Wednesday, May 24, 2017

'Angioletta' Is Making Music

I've been reluctant to take the step into the 'real' exotic wood field of guitar creation for a couple reasons; one, because the 'big boy' wood can be very expensive, and two, because I lack confidence . . . not in my ability as a builder necessarily, but because my experience quotient is not vast, and if I screwed this up it wouldn't be a good feeling.  But, a few weeks ago, I took the plunge, and the swim has been great.

My adventure was to build the ideal guitar for ME, and one which would stay with me for my personal enjoyment, until it moves along to one of my sons, when that time comes.

The body had to be made of my favorite wood, Ziricote. The top had to be unusual, but complimentary to the body, and it had to deliver clear and abundant tone, so I chose a highly figured Spalted Maple for the top. The neck would be one-piece Mahogany. I chose Indian Rosewood for the binding around the top, back and tailpiece.

For months, I've been reading and hearing about the difficulty of working with Ziricote, because it is a very dense wood and according to the information available it is prone to cracking and splitting during the side bending process.  Let's understand, I'm a skeptic, and I don't believe everything I hear, and only about one-half what I see, and I believe greatly in "trust, but verify'. I, and all the other builders I know, wet the wood before putting it in the bender, where under heat, it is formed into the desired shape. But, dense wood does not absorb water easily, which could be the problem. So, how to conquer this? I drifted in thought back to my high school chemistry classes and recalled how molecules contract when cold and expand when hot, so it seemed logical that when I wet the side pieces that I do it with hot water. Voila, twenty minutes submerged in hot water, set up in the bender, pressure applied steadily and smoothly, cooked for another twenty minutes at 200 degrees, left to cool overnight, and not a crack or split anywhere. Problem solved!

If everything came together as I hoped, the guitar would be named 'Angioletta' (the messenger, or little angel).'Angioletta' is a custom-design modified dreadnought style guitar and everything about it is unique, from the mahogany bracing to the custom hand-wound single coil magnetic sound hole pickup to blow sound around, when I want to rock the house.

The raw ziricote (dark) and (spalted maple) wood in this photo has been profiled and cut in preparation for gluing the braces to the inside of each piece.

Hand formed scalloped mahogany braces, which were fashioned from a larger piece of African mahogany, are being glued to the inside of the top, using the 'go bar' rig that I built for the purpose. The holes in the braces are for cosmetic effect, but they also lighten the pieces, which lends for more flexibility and sound transfer.

The photo below shows the same brace treatment for the inside of the back.

And, this photo shows the top glued to the sides (ribs) with rib braces and liner in place, ready for gluing the back.

The fretboard is custom made from a piece of highly figured ziricote. A close look and a vivid imagination will lead you to believe this is a landscape complete with a house and trees perched on the hills in the background.  This is why I like this particular wood, and pictures do not do it's beauty justice. The subtle round light-color dots are maple position markers set into the board.

The handmade bridge is fashioned from the same piece of wood as the fretboard.

The headstock overlay is ziricote created from bookmatching scrap pieces left over from profiling the back. The 'T' logo is a small piece of spalted maple inlayed into the overlay. And, the pickup surround is also from that scrap. I try not to waste a single piece of wood when I'm creating a guitar.

To carry on the overall concept and continuity, the heel cap attached to the neck is a combination of spalted maple and ziricote.  The end plate, which carries the output jack for the magnetic pickup is spalted maple.  The only deviation in wood for the body is that I decided to use Indian Rosewood for top and back binding and to separate the end plate. The rosewood compliments the ziricote very well.

That's it for the preliminary stuff, so let's look at the finished product.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Guitar Pony

A couple months ago, I purchased a Pau Ferro (Bolivian Rosewood) acoustic guitar back and side set. The figuring of the wood grain was so dramatic that I envisioned it would become something different from anything I had previously created.  And it did. It became my pony guitar named 'Santo Oro' after a palamino stallion I rode during the summers of my early years, while living on the northern Montana ranch with my aunt and uncle.

What top would be the perfect choice for this guitar? Spruce, the go-to choice for most builders? Cedar, which is a complimentary color, but boring, because of the non-descript grain? No! My choice was mahogany.

Don't be distracted by the artwork just yet, look at the special grain in the wood. The 'waterfall' effect along with the coloration was what tipped the decision scale. It is so dramatic, much more so than a photo reveals. Combined with the back and sides, this guitar body screamed 'leather', which stimulated the drawing of the horse and soundhole surround, which was then burned into the wood. To compliment, but no to distract from the overall appearance, I chose to add walnut binding on the sides. The East Indian rosewood fingerboard rides on a mahogany neck, and the rosewood bridge adds a little contrast to the top.

Finally the rosewood headstock is overlayed with a piece of custom cut Chocolate Mango, which incorporates black Grover tuning machines.

Pau Ferro Custom Acoustic Guitar

Body               14-fret dreadnought
Mahogany top w/custom burned rosette and top art
                        Pau Ferro (Bolivian Rosewood) back and sides
                        Walnut binding
                        East Indian rosewood bridge w/ bison bone saddle and ebony pins
                        Hand-rubbed satin finish
                        Custom scalloped spruce ‘X’ top bracing
                        Custom scalloped spruce ‘ladder’-style back bracing

Neck                 One-piece mahogany, standard ‘C’ profile
                        Dual-action truss rod
                        Custom chocolate mango/Indian rosewood headstock overlay
Rosewood 14-inch radius fingerboard w/pearl position markers
                        25.4-inch scale
                        1-11/16 bison bone nut
                        Grover black enclosed-gear tuners recessed into headstock overlay
                        Hand-rubbed satin finish

Extras              Elixir extra light 010-.047 strings
                        Mahogany/Indian rosewood tailpiece w/ebony strap butto
                        Combo Wenge, zebrawood, chatke kak heel cap

                        Handcrafted in Mansfield, Ohio (USA)

Monday, January 23, 2017

Guitar String Action -- Direction or Dilemma

So, what is the ideal string action for an acoustic guitar?

There are as many opinions about this controversial subject as there are about the meaning of life.

The conventional recommendation is that string action (the distance from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string, when measured at the twelfth fret) fall within a range of 3/32" to 7/64" for the bass 'E' string, and 1/16" to 5/64" for the treble 'e' string.  And, that the neck have 'relief' (a slight arc) of .004-.010 at the 6th fret when a capo is applied at the 1st fret, and the bass E string is fretted at the 12th fret.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

However, there are numerous variables which can and will affect this wisdom.  For example,  Humidity and/or dryness; wear and/or grooves at the nut and saddle; depth of nut grooves in relation to fingerboard; saddle contour; tension placed on the top, which may cause it to warp; other structural problems such as loose bracing, nut or bridge; something as simple as changing string gauge; neck relief (whew, this is a controversial subject); and unlevel frets, to name a few things that can keep the debate alive.

Why is string action so important?  Because it affects playability.  If the action is too high, fretting the strings is uncomfortable, and if the action is too low, strings buzz.

Although many experts offer specific recommendations for adjusting string action, it is really left to understanding an individual player's technique that dictates how a guitar should be set up.

Well, Larry Cragg, a Northern California luthier, who has vast experience setting up guitars has a different view.  He adjusts the guitar neck so that it is perfectly straight after he makes a few preliminary changes (if necessary) like replacing plastic bridge pins and saddles with bone and/or ebony.  Some, who have studied guitar setup, may view this as wrong, but if asked, Cragg will smile and say, "You know, the book says that there's got to be neck relief.  That's all bullshit!"

Have you ever gone into a guitar store and taken a good look at the string action on the various models you've played?  I have, and I'm continually mystified by how the string action setup varies so greatly, even with high-end brands.  One can only assume that setup at the factory is un-precise so that the music store tech can adjust to the desire of the buyer.  But, if the setup is un-precise, wouldn't that discourage a player when trying out the guitar?  While working at a local music store, I was constantly checking nut groove depth and adjusting saddle contour and height to make guitars more playable, while keeping them within the recommended action range.

And, there is also the occasion when a player wants their acoustic guitar to play like an electric. Nice idea, but not very realistic.  They are two separate and different instruments.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Boneyard Boogie'

This old guitar, which I found at a thrift shop, was collecting dust in my shop, and it was useless for anything other than a fly swatter until I saw something created by another goofy guitar maker.

My Granddaughter Ellie loves anything rtelated to skeletons, so my creative juices started to flow, and as a result we now have 'Ellie's Boneyard Boogie'.

Thanks to leftover Halloween supplies at the local drug store, I was able to put some boogie action into the boneyard, but not without an abundant amount of thought and difficulty.

The project required ripping the guitar apart.  It's shaped like a guitar, but that's about the extent of the original piece.

The top was carefully removed from the body so as not to damage it beyond further use. A Shire horse skeleton complete with a boney rider in armor astride the beast fills the soundhole.  A makebelieve bridge serves as handles to open the doors to the sound chamber (note the hinges on the side).

The body required reinforcement throughout to stabilize it after removing the top, but that worked out well, for the hinged doors.

Nothing is ever easy during a project like this, but I opened a can of worms with this idea.

The legs, at the hips, were the only moveable parts on the seven-inch-tall skeletons, and I discovered soon that I had no glue in the shop that would attach severed pieces.  I don't have a clue what in hell the Chinese used to mold these boney creatures, but the only way I could reattach the surgically altered arms and legs was to use my heat controlled woodburning tool.

I built a piano, upright bass, drum set, acoustic guitar, coffin, and the mic the singer is holding.  Then I had to posture each of the skeletons to fit the instrument they were destined to 'play'.  In short order, I got well skilled at rearranging heads, hands, arms, and legs and welding them together.  After each piece was complete, it was glued into position inside the guitar body.

To finish off the process, I attached computer downloaded illustrations and Ellie's favorite band names to the doors.

Here's the cast of characters.  The piano players hat is an old amp knob converted for effect.

Wrapping fingers around the necks and mic were a real fun experience, and uncomfortable as hell to boot, because of the heat from the iron.

This was a lot of fun to create, but once is enough.   Hee, hee.

Maggie's Bowlulele

My Granddaughter Maggie has been pestering me for a long time to make her a ukulele, and I have been avoiding the project, but she got the best of me about a month ago.

I don't have a body mold or any of the necessary jigs to accommodate building a traditional uke, but I did manage to wrap my head around the project and I came up with what I think is a reasonable facsimile.

A 9-inch diameter black walnut nut bowl was gathering dust in my shop, so it became the body for the new venture.  A through-body walnut neck with Indian rosewood headstock overlay and leopardwood fingerboard was adapted to the bowl.  With the neck in place, the curly maple top was added to finish off the design.

I cut specially designed soundholes in the top to allow sound to escape the sound chamber (the bowl). But, to add a little oomph, two piezo transducer pickups were glued under the bridge and connected to an output jack, so Mag can play he 'uke' through an amp.

Open-gear tuning machines draw the strings from the exposed tailpiece over a custom made Corian saddle and nut.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Spare Time Stuff

There's always small pieces of exotic wood floating around my shop getting in the way during the guitar building process, so I decided to turn them into something useful . . . guitar picks.

Decorative hand painted duck decoys is another 35-year sidebar interest I've played with.  It doesn't take much to keep me amused.

When I get really bored, I resort to working on 'Piano Man' creations for my friend Ken Arthur's elaborate art ehibit, which he shows at galleries, museums, and universities around the State of Ohio.

This particular creation is a representation of my blues music playing friend James 'Super Chikan' Johnson.  All the pieces used in the construction of the figure are from the internal workings of a baby grand piano dismantled by Ken and given to various artists for their unique contribution to his exhibit.

These cool guys, Luigi and Gianni, who adorn the walls of our kitchen, are carved from chunks of poplar wood and hand painted with acrylic.  Another 'honey-do' project to keep the cook happy.

I like all types of artwork, but abstract pieces seem to gravitate toward the front of my skull when I grab a brush and a tube of acrylic paint.

I don't have a discription for this painting, but funky balloons come to mind when I look at it.

A fireball racing through the night sky over a city is what I see in this acrylic.

Others viewing this may see a helluva mess of mis-applied paint, but, it doesn't really matter, because it keeps me sane in the process.

And, when I really get bored and distracted, I turn to painting rocks for our flower gardens.

If you look carefully at the butterfly, you will see a message of peace and love in the wings, which is being surveyed closely by the psychedelic frog.

I think it's time to go find something to do.  More later.

Delivery Rig

I finally ran across an example of the perfect delivery rig for my guitar building gig.  It'll be a Harley 1200 cc two-banger that's street legal with lights and horn, and with a guitar nestled safely in a gig bag strapped on my back, I can fire up this scoot for a helluva good time making a delivery.  Yup, I'll wear a helmet, too, but it'll be a chrome military bonnet with flames painted on the sides.