Thursday, September 28, 2017

Sumpin New

I didn't name this creation, because it is a commission build for a fellow from Cleveland, so I'll leave that to him.  However, 'city scape' came to mind after I commenced with the process of making it
different than others I've built, and looking at the shape of the headstock and the inlays.

Starting from the top working down and around, here's what makes up what has turned out to be a really cool guitar.  It looks good. It feels good, lightweight and comfortable. It plays very well with a soft and close action. And, it sounds great with strong warm bass and bright treble with a ton of sustain.

The headstock overlay on the African mahogany neck is a combination of East Indian rosewood and elevated Goncolo Alves with tuning machine recesses on the Alves side. A hand-fabricated bison bone nut separates the headstock from the rosewood fingerboard, which has pearl position markers and medium/medium gauge hand set and polished frets. The soundhole rosette inlay is a combination of twenty-six individually cut pieces of exotic wood, which were glued together, cut and shaped to fit the center recess of the three part design. The outer circles are thinner black composite strips. The bridge is made of hand fabricated rosewood with a bison bone saddle and ebony pins with abalone inlay, which anchor the Ernie Ball 10-46 gauge strings. Further down the top is another grouping of  wood pieces that carry out the 'city scape' design into the tailpiece, each being made up of eighteen individually assembled exotic wood pieces. The back and sides are mahogany as well, with narrow rosewood binding formed to separate and add strength to the joints, where the body pieces are glued together. A one-half-inch strip of ebony bordered herringbone walnut inlay runs along the spine of the back from the bottom of the tailpiece to the Wenge (when-gay) heel cap of the neck. You'll notice a carryover of the spine inlay into the other inlays, tying it all together.  The small heel cap is a combination of rosewood, redheart, zebrawood and wenge. Moving up the neck and finishing off this description are the Grover closed back geared tuners. The last photo is to show how I sometimes customize the interior without sacrificing any structural quality, by perforating the ladder-style back braces, and all bracing is scalloped and individually fitted to each design.

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.