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This guitar, a Recording King Tricone Resonator, came into the workshop with a problem. It’s owner, guitar virtuoso Roland Chadwick, wanted to use an open C# tuning (C#,G#, C#, F, G#, C#) but couldn’t get it to play in tune. A web search rapidly revealed that these guitars are notorious for giving trouble with open tunings. There are probably several reasons including the high action at the nut and coupling of certain notes with strong body resonances, but another cause seems to be too little compensation at the bridge. With an open C# tuning, this results in the two lower strings sounding more than 20 cents sharp at the 12th fret.
At one time, a replacement bridge was made which allowed the compensation of each string to be individually adjusted. (You can see it here.) It looks an excellent design but unfortunately, it’s no longer obtainable. What to do instead?
I decided to follow a similar route but to get there by modifying the existing bridge rather than making a new one. I simply glued small pieces of ebony onto it and reshaped the string slots to provide a few millimetres of compensation for the 2nd, 5th and 6th strings. I say simply but, although the idea is straightforward, it’s a bit tricky in practice because the shape of the bridge and existing saddle makes it hard to clamp the small lumps of ebony in place while the glue cures. I solved the problem by making a cast of the opposite side of the bridge from car body filler – a technique that I’ve described in detail in the Tools and Jigs section of this website.
Below are a few photographs of the modified bridge and the guitar with its top off while final adjustments were being made.
I didn’t succeed in getting it to play perfectly in tune over the whole length of the fingerboard, but the intonation is a lot better and I think that Roland will now be able to play it without making his audience’s ears bleed.
It’s always a pleasure to hear what one’s instruments are doing and I recently caught up with this small steel-string guitar that I made nearly 5 years ago for Poppy Smallwood. Based on a Martin OO model with 12 frets to neck, it’s made of English walnut and has a sitka spruce soundboard.
(More photographs here, if you want to know about its construction.)
Poppy has been playing the guitar in all sorts of places, making a reputation for herself as a singer and songwriter. Here she is performing one of her own songs for BalconyTV against the background of St Petersburg.
You can hear several more of her songs on Soundcloud.
Most vices won’t let you file a nut or saddle to shape. Their jaws are too wide and get in the way. Stew Mac make a special vice with tall narrow jaws to get around the problem. I haven’t tried it but I should think that it works fine. However, it’s quite unnecessary. A simple pair of wooden jaws does the job perfectly well.
The jaws in the photographs below were intended as a prototype. I was planning to make a pair of jaws out of gauge plate or aluminium sheet and wanted to check that I’d got the size about right and that the idea was feasible. It turned out that the wooden version worked so well that I didn’t need to bother.
As I hope can be seen in the photographs, the device is little more than a couple of pieces of maple about 5mm thick, hinged together at their lower ends with glass fibre reinforced tape.