces.
Preparing to rout out the channel for the rosette.
Laying out the top bracing. This is similar to the bracing pattern used by the great guitarrero, Feliz Manzanero.
Glueing on the transverse braces.
The sides are next...
and the top blocks are glued in one at a time.
The sides are attached to the top and the neck.
Back linings attached along with all of the pillarettes to support the back braces.
The back is ready, with my label, to be glued on.
The Cumpiano/Natelson method for clamping the back onto a guitar, a cut up inner tube.
It was a lot of fun work to reach this point!
I am extending my 15% off sale through March 2017!
Now's your chance to own one of my handcrafted guitars!
Please contact me for details!
Anders Sterner, musician
Thought you might be interested in a short post on how I make capos, or cejillas, for classical/flamenco guitars.
First thing I do is roundup some black and white strips of veneer; a piece of nice wood for the core and even pretty wood for the outside laminations.
I plane pieces to proper thickness, align in proper order and glue all pieces together.
Here are two capo templates I came up with, I copied historic original Spanish capo shapes, I draw these onto the block of wood I just created from the veneer, laminates and core. Then I drill holes for the violin pegs and have a violin/viola/cello peg reamer handy.
Here is a photo of a shop made violin peg shaver that I made. I use 1/2 size violins for the capos.
Once the violin pegs fit perfectly in their holes in the capos, I cut them to proper length, drill a hole in the peg shaft between collar and head of peg for the nylon guitar string. I cut the capos to match the template outlines, sand, buff and apply some linseed oil.
I use LaBella brand nylon flamenco guitar strings to attach the friction pegs to the capos. The string will run through a piece of vinyl tubing which will protect the guitar's neck. After the strings and pegs are attached I glue a strip of neoprene to the face of the capo. Once the glue has dried I trim the neoprene...
and have a whole handful of beautiful capos!
Yes, I have left out a few steps of how I make these handy little tools for a guitarist, I can't give away all of my secrets!
Frederick Noad, The Classical Guitar, 1976
I made eight capos/cejillas for classical or flamenco guitars.
These cejillas/capos are based on a traditional Spanish design that dates from the 18th century. The peg is made from rosewood, the center section of each capo (capodastre) is carved from either hard maple or East Indian rosewood and the sides of the capo are either curly maple or East Indian rosewood.
Current capo inventory consists of two with curly maple sides and four with East Indian rosewood sides. There are two capos made from solid Vermillion, a very gorgeous hard wood from Africa.
All pegs are attached to the capo with LaBella brand flamenco "G" string, the faces that go against the guitar strings are covered with neoprene and the peg string is covered with vinyl tubing to protect the guitar neck.
The laminated capos are $30 a piece, plus shipping.
The vermillion capos are $20 a piece, plus shipping.
I will not be making anymore capos until June or July of 2017.
Please contact me at email@example.com if you would like to buy a capo!
Ervin Somogyi, Guitar maker, 2013
How thick to make a classical guitar's top is a subject of heated debate. I know, other makers, and amateur classical guitarists, have argued at me about top thickness. I see no point in arguing about top thicknesses, either you like my guitars or you don't. You are suppose to buy the guitar you love.
I found the following tidbit of information in Ervin Somogyi's Specific Top Thickness in the Guitar:
...Mr. Tatay motioned the young Newberry over to his workbench and, using hand gestures and some coins, indicated to him that the secret to his lutherie was to make the guitar top about the thickness of a nickel in the middle, and the thickness of a dime at the edges.
These two coins have been in my jean's pocket for the last two weeks, so I can pull them out throughout the day and feel how thick they are between my thumb and forefinger.
According to my General brand caliper, a nickel is .070 inches thick, or about 1.8mm...
a dime is is .046 inches thick, 3/64th of an inch, which would make it between 1.1-1.2mm thick.
This is a Port Orford cedar guitar top that is going to be paired with some "wild grown" East Indian rosewood. The caliper is on the very outside edge of the top, it measures in between 1/32th of an inch and 5/64ths of an inch, a hair or so over .070 inches, or about 1.8mm. So I got the top's edge to a little more than a thickness of a dime.
Just so you know, I made this top last fall, before I read through Mr Somogyi's article. I was using the top thicknesses of Spanish guitars that were made in the 1960's as a guideline.
Here at the middle of the top at the sound hole, the thickness is almost 3/32nds of an inch, about .090 of an inch, or somewhere around 2.2-2.3mm.
Should I go thinner? Maybe. I won't know until I glue the fan braces on and "tap tune" the top. Remember, Mr. Tatay said about the thickness of a nickel and dime.
When the great guitar maker, Antonio de Torres, was asked what his secret was for making such wonderful sounding guitars, he answered by holding up both his hands and put his thumbs to his fore and middle fingers. He said that knowing how to thickness a guitar's top was the secret, which was no secret to other guitar makers.
Forest Products Laboratory, USDA Forest Service
When I dismantled the old workshop I made sure that I inspected every stick of wood that came out of the building to see if it could be used in making a guitar.
There wasn't much, most of the Douglas fir 2x4's were too knotty or had amazing amounts of runout to be used, all of that went into constructing the new tool shed. I did find a couple of 2x4's that were white fir, abies concolor, that showed some promise.
I cut out the parts that looked good and split them, the failure rate was pretty high, lots of run out. One piece that is suitable has the old sawmill stamp on it, I believe it is a West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau stamp. I went to their website, click here, and found that Mill 74 is no longer in operation. This piece of wood is definitely white fir! The old workshop was constructed about 1964, which means this stick of wood is two years younger than me!
This is from a new 2x4 that I used to frame my new workshop. As you can see it is stamped Doug Fir-Larch and was milled at Priest River, Idaho. Go to the Western Wood Products Association webpage to see a listing of all the mill currently in operation. I am not sure if this piece is Douglas fir, it's a little too light in weight and really doesn't have the pitchy Douglas fir smell to it, it could be Western Larch.
Check out the medullary rays in this piece of white fir! The Douglas fir/larch piece also has some glorious medullary rays.
Here is a guitar top made from redwood that I purchased from Redwood Bears and Burls in Gasquet (Gas-key), California. You can also find their products on eBay, just look for "renobird". The "fan" braces are from the old piece of white fir and these braces are surprisingly stiff and light. When I was single and living in Northeastern California, I cut and splits cords of white fir for firewood, even then I thought that it would make good brace wood for guitars.
Today was also baking day! I started baking bread again, I forgot how much I enjoy it!
Look for highcountrylutherie on Instagram for daily updates on what I am working on in my shop, mostly guitars, though I may post about something else.
I would put a "link to button" for Instagram on this blog, but the directions I found this morning on Blogger Help didn't work, and the websites that were suggested for add-ons, well, their platforms were for everything else but Blogger. Sigh. I need to hire a web designer.
I have a Facebook page, too, Wilson Burnham Guitars, but that really isn't much different than Instagram or this blog.
You won't find me on Twitter, I can't limit myself to just 140 characters because in college I studied creative writing with Bill Kittredge, Sandra Alcosser, Paul Zarsyski, William Pitt Root and the late Patricia Goedicke.
Now, back to work!
Cold weather and snow delayed me in getting down the corrugate tin roofing on the new workshop. January 3rd proved to be a day of snow flurries and sunshine which at least allowed me to install the roofing. Then it snowed six inches.
The temperature fell to -5 degrees Fahrenheit and it kept snowing...
...until there was 22 inches of snow on the ground. And the temperature fell some more to register -14 degrees Fahrenheit on the thermometer.
Yesterday, the temps warmed up to 36 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind gusting up to 50 mph and we lost power for about two hours.
This morning we woke up to rain and warmer weather. I am very glad that I got the new workshop "dried in" before all this snow fell.
The high reached 40 degrees today with rain and snow flurries, there is a good six inches of slush underneath all the snow. No wind to speak of today, though some locales all the foothills had wind gusts up to 90mph, it was a very quiet day here.
The forecast doesn't call for sunny skies until Saturday, on that day we will drive nearly two hours out to Wiggins. Colorado to a butcher shop to pick up a quarter of beef that we bought from friends of ours who run Angus cattle near Sterling.
Maybe next week I can start putting up the siding on the new workshop.
I look forward to it.
Bertrand Russell, in The Scientific Outlook, 1931
When I first started making guitars, Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology, by Cumpiano and Natelson, was my best guide. One problem I ran into with this book is that the authors recommend using a machinist's ruler graduated in tenths of an inch to use in making a guitar. At the time, I had a hard time finding an affordable machinist's ruler that was longer than 24 inches, I ended up buying a double sided ruler, both imperial and metric, from Bridge City Tools. As I did more research into classical guitar construction I discovered most of the books available worked with the metric system and used it to take measurements of historic guitars. I never really gave much thought to either system, both accomplish the same task, namely measurement.
Recently, I re-read an article on the restoration of an 1863 Antonio de Torres guitar by the luthier R.E. Brune. (Click here to read the article). In the article, after describing the guitar, Mr. Brune states "Aside from the lack of fan struts, there are several other notable features. The first is its adherence to English measurements based on the inch."
Wow, a Spanish carpenter using the English Imperial system of measurement! Torres worked as a guitar maker from about 1845 to his death in 1892.
Of course, Mr. Brune doesn't address why Antonio de Torres used the English system.
My first question was, why didn't Torres use the Spanish unit of measurement, that of the vara, pulgado and pie? These units of measurement are descendants of the Roman foot, very ancient, well used and loved by the Spanish. Yes, I know that the length of the vara was different in each Spanish town and province, but why would a man who apprenticed as a carpenter in his hometown take up a unit of measurement used by the English?
The second question I asked was, maybe Torres did use the vara to layout his guitar plans and nobody used a vara to measure his guitars.
I made a ruler based upon the Spanish vara to test this theory very unscientifically.
As I understand it, the vara was/is equivalent to our "yard". Juan Villasana Haggard, who wrote Handbook For Translators of Spanish Historical Documents, states that the official historical vara was 32.91 inches; a codo equals one half a vara, 16.5 inches; a pulgada, consisting of 12 lineas, equals 0.914 inches; a linea equals 1/432 of a vara, or 0.0769 inches; a dedo equals 1/48 of a vara, 0.6949 inches; there is more, but I think you get the idea. Another source states "(t)he standard vara was the vara of Castile, (about 0.8359 meter, subdivided into 3 pies or 4 palmos)". A palmos is 8.23 inches, a pie is 10.97 inches.
I ripped and planed down a piece of maple, I sharpened the points on my old Lodi brand dividers, set to them to that space between 29/32 and 59/64 and went on a wild ride for 26 pulgadas.
When I placed the new ruler next to my trusty old Bridge City ruler, imperial side, I saw no marks really lined up, no pattern emerged.
One half of the 25.625 inch scale length is 12.812 inches, and as you can see, the new ruler really doesn't line up with 12 and 13/16 inches.
I flipped the Bridge City ruler over to the metric side and again, no alignment or pattern either. Half of 65cm is 32.5cm.
Yes, I probably should have spent more time dividing the pulgadas into 6ths, 7ths, 8ths, 10ths, 12ths, 16ths, etc., but I need to buy better dividers and I am not sure I need to explore this side street further at this time.
Third question: was there a connection between the violin and guitar makers of Seville, Spain and those of England?
Last night, while surfing the Internet for "English unit of measurement and Spanish guitars", I stumbled onto a thread that was up on a well known classical guitar forum. I won't mention the forum's name, I find forums a waste of time, mostly because of the dilettantism you find in forums, but, I will say I think I actually found the start of answer to my first and third questions.
A well known guitar maker mentioned that he had done some research on Spanish carpenters and guitar makers and learned that most of these men tried to purchase English made tools and rulers. Why English tools? They were the best tools available. The only problem with this maker's thread post is he does not cite his reference for this claim.
This maker also states that he has examined guitars made by the great Jose Ramirez III in the 1960's that layout perfectly to the English inch. That statement correlates with a statement made by the late Eugene Clark, a wonderful guitar maker, who said that nearly all of the guitars made by the great Spanish makers that he had repaired, laid out to the English inch.
What a thought, Spanish guitar makers used the English inch into the 1970's! And Spain officially adopted the metric system over one hundred years earlier!
Here are some photos of a plan of a 1963 Hernandez y Aguado classical guitar from Roy Courtnall's collection purchased from LMI. All measurements on the plan are metric, but notice that the drawing lines up well with the English inch.
Overall length of box, 19 1/4 inches.
With of lower bout, 14 3/4 inches.
Where to from here?
I will look at the bibliography in Tools: Working Wood in 18th Century America, by Gaynor and Hagedorn, and The Tool Chest of Benjamin Seaton, by TATHS for paths to research British tool and ruler exports to Spain. At some point, I hope I can find books on the history of woodworking and carpentry in Spain. I also need to email that guitar maker about his references for Spanish carpenters and their English tools. If anyone has any suggestions for research possibilities, please let me know!
Donald Culross Peattie, A Natural History of Western Trees, 1952
I like to split guitar bracing material from billets of spruce or Douglas fir, usually I use a 2 inch wide registered mortice chisel for the task, but the chisel doesn't work as well as a froe.
During this past summer and fall I bugged a friend of mine to weld a piece of steel pipe to an old file I have to make a small froe for the shop.
Either he was too busy or I was, the froe never got made.
Then, lo and behold, there on the Tools For Woodworking website were three different sized froes made by Ray Iles! I emailed the web address to my wife and told her which froe to order for me, I was so very excited!
On Christmas morning I unwrapped a wonderful present, a six inch Ray Iles froe.
It's a nice froe, very much the length I need...
and today I cut up a length of a hickory pick axe handle, chucked it into the lathe and made a new handle for the froe.
Why should I do that when the Iles froe comes with a very nice beech handle?
It is my tool and I want a different shaped handle and the handle will do quite well for now.
Froes are tools that are very near and dear to my heart. When I was a kid, I helped my parents rive shingles to replace the worn ones on my grandparents' house in the Sierra Nevada of northern California. Shingle making had been a cottage industry for many folks that lived in the great forests of Northern California from the 1850's until the end of World War II. My great uncle, Frank, told me that my grandfather, Rufus, could rive one thousand shakes a day, if he didn't have to stack them. During the Great Depression, my grandfather often sold the shakes for a penny a piece.
In the above photos are two froes and a shingle bolt marking gauge made by my grandfather.
The froe on the right is a "checking" froe; you would mark the top of the bolt with the checking froe to see how many shakes you could rive from the bolt.
The riving froe, on the left, is what you use to do the actual splitting and riving. Notice how the end of the riving froe is upturned on the very end, I was told this little bend made it easier to get the froe out of the bolt. If I had made my own froe this fall, it would have looked just like this one, only smaller.
Notice that the handle on the riving froe has a curve to it, this curve help saves the knuckles of the hand that is hold the froe from getting hit by your froe mallet. California Live oak limbs were harvested for froe handles, they were placed into forms while green to set the curve and were sold once dry. Some where I read that live oak handle sold for as much as 10 cents an inch in 1900.
If you want to see how I make a traditional froe mallet, traditional to northeastern California, click here.
This historic photo comes from the CSU Chico Digital Collections, click here to see the original photo. These men were working near the Clipper Mills area of Butte County, California. Both men are using froes with French eyes, the gentleman to the left is riving out bolts, the gent on the right is splitting shakes and take a look at the brake he is using. When I was a kid, a similar, but not as fancy, brake that was used by my grandfather was out behind the wood shed.
The stacks behind the men are shake bolts, usually six inches wide by thirty six inches long. One implement I don't see in this photo is the baler, a device to squeeze the shakes down so you could wrap them with wire. If I remember correctly, it was 100 shakes to a bundle.
Here's a photo of me, from about five years ago, using my grandfather's froe splitting a cheek for a lathe poppet.
As for the Ray Iles froe, it is well made and I look forward to using it, a nice tool to honor a bit of my heritage. All I need to do now is to figure out some sort of board brake to use at the workbench when I split out guitar braces.
I enjoy working with scrapers and files. Sanding is messy and time consuming.
There was a time when most luthiers did not do much sanding. The finished instrument did not have a perfect, homogeneous surface. It looked like wood that was worked by hand with edge tools.
The tool marks and slight unevenness in finish and texture of a scraped and filed instrument is beautiful in my eyes. In our current industrial society many people think wood should look like a photograph of wood more than wood itself.
So I sand my dulcimers.
Still, there will be the occasional tool mark that I don’t sand out. I made this dulcimer. I made that tool mark. And to me it is beautiful.
By “tool mark” I am referring to a subtle witness that a plane, chisel, scraper or file had been used to work the surface. By “tool mark” I don’t refer to marks left by the sawmill, the bandsaw, a dulcimer-making machine, etc.
For years I have thought of making a sandpaper-free model. I’m sure some people would like it. Or not. Maybe someday.
That’s dulcimer #157 on the bench. The old shaving brush is great for sweeping away dust from all the nooks and crannies.
Not in the photograph is the dust mask I wear while sanding and and air cleaner that sucks the dust out of the air.
You can see photographs of work in progress regularly by following me on Instagram.
The auction lasts for only five days, that way you can get the plane by Christmas!
If I remember correctly, I typed it out as a Type 13 plane. A good 85% of the original japanning remains; the knob and tote are nice rosewood are gorgeous, the only flaw to the wood is a few scratches and there is a small chip on the upper left hand side of the tote which you can see in the photo. I lapped the back of the blade, tuned the blade cap and did some lapping on the sole, there is still plenty of storage patina left on the metal. This is a great user plane and needs a good home! Please ask questions and I can email more photos to you if needed.
Hideo Kamimoto, Complete Guitar Repair, 1975
I have so much work to do!
Today, I finished nailing down the roof sheathing and got some trim up on the fascia. I would have put up more trim, but the local lumber yard had nothing but junky 1x8 pine, I was a little disgusted by the selection.
The day started out partly sunny, the temperature was about 16 degrees Fahrenheit, by noon the temperature dropped to 12 degrees and a breeze came up making it too cold to work. Yes, there was a time in my life when I would framing in subzero temperatures, I work for myself now, no point in making work a brutal thing.
As I write this post, it is 10 degrees Fahrenheit with heavy snow. The forecast calls for subzero temperatures tonight with up to one foot of snow!
After getting the rafters up and into place, day seven, I got the sub-fascia up on the north and south elevations...
...the sub-fascia almost up...
and getting the the lookouts made on the east...
and west elevations.
Day eight I put down the 5/8 thick OSB roof sheathing.
I need to finish nailing all the wall shear, then 1/4 exterior plywood needs to be purchased, along with some ice and water shield and corrugated roofing for the roof.
Electrical wire needs to be pulled, outlet and lighting boxes located and nailed up, then there's insulation to put in. Did I mention the ten sashes that I will build entirely by hand?
Good thing I got my copy of Charles Hayward's The Woodworker today from Lost Art Press! I admit that sashes were much easier to make when I worked at Yosemite National Park, the workshop was equipped with a floor mounted mortising machine, an eight inch joiner, a twenty four inch thickness planer, a 3hp shaper and a dedicated tenoning/coping machine just for sashes. I like Hayward's description of how to make a sash, I look forward to the task.
Please check out my Guitars Currently Available page to see the specs of available guitars and to read what internationally known guitarists are saying about my guitars.
If there is one that you are interested in, please call or email me for more details. It is best if you call me, that way we can discuss the individual guitar, payment and shipping options.
I can ship guitars for approval upon receiving a cashier's or bank check for the total price of the instrument. You will have 48 hours after receiving shipment to decide if you wish to keep the instrument. If the guitar is returned within this 48 hour period, I will refund payment. If the instrument is not returned within 48 hours, it will be considered sold. All costs for shipping and insurance are the responsibility of the customer.
I look forward to hearing from you!
Willis H. Wagner, Modern Carpentry, 1992
Yesterday was Day Five of framing the new workshop.
I replaced the header over the door with a longer header, the door opening was too close to the east wall, I was afraid that you would bump into the wall when you entered the building. The opening was shifted to the west.
Then it was a matter of nailing up sheets of OSB shearing to keep the building from falling down.
I need to buy some 3/8" thick exterior grade plywood to cover the OSB and finish the exterior, but I want to prime and paint it before I put it up. The temperature didn't get above 24 degrees Fahrenheit yesterday, and there was a good breeze which made it feel even colder! Not the warmest day for swinging a hammer or for painting!
It is nice to walk through the door opening instead of squeezing through wall studs!
This shop will have a bank of five upper windows and three big windows, these will be approximately 30"x40", giving me plenty of light to work by. I will make the sashes by hand, I have a feeling I am going to get to know my Stanley No.45 plane very well this winter! I don't want to set up a router and router table to rout the rails, stiles and muntins, too much noise and dust!
I was hoping to fly the rafters today, but there are a few errands to run. The walls need to be "string lined" and straighten, the rafter pattern needs to be temporarily put in place to see if it fits properly so I can cut the other rafters.
Once the "lid" is on, I can pull wire and insulate. There is also the matter of finding a nice propane heater and having a gas line run to the building.
I can't wait to finish this shop!
I don’t really need to use clamps when gluing up a dulcimer peghead assembly but I feel better knowing the clamp is there. Hide glue added to a clean and well-fitting joint grabs and pulls the joint together as the hide glue sets up.
Clamping the parts together at an angle is tricky but in the photograph you can sort of see the peghead and the block beneath it are pressed up against an angled block of wood covered with wax paper. The peghead is clamped to the work board and there is wax paper on the work board as well.
This arrangement keeps parts from sliding when downward pressure is applied to the joint. They probably wouldn’t slide anyway since I’m using hide glue but I feel better knowing there is no chance of a rude surprise.
The wax paper prevents someone from getting a dulcimer with a work-board and an angled block of wood stuck to the peghead. That would make the dulcimer difficult to tune and it would be hard to find a case that fits.
After everything is clamped up I clean up the squeezed out glue with a rag and warm water. This is another benefit of hide glue; it cleans up with warm water and a rag.
You can see more photographs of dulcimers in progress and other stuff by following me on Instagram.
Marples Chisels with rubber grip handle, 1/4", 1/2", 3/4", 1" wide blades, purchased in 2004.
One Wagner Safe-T-Planer kit w/ original box, planer, instructions and replacement blades. Used once, purchased in 2007.
One hand made carpenter mallet, red oak handle, maple head, made in 2002.
Three unmarked coping saws, two circa 1960's, one from 2005.
One hand made chair devil, Claro walnut body with ebony and scraper blade. Made in 2003.
One Starrett micrometer, circa 1960's with owner's name on it.
One 1/2"wide Veritas Tenon cutter with brass depth setting gauge, purchased c.1999.
One AMT brand spoon gouge used from carving violin tops and backs, with hang hole, c.1999.
One French made pencil dividers, original screw is missing to hold pencil
One Fuller brand Phillips tip screwdriver, 1960's vintage
One Stanley brand slotted screw driver for hand brace, 5/16" wide, c.1950's
One slotted screw driver for hand brace, GP bar over Eye surrounded by a heart mark, with no. 352
One 5/16" fluted reamer for hand brace, Diamond "C" mark
One Victoria brand hoof knife, purchased 1986.
All tools in good to good++ condition. Wagner Safe-T-Planer is near mint.
Please ask questions and I can supply more photos.
An American made adjustable stick and rabbet plane, with, I presume, a beech body. Fair condition. Fully boxed, 1/2 inch wide ovolo profile, metal screw adjustment. Plane measures 9 1/2 inches long by 2 inches wide. One original beech wedge, the other appears to be mahogany, both have been modified a bit. I bought this from a local tool dealer who claimed that planes made by S.E. Farrand are desired collectibles, I bought it with the intent of making a copy of it. I have never used it. Please ask questions and I can send additional photos if wanted.