Sunday, February 15, 2015

'Francesca' is in the oven

After seeing my last acoustic creation ('Gabriella'), my friend David suggested that I commence to add some 'Jess stuff' to my builds.  I asked, "What might that be?"  And, David replied, "Some special personal creativity that reflects your ability.  Don't be so timid about it!"

I've given a lot of thought to what David had to say and I think he's right, I'm not as expressive with the acoustic creations as I've been with the cigar box guitars I've built.  I'm not really timid about it, just not as confident.  Perhaps because the acoustic creations are 'real' guitars, while the CBGs are less traditional and a lot more funky.

Well, 'Francesca' is in the oven and she will be a whole lot more like what David may have in mind.

To get started, I had to decide how I might approach being more expressive.  I like the dreadnought body shape, so I'm not changing that, however, there are subtle things I can do with it to add a little spice . . . I'll just have to experiment.  Because of the nature of the beast, the dreadnought is what it is, and when I start messing with the shape it's no longer what I prefer.

So, where to begin?

I decided to do something special to attract attention without major body modifications.  Thus, a unique headstock overlay design.  A sound hole rosette inlay to match the overlay.  And, a tailpiece insert that matches.

The design, according to my son Jay, is 'cubist'. Perhaps it's a reflection of what Picasso might have come up with if he was into guitars at the time he was creating art.  I'm familiar with Braque and Picasso art, but that wasn't what I had in mind when I ventured off into my creative journey.  I just wanted to produce something colorful and unique in design to accent parts of my guitar.

This is the headstock overlay, which is created from 21 individual pieces of exotic wood individually cut from 1/16" stock.  I worked from a pattern I drew, but decided on the specific wood choice as I moved along in the process. Each piece is glued on its edge to the adjacent piece.  You'll notice the base of the design is a stylized guitar shape in walnut. Other woods are purple heart, chatke kok, zebra wood, spruce, yellow heart, rosewood, Spanish cedar, mahogany and blood wood.

The sound hole rosette follows the overlay theme with 22 individual pieces glued together in the same manner as the headstock.  The trick here was to join the pieces and to cut the shape without breaking it.

Here's the tailpiece insert comprised of 16 pieces of 3/32" wood matching the overlay and rosette. This piece is slightly thicker, because it will be 'sandwiched' into an opening where the side ribs come together at the back of the guitar.  Again, you'll notice the subtle shape of a guitar as the base for the design.

Work in process.  The overlay is glued and curing, while the insert is being completed.  The drawings are my guide.

I hope Pablo doesn't mind me unintentionally intruding on his turf.

I'll post more photos as the build progresses.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Oh, Ya, You Really Want Me To Play?

My young friend Richard contemplating what he wants to do with his new TotalRojo guitar.

Rich's grandpa and I have been friends for more years than either of us care to admit, which would probably put us in the 'old' category, but 'old' is a state of mind right?

Joe and his wife Jeri told me how Rich likes music and sings all the time, so I got to thinking about it and decided to gift a three-string guitar to Rich to get him started playing as well as singing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

'Angelina' and Albuquerque

The Vintage Albuquerque auction to raise funds for Children's Arts Education in Albuquerque, New Mexico has once again asked me if I would create a special guitar to be auctioned in their special event June 24 - 28, 2015.  Of course, I said yes.  If you're interested in learning more about this wonderful event, go to

                    In the meantime, let me introduce you to 'Angelina'.  

The basis for the 'Angelina' build is a large Riunite wine box, which I acquired a while back with no special intention in mind. But when my friend Cate Stetson asked me to create another guitar for this year's auction, I knew just what I'd do.

The size of the body shouted 'acoustic', so the basic decision was easy. However, that was only a starting point.

The neck is a one-piece mahogany 'D' style bolt-on design complete with triangle shaped volute to give it character.  A rosewood headstock overlay, Corian nut and rosewood fingerboard with pearl position markers complete this part of the package.

As we move along in the description of the build, I'll try to point out the more interesting and necessary elements that went into creating what turned out to be a really nice sounding and very playable instrument.

                                                    Grover tuning machines tension the strings.

Traditionally, acoustic guitars are made from solid pieces of wood, but when creating something special, tradition sometimes takes a back seat.  Some would argue that only traditional methods produce playable instruments, but that is not always the case.  The body of this guitar is a box made from laminated pieces of Spanish cedar, and who knows what else makes up the three layers of sheet.

We'll get to the internal parts that make this playable in a moment, but until then let me explain the top.

The bridge is rosewood with Corian saddle. The sculpted pieces at the corners are crafted from mahogany to give life to the top. You'll note that the Vintage Albuquerque logo subtly appears in the top right-hand design. The other designs have various size circular openings, which I hope you will imagine to be bubbles in the wine . . . 'tiny bubbles in my wine, tiny bubbles make me feel fine!'

The wine box itself is well constructed with dovetail joints at the corners, but to further reinforce the construction, I added 'X'-style bracing to the inside of the top and lateral bar braces to the inside of the back.

The box top was originally hinged on one side for access, with clasps on the other side to secure the lid.  But, since the body had to be one piece, I glued the top in place and eliminated the hinges, but left the clasps in place. Of course this left the hinge side looking pretty naked, so I hand carved a couple mahogany grape clusters to accent things.  The contrast in color is a little less dramatic than in the reflected light on this photo, but the idea is visible.

On the tail end of the body, I wanted to do something that would accent, while keeping with the theme, so I cut out a grape leaf shape from a piece of Rosewood to match the fingerboard and headstock overlay.

The VA logo is included in this piece as well, to further the identity of the occasion for the creation.

I chose to create a stylized New Mexico State Flag to accent the back.

The center 'sun' cutout is a piece of Spanish cedar left over from a previous build.

And, the 'rays' are thin pieces of hickory cut into the shape of wine bottles and lightly stained, for contrast with the cedar back.

I could have gone the traditional  design route for the flag, but that's not what this guitar is all about.  I built it for a special occasion and the details needed to be a bit special, too.

The neck heel cap is a piece of Leopard wood separated from the mahogany neck by a  thin piece of Sitka spruce, which adds a little detail as well.

The finish is several hand applied coats of a mixture of Linseed Oil and Turpentine, which I chose at the suggestion of my friend David.  He thought the treatment on the raw wood could work well, like it does on fine furniture . . . he is correct.  The satin effect is an 'old glow' that is perfect for a piece of modern day folk art.

I hope the folks at Vintage Albuquerque like 'Angelina', I know I do, and it will be difficult to let her go. But, I know her new owner will enjoy her.