Teaching Time

Teaching Time

Teaching is something that I haven’t done much of lately. I used to help teach a continuing education class where students ended up with a finished tenor ukulele. It was fun but more about rudimentary and basic woodworking experience for the students. Just recently, I was contacted by another luthier, who is primarily an arch top guitar builder, wanting to get started building classicals. His range of experience building arch tops is so far from the world of classical guitar that he felt he wanted some help. He wanted to consult with me and brace a guitar top in my signature style. I was a bit apprehensive at first but eventually agreed after a few emails back and forth. He flew in and we ended up having a really great time.

Bracing a top is fun, but more important to getting a handle on building classical guitars was the time we spent tuning two finished guitar bodies and a third partially assembled one as well as evaluating some of the raw materials. Showing him how I tuned the finished guitars was informative for him but talking through the process with him really helped to crystallize it for me as well. I’m usually just “doing it” by myself. It’s another thing to talk about it an explain the “why”.

Like I said, bracing a top is fun but its just one element. The interaction of the resonances of the top, back and internal air resonance are critical to voicing the guitar in a way that produces a guitar with volume, an even response across the range and is pleasing and musical. I usually just tap the guitar to get the specific frequencies but it was fun to throw some tea leaves on the plates and break out a speaker and tone generator to more dramatically demonstrate the modes of resonance. We also got to do the measurements on a guitar with the back off to demonstrate how much the interactions change once you close the box.

We did some basic analysis of the raw materials as well, which isn’t so critical to the makers of heavily built amplified instruments but immensely important on acoustic flat top instruments and especially classicals with the lower string tensions. Calculating the density and doing a simple deflection test is usually enough for me. It mostly confirms what your hands and ears are telling you. I do these tests because I start to doubt my gut and memory and the testing just makes me feel like I can trust my ears again.

Anyway, I was honored to think that someone would see me as any kind of expert and seek out my advice. I am always just making and stopping to talk about it was a different kind of experience. I think I will remain open to the possibility of doing some teaching in the future.

PS: I didn’t take any pictures during this consult so here are a few random construction photos of some guitars I’m working on right now.

The Wave Mosaic

The Wave Mosaic

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I have been making this simple wave mosaic for my rosettes for some years now.  I occasionally contemplate changing it to something more elaborate or making copies of historical rosettes but I find myself coming back to it enthused.  I think the reason I keep it is all the myriad of things I think about when I think about waves.

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I personally think about going to the ocean and staring at the Pacific and being enamored and frightened all at once at the magnitude of the power in front of me. Living in western Oregon, I often drive to the coast where I commonly stop at these vistas many hundreds of feet above the water with a panoramic view of the Pacific where all you see are sets of waves going out to the infinity of the horizon.  It gives you the significance of being insignificant. I also think of happily running from the waves on the beach as a kid in Hawaii and then not paying attention and being knocked down and pounded by the oncoming surf. Then, I think about the footage of the tsunami that hit Fukushima. It’s just water, but there is so much of it and it’s always in perpetual motion. It is one of those basic building blocks of life and maybe the defining element of our planet.

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I’m making my final wave motif in the bloodwood and blue colors from a layup I made years ago.  I think I got about forty rosettes out of that layup. I’ve been making the same wave mosaic with pearwood and green dyed maple.  I was am still toying with the ideas of some new rosette designs but I think I will make some more layups of the wave ...maybe in a few different color combinations.  


I spent a couple days putting together some more rosettes. Here are some pictures:

I was just told about some of this wonderful artwork that is public domain on the web a few days ago and thought it fits with this post perfectly. It wasn’t the original inspiration for the wave mosaic but it may be inspiration for some future rosette designs.  

https://publicdomainreview.org/collections/hamonshu-a-japanese-book-of-wave-and-ripple-designs-1903/

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One page of the Hamonshu: A Japanese Book of Wave and Ripple Designs

Going Back to Cali

Going Back to Cali

I’m excited to to head to the Orange County Guitar Festival this coming weekend. It’s sure to be a fun weekend of concerts, lectures and competition. I am also relieved that I have some guitars to show. I just strung up these two pictured a couple days ago and I’m doing the final setups now. If anyone in the area would like to check out my work I’ll be there at Chapman University this coming Saturday and Sunday. I’m looking forward to seeing some sunshine. Here are links to the event below.

https://www.facebook.com/orangecountyguitar/...festival...competition.../172855896053...

https://events.chapman.edu/59976

Both of these instruments are East Indian rosewood / Swiss spruce 650mm scale guitars -all french polish of shellac. One has an elevated fingerboard with nickel silver fretwire and silver gotoh machines with the faux horn buttons, a silver 7th fret dot and 20th fret. The other has a beautiful bearclaw figured top with EVO Gold wire, matte gold gotoh machines with a brass 7th fret dot. Very similar construction otherwise.

I think I’m going to make the headstock design in a matte oiled finish on these two the standard default. I’ve already been using the shape without the extra bevels on my stripped down “spartan” model. It just seems to make sense aesthetically with the details of the bridge design I’ve been using.



2018 Recap

Thinking back about 2018…

2018 was a good mix of building, repair and finishing work. The mixture of the three keeps things from being too monotonous I guess. The shows I attended this year involved travel to some new locations (Koblenz was fun) and it was a good year to spend some time thinking about changes to my building.

I don’t really think about how much my instruments have changed over the years till I see a guitar I made in the past. Right now, I have a guitar I made in 2013 in for french polishing and I look at it in astonishment. It is a testament to how we are always growing and learning and slowly changing no matter what. In regards to that, I am now starting to build the 3rd and 4th iteration of that “floating tie” type bracing. I was enamored with first two instruments I braced with those changes and so am now working on a third and fourth to start the year.

The shop has also changed a bit. This past year, I finally got rid of some wall cabinets and a workbench I had taken with me from my previous location that never really fit my current space. It was a wonderful feeling to destroy them and build a new bench. The newest addition is finally putting some better speakers on either side of the bench. As that is where I spend most my time, it is nice to have a good stereo image for music listening. I got a par of ELAC Speakers on sale and they are a big upgrade to what was previously downstairs in the shop.

Here are some random photos from this week showcasing the mess on and around my bench, the new speakers, a vihuela rebuild and a cool Framus Fret Jet circa 1965 that came in for a refret and some other minor work. Yes, the speakers are upside down so that I have the tweeters at ear level.

New Bracing /Floating Ties

New Bracing /Floating Ties

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Voicing the guitar is a big part of the fun and challenge of building. I’m always working on “dialing in” or improving on the sound. The process involves understanding your materials, because every piece of wood is different, and then working with all the variables at your disposal. When you play with all the variables over time you get a feel for how each element affects the way the guitar sounds in the end. Usually, that means playing with the bracing pattern and doming of the top… changing the lengths and heights of braces as well as changing the placement of braces; making the top stiffer or more flexible in specific areas. Most of the time you are gluing the braces to the top itself to stiffen or discipline the top. This project pictured above was something completely different for me and I wasn’t very sure of what the guitar was going to sound like when it was all said and done.

I’m not sure what to call this at present. These “floating ties” are braces that don’t directly discipline the top but are one step removed as they are notched into the braces above and are controlling the braces instead of the top itself. It is adding some across the grain stiffness but in a completely different way than a brace glued directly would do. This guitar is thus so very different sounding than any guitar I have ever made. The guitar sounds very “open” with a warm treble and lush harmonics throughout and is still very balanced all the way through from low to high with a good sustain. In some ways it makes sense to me now. These floating ties allow the top to resonate more freely with very little added weight while still disciplining the top in a different way. Anyway, I’m enjoying the guitar very much and I think I’ll have to make a few more guitars with these superstructures to really see if I’m on to something.

Here is some video. Thanks to Ryan Walsh for stopping by the shop and recording some snippets.

This guitar is available and will be listed in the inventory on my website shortly.

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June 2018

I'll be attending the 2018 Guitar Foundation of America International Convention and Competition at the University of Louisville this week.  I'm gonna miss the first few days but will be there Wednesday thru Saturday.  I'll have a  western red cedar and east indian rosewood guitar there to display.   I hope the heat and humidity don't kill me.   Come down and check it out if you can.    https://www.guitarfoundation.org

Also,  here are a few photos of a uke I made for a long time friend.  I was really excited to deliver this uke in person.  It's a bearclaw swiss spruce and claro walnut tenor with some black mother of pearl.