Friday, June 22, 2012

'Bigfoot' -- The Build

For several months, my sons have been saying, "Dad, you should make a guitar of your own design, you can do it!"

After kicking the thought around in my head, I decided to try it, thus 'Bigfoot' came to be.

I've been building three-, four-, and six-string guitars (sixty five in two years, so I guess it's time to venture into the unknown) out of cigar boxes and silver bowls, so why not something more conventional?  If a guitar in the shape of a foot is conventional.

Where to start?  An idea of course.  I didn't want to go the route of the Strat or Tele design, which, by the way, I really like.  And, the dreadnaught or concert style acoustic seemed a bit boring, and also beyond what I am comfortable attacking (but, I love my Martin and Ibanez guitars), and the tools are not in my shop.

So, I settled on a plank (a solid body).

After returning from a brisk morning walk, I removed my shoes, and staring back at me were my gnarly feet, and that's when the light went on and the body of my guitar was envisioned.  Ya, ya, I know, I got an unusual imagination.  I searched the web for possible ideas, and saw a photo that I liked of a similar build, so I gave it a go.

I like the Strat style neck, so off to the web to search for the perfect item, and I managed to find it, but it hurt my wallet a bit.  And, then there is the other necessary stuff, magnetic pickups, bridge, output jack, tone and volume controls, and string ferrules to hide those nasty looking metal anchors attached to the ends of the strings.  Oh, well, it's just the kids inheritance, right?

The body blank was a 1-3/4" thick piece of bass wood cut to 14" x 22" dimensions, which was supplied by my friend Art at Carrousel Works, the greatest carrousel producing company on the planet.  Why bass wood?  Because it is easy to carve, doesn't splinter, and has a nice even grain to it.  The perfect basis for an novice carver.

So, now came the drawing of a 'big' foot to fit the plank.  I didn't want just a foot, I wanted something that is a little different, which wasn't tough to pencil out -- it took me only about five minutes for the basic design, and another ten to pencil in the toenails and top relief design.

Now, to the technical stuff for the drawing.  Determine the desired neck position and shape.  Mark the center line on the body, so the bridge can be properly placed.  Then the pickup locations fall into place, because I used only the neck and bridge positions.  Once that was done, the pots and jack was easy.

Thanks to a well equipped shop, I was able to easily cut the necessary openings and recesses with Forstner bits in my drill press, and finish off the openings with a chisel.

Of course, the cavities had to be covered, so it was time to draw a scratch plate design, which was simple -- I had the other drawing to use as a reference.  The design was transferred to a 1/8" sheet of maple and cut on the trusty band saw, along with the body.  Voila, I got the preliminary makin's for a guitar body.

It's time to start carving.  I found the little Millers Falls carving tools I purchased at a swap meet years ago, sharpened them, and went to work. Little did I know that long ago that I would use them first for a guitar, truthfully, I don't even know why I bought them.  Tools acquisition is a guy thing, just like collecting guitars -- ask my friend Ty who owns GuitarFuel, who coined the phrase G.A.S. (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome).

Carving the front and the back of the body took me about 15 hours.  I think if I do another, it will be a smoother go, because I learned a few things and I feel a lot more comfortable with the whole process.  And, there will be another, probably not a foot (unless someone has enough long lean green), but certainly something interesting.

The carving and sanding is finally done, and the fitting of pieces is complete, so it's now time for the finishing. I chose golden oak stain for the body, leaving the toenails to be a bit lighter in tone (mineral spirits with oak stain added to reach just the right color).  Mahogany stain provided the desired contrast for the flame-like relief on the top.  And, the maple scratch plate got a diluted mixture of the oak stain.  The logo and hand painted name were added to the headstock, to complete things. Once I was satisfied with this, it was on to six coats of poly sanded with 1000 grit paper between each coat.

Parts were assembled and polish applied, and it's now time to fire it up on the amp.

Wow, it sounded great and played as smooth as butter.  I got lucky, I guess.  But, maybe my boys were right.

If you're interested in seeing shots of the finished guitar, click on the link below.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Check This Out!

My friend Jasper shared a couple shots of a Telecaster he reworked to give it a aging relic look.  I don't know how it plays, but it sure looks cool.  I want one!


He also included pics of an old bike he pinstriped, which I happen to want to steal from him.   q;-)

pin stripe.jpgpin stripe-3.jpg

Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Gotta Learn Me Sumpin!

I've been having a great time for the past couple years creating very playable guitars from cigar boxes and other found objects -- wood planks, cookie tins, and silver bowls, just to mention a few.

It's not difficult to find something that can be used for the body of an instrument, but the tough part is in determining how it can be put to creative use.  Once the idea comes from noodling it around in my mind for a while, things just seem to fall into place.  But, this whole process can take from a few minutes to a few days, especially for me, because I don't ever want to mass produce something that can be thrown together in  a short time.  Where's the fun, adventure, and skill in that?

Recently, I've been reading where a couple builders have been turning out buku numbers of guitars, at near supersonic speed, to sell at swap meets and country fairs.  One fella claims he built a six-string in three hours.  Another guy claims to have turned out more than thirty guitars over a weekend. And, these guys claim to be selling these 'Macgits' as fast as they can flip them off the bench, and for big bucks, too.

When I read these stories, I scratch my noggin and ask myself, "What in hell am I doing wrong?"  Sure, I've sold some of my creations for a tidy sum, but none of them have been slapped together like I was boiling minute rice.  And, none look the same or have the 'rustic' appeal of being unfinished.

Hold on now pardner, before you get your knickers all twisted in a bunch.  I'm not knocking 'rustic', 'cause I think that is cool.  I just don't get the time frame, that's all.  And, I sure don't understand how these guys get big bucks for a 'rustic' bucket.

Depending on the design and the materials used to build one of my guitars, it can take me from two or three days to as long as a couple of weeks to finish a guitar. Granted, I don't work 24/7, but I doubt others do either.

So, the difference must be in the recipe.

My necks all have scarf joints and are are hand shaped for playing comfort. Headstocks are usually a specific design, which requires gluing and shaping. Fingerboards are glued to each neck, and the neck is glued to a box with custom design elements to include sound holes, bridges, pickups, switches and jacks where required. Frets are seated by hand into the fingerboard. Nuts and saddles are hand formed from various materials. And, all of my guitars receive at least three coats of hand-sanded finish, before they are polished.  And, finally hardware is installed and the instrument is tuned and test driven.

Hell, it takes longer than three hours for the glue to dry for me.  So, I guess I gotta learn me sumpin!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The 'Chippie'

A couple months ago, I found a Chippendale silver plated bowl on eBay, which I thought could be the body of a really cool guitar.

The 'Chippie' has been used, but not abused.  She is a little worn, but her body is as solid as a rock with curves in all the right places.  A bit tarnished, I suppose, but that's OK with me, 'cause she looks great.  She is smooth as silk, and comes alive at the slightest touch and encouragement.  She is not a bit bashful when you stroke her neck, and she purrs like a kitten or growls like a pit bull depending on how you treat her and if she's plugged in or not.

Well, now that I've introduced you to my new plaything, let's get on with what makes her so special.

She's a four-string electro/acoustic 25.5-inch-scale guitar tuned like the d-g-b-e strings on a standard guitar.   The action is very low, less than an eighth of an inch at the twelfth fret, which makes for simple playing.

The cherry headstock with walnut veneer is designed to emulate the design of the bowl, and the tailstock follows that design as well.  The nut and saddle are custom made from Corian, and the saddle sits on a bridge made from Spanish cedar to conform in style to the bowl design.

The neck is a hand contoured cherry extension of the headstock with a three part custom formed fretboard created from a walnut top section transitioning into a shorter cherry mid-section, and then on to an even shorter maple finale.  Hand formed frets are seated into the fretboard with small brass markers on the edge to indicate key fret positions.

The top is a thin sheet of maple laminated to a contoured ring that matches the bowl design .  A stylized sound hole is cut into the top to allow sound to acoustically escape the enclosure, and the resonance and sustain is very good for such a small enclosure.  A walnut veneer pick guard compliments the offsetting sound hole, and extends the fingerboard design onto the top.

Pop rivet grommets are inset into the top of the tailstock to guide the strings and to protect the tailstock from damage.  On the under side, the string ends are recessed for a clean appearance.  Maple strap buttons on either end of the neck underside finish off the exterior design.

Inside the bowl, I chose to install a pair of transducer pickups, which are attached to an output jack located just under the tailstock in a position that makes for comfortable insertion of an amp cord.

Speaking of an amp, this little lady sounds awesome when it's plugged in.

In addition to the custom sound hole in the top, I decided to drill smaller sound holes into the contoured outer rind, which further allows sound to escape the confines of the bowl.

Note how the ring design matches the contour of the bowl.  I thought this was necessary to give a little more life to my little lady.

This guitar is one of the more extended designs, but I am getting bored with simple cigar box creations, so I think I will continue to think outside the box.

The patina is so cool on this bowl that I had to leave it in it's original condition.  I polished it with a little guitar polish, but not enough to effect the tarnished appearance.

Not away from the use of cigar boxes, but on to more complex creations . . . at least that's what I'm thinking today . . . hell, my interest may change by tonight.   That's what makes this hobby so damn much fun . . . there are no rules.  I'm only restricted by my own imagination.

But, one thing is for certain now, I'm out of silver bowls, so I gotta move on to something else, and since I have more than 200 different cigar boxes in my shop, I'll probably create a couple more CBGs.

I hope you like what I've done with the tarnished ol' gal.

Created by my Aussie friend Jef Long

This is the latest from the stable of my Australian friend Jef Long.  I met Jef a couple years ago, while surfing the cigarboxguitarsaustralia web site.  He is one of the most creative guys I know, and he creates guitars from mostly found objects . . . wood pallets; discarded lumber; downed trees; and gawd only knows what else.  You'll note the unusual layout of the fretboard, but please, don't expect me to explain it.  According to Jef it is designed around some myxolodian concept (I think), who in hell knows, perhaps when Jef reads this he'll share the details with us.  One thing I do know is that Jef, and many other Australian builders, are some of the most creative instrument builders on the planet.   I hope you enjoy this little gem as much as I do.