Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Another Special Tool

Bending the sides for an acoustic guitar is crucial to the shape and final result, a matched pair of ribs that fit the overall design of the instrument.   I suppose there are any number of ways to accomplish this.  And, commercial benders are available, but for a huge price.  So, I decided to create my own.  It didn't seem like such a complicated affair -- a method to apply heat to the wood at specified points, and a stable platform on which to apply pressure to shape the wood -- so, take a look at the simple device I chose to assemble.

No it's not a spud gun.  It's a TotalRojo acoustic guitar rib bender.

For less than $40 in parts and a couple hours labor, I created a simple bender.  Because of the hand pressure needed to be applied to the straight wood guitar sides during the bending process, the unit has to be secure and comfortable to use, so I constructed it with a wood base that would fit into the jaws of the small bench vice.  It can sit horizontally (see photo), or can stand on the end (see the lip extending beyond the back), whichever is the best position needed.  

I chose two-inch copper tube for the heater (geez that stuff is pricey - $19 a foot).  Found a 600-watt heating element on Ebay from China for three-and-a-half bucks.  A light dimmer switch for $4+, and three feet of heavy-duty wire and plug for another five bucks.  A two-inch metal washer and conduit clamps from my junk drawer.  A cigar box laying around for a future as an amplifier did the trick for a 'control' enclosure. A roll of aluminum foil pilfered from the kitchen.  And, a copper cap to hold things together.

Acquiring the copper tube and cap was a hoot and worth telling about.  After searching all over town for 2-inch copper tube, I finally landed at Powell Supply.  I've driven by the place for twenty years, but never had the need to stop in.  It was like going into a time warp, straight into the fifties (perhaps earlier).  An office on the left, entry way cluttered with stuff straight ahead, and parts department on the right.  It didn't smell like a hardware or electrical supply store, whatever they really smell like.  It smelled of delicious food!  The combination of vegetables, meat, garlic, and gawd-only-knows what else, but it smelled good, and I was hungry.  Why the food?  To feed customers, what else.  You sure as hell never get this treatment at Lowes or The Home Depot.

The guy at the parts counter fixed me up with the tube and cap.  I offered to pay him, but he said, "You gotta go across the hall to the window, and my mom will take your money."  Ok, off I go with invoice in hand to see Mom.  The window is like what we used to see in old theater ticket booths or at old bank teller stations. Mom is an older gray-haired lady (and very nice I might add), who was reading something when I approached her window.  She must not have seen me, but another older family member let her know I was standing there looking bewildered with money in my hand.  She looked at the invoice and proclaimed, "That copper is sure pricey, isn't it son."  Son, hell I'm 73 years old, so how old must she be?  I asked, "Why is that?" She replied, "Because, folks are stealing it right and left."  It doesn't make sense to me that the price of something should be governed by theft, but I wasn't about to get into a discussion about that.  I just picked up my stuff, stuck the change in my pocket, smiled, looked around for nostalgia sake, and left the building.  I look forward to the next visit at Powell Supply.

Enough of that.  Here's the detail of the construction process, which is simple.

I placed the metal washer inside the tube at one end and used a hammer to crimp the edge to hold the washer in place.  Then, I stuffed the tube full of aluminum foil (tamping it down tightly with a wood dowel and hammer), which is there to conduct heat. Drilled a hole into the center of the foil to accommodate the heating element. Ran the element wires through a small hole drilled in the copper cap and into the cigar box through another small hole.  Packed the cap with foil and slid it onto the tube, where it was secured with screws in holes drilled in the cap and tub.  Mounted the dimmer to the cigar box lid. threaded the plug wire through a small hole in the box and attached the plug.  Attached all the wires in the box to the dimmer.  Ran a ground wire from the dimmer to the copper tube, where it was secured with one of the screws, so I wouldn't electrocute myself, if I ever accidentally touched the dimmer mechanism at the same time I touched the tube. Secured the tube on the base with the clamps.  Plugged it in, adjusted the dimmer control, and voila, heat in the tube.

That's it.  Pretty simple, and I like simple.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Acoustic Part Ten -- The Finish Line

Twenty-two years ago, the Martin Guitar Company created the D16-H limited edition dreadnought guitar.  It was an experimental project stimulated by continued requests for them to build an affordable guitar that emulated the sound of the pre-war (WWII) D18.  Why the D18?  Because, it is without question one of Martin's greatest creations with a combination treble/bass sound and sustain that is unequaled, so the experts say.  Martin revealed the D16-H in '92 and it was very well received, and instrument reviews indicated that the '16' equaled the '18' in quality and sound.  But, after a couple years, they stopped making the D16-H. Why?  Who knows. Probably, because they wanted the value of the '16' to increase, and for demand for exceptional instruments to continue.

I bought a D16-H back in the day and it is everything the critics said it was.  I thought that if I were ever to attempt building an acoustic guitar, it would have to be like the '16'.  Then, late last year, my friend David encouraged me to stop procrastinating and short-selling my ability and to get going on a new build.

If you've been reading posts hereon about the creation of the TotalRojo TR18D, you know the details.  My attempt was to create a guitar that is as close to the '16' as I could possibly come.  I researched the D-18 thoroughly and bought Martin parts and plans, so that's about as close as I could get to the real deal.

Tonight (March 10, 2014) I completed my guitar.  It plays and sounds exactly like my D16-H!   Thanks to encouragement from my wife, sons, and friend David, I think I may have finally learned how to build a very nice guitar.

Here it is.  Let me know what you think.

Mahogany neck with bone nut; rosewood headstock overlay; Shaler tuners; rosewood fingerboard with Mother of Pearl fret markers; rosewood bridge with bone saddle and MOP pins; tortoiseshell pick guard; ziricote wood heel cap; rosewood sides and bookmatched rosewood back; tortoiseshell binding.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Acoustic Part Nine -- The Home Stretch

This morning, I completed the 'finish' process.  Four coats of sealer applied by hand to the neck and body was the first order of business in this elongated journey.  Then it was nineteen coats of oil hand applied with sanding between every third coat (graduating from 250 grit to 1200 grit wet/dry paper).

It's difficult to see the luster created on the top by the application of oil, but it is there.  The finish is not as mirror-like as it would be if it were sprayed, but after it is rubbed out with compound and then waxed, it is going to be just what the doctor ordered.  I chose not to stain any of the surfaces so the raw grain would be accentuated, and it was a great choice.  However, this really worked out well with the top in that the oil dries with a slight amber glow to it, which really mellows out the brightness of the spruce wood.  The area taped off with blue painters tape is where the bridge will be glued in place (wood-to-wood with no finish to interfere with the bonding process), which is required so the fear of separation is eliminated.

It's easier to see the beauty of the rosewood in this shot of the back and sides.  The book matched back looked exactly like I wanted, and the tortoiseshell binding accentuates it so well.

This shot shows off the grain of the book matched rosewood ribs and mahogany insert where the ribs are joined at the back of the guitar.  Many options can be applied to the insert, but I settled on the simple mahogany, which matched the neck, rather than colored plastic.  There's nothing fancy about this creation, but that is exactly what I intended from the start for my first acoustic guitar building effort.  However, I am very pleased with the result, and I'm picky as hell about my work.

Getting a good shot of the neck is difficult as it hangs in the shop, but I think you can see how well this turned out.  Now that the finish is complete, I can remove the painters tape covering the surface of the fretboard.

Like the body, the rosewood headstock overlay is beautiful.  The TotalRojo logo is there at the top, but not 'in your face', which is by design.  I want to enjoy the beauty of the wood.

The neck and body will hang for the next couple weeks in my shop, while the oil cures and hardens to the point that I can commence attaching the bridge, cutting string slots in the nut, assembly of the tuners, adjusting string 'action' through fine adjustment of the saddle, and buffing and polishing the finish.

I can hardly wait to play this little devil, which I've named "Elvira".  Hopefully, all the measuring and re-measuring numerous times, and the meticulous attention to detail, which was recommended by the experts, none the least of which is my friend Larry at Tadpole Guitars, was enough to make this thing come alive.

Thanks Larry for your guidance and encouragement!  And, thanks to David for his constant urging, without which I would never have developed the confidence to take on the project.  He scolded me several times about 'short selling' my talent.  Perhaps he is right.

Stay tuned for the final chapter on Elvira, and the commencement of the next creation.  Like one of my wife's chocolate chip cookies, I cannot have just one.