Thursday, August 31, 2017

'The Chief'

Several months ago, I purchased a raw Goncalo Alves acoustic guitar back and side set, which caught my eye because of the interesting highly figured grain in the wood.  I wasn't sure how I'd use it in a design, but the pointed shape of the dark grain in the back led me on a journey in my mind that resulted in creation of 'The Chief', a tribute to one of my favorite Native Americans, Chief Joseph, the great Nez Perce leader.

Goncolo Alves is a hardwood sometimes referred to as tigerwood, a name that underscores the wood's often dramatic, contrasting color scheme, that some compare to rosewood. The wood's color deepens with exposure and age and even the plainer-looking wood has a natural luster. Brazil is the main exporter of this neotropical wood.

The primary construct of this guitar is slope-shoulder dreadnought design. The neck is mahogany with rosewood fingerboard and bridge, bison bone nut and saddle. ebony bridge pins and strap button, mahogany headstock overlay with arrowhead inlay created from scrap left over from profiling the back and sides. Grover black tuners draw Ernie Ball 10-50 strings across the frets. The top is cedar. Internally, spruce top bracing is like all guitars I create, which is based on the Martin Guitar pre-war (WWII) scalloped design, and typical ladder braces stabilize the back.

These closeup shots of the top and back demonstrate why it's named 'The Chief'.  I drew the art on the top, which was then burned into the wood.  The figure on the back carries the natural shape of an arrowhead.

The soundhole rosette is a combination of art, which in my mind forms a 'dreamncatcher'.

The broken cord on the deer antler is separated from the eagle feather on the lower bout, which represents the broken promises made to Chief Joseph by the federal government.

The circular birch branch bending around the sound hole opposite the antler signifies the great strength of the Nez Perce people.

The eagle feather is a symbol of strength and honor. It is of two parts light and dark, which represents daylight and darkness, summer and winter, peace and war, life and death. According to legend, the eagle feather tells the story of life,

I choose to believe the image of Chief Joseph on this guitar serves to express what I attempt to create in my guitars . . . strength, beauty, peacefulness, and a voice that will be heard, understood and appreciated.

I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

'Funky Munky'

The 'Funky Munky' sit-down bass is the result of a trade a couple years ago with my friend Carlton Gil Blythe, who lives in Ireland.  Carl wanted one of my cigar box guitars and a couple hand-wound magnetic pickups, so we settled on trading for an old but nice wood drum, a really cool spun aluminum racing disc automobile hubcap the size of the drum, and a couple other doodads. I knew the drum would eventually become an instrument, but not sure quite how.

Well, here's the 'how'.

When I say sit-down bass, I mean on a tall stool, or if your a little on the height-challenged side of life, you may be able to stand to play it.  It's a long-scale (34-inch) 4-string bass with John Pearce wound strings stretched from open-back gear tuners over a handmade rosewood bridge, from custom made rosewood/poplar combo tailpiece. From top to bottom, it's 57 inches tall.

It started with a 18-inch diameter wood drum, 4 inches thick, with calf skin stretched and pinned to the side.

The neck was an interesting pursuit. Much thought and doodling resulted in laminating five pieces of 4- x 36-inch poplar together in a sequence of 1/2" --1/4"--1/2"--1/4"--1/2", which provided for overall design. The scarf joint headstock is 2 inches wide by 9 inches long, and the neck is 25 inches long, tapering from 1-1/2" at the nut to 2-3/8" at the 22nd fret. Once I had determined the size and configuration that would accommodate hardware and be playable, I called on friend Art Richey at the local Carrousel Works factory to rough cut the wood to the pattern I wanted. I had pre-cut the center piece of poplar to allow for insertion of a 1/2" x 1/2" square steel truss rod, which worked out perfectly. The fretboard is a combination of 1/4" poplar and 1/4" Indian rosewood 30 inches long to allow for a 5-inch extension over the drum head, where the TotalRojo logo is inlayed. If you look carefully, you will see a threaded bar extending at an angle from the back of the neck. This 1/2" rod is used to attach the neck to the drum body, and to give strength to the overall build.

The headstock, which is 2 inches wide by 9 inches long is designed with two 1" x 3" openings for tuners. You'll notice the odd shape, which allows for the tuning machines to be properly aligned with the fretboard. Everything was done by hand from cut out to sloping the opening shoulders to allow for the strings to ride unobstructed over the handmade buffalo bone nut.

The horns and footrest were designed to add a little funk to the creation, otherwise it would have been a little boring for me. I hand shaped each piece from 2" basswood (another bit of help from my friend Art). The horns are for looks, but the footrest serves a couple important purposes -- it covers the end of the threaded support rod, and it carries a threaded insert, which can be used to hold a foot extension if someone wants to play it as a standup bass. Each piece is attached to the drum body with heavy duty screws.

Yes, each piece was cut from a solid piece of basswood.

Remember the threaded steel neck/body support rod? Well, it serves another important purpose, too.

Under the extreme pressure of the strings on the bridge, the skin top of the drum would collapse if it was not supported. I chose to create a 'shoe' that would slide on the support rod and fit snugly against the inside of the top.  It is held in place by nuts and washers, in the same manner as how the neck and foot are attached to the body.

The 'shoe' serves another purpose, as well.

Recessed into the 'shoe' surface below the bridge are two piezo transducers, which serve as electronic pickups to amplify sound through an output jack on the body to an external amplifier.

The custom made bridge is crafted from a 1/4" x 1-1/2" x 3" piece of Indian Rosewood from the same piece as the fretboard.  Buffalo bone serves as a string rest for the top of the bridge.

The 3" x 7" tailpiece is a combo of poplar and the same rosewood as the bridge. In order for the tailpiece to function properly, it must be able to move, so I fabricated a hinge that would attach to the body of the drum. I wanted something unique and different as the hinge, so I looked through odds and ends tucked in parts drawers and came up with a brass hinge from toilet seat.  Yup, straight from the lid of a shitter. A 1/2" dowel fit perfectly into the hinge hole, and once it was attached to the bottom of the tailpiece, we were in business . . . monkey business you might say, but it works.

Random shots you may enjoy.

So, where did the 'Funky Munky' moniker come from?

This entire instrument is a bit goofy, so anything less than unusual wouldn't work for a decoration for the headstock. I thought about a lot of things, but nothing rang my bell, until I was clawing through a bin of cabinet drawer pulls at the local craft store.  Out popped this head of a gorilla. Who would ever want a drawer pull like this? No one, I suspect, because there were many in the bin. But, when I saw it, I knew it was perfect for my bass.

Voila, the Funky Munky'!

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.