Friday, 22 June 2012


The workshop has never been busier. I was saying to someone recently that it was almost too busy, although in fact I like it like that and it means I have to be really organised with scheduling my work. I do not always find this easy, as the creative process of making or restoring a guitar is one that cannot always be hurried and I am resolute in putting the quality of my work first.
I have 2 guitars in the early stages of construction, 1 awaiting frets and polish, 2 guitars being polished ( I am always polishing), 2 guitars that the wood is selected for, plus restoration work lined up into 2013.

For light relief I have been making a copy of a Terz guitar by the Viennese make Nikolaus Georg Ries. I am now polishing this guitar and will be stringing it up when I have time. As it is for my own amusement I can only work on it occasionally, but I have great fun with it as it is so different from my normal full size, modern classical guitars.

The picture above shows the simple barring on the front. The originals must have been made very quickly,; knocked out almost. The picture below shows the head and  neck with a sealer of clear polish and the big shiny buttons of golden shellac that I am using for the back and ribs of the guitar.

( For more on the story of this guitar click here and here).

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

The restoration of the guitar by Francois Roudhloff is now complete and the instrument is strung up to pitch. (More details of the restoration can be found here and here). This has been a most gratifying process and I am very pleased with the final result. This is also one of the nicest sounding 19th century guitars I have played - always a bonus.

This guitar is now returned to how it was originally; the replacement fingerboard removed and an authentic bridge and peghead made. The wonderful finish on the back and ribs is completely original. This colour doesn't come out of a bottle, but takes almost 200 years to achieve.

After the major work had been completed there were a number of small tasks to finish; replacing a small piece of ebony veneer on the back of the neck, gluing up a couple of hairline cracks, fret fettling, peg fitting, and making a new nut. The new nut (above) is made of ebony and in the picture you can see the strings slots being marked out onto the nut blank.

The 2 pictures below show the old replacement head and the new head. It is nice to be reminded of how the instrument was and the improvements that have been made. It is very easy to be dismissive of previous repair work but, in fact, the headstock I replaced was a functional repair that perhaps guaranteed the survival of the instrument. A broken guitar may have been discarded but this guitar continued to be used and enjoyed.

The guitar still has, what is almost certainly, its original case (pictured below). Although not offering the protection a modern case would give, it adds greatly to the character of the guitar. The new replica bridge can be seen in the picture, as can the lighter patch left by the modern classical bridge that had been fitted at some point. I have left this patch to darken down naturally as, in the long term, I feel this will give a more satisfactory result.

That concludes this restoration, and I am looking forward to returning it to its owner. If you have read this blog and get the impression I enjoyed working on this guitar, you would be absolutely right!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The wood so wild - part 2

Earlier on in the English spring, I journeyed over to David Dyke's in East Sussex to pick up some fretwire, and to have some rosewood cut. A full account of this trip can be seen here. I acquired some striking sets of English yew and I have posted pictures of these two sets as I think they are really rather wonderful.
Yew is a magical timber and much folklore has been connected to it. It has been seen as a tree of significance for many thousands of years, and can still be seen in many old churchyards.
It can be quite problematic to find clean sections of timber suitable for guitars; it grows in a wild and distorted way and much of it is beset with knots and other defects. It is however a lovely timber to work, with a fine silky feel. These two sets are light and resonant and will make delightful guitars. I will let them season in my workshop a little while longer; I am so looking forward to using this wood.

The rosewood David cut for me is the last of a huge baulk of timber I purchased many years ago from a retired cabinet maker in Essex. He had spent much of his working life making gun cabinets for one of the big London shotgun makers (Holland and Holland I think). He had purchased this piece of  rosewood from them, and they had had it since the early 1900's. Dark and fragrant, this is a wonderful timber, but I will not be purchasing any more as it is endangered in its native Brazil. This ancient piece of timber yielded a number of beautiful 4 piece backs, one of which is pictured below.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Roudhloff restoration (Part 2)

The restoration of the Roudhloff guitar has been continuing well, in spite of being out of the workshop for a couple of weeks. I was called up for jury service, a civic duty that is both interesting (when one is actually on a trial) and deadly dull (when hanging around in the jury room waiting for a case to begin).

It is certainly good to be back at my workbench and to be working on guitars new and old. The fine ebony pegs (above) are for the Roudhloff, and are appropriate reproductions for this guitar. These were made for me by skilled luthier, Bruce Brook. Now they have arrived I will be able to fit these to the peghead in readiness for stringing.

Having revealed the original flush fingerboard, it was decided to install bone frets. Remnants of the original  frets were found in the slots, so we knew that this was how the guitar was originally fretted. The original frets appeared to be of ivory, but bone is a much more acceptable alternative these days. All the new frets had to be cut by hand; the picture above shows them just about to be cut to length, and then fitted individually into the fingerboard.

I have also been making a new ebony bridge for the Roudhloff. The guitar, at some point, had a modern classical guitar bridge fitted, but I have now made an appropriate pin bridge, based on an original that came from another restoration commission. The picture above shows the new bridge in its rough cut state, and the original that was used as a pattern.

Here is the finished headstock, just about to be given its first coat of black French polish. I love this polish although I have very little use for it on my own guitars. It has a lovely inky, black quality to it and it is fun, but tricky, to use. Many 19th century guitars had necks finished using this ebonizing process. Here, I have masked the neck and am just about to brush on the first coat.