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Fine Handcrafted Classical Guitars Wilson Burnhamnoreply@blogger.comBlogger364125
Updated: 19 hours 12 min ago

On the Workbench - Bearclaw Sitka Spruce/East Indian Rosewood Classical Guitar

Mon, 11/27/2017 - 15:39
I am not sure how long I have owned this bearclaw Sitka spruce top, I think almost 15 years and I know that I bought the back/side set of East Indian rosewood in 2000. This wood has had a decent period in which to age, theoretically, because the wood is this old this guitar should have an amazing sound!

Several years ago, I joined the top and back and inlaid a Manuel Ramirez style rosette in the top with the intention of making a small bodied classical guitar with a fairly short string length, something like a 625mm to a 635mm scale. The project got put aside, there were orders for standard, or full size classical guitars, that guitar would have to wait.

In October, I pulled out the wood so I could work on it over weekends. I planed the back, I thinned the sides and thinned entire top to 2mm. The edges got thinned to about 1.5mm. Sitka spruce is stiff stuff, I want this guitar to be responsive, and thinning the edges a little more helps be responsive.

Then came the neck. After selecting a nice piece of Spanish cedar for the neck, I had to make a decision as to the string length of the guitar. Since the top was all ready cut out for a body length of 470mm, as opposed to 480mm-495mm body length for a "standard" classical, I couldn't make it into a guitar with a 650mm.  A 630mm string is a little short for most people, I chose to make with a 640mm string length. The guitar will have plenty of loudness with that length and will be just a little easier to play.

Today, I glued all the "fan" braces and the transverse braces to the top with hot hide glue. I really like hot hide glue! And I got one brace glued onto the back! I bent the sides last week, I will attach those after I attach the top to the neck.

The goal is to have this guitar ready for bindings by the end of the week!








The Impractical Guitar Maker - Wedged Joints

Sun, 11/26/2017 - 12:51
Examination of the interior revealed the junction block used to connect the neck and body. The sides are slotted into the end block and held in place by wedges.

From A Detailed Description of an Early 17th Century Italian Five-Course Guitar

Tom and Mary Anne Evans, Guitars - From Renaissance to Rock, 1977

In making the body and neck of a classical guitar, the most complicated joint used is a scarf joint. The scarf joint is used to connect the headstock to the neck shaft, some makers use a more complicated "V" joint to connect the headstock to the shaft. Miter and butt joints are used on the bindings, but this is purely for decoration, bindings are used to cover simple joints. The guitar sides usually fit into slots cut into the heel block, I like to cut a wider, angled slot and use wedges to hold the sides in the heel block.

Anyone who has made a classical guitar with the help of the book, Making Master Guitars, by Roy Courtnall, should recognize this wedged joint. In Making Master Guitars the joint is touted by the master guitar maker, Jose Romanillos, he used this joint and a variation of it until he retired from making guitars.

I began using this joint early on in my journey in guitar making, it made sense. It is a strong joint and unlike cutting a narrow slot, it allows me some wiggle room in fixing how the side fits against the heel and the wedge against the side.



The wider slot allows me to clean up the saw cut that will be seen once the side is attached with a sanding stick, there is no need to see a gap between the side and the heel!




Once the wedge is cut, I put it in the slot with a "dummy"piece of wood that is the same thickness as the side. I then start to cut a kerf where the wedge and the heel block meet...


and continue to "saw kerf joint" the surfaces until...


I have a nice looking joint!

When the side is ready to be attached to the guitar top, all I need to do is to trim the wedge a little short so when I hammer it in the endow the wedge will be just shy of seating against the top. There is no need to glue the wedge in, it is a strong joint and the wedge won't go anywhere. If the wedge is glued then the joint is not reversible, a consideration if the guitar needs to be repaired!







Capos/Cejillas - New Batch of Six Padauk Wood Capos!

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 07:25

Stocking Stuffers for Your Favorite Classical Guitarist!

This week has been dedicated to making 1970's retro style cejillas, or capos, for classical and flamenco guitars.

What makes them retro?

Traditional cejillas used leather straps to protect the guitar's neck from the string that goes around the next and is attached to the peg that tightens the string. In the 1960's and 1970's several capo makers in Spain put vinyl tubing over the string for protection. I think the vinyl tubing was used partly for economic reasons:  it is cheaper than leather and it makes assembling a capo go much faster, plus some of the capos being sold were made from Galalith, a material made from casein and formaldehyde, it looked like plastic and was used to make jewelry. The vinyl tubing went well with the look of the Galalith.

I use vinyl tubing because it allows me to assemble a capo much faster than using a leather strap.

I want to make affordable capos, every classical /flamenco guitarist deserves a wooden capo!






The bodies are padauk with East Indian rosewood pegs; neoprene face; vinyl tubing and the string is a LaBella brand 3rd guitar string. String colors are either black, gold or red.




These are my current capo shapes.

A is a very traditional shape, this shape dates to the late 1600's, early 1700's.

B and C are my interpretation of two shapes used by several traditional Spanish capo makers.

$30 for each capo, shipping and handling are extra.

Due to CITES (Council on International Trade of Endangered Species) regulations, I am unable to ship these capos outside of the United States because of the East Indian rosewood pegs. I don't make enough money off of these to warrant getting re-export certificates for each capo. I can make these capos with boxwood pegs.


Holiday Guitar Sale!

Wed, 11/22/2017 - 06:46

Using My Jack Planes As Smoothing Planes

Mon, 11/20/2017 - 06:43
The earliest known plane was a flat-bottomed tool for smoothing wood and nothing more.

Aldren A. Watson, Hand Tools, Their Ways and Workings, 1982


The only plane I owned when I started working with wood was a Stanley No.5, Type 4 plane. It wasn't tuned properly, the tote was a replacement my grandfather had made from a walnut board that never did fit the plane quite right, and because it was a Type 4 the depth adjuster knob turned the opposite direction from the later Stanley. It had most of its japanning and the sides had a wonderful patina on them that I later discovered was really rust. The iron was not original to the plane, the original iron mostly likely got worn down to nothing or was stolen from the plane while it was at a job site. I have no idea when my grandfather acquired this plane, perhaps he got it through a trade or barter for some carpentry job he did in the early part of the 20th century. I know he didn't buy it brand new, if I remember correctly, Type 4 Stanley planes were manufactured between 1874-88, my grandfather was born in 1881!

It was my smoothing plane, jointer plane and when pressed into service it was a really big block plane. I remember at the time I read in some woodworking book that No.5's were called "jack" planes because, as the author stated, you could use them for just about anything - dimensioning stock, smoothing stock and jointing edges, it was a "the jack of all trades" kind of plane. It was all that I needed, I didn't have much money back then, new tools were a luxury, I got by with what I had.

As time went on and I gained more experience in wood working,  I purchased several Stanley No.4 smoothing planes because books and magazines stated those were "the planes" a woodworker should own and use.  I spent quite a bit of time and effort to "tune" those planes, again, according to the information found woodworking books and magazines. Which each new plane I flatten the sole, I sharpened the edge of the chip breaker so it mated perfectly with the back of the iron, the iron was regulation shaped and sharpened and you know what? I never could get those planes to work the way I wanted them to. The iron would chatter or dig in at the wrong place, there was always something about those planes that fought me at every turn.

Whenever frustration would set in with a No.4 plane I turned to my faithful No.5. If I kept the iron of the No.5 sharp the plane always worked when I needed it to. Maybe it worked well for me because of the longer length or that it was the first plane I learned to use. The only other size plane that works well for me as a smoothing plane is a No.3 plane, we all know a No.3 is a smoothing plane.

Today, I use the No.5 to thin down classical guitar tops, backs and sides, I need to be fairly precise when doing this activity. Tops and backs need to be within the 1.8mm-2.3mm range, sides a little less than 2mm, I find that the the added weigh of the plane helps it go through the wood better, thus easier for me to control;  the extra length takes care of the high spots on the wood better than a regular smoothing plane and it is much lighter and more wildly than a No.7. I have never set up a No.5 plane to be a scrub plane, I have a No.40 Stanley scrub plane for that, one of the No.5's has an iron set up for smoothing, the other No.5 has a toothing plane which is used to help dimension guitar parts.

I sold the No.4 smoothing planes and an extra No.7 jointer plane last year in an effort to downsize my tool collection. I don't miss the No.4's and I tend not to recommend them to people just getting into woodworking, I suggest it may be better for them to start with a No.3 smoothing plane and I tell them that Alan Peters thought a No.7 was the best one to use.

Once you have decided what your focus is in woodworking, be it making Federal style furniture, Welsh stick chairs or classical guitars, you will discover what tools work best for you and when you do, stick with them!

The Glues That I Use

Sun, 11/05/2017 - 10:25
While the most visible features of a fine quality guitar are the materials and craftsmanship used in conjunction, another factor that contributes to quality are the adhesives used to hold it all together.

Jose Oribe, The Fine Guitar, 1985

I want everyone to know that I am not receiving any money from any of the glue manufacturers that I will talk about in this post. These are the glues I use when I make a classical guitar or on other shop projects.




Here are my go-to glues.



Titebond and Titebond II are PVA glues that I use for glueing the scarf joint on a guitar neck and the heel block to the neck shaft. Titebond sets quickly, has gap filling properties and when I do my part on making a good joint, the glue line is almost invisible. Fish and hide glues tend to absorb the water present in shellac and can become dark making the glue line more pronounced.

I also use Titebond to glue the joints for the tops and backs for the same reason. I don't want the glue line to stand out.



LMI yellow glue is pretty amazing in how quickly it sets, you can mill parts glued with this within 90 minutes after clamping. It dries very hard, almost as hard as hide glue, a big consideration for string instrument makers. It is believed that hard glue joints make the transmission of energy easier and quicker, this helps that instrument sound better.

The only drawback about the LMI glue is if the glue is too cold, it becomes chalky. I have found that if I use this glue when it is below 80 degrees Fahrenheit and 50% humidity, it will leave a white residue in wood pores. That makes for more work especially when using this glue on walnut or East Indian rosewood, I spend more time washing out the glue than working on the guitar.

That said, it is great glue.



I can't say enough good things about fish glue. I usually purchase fish glue from Lee Valley which is a high quality glue that I like very much, however, the smallest bottle is 16oz. in size and it takes me almost two years to use an entire bottle. I bought this small bottle from LMI and wow! this stuff will glue your fingers together!

I use this high tack glue to glue on binding strips and sometimes, if I am not in a hurry, I use it to glue the braces onto guitar backs.



This is the stuff!

Granular hide glue is simply amazing! It has a much and sometimes more shear strength that "modern" glues and dries glass hard, again, that is better fro energy transference.

I use hide glue where it really matters in guitar making - glueing the braces onto the top and back, the linings to the sides and glueing the back onto the guitar.

Every wood worker should try hide glue at least once on a project. Just make sure you have a heat gun handy to warm up all the parts that will be glue together.

Adhesives are what you make of them, each has their advantages and disadvantages, you need to experiment to find what works best for you and your projects.

Now, turn off your computer and get out into the shop!


My eBay Listing: Vintage Fales' 1884 Patent Combination Plane, Otis A. Smith Manufacturer

Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:59
I have posted on eBay a vintage Fales'1884 Patent Combination Plane. Click here to see the listing.

For those of you who follow my blog you may remember an earlier post about this plane and in that post I said I would not sell it. I have changed my mind. If you are a collector and looking for a fairly rare combination plane, this Fales' plane is for you.

The plane is in used condition. 55%-70% of Japanning remains on metal parts. Knob and tote handles are in good shape with usual tool box dings and scratches, they are in very good shape considering the age of this combination plow plane. Plow fence appears to be birch, some wear to the corners. All tightening screws are present and appear to be original and plane has original proper round and square rods. Comes with one 3/8 inch wide blade. Tote is stamped with an owner's name, R.C. Jensen.

This plane has been in my family since at least 1936, perhaps earlier, it was owned by my grandfather.

Ten Years of Blogging - A Couple of Thoughts

Fri, 09/08/2017 - 13:48
The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Mark Twain, American writer

I realized the other day that I started this blog ten years ago!

My first post was on September 2, 1997.

My wife was the one who encouraged me to start a blog, she thought it was a good venue for me to become known as a guitar maker, to sell my guitars and to connect with others in the woodworking world.

I have met several wonderful people who are professional woodworkers through the blog, but I am still waiting for my first guitar sale because of the blog. All of my sales have resulted from people actually seeing and playing my guitars, either at guitar festivals, lectures I give at universities, or when players stop by my shop because someone told them I make wonderful guitars.

The Internet has done much to disseminate woodworking information, it's a little scary to see how much information there is online! When I started woodworking, if there was anything that I wanted to know I had to go to a library and look up the technique in a book or woodworking magazine!

Now, all one has to do is to surf the plethora of YouTube videos and websites to find the woodworking technique that you want to learn.

One thing I have noticed lately is there doesn't seem to be as many people blogging about their woodworking experiences and adventures. I find it a little sad these days to go to my favorite woodworking blog aggregator and see only three or four new postings. Maybe no one cares to write a full sentence or paragraph anymore because stringing together 140 characters is the most anyone can do. Instagram is a very easy platform to display yourself on.

Or is it that people just want information, but don't want to share it?

I know that it can be hard to write a weekly post for a blog, making time to do something can be a hard thing to do and accomplish.

In my experience, not knowing if I am reaching/connecting with anyone on Internet can discourage me from writing more posts, I don't get many comments about my posts these days, nor does anyone engage me in some kind of text dialogue. I stopped offering how-to information on basic woodworking several years ago because teaching online through my posts is not my intention. I noticed that when I stopped the how-to no one commented.

That said, visitation to my blog is up this year and I think it is because people want to learn more about the guitars I make. This is great for me, because if there is one thing that I will talk about passionately is making beautifully voiced guitars that will play beautiful music, that in turn will encourage young people to take up the classical guitar.

I will offer this advice about blogging -- don't be afraid to use what you learned in your college freshman English composition courses! Start writing today about what it is you are doing! Make stuff and share it and don't think you have to be the next Roy Underhill or Charles Hayward.

Get into your shop, make shavings and blisters!



The Impractical Guitar Maker, Part 1

Thu, 08/31/2017 - 19:59
...some contemporary luthiers refuse quite bluntly to deal with anything that has the slightest scientific "flavor" to it.

Gila Eban, luthier, 1990

The last couple of days I have been leafing through the James Krenov trilogy, The Cabinetmaker's Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking and The Impractical Cabinetmaker. As a classical guitar maker, I really don't need these books anymore, as I have said before, I make guitars, not cabinets.

Squares, rectangles and triangles don't interest me, shapes that are based on the human body do.

I keep Mr. Krenov's books because of all the little bits of advice on how to enjoy life and to see the world around you that he hid and tucked away in paragraphs about dovetails, sharpening, woodworking education, etc.

I am not a big fan of his writing style, a little too verbose and perhaps too sentimental, so these days I scan the pages looking for words that are familiar and excite me like spokeshave, friend, and curved edges and then I read.

Yesterday, as I was thumbing through The Impractical Cabinetmaker, which I first read way back in 1992, I glanced at a paragraph at the end of "Woodcraft Today", and remembered that the last few lines in that paragraph gave me much hope and encouragement back in then, which I took very much to heart.

This is what Mr. Krenov wrote:

The only good advice worth offering is: Keep your goal in mind. Get some fine wood in little bits and pieces, but get it. Put it away to dry properly. Improve the heating in the shop. And all the while think about finding or making better tools. You'll need those fine tools to do that real work. So when the time comes and you get that chance you will be ready.

This then made me think that I should explore The Impractical Cabinetmaker chapter by chapter from the point of view of a guitar maker and post about it. I sallied forth and re-read the first three pages of that chapter because I wanted to read his definition of an "impractical" craftsman.

He is the craftsman for whom an atmosphere of much-to-sell is a hindrance to doing his best always--and living accordingly. He is an idealist who wants to survive to have the chance to work with wood, but not at the price of having woodworking become something less than he hoped it would be.

Hmm. I guess that makes me an impractical guitar maker.

I say I am an impractical guitar maker because I enjoy making guitars and then selling them to people who have been affected (look it up if you don't know what it means) by the sound and playability of my guitars. That is far more rewarding that doing market research to figure out how to tap into and make money from the latest fads of the classical guitar world.

The latest fad is the same it has been since I started studying the classical guitar in 1974, it is to buy the same guitar that the hottest classical guitarist de jour is playing. In the 1970's-80's you had to play a Ramirez No.1A guitar because Segovia, Parkening, Boyd and Niedt all played them. Today you need to play a "double top" guitar by Dammann, Price, Smallman, Connor or someone else who has succeeded in making a guitar sound like a piano, because current greats likes Russell and Barrueco, etc., all play double top guitars.

Perfect practice makes you a better player.

Owning a really good guitar that you love will make you practice more, but popular makers don't always necessarily make the best guitar for you.

The are no jigs or outside moulds in my shop to create "the perfect shape" of a classical guitar, which some makers insist upon to make them "competitive" in today's global classical guitar market. I use a solera, a dished out work board to hold the top and neck while I attach the sides and back. A solera lends itself to asymmetry, which as I have discovered helps give the guitar a voice, a great voice that affects the human psyche.

Does this make me a better guitar maker? Not using power tools or jigs or moulds?

Maybe it doesn't, but as Mr. Krenov said, keep your goal in mind.

My goal is beauty.

The beautiful sound of a guitar that carries throughout the cosmos.

Starting a Classical Guitar Rosette Design

Sun, 08/27/2017 - 15:53
A friend of mine is a wonderful guitar builder. His habits are almost opposite of mine. If you look at his workbench, you will wonder how in the world anyone can ever work there. Yet he makes these world-famous guitars, coveted instruments.

James Krenov, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, 1977

Bluebird skies this morning in this part of Colorado, but no black bears, moose or elk hanging out around our place, only wildflowers are making any noise.

I did complete a project today, a blending board for my wife. I posted that on Instagram, you can check it out there, but what I want to share this afternoon was an attempt to do some work in my studio.

Last year I purchased a wonderful piece of curly Claro walnut from Northwest Timber which I re-sawed into guitar back and sides. The pieces weren't big enough to make a full size classical guitar so I decided to use the wood to make a close copy of a guitar by Antonio de Torres, his SE117 guitar.


It is a three piece back with maple fillets.


This is a lightly bear clawed Sitka spruce top set that I bought from Alaska Specialty Woods about six years ago that is a great match for the Claro walnut.

Torres SE117 guitar is a very small guitar by today's standards, it is even smaller than a so called "parlor" guitar. The string length for the original guitar is just under 24 inches, a standard classical has a 25 5/8" string length, and the body length is just under 18 inches, if I remember correctly. Compare that to a modern classical guitar length which hovers at or above 19 inches!

What this really means to me is that I need to make a custom rosette for this guitar, the sound hole is smaller than a standard classical guitar. The pre-made rosettes that I buy from Luthiers Mercantile are made for the larger guitars, they are too big for this tiny guitar.


I pulled out black, white, red and green veneer to see which colors would go best...


...with this redwood burl.


I have had this burl for about seven years and I haven't done anything with it yet. Now is as good of time as any.


The rosette should be stunning with this Sitka spruce. I need to come up with a good color scheme, something like a cherry or walnut fillet to start a WBWBW, then a WBW Walnut or Cherry WBW and then the burl with the same WB combos to complete the mirror.

Of course, since I pulled out all the veneers and thin pieces of cherry and walnut, along with the detritus left over from thinning down the walnut back, I can't really see the top of my workbench. Maybe I will clean it up tomorrow afternoon!