Lutherie - the making of guitars

Sunday Blog Post

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Sun, 08/13/2017 - 12:06
Look, listen and do, but never ask why.

Kenosuke Hayakawa, Japanese wood worker.


Friday is the only day I get to be in the workshop. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I had to take a day job to cover our bills and with this job I have to work four ten hour days, thus Friday is really the only day I get to myself. Weekends are just that, trying to catch up on yard and house work along with having some fun.

Don't worry, by mid-November I will be back in the studio workshop cranking out guitars and capos/cejillas!



My studio workshop is a bit of a mess because I have no proper storage for the likes of fretting tools, sandpaper, wood cauls, etc., etc., many of these things make up an organized chaotic mess on the floor underneath the window, or are cached away in cardboard boxes.

To remedy this situation and help make the studio workshop look like a real studio workshop, on Fridays I have been making two sets of drawers that will support a work surface.

You won't find any dovetails in these drawers, twenty five years ago I discovered that I find cutting squashed triangles a very, very boring task. Rectangles and squares really don't excite me, either. Curves and circles, the shape of a guitar, are much more pleasing to me.

A trim nail gun, a router, a table saw and some glue helped me put this very basic, rough and tumble set together.

The nail holes were filled, now the set awaits primer and paint. I still need to build a base and the work top.




Yesterday, I was able to do some work on a guitar neck that I made about four years ago. It is Spanish cedar with an East Indian rosewood face plate and it is for a guitar with about a 25 5/16" string length or 643mm. When I first made it I tried a different technique for carving the heel, that was using a short knife on a long handle instead of chisels. I almost ruined the neck because of a slip of the knife.

The headstock crest started out in the style of Santos Hernandez, but since I am focusing on making near bench copies of guitars by Hernandez y Aguado, and that there was enough wood left, I cut a HyA style crest. The field between the tuning machine slots will get rabbeted and stippled just like some of the original HyA guitars.

It is nice work to do and a bit of a challenge.



We have had over ten days of thunderstorms and rain here in this part of Colorado, a very soggy start to August. It's been so damp that I had to fire up the furnace! Lots of mushrooms are popping up and in the above photo you can see that the woodland pinedrops are growing at a phenomenal rate! This is less than one week's worth of growth!



This photo shows the saw filer for the Sierra Lumber Company at Lyonsville, California, circa 1900. This was an important job in a logging camp, as you can well imagine, especially for the men who worked as buckers. This photo is from the Digital Collections at CSU Chico.



This flume carried rough cut lumber from the Champion Mill in Lyonsville to a planing mill in Red Bluff, California, a distance of over 30 miles. The flume was abandoned in 1914, this photo shows a crew of men dismantling the flume. I was told that my grandfather, Rufus Wilson, helped dismantle this flume, I like to think that he is somewhere in this photo. Photo from the Digital Collections, CSU Chico.

Music I’d Like To Hear #135


Mouthbow and Jew's harp players - Taiwan

Mouthbow and Jew’s harp players – Taiwan

What’s On The Bench – Filing Frets

In the photograph above are some of the tools I use when filing frets after they are installed on a dulcimer. On this dulcimer the ends of the frets have already been filed flush with the sides of the fingerboard. The next step is to assure there are no high or low frets as these … Continue reading "What’s On The Bench – Filing Frets"

More Adventures In Dulcimer Making

Yes, another thrill-packed day in the adventurous life of a dulcimer maker. Not long ago I wrote about my reasons for no longer taking advance orders for dulcimers.  One reason I did not mention in that post was that sometimes things … Continue reading

Musical Instrument Museums On Line

Musical Instrument Museums On Line is a site that aggregates collections of musical instruments primarily held by European museums. The site offers a searchable database of instruments, links to the museums where the instruments are held, and photographs and general information … Continue reading

My eBay Listing: 50% Off, Vintage Fulton Transitional Jointer Plane, 26 inch

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Tue, 07/25/2017 - 18:21
I cut my asking price by 50%, this plane needs to go to a good home to be used and appreciated! Please take another look! Thanks!

My eBay Listing: Vintage Fulton Tool Company Transitional Jointer Plane, 26 inch

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Sun, 07/23/2017 - 09:46
The auction for this plane starts on Tuesday, July 25, 2017 at 6am PDT and will run for three days. It will not be listed on eBay until that day! Please visit eBay on that day and search for "Vintage Fulton Tool Company Transitional Jointer Plane, 26 inch"!

Vintage Fulton Tool Company Transitional Jointer Plane, 26 inch. This is a good user plane. Bottom and sides were jointed, not much patina is left on sides and bottom. A piece of ebony has been inlayed to close the mouth, finish work on mouth has not been completed. 85% of japanning remains on metal parts. Knob is in good condition, tote has some dings, patina remains on top and ends of plane. No manufacture mark on plane body, Fulton Tool Co. is on the 2 5/8" wide plane iron which still has plenty of length for use and no pitting. Light pitting on plane cap. This plane needs a good home! Please direct any questions to highcountrylutherie@gmail.com

Custom Pickups for Epiphone Zephyr Emperor Regent Varitone

James Roadman Instrument Repair - Sat, 07/22/2017 - 22:02

A customer brought in this Epiphone Zephyr Emperor Regent without the original New York Pickups.  Having rewound some in the past I have an understanding about how they are constructed.  The owner wanted to try something different so I made a set of traditional single coil bar pickups in the same type of mounting rings as the originals.  I milled delrin bobbins to surround the steel bars and used rare earth magnets.  The covers are bent brass.  Shaping the mounting rings was a challenge due to the curvature of the top.

IMG_8697 IMG_8698 IMG_8699 IMG_8700 IMG_8701 IMG_8702 IMG_8703

The post Custom Pickups for Epiphone Zephyr Emperor Regent Varitone appeared first on James Roadman Instrument Repair.

What’s On The Bench – 7/5/2017

Dulcimer in the home stretch

On the bench is a curly walnut dulcimer having its head attached with hide glue.

It is important to attach a head onto a dulcimer, because if you don’t, it will go searching the night to find a head and the one it chooses could be YOUR HEAD!

But I digress.

This dulcimer is one of three I am currently working on. The other two dulcimers are ready for final preparation before receiving the finish and tomorrow this dulcimer will be ready to join them.

I wait until I have 3 or 4 dulcimers ready to go through the finishing process at the same time. I put the woodworking tools away, clean the shop, and dedicate the space to finish work for about a week.

After all coats of finish are applied the dulcimers hang on the wall for several days so the finish can further cure before being rubbed out.

While the finish is curing I start work on the next 3 or 4 dulcimers.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

You can see my work in progress by following me on Instagram.

Thoughts About Selling Dulcimers That Don’t Exist

Dulcimer in progress

I have decided to take a break from taking advance orders for custom dulcimers.

Five years ago about half my dulcimers were sold before I made them. Someone would choose from various options I offer and give me a deposit to begin making their dulcimer. I prioritized these custom orders and built them in the order they were received.

While building these custom dulcimers I also had time to build dulcimers that were not already sold. I usually had three to five dulcimers on hand for sale.

Five years ago I suddenly had to deal with some serious lower back issues that added unexpected flavor and color to my life. It has been an interesting journey and it is not yet over.

I am currently able to work in the shop about one-third the amount of time I would prefer to be working. Some days or weeks I am able to work more, some less, some not at all, but it averages out to working about a third of the time I used to.

During this time I have also had a surprising increase in custom orders.  All but one dulcimer I have sold in the past 3 years was ordered in advance.

My time in the shop has become completely focused on custom work. I keep thinking I will have time to build some dulcimers to put up for sale but it just hasn’t happened.

Most of the custom dulcimers I build are pretty much the same as dulcimers I would ordinarily build but the new owner chooses particular wood, string length, number of strings, fret patterns, and other options that I offer. Occasionally someone asked for a unique feature that had to do with playability for their particular style and when I felt it worked with my sense of instrument design then I would do that as well.

The tricky part of this is that when I do have dulcimers on hand for sale they are sometimes not exactly what someone wants. If it has no dots in the fingerboard someone will want dots in the fingerboard. If it has 3 strings someone wants one just like it with 4 strings or vice-versa.

In the near future I will be offering dulcimers for sale and I am thinking there will usually be something available that will appeal to someone. If someone wants something specific I will keep a list and contact them if I make something like what they want. I’ll also be happy to contact people and let them know when I have more dulcimers available.

In the long run I think this will work better for everyone. When I put a dulcimer up for sale people can try it and know exactly what they are getting. I can ship it and you can return it if you decide you don’t care for it. I have sold many dulcimers this way and so far no one has decided not to keep it.

With a custom order the dulcimer is yours. Unless there is a problem with it covered by my warranty the dulcimer is not returnable. Again, I have sold many dulcimers this way and almost everyone was 100% happy. One person was less than 100% happy but still liked the dulcimer.

I think this is a good track record.

So in the near future I will be only selling dulcimers that exist.

If you are on my waiting list please don’t freak out! I am happily working on your dulcimer and you will get it on schedule.

I feel better already.

Antonio de Torres - Guitar Maker, Carpenter

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Tue, 06/13/2017 - 09:38
His greatest merit is that he came up with a universally accepted guitar.

Jose Luis Romanillos, luthier



Today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Antonio de Torres.

Those of us who love the classical guitar owe this man everything, he created a model of the guitar that continues to capture the hearts of true music lovers.

He really didn't do anything that hadn't already been done by other guitar makers - other makers had used larger bodies, the so-called fan bracing, domed tops, longer string lengths, all this was already known - but Torres guitars sounded different from others.

Many contemporary classical guitar makers build copies of the original Torres guitars, there are several well known classical guitarists that concertize on original Torres guitars because even after 130+ years those guitars still have wonderful voices.

Antonio de Torres apprenticed with a carpenters guild in Vera, Spain when he was 12 years and when he was 17 he was listed in the guild rolls as a master carpenter. Several writers have stated that Torres was a "simple" or "lowly" carpenter, but to be a master carpenter in 1834 was anything but simple.



You were expected to know all the latest building styles and construction techniques, many of these techniques were published in books which meant that you had to be able to read. At that time in Spain, 76% of the population was illiterate, yet, Antonio de Torres could read and write. Torres' father was a tax collector, perhaps he taught his son how to read and write. In the book, Antonio de Torres, Guitar Maker, by Jose Romanillos, Romanillos speculates that Torres attended local schools before he became an apprentice.

Carpinteria de Armar

I have done some research on the Internet about traditional Spanish carpentry and discovered that Spanish carpenters of the time dealt with the same construction problems the rest of Europe had to deal with, namely how to keep the building from falling apart. As a master carpenter, you would know la carpinteria de armar(how to construct a building); la carpinteria de lazo, (loop carpentry) and perhaps mostly importantly tocar de madera, (how to work wood).




I want to believe that Torres was a carpenter, not a joiner, because a guitar is in a way, an architectural creation. It is constructed so it can stay together under pressure (a modern classical guitar is subjected to 90 pounds or more of pressure from the strings). If the top is not properly braced to take this tension it will collapse or even worse the whole guitar may fly apart. Most cabinets and chests are not subjected to a constant pressure. Cabinetry is not carpentry.

Carpinteria de Lazo

It is claimed that Torres went to Granada, Spain in 1836 to learn how to make a guitar, when he returned home he continued as a carpenter and tried several other business ventures. His first wife died in 1845 and that is when he moved to Seville and by 1852 was known as a guitarrero.

I would like to thank Don Antonio de Torres Jurado for the work that he did. The guitar is a beautiful instrument, but Torres took all the work of the great makers before him and made it the most beautiful instrument ever created.

If you are interested in learning more about traditional Spanish carpentry I recommend that you click here to visit the Albanecor website on carpinteria de lo blanco.



The kind of carpentry work that Antonio de Torres was trained to do

Guitar by Antonio de Torres

What’s On The Bench – 6/12/2017

Dulcimer Peghead In Progress

I have decided to go back to an older style of peghead assembly on the current batch of dulcimers I’m working on. I used this design for years and preferred how it looked but it seemed too labor intensive for a relatively simple part of the dulcimer.

I follow my intuition on things like this and it seems like time to use this joint again, at least for now. So what if it is a lot more work? I enjoy the process! There is the old saying that “time is money” but if I made more money off of my time I would just waste it on house payments, groceries, healthcare, etc.

The head block gets glued on with hide glue and is then sawn to rough shape with a kataba saw. Following the sawing comes bringing the block close to flush with the sides using a low-angle block plane followed by a scraper and file.

Cleaning up a dulcimer with a file and scraper

The first few times I did this required nerves of steel. It would not be difficult to have a major “Oops!” moment fairly late in the construction process. After gaining some experience I found this to be a relaxing and enjoyable process.

Binding Dulcimers

Dulcimer Binding ToolsDulcimers traditionally did not have binding. Every time I put binding on a dulcimer I am reminded of this; putting binding on a dulcimer is a lot of work!

Putting binding around the edges of the soundboard, especially a soundboard made of a soft wood, helps prevent dings and chips along the edges. To my design aesthetic binding the soundboard is also like putting a frame on a picture.

I usually do not put binding on the backs of my dulcimers unless someone really wants it.  I don’t think it is necessary to bind the back since it is usually made of hardwood. Also, should the dulcimer ever need major repairs an unbound back simplifies removing the back of the dulcimer to gain access to its innards.

In the photograph above are the hand tools I use when preparing the dulcimer for binding.

In the upper left is a shop-made binding scribe. It consists of a scalpel blade glued and taped to a piece of wood the thickness of the binding that is again glued to a piece of wood that serves as a handle. I use this tool to gently score the binding channel on the soundboard. After the channel is scored I deepen the scored cuts with the scalpel and knife.

I use a simple router jig to remove some of the bulk and then finish up the binding rebate with the small chisel and file. I also use the chisel as a scraper, using my fingers as a depth stop to guide the cut.

After taking the photograph for this post I noticed the fingerboard did not look quite right. I realized I had left out one of the fret slots! It has since been cut and all is right with the world.

Forgetting to cut a fret slot is not a big deal as it is easy to add at anytime. What is a big deal is cutting a fret slot where one is not supposed to be.

Guess how I learned that lesson?

 

1961 Hernandez y Aguado Style Guitar, Engelmann Spruce/Ziricote, Nearing Completion

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Mon, 05/29/2017 - 10:40
The wood of Engelmann spruce is light-colored, relatively soft, low in resin, and sometimes contains many knots and is more valuable for pulp than for high-grade lumber. It has been used for home construction, pre-fabricated wood products, and plywood manufacture. Less commonly it is used for specialty items such as food containers, and sounding boards for violins, pianos, and guitars. Engelmann spruce is widely used for Christmas trees. Spruce beer was sometimes made from its needles and twigs and taken to prevent scurvy.

USDA Plants Database, Engelmann Spruce


I apologize for not having posted anything on this blog for a while, as all of you know life can get in the way of doing things.

The New Mexico Guitar Festival is next month, June 15-17, and I will be attending as a vendor.

Much of my time these last few weeks has been spent finishing the two guitars that I want to take to the Vendors Expo at the festival: this 1961 Hernandez y Aguado style guitar, with an Engelmann spruce top and ziricote back and sides and a 1963 Hernandez y Aguado style guitar that is made entire from locally sourced wood. I'll post about that guitar in the future.

Tomorrow, I will level and re-crown the frets on this spruce/ziricote guitar, grind down the nut and saddle, attach strings and set up the playing action. I can't wait to hear this guitar!

Here are some photos documenting the building of the spruce/ziricote guitar.









From left to right: spruce/ziricote, redwood/black walnut, redwood/Indian rosewood.

Here's a video of Stephanie Jones, a wonderful young guitarist from Australia. Click here to watch videos of Ms. Jones playing all five of William Walton's Bagatelles!

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