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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

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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