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I have basic patterns for my dulcimers but the the exact shape and size of each dulcimer varies slightly from one dulcimer to the next. I have embraced a fairly free-form style of building and use very few jigs, forms, and fixtures.
By building free-form I feel like I am sculpting a dulcimer rather than making a bunch of parts and assembling them. The frame of the dulcimer (sides and end blocks) and the fretboard become the reference points for laying out the rest of instrument. I can make small changes to the shape and size of the dulcimer by feel and eye and work with it until everything seems right to me.
The thickness of the top and back and the bracing pattern are determined in a similar manner.
Free-form building is not the most efficient way to make dulcimers in a timely manner. If I made all the parts to a set pattern and assembled them in fixtures I would make more dulcimers in less time but I wouldn’t enjoy the process very much.
These photographs are of a baritone dulcimer in progress. The final shape of the dulcimer is traced on the soundboard and the soundholes are laid out using a template. I have also laid out the placement of the position markers on the fingerboard. A scraper serves as a short straight edge for drawing the layout lines.
Roy Underhill, The Woodwright's Work Book, 1986
If you own copy of The New Traditional Woodworker, by Jim Tolpin, then perhaps you have constructed his workbench tote project.
My workbench is always a mess and now that I am getting to the finishing stage for two classical guitars, I thought I would try to mend my ways and keep a tidy bench. A workbench tote is a start in the right direction.
I held fairly close to the dimensions in Tolpin's book, but used some nice pine that was on hand (I think it is lodgepole pine, it's hard to find good ponderosa pine these days) for the sides and handle, with pine plywood for the bottom.
A carpenter by trade, I decided to build this tote in the house carpenter tradition, nothing fancy, just 45 degree miters, a table saw cut groove for the plywood...
...glue and pin nails from a trim gun to hold everything together.
The tote handle shape is a personal decision, you don't have to copy anyone's design, make it look the way you want it to look.
Boring the holes for the handle made me realize that I need to spend some time sharpening my augers!
It is a tote for the workbench, so the handle is held in place with trim nails - rulers, chisels and gauges aren't heavy enough to warrant larger fasteners.
It's not as fancy as the one in The New Traditional Woodworker, but it was a fun, quick project.
I save the fancy work for my guitars,
you know, something like this!
Now, get out in your shop and make something!
Here's a video of Stephanie Jones, enjoy!
Jose L. Romanillos, Antonio de Torres, 1995
Many people don't know how much work is involved in constructing a guitar bridge, I know for most classical guitarists it is simply an anchor point for the guitar's strings.
I arch the bottom of the bridge to match the guitar sound board's doming, cut a channel for the saddle to sit in and I make a tie block for the strings.
The tie block gets covered with a piece of mother of pearl, this protects the tie block from string wear and gives the guitar a bit of bling.
Since I am making a fairly close copy of a Hernandez y Aguado bridge, the tie block is sloped towards the saddle slot, this was original done to increase the breaking angle of the strings over the bridge. This helps increase the overtones in the guitar. Compare that with a modern flamenco guitar bridge and you will see the string "breaking angle" is very, very shallow, the string goes almost straight from the tie block to the saddle.
I souped up the blade on my grandfather's Stanley No.192 rabbet plane and it works wonders in cutting out a rabbet for the tie block overlay.
It would be nice to close up the mouth of this plane just a little, but if I do my job of properly sharpening this Sweetheart Era blade it performs with perfect aplomb.
The Rocklite Ebano bridge with its new MOP tie block overlay. I put a bit of hide glue on the tie block, dry it with a heat gun, clamp the MOP onto it and then run some CA glue along the edges.
Tomorrow is the day from drilling the string holes in both bridges, then the final shaping and carefully stowing away the bridges so they will not become damaged.
Please bear with me as I find a new template for my blog, I want the blog to be easy read and search.
Here's a video of a brilliant young guitarist from Australia, Stephanie Jones!
George Ellis, Modern Practical Joinery, 1902
I started making this gauge about a year ago, it was a rainy day project that I didn't finish until today, thus it became a snow flurry day project.
The fence and arm are walnut, the wedge is made from a 20 year old piece of ebony, the cutter was taken from a purfling cutter that I abandoned long ago.
I need to reshape the cutter's end from a knife point to a v-point, that tends to work better for cutting veneer into purfling strips.
There is another marking/cutting gauge on the tool shelf that is the standard "go to" gauge, but I wanted another gauge just for cutting veneer.
Here is my quiver of gauges, from left to right: the newest gauge, the day to day gauge, a double arm mortise gauge and a pin gauge. The mortise and pin gauges were made from Claro walnut harvested near my parents home in Northeastern California, I wish I had track trailer full of that gorgeous wood!
I hope everyone likes the new look of the blog! I wanted something that was easy to read and navigate, though for some reason I can't seem to get the "Label" gadget to work so one can randomly search the blog.
Drew Langsner, The Chairmaker's Workshop, 1997
The other day I consigned a cedar/Indian rosewood guitar at a guitar shop of a fairly well known guitar maker. He liked my guitars and said that I was doing "a really good job in making them", but he criticized my use of French polish.
He said "Shellac scratches too easily and it doesn't hold up well." He took one of his custom guitars off a wall hanger and showed it to me.
"Here, the way you should go is UV cured catalyzed polyester! You can finish a guitar in a day!" he boasted, "however, you have to wear a hazmat suit to enter the spray booth"
"Why would I do that?" I asked, "I have a very tiny shop and I am trying to be safe and green!"
"It's the finish we like to see these days! Looks like glass, hard, long wearing and very scratch resistant", he replied.
I couldn't help but to notice the slight "orange peel" on the back of the his guitar.
"I've been thinking about going to a water based finished", I said.
"Water based finishes are too pasty looking for my taste!", he fired back, "don't waste your time with them, use a catalyzed polymer or nitro lacquer!"
That was pretty much the end of the conversation and I walked out of the shop.
On the drive home I thought long and hard about what I should use to finish the two guitars that are on my work bench, they need to be finished by the first of June. French polish/shellac is the time honored way to finish high end classical guitars, but shellac takes a long time to harden and continues to shrink, ad infinitum, into any unfilled pore. Not too mention, if you look at a French polished surface cross-eyed you will more than likely scratch it. I would like to revive what George Frank called "an open pore French polish" that he said was very popular in France and the rest of the world in the 1920's. No pore filling, just shellac showing all the beauty of the wood. Problem is most classical guitar players want to own an instrument that has that "perfect factory glass-like finish". And no, no one in the flamenco or classical guitar world wants a guitar that has a soap finish.
I have pretty much decided to go with a water-based lacquer to finish the back, sides and neck of my guitars and French polish the top. There is one company that I will be calling next week to ask "Why should I use your finish for my classical guitars" and see what they say. Their website is very informative and I like the idea of being able to rub out a finish just three to four days after applying it. If I like using a water based finish, once I complete the new workshop I will dedicate a space for a spray booth, yes, I will purchase a HVLP spray gun.
I wonder how many people who read my blog will groan at this post? Wilson not using French polish? It is a wonderful skill to have, but, I am trying to make a living at building and selling my guitars. I am not an amateur. I want the best finish possible for my guitars, that helps bring more customers to me.
Yes, I know there are many guitar makers and players who swear up and down that French polish with shellac is the best finish for a classical guitar, however...
Here is something to think about: the world famous guitar maker, Robert Ruck, who was awarded a life time achievement award from the Guitar Foundation of America in 2016, is considered the man who set the industry standard for classical guitars. He uses a catalyzed polymer finish for his guitars. Shouldn't that be the standard for all classical guitars?
Dr. SunWolf, professor, Santa Clara University
This guitar, redwood/East Indian rosewood, is based upon a guitar that was made in the shop of Manuel Hernandez and Victoriano Aguado in 1963.
It is a little bigger bodied than the 1961 HyA style guitar that I usually make, I wanted to see if there is a difference in sound between a guitar with an eighteen and seven-eights inch body and a guitar with a nineteen inch body length. I know that is only an 1/8 of an inch difference, but I have heard guitar makers and players alike swear up and down that a larger bodied guitar, even an eighth of an inch bigger, is bigger and better sounding.
The top bracing is based on one used by Jesus Belezar, Manuel Hernandez's son-in-law, except I added one more bass brace.
I decided to use only three braces on the back, sometimes Hernandez and Aguado used four braces. Four braces tends to give the back a higher pitch than three braces.
Yesterday was spent doing the final sanding on the interior, there are people who believe that the inside of a classical guitar should be immaculate. Those people need to look inside a guitar made by Antonio de Torres, Santos Hernandez, Domingo Esteso or any other guitar made by an Spanish master. I spend at least one day cleaning, sanding, burnishing the inside of a guitar, it's as if the guitar is nickel and dime-ing you to death.
Glueing a guitar's back on is very nerve wracking for me, I want everything to be as perfect as possible, which means no glue drips and that all parts mate well.
This redwood top has some gorgeous medullary rays! I have learned to put several wash coats of shellac on a guitar top before I start the binding process, it helps to protect the top from binding tape and glue.
The shop is starting to look more like a guitar maker's shop with all these guitars hanging up waiting for work!
From left to right - Engelmann spruce/ziricote, redwood/black walnut, redwood/rosewood. The neck you see hanging on the rack is for a Port Orford cedar/rosewood guitar.
John Evarts, et al, Coast Redwood, A Natural History, 2011
Today, I glued the back onto a redwood/black walnut classical guitar that I named Luisa, after the flamenco bailaora, Luisa Maravilla.
The top is redwood that I purchased from Paul Carroll at Redwood Bears and Burls in Gasquet, California.
The back and sides I re-sawed, by hand with a Disston D-8 rip saw, from a board of black walnut that I purchased at a flea market in Longmont, Colorado.
The neck is Port Orford cedar, the top braces are from a 50+ year old white fir 2x4, the back fillet is sycamore, the back braces are black cherry. All of these species grow in Tehama County, California, which is where I am from, either as naturals or exotics.
It is a "green" guitar, meaning that all the wood comes from sustainable sources.
Here are some photos of building this guitar.
Joining the top pieces.
Preparing to rout out the channel for the rosette.
Laying out the top bracing. This is similar to the bracing pattern used by the great guitarrero, Feliz Manzanero.
Glueing on the transverse braces.
The sides are next...
and the top blocks are glued in one at a time.
The sides are attached to the top and the neck.
Back linings attached along with all of the pillarettes to support the back braces.
The back is ready, with my label, to be glued on.
The Cumpiano/Natelson method for clamping the back onto a guitar, a cut up inner tube.
It was a lot of fun work to reach this point!
I am extending my 15% off sale through March 2017!
Now's your chance to own one of my handcrafted guitars!
Please contact me for details!
Anders Sterner, musician
Thought you might be interested in a short post on how I make capos, or cejillas, for classical/flamenco guitars.
First thing I do is roundup some black and white strips of veneer; a piece of nice wood for the core and even pretty wood for the outside laminations.
I plane pieces to proper thickness, align in proper order and glue all pieces together.
Here are two capo templates I came up with, I copied historic original Spanish capo shapes, I draw these onto the block of wood I just created from the veneer, laminates and core. Then I drill holes for the violin pegs and have a violin/viola/cello peg reamer handy.
Here is a photo of a shop made violin peg shaver that I made. I use 1/2 size violins for the capos.
Once the violin pegs fit perfectly in their holes in the capos, I cut them to proper length, drill a hole in the peg shaft between collar and head of peg for the nylon guitar string. I cut the capos to match the template outlines, sand, buff and apply some linseed oil.
I use LaBella brand nylon flamenco guitar strings to attach the friction pegs to the capos. The string will run through a piece of vinyl tubing which will protect the guitar's neck. After the strings and pegs are attached I glue a strip of neoprene to the face of the capo. Once the glue has dried I trim the neoprene...
and have a whole handful of beautiful capos!
Yes, I have left out a few steps of how I make these handy little tools for a guitarist, I can't give away all of my secrets!