Saturday, 10 March 2012

A week in the workshop (Friday)

Julio came today to pick up his new guitar. I had been delayed with this as the polish wasn't quite to my satisfaction and Julio had been very patient. Most guitar makers fret and worry about their finish; it is one of those things that can haunt you. In the case of this guitar, I kept getting a couple of thin patches on one rib, possibly exacerbated by a particularly oily patch in the rosewood. Anyway, eventually it was complete and polished.

Julio successfully dodged the traffic on the M25 and seemed very pleased with the guitar. I had provided 3 saddles with this instrument, offering different action options and Julio seemed very much at home from the start. I wish them both many happy years together!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A week in the workshop (Thursday)

I had been planning on driving over to David Dyke's today to get some sawing done (some blocks of rosewood that I have been meaning to have cut for some time) but reluctantly I opted to stay in the workshop and finish off a few loose ends. Julio is due to pick up his guitar on Friday and I am keen to do some final adjustments and to complete the paperwork for the instrument.

Yesterday the tuners for this guitar developed a fault and I spent a few frantic hours procuring a new set (thank you Michael and David) and this put me behind with other work. I had been particularly keen to strip the top of the Ken Roberts guitar that came in a few weeks ago. The repair on the split in the soundboard has been completely successful and I now want to complete the re-polish so I can return it to its owner. The picture above shows the old French polish being softened and removed.

I have also been preparing some rosette blocks. This is a fun part of guitar making and the whole process seems quite miraculous. The strips below have not been glued but are held together with a peg to check the alignment. I'm glad I did this- looking closely at the photograph I realised I had left a strip out of the pattern.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

A week in the workshop (Wednesday)

I try and spend some time making batches of parts for future guitars and very often I think in sixes. Once you are in the right frame of mind to prepare back braces, necks or end blocks, and once you have set up the relevant tools or machines, then the job is really quite quick and efficient. This is still a million miles away from any sort of factory mass production as all these roughed-out parts will need hand finishing.

Today I was preparing top blocks for future instruments. Many years ago I bought a cubic meter of South American cedar for necks. Some of it was fantastic but about 20% of it was not suitable for necks, but could be used for blocks, bars and linings. I do not have much machinery in the workshop, but these blocks are mainly made on the bandsaw, sanding drum, and belt sander.
Once the blocks are rough cut they are fine sanded with a drum sander mounted in the pillar drill, shown in the picture above. Notice the dust extraction system...
The prepared blocks are shown below, ready for individual fitting and finishing. My blocks mimic the traditional Spanish foot, or integral neck, which is commonly found on traditional Spanish guitars. On this particular model I join the separately made neck into the block; I use this method as it allows me freedom to assemble the guitar where the top is fitted after the back. Once finished, the blocks below will be given a couple of coats of shellac for no other reason that it looks nice through the soundhole. This amounted to a mornings work. In the afternoon I did some final adjustments on Julio's guitar, which took a most unexpected turn, but more of that later...

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A week in the workshop (Tuesday)

Shaping these fan struts was one of today's enjoyable tasks. Working on the soundboard gives me great pleasure, and I would say it is the part of guitar construction that I enjoy most. Although one should view the instrument as a whole, with all the components contributing something to the character of the guitar, the soundboard really is the heart of it all. When I first became interested in guitar making I would spent hours looking at wonderfully figured pieces of rosewood, mesmerized by the patterns and colours. Now I am inspired by spruce and can spend hours picking my way through my stock of tops. The subtle variations in weight, stiffness and resonance enthral me; a good piece of spruce can seem alive in your hands.

For some reason I enjoy shaping the strut ends with a large paring chisel (that's it in the picture). I think I enjoy the weight of the tool, and the steel on this particular chisel holds a fine edge.

Tuesday afternoon saw my new student, James, spending a couple of hours in the workshop. He made good progress; a top jointed, a set of struts split, planed and cut carefully to length, and a neck brought down to thickness. After James had left, David kept me in the workshop until nearly 10 o'clock as we finished off some restoration work and discussed the guitar world in general. A long day, but a productive one.

Monday, 5 March 2012

A week in the workshop (Monday)

Many years ago, a friend lent me a copy of Andy Manson's book charting his life as a guitar maker over the course of a year. Manson, one of England's finest steel string makers, gave a highly personal but insightful glimpse into the everyday life of a craftsman, and it was this book that provided some initial inspiration for this blog.

For some time I have been thinking of charting my guitar making activities over the course of a week, and this week seemed as good as any. Let's hope something exiting happens...

The thought of Monday morning is not one that gives me a sinking feeling; I am incredibly lucky to enjoy what I do. I normally walk into the workshop and take stock of the work I plan to do in the week ahead, check the diary and make a list of jobs to be done. This week I must finish off some small repairs. The guitar above, a 1979 Ken Roberts, came in a few weeks ago when we were in the grip of freezing weather. The extremely dry conditions had resulted in a small split appearing below the bridge which had opened up to leave a gap of about a millimetre. For the last couple of weeks I have slowly been re-hydrating the guitar (the bag in the sound hole has a damp cloth in it) and finally the crack has closed. Now, by gently flexing the soundboard (below) I have run some hot hide glue into the split and later on in the week I will glue a couple of supporting cleats on to the inside of the soundboard. The owner of the guitar has decided it is time to refinish the top anyway, so this split will be invisible.

I have 2 new guitars under way and so I am busy assembling the parts for these. Today I glued struts on one of the soundboards so the go-bar press was busy. I have some old blocks of European spruce under the bench and I split these first to ascertain the grain direction to ensure maximum stiffness. On these guitars I am also using some Adirondack spruce from the USA that is wonderfully light and strong.

The picture below shows the finished backs (birds eye maple, Madagascan rosewood) and one soundboard with the rosette inlayed. I will be building necks towards the end of the week for these instruments.

I haven't been alone for much of the day. David, from Old School Guitars, has been in finishing off some repair work he had undertaken, and later in the evening Jim and Max were in building guitars. A busy day leaving me with an untidy workshop!

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Antonio de Torres FE 18

This is a guitar I see quite regularly and it was in the workshop a few weeks ago for fellow guitar maker Pete Beer to inspect. Torres is of course a special name for all classical guitar makers as his contribution to the development of the instrument was enormous. Torres worked in two periods or epochs and this guitar is from the first epoch and is dated 1864. It is catalogued by Jose Romanillos as FE 18. The body is small by modern standards and is a similar size to a Panormo. It has a 640mm scale length, or thereabouts; it is possible that Torres used imperial measurements, and exhibits many of the features for which Torres is famed.

The rosette is a pleasing example of the decorative work found on some Torres guitars. Torres has made extensive use of dyed green veneer and the fine herring-bone design is one that has been much copied. I have spent many hours making this detail and know how long it takes, and the precision required to do it well.

FE 18 is delightful to play and playing any old and historically important instrument is a moving experience which brings you closer to the history of the guitar. Although the guitar has developed greatly since Torres there is still much to learn from the old makers. It must be remembered that the best guitars are being made now, by living makers and it should surprise no one that this is the case. Makers today have the work of those in the past to draw on, as well as many technologies that were not available to makers in the past.
This guitar can be heard at the Wigmore Hall (London) on the 25th March 2012 as part of a concert given by Edoardo Catemario. A Torres in this beautiful concert venue is a treat indeed.