Lutherie - the making of guitars
I had these DeArmond Hershey Bar pickups come into the shop for rewinding recently. These pose a couple of challenges – the covers are riveted to the pickup and the coil is wound around the magnet which is unsupported on top.
I am sure the proper rivets are commercially available but I wasn’t able to figure out where to get the proper ones. The world of rivets is more varied than one might expect. Considering how often I do this repair it was just easier to make them. I had some 3/16 nickel rod on hand it is not too difficult to machine them on the lathe.
To wind the coils I made a temporary support that was bolted onto the bobbin with cellophane tape in between. I was able to wax pot the coil to make it more solid before removing the support.
Everything about this plane says that it is a Type 6 (1888-1892). The plane body, cap iron, plane iron, lateral adjusting lever, all have the proper dates and lettering on them to make this a Type 6 plane, but the brass adjusting nut is a right handed thread, not left handed, which was used on Type 5 planes.
Rosewood knob has typical tool box dings and wear, but is in good shape; rosewood tote is not original to plane, it was salvaged from a broken Stanley No. 7 jointer plane, Type 11. There is about 80-85% of the japanning left on the body.
This plane belonged to my grandfather, Rufus Wilson (1881-1955), who was a carpenter and old time logger, and my mother told me that he owned this plane when they moved to their house near Mineral, California in 1940. I was given this plane in 1978 when I was 16 years old. I tuned up the plane in the early 1990's, the typical work of flattening the sole, the back of the iron, etc. I used this plane to make my first musical instruments. I set it aside about 15 years ago to keep as a collectors item, but I have decided to let it go to someone else. It is a great user plane! Please ask questions! I will not ship out of the United States, no international sales!
Stephen in his Salt Lake shop, 1978. Photo courtesy of George Stapleford.
Stephen's obituary can be found at this location -- http://www.premierfuneral.com/obituaries/Stephen-Shepherd/#!/Obituary
The text of his obituary --
Stephen Arden Shepherd
Stephen Shepherd, was born April 20, 1948 in Salt Lake City, UT, to Arden Warren and Vida Johnson Shepherd. He passed away January 24, 2018, a kind release from the debilitating effects of a stroke. He leaves a sister Merrily Runyan, Clovis, CA, and nieces and nephews.
Stephen Shepherd was a unique individual. Whether known as Stephen Shepherd the author, lecturer, and expert in 19th-Century Woodworking, or as “Tater”, the Mountain Man and adventurer, he influenced many people and sometimes irritated others with his infallible knowledge. Arguing historic technology with Stephen was frustrating and pointless – his knowledge was vast. And he shared that knowledge with anyone genuinely interested.
He was always building, repairing, tinkering and inventing, very often simply to see if he could do it – if it could even be done. Many of his friends are proud owners of a “Tater-made” item, from furniture to walking-sticks to quill pens. He shared his knowledge by writing four authoritative books on woodworking, and re-published two more “rescued” books of great value to historians of 19th-Century crafts.
For the most part he lived a 19th-Century life. Almost all his furniture and re-created items were made and restored using only hand tools. He had no power tools in his shop. His careful craftsmanship, restoration and renown finishing techniques, including gorgeous “painting and graining”, gained him world-wide recognition. His clients over the years included many wealthy collectors and The LDS Church Historic Collections.
He dressed for most of his adult life in 19th-Century-style clothing, including when traveling to other states. In 1976, during the bicentennial re-tracing of the Domingues/Escalante journey to Utah, Stephen and companions met the party in the desert, dressed authentically as fur-traders. Their clothing and accoutrement authenticity far outshone that of the re-creators! For decades he attended Mountain Man rendezvous all over the west, and was always welcomed by everyone.
People loved Stephen Shepherd, and were proud to know him. Sometimes they were friends of Stephen, sometimes friends of Tater, some not even knowing they were one and the same! His cheerful demeanor, his willingness to laugh at society’s faults, and his dedication to his friends make the memory of Stephen “Tater” Shepherd precious to all of us who were close to him.
Per Stephen’s wishes, no services will be held, donations may be made to This Is the Place Heritage Park in his memory.
Stephen (left) and myself (right), Mill Creek Canyon, February 1975. We camped this way. We were much younger then.
George Stapleford (left) and Stephen (right) near Moab, Utah, March 1975. Better camping conditions, still cold.
L to R, myself, Stephen, LaMar Higbee, Taos, New Mexico, May 1975. Yet better camping conditions.
George, Stephen, and I, September 2016.
I have found one place, however, where inexpensive instruments, not bottom-of-the-bucket VSOs, are useful, and that is in the fractional violins that go out on rentals. Even then, I don't just pull them out of the box and send them on their way. Typically, new (real) violin strings, work over the pegs, adjust or replace the bridge. Throw the bow away, substitute in a Glasser or something similar that has a chance of surviving.
And my rentals are rent-to-own, so I move the kids up through various sizes as they grow. If the kids stick with it, the parents are well into paying for a decent full-size fiddle by the time the child has grown to that size, and has learned, through various mistakes, how to take care of a fiddle.
The other day, this poor 1/4-size violin came in, brand new, from a reputable supplier. The fingerboard was a ski-jump. I debated sending it back, but didn't want that hassle. I debated asking the supplier for a new fingerboard. That just seemed too demeaning to all of us. So I decided to waste more time.
Here's the old fingerboard --
And here is the new one --
After all my reading and work with Hardanger fiddle design, I started to get a little interested in the inlay process, something I haven't done much of. So I found a piece of bone, a cut-off from a guitar-nut blank, cut it quickly to a rough diamond shape, laid it out on the center of the fingerboard in a random spot, and started the inlay.
I didn't notice at the time, but I drifted a bit to one side during the inlay process, something to be on the look-out for if I do more of these things.
I also did a little bit of simple engraving, which is a bit crude, but I think it looks better than just the bone diamond.
Also cut a new bridge, installed new Prelude strings and a Wittner tailpiece. For a cheap little fiddle, it ought to work well for someone.
On a sad note, my long-time friend, Stephen Shepherd, passed away yesterday. He had suffered a stroke a few years back, and went from being a vital historic cabinetmaker and author to a semi-paralyzed invalid. Early on, it looked like he might come out of it. He didn't. When I visited him in Salt Lake this past Thanksgiving, he was basically bedridden and bored, starving himself to death.
I will miss him.
Here we are, the Three Musketeers, at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, in 1974. Stephen is center, I am to the left, and George Stapleford to the right.
Don't miss out!
This sale will continue until Tuesday, March 20, 2018!
Go to Guitars Currently Available to see the latest inventory!
Scott Landis, The Workshop Book, 1991
I am in the middle of making two classical guitars, one is a close copy of a 1926 Domingo Esteso, the other one a close copy of Andres Segovia's famous 1912 Manuel Ramirez guitar. The Esteso style has a 640mm string length on a body smaller than the Ramirez style, almost three quarters of an inch shorter, and the Ramirez is fairly textbook, meaning that from the outside it looks like a 1912 Ramirez guitar. The inside is braced a little differently than the original, but the "fan" pattern of bracing was in use in the Ramirez shop at the time.
In all of this chaos of scraping down bindings, glueing on fret boards, making bridges, etc., I realized that I needed to rehabilitate my chisel-tool rack. There were chisels and pliers on the floor of the studio because there was no place to put them, a problem that needed a remedy.
The original rack was patterned after a French tool rack that was popular a few years ago, it worked but my tool collection had grown. You can read about the old rack elsewhere in this blog.
My solution to the problem was to add an extra rack on the bottom of the backing board.
Now back together, and back in the Middle School orchestra room:
I glued the pieces, those that made sense to look after, back together. Bushed the C and A pegholes, installed internal crossgrain cleats in the pegbox across the C and A peghole locations. Added a chunk of curly maple on the treble side, where it was missing and badly splintered. I didn't spend too much time with color-matching, it was a functional school repair that I probably underbid -- but, as in my previous post, the back and ribs were nicely done. Worth saving, I thought.
This viola should serve for several more years, barring too rough of use. Or dropping. Can't warranty against dropping.
I was having so much fun looking through Brian Derber's new Violin Making book, trying familiar things in different ways, that I forgot I was making a Hardanger fiddle and not a regular violin. I woke up one morning on the weekend, suddenly thinking about those different, overlapping Hardanger f-holes, how high they were, when, dang! I have been arching the middle section as normal. I quickly laid out the ff's and determined that I had, for me, gone too far. Maybe someone who had made Hardangers before could see there was enough wood left, maybe not. For me, I needed a fresh start.
So, I joined another set of spruce halves on Monday. On Tuesday, flattened the inner surface, then traced the outline, sawed it out, cleaned it up a bit and took down the edges, leaving the piece nice and fat in the center.
The new top is at top in this photo, the previous version below, with typical f-holes drawn in place. I can salvage that top for a new fiddle. The overhang is still a little wide, and if I'm careful with the corner blocks, using the same mould, I should be in good shape, even a little ahead on that one.
Wednesday, I pondered over the Hardanger holes, using a few resources I've gathered up. Not much really on the placement of the holes themselves, so I did the best I could, closed my eyes, and plunged a few holes.
Today, Thursday, I started cutting wood around the arc of the stems. Trying to follow Salve Håkedal's nicely illustrated tutorial.
We took advantage of free introductory classes in cross-country skiing offered at Ponderosa State Park near McCall, Idaho. Splendid instruction, and, after years of snowshoeing, nice to be able to slide about. We did ok on the classic cross-country class, fell a few times during the skate-ski class, and got up just as often.
My wife doing the no-pole shuffle --
She got a very brief video of me not falling down.
A light snow amount so far this year. Usually Payette Lake is frozen over, and we're out walking on it in our snowshoes, other folks out there ice-fishing. Not so this year. Hoping for more snow and cold temperatures to come soon.
This is a violin top I made a couple years ago. It was on a Guarneri del Gesu inspired violin I was making, and in the spirit of Paganini's del Gesu, "il Cannone", I left the plates thick. An experiment.
As I was carving it, I uncovered a small branch in the lower bout, treble side. Very frustrating to find it at that point in the process. I did learn to look for the tell-tale sign, the cross-section of a branch on the outer edge.
Flustered but not defeated, I continued carving, being careful around the rapidly changing grain. I managed to get under it, without much distortion to the arching. The weird grain was still there, and I grew to like it somewhat. It did bother me, wondering what sort of sonic impact it would have.
So then I went on. Here it is at the point in time we'll call "X" with my Brothers Amati plate underneath. I like to build two at a time.
So I finished both of them, strung them up. The Brothers Amati I liked. The del Gesu I hated. Give it a couple weeks to stretch and compress. Still hated it. No volume, unpleasant tone. Ok, it was an experiment, heavy plates. And there was that weird branch grain. Maybe it was to blame. So I pulled the top and thinned it down. Put it back together. Now it was louder, but still an unpleasant tone. Matters were worse.
Took it to a show in Portland, Oregon. Folks played it. Other makers played it. Most didn't mind it too much, but generally a polite bunch. It didn't sell, but not many violins sell there in a good year.
Moved the soundpost around a bit. Made a new soundpost. Still hated it.
I pulled the top again. Thinned the top more. Thinned the back. Put it together and strung it up. Now it was even louder, still hated the tone. Nasal, maybe, though with a head cold or bad allergy. Bad diction. Like listening to someone with a loud, sloppy voice, telling boring, long-winded stories.
Was it the branch grain? Nothing I did seemed to help.
Took it to Weiser. Folks played it. Some were complimentary. It didn't sell. Not much did that year at Weiser, either. Still, I hated it.
Brad Holst, a fellow violin repairer from Medford, Oregon, was there, had put a few of his violins on the table at my temporary shop at the Weiser Fiddle Contest. He said: "What's the spacing between your upper eyes?" 42 mm, I answered. "Hmm, " he said. "I'd be curious to see what it measures to."
So I pulled out a tape measure, and it came out at 39 mm.
Back to "X" point in time. I laid-out the terminal holes incorrectly on that plate. Distracted by the branch, perhaps. Well, shoot. I kept the fiddle around for a couple months after that, then finally said "no" to myself. I wouldn't sell something like that. Pulled the top off, made a new one.
I still am not crazy about the tone with the new top, but I don't hate it now. I could even play it for a few weeks and maybe learn how to handle it.
I thought about keeping the old top, with its too-close eyes, in the shop as a reminder of my mistake. Then, I realized, I make new mistakes every day, so don't need some reminder hanging on the wall. I'd rather have something nice to look at.
Last night's contra band rehearsal was at my place, a cold night, snow on the ground, so we had a nice fire in the fireplace, and cleared out some old debris, including not just that top, but a top from an old factory fiddle that had been badly cracked and put back together with Gorilla (TM) Glue. That was not my repair. I tried to clean it up and put it back together, but it was too far gone, and frankly not that good of a top to begin with. So I made a new one for that old fiddle, strung it up, and it sold within a week.
Here's the old top, also on its way to the afterlife.
Life goes on. Things are created, exist for a while, then are gone, elements to be recycled into something else. Here's a photo of some bread I pulled out of the oven while writing this blog post.
Not my idea, probably an old one at that, but simple and effective. An adjustable marking gauge you can make in a few moments. Good for putting that running dent in the wood, something to cut to. The little screwhead lets allows you to get into the curves, which is nice at this point in the making.
Handy little adjustment tool, too.
Not to the final borders yet, but looking more like fiddles. A little spit on the end-grain of the spruce sure can make cutting easier. Plus, cutting spruce just smells like Christmas. Not sure what the maple smell reminds me of, but I like cutting the edges on the maple. Smooth and buttery.
Trying to snow outside my door now. Will warm up some nice drink and relax for the evening. Enjoy your holidays.
Scroll is based on the stern-piece of the Oseberg Viking Ship. Here's an earlier shot, during the varnishing.
As we say when we're being vocally emotional: I am not completely unhappy with it.
The body form is based on the Brothers Amati that I drew several years back, following Francois Denis' method, and the f-holes are del Gesu inspired.
My most recent, being a violin for about a week now, is based on a del Gesu, the 'Plowden'. The form comes from my tracing of a CT scan from the poster put out by Strad Magazine a few years back.
I'm not completely unhappy with this one, either. Both are still stretching and growing. Kinda fun to play them each day, note the changes.
I also just shipped off a fiddle, constucted here, that is a Christmas present, so I won't spill the beans yet.
And an eastern European white viola that I had been varnishing and set-up went out the door to a very happy customer. She actually got it before it was really ready, having had a bad accident with her then-current viola, and needed an instrument for a few holiday concerts. But she liked it enough as-was to buy it. Just did the final intial adjustments this week, after the concerts.
I've made a few violins, that work to some degree, so I know at least a couple ways to build one. But violin-making is like so many other intellectual activities: the more we learn, the more we realize how little we actually do know. We start to get a glimpse of possibly what might be out there to be discovered.
When I write 'we', I certainly mean 'I', but maybe also 'you'.
When I first read of Brian Derber's new book on violin-making, I said to myself that I did not need another expensive violin book, that what I needed to do was to just keep cutting wood. If I had extra money, buy more wood. Or maybe a new tool.
I made the mistake of looking on the web-page for the book. It has a couple sample pages. I made the further mistake of looking at those sample pages. From them, I learned a way of looking at the fluting in f-holes that I thought was just spectacular. It made sense.
Within a couple days, I contacted Brian Derber via e-mail to order the book.
It's good. I have not read all of it. It is huge. But I have read the sections pertinent to the viola and hardanger fiddle I had already started making. In the spirit of an adventure -- not to mention I paid for the book, so I'm going to use it! -- I altered the way I am doing the rough arching (photo above) to follow the process in the book. Not a conversion necessarily, but an experiment, a playing with a new-to-me method.
In any book, there is a chain of knowledge. In 'how-to' books it might go something like this: From what the author thought, to what the author wrote, to what was finally printed, to what the reader read, to what the reader understood, to what the reader could convert into a physical object. We do what we can and adjust from there.
So I have the new book. I am also continuing to cut wood. Learning. It's fun.
If you are interested in the book, you can find the link here -- The Manual of Violin Making, by Brian Derber.
If the link does not work, you can find Brian at the
- New World School of Violin Making
- 6970 Red Lake Dr.
- Presque Isle, WI 54557
There's nothing to beat the experience of attending a workshop, seeing the work being done in person, getting feedback, and so on. I've attended the Southern California Violin Makers Workshop several times, and can recommend it. I also attended the now-defunct violin-making workshop that was held at College of the Redwoods in Eureka, California, lead by Boyd Poulsen. There are other good workshops out there. You can go to one.
Brian's book is really good supplement to that experience. Good text, plenty of photos. And if you can't attend a workshop, but are determined to build fiddles, it would be useful.
In other exciting news, my car's odometer rolled over 100,000 miles last night on the way back from Scottish Country Dance. It's been a good car, a 2010 Kia Soul that I bought new in 2009, and I hope to be driving it for several more years.
Combining the current craft-beer renaissance with good cars and good information on violin-making, I conclude that we live in the best of times.
After an hour of slicing off maple, 10 minutes on the spruce is a real pleasure. Outline here is still quite rough, to allow for any weird chipping out at the edges. I know how I work. Maybe a little too fast at this point, but I compensate for that failing by leaving a good margin. It's easy enough to work down as the plates get thinner.
Here are the back and the top, with the edges cleaned up a little, still out from the final shape.
Many people secretly aspire to be "the artist", but they have been told their entire lives that only those "with the magic" can see the world as it is and portrait it as such. It is unfortunate that so many people believe what they are told and never try to "look" at the world and "see it". We are told that we "that special something", talent, to draw, sculpt or create any thing.
Let me tell you that you don't need "talent" or "magic" to create, you need to have the desire to draw well, to learn how to read music, to play the piano, or take an axe to a piece of wood to make an idea you in your head into something that is tangible and stands in front of you.
I want to recommend a book to buy for yourself, or anyone on your holiday list,
The Zen of Seeing, by Frederick Franck.
Never has it been more urgent to speak of seeing. Ever more gadgets, from cameras to computers, from art books to videotapes, conspire to take over our thinking, our feeling, our experiencing, our seeing. Onlookers we are, spectators...
Franck was a well known artist, who's works are in great art museums in the United States, Europe and Japan. He was also a medical doctor that worked closely with the great Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
The main premise of this book is to go outside and sit quietly, to look and to draw what you see and not to worry about the outcome. Leave behind your academic training and all the things you were ever told about how you can't draw, sit down in a meadow and draw blades of grass, or your hand, leaves on a tree, or the sash in the window of a Victorian house. Why not pull out that old Stanley plane, set it on your workbench and really look at it, then draw it? You might be surprised at the results. And think, drawing skills can carry over into woodworking, music, cooking and how to converse with folks, just to mention a few areas of life that we all need to work on.
The book was written in 1973, but everything Franck says is valid today, perhaps more so because we are so inundated by media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., that as a species we need to step back and reconnect to nature, to ourselves.
Buy the book and give it a try, because as it states on the back cover of the book,
Even if you have never thought of drawing, if you claim to be one of those people who cannot draw a straight line, this book will make you want to pick up a pencil and begin...to SEE.
Can you guess what book I will be re-reading the next couple of days?
I asked several classical guitarists what guitar-related items they would like to receive as gifts this season, and I got very good feed back that I will share with you this week and perhaps into next.
#1 Most Requested Item
A one year supply of guitar strings!
Guitarists who practice, play and perform on a regular can wear out a set of strings in just one week!
The oils from you hand actually clog the metal windings on the bass strings. Bass strings can be washed in an ammonia solution or hot soapy water and then line dried, but eventually the strings become thump sounding. The clear treble strings fair better, but still become worn out with playing.
I remember in college having to do the weekly or bi-weekly trips to the local music store, and then there were the phone calls home asking for money to buy strings.