Boy howdy! While this week I’m missing out on my favorite possible thing, the Portland Old Time Music Gathering, I am back in the midwest kicking butt on lutherie projects! In class, we’ve begun building our acoustic guitars. My hopes are high for a busy semester, where I will build a dreadnaught guitar in class (a la 1930’s Gibson “Roy Smeck Radio Grande”); continue at home the build of the O-18 Claro Walnut and Red Spruce guitar, and the Arches F5 mandolin kit. Hopefully I can squeeze in some repairs, snoshoeing, square dancing, and finally, get this awesome honky tonk band rolling (we’re called The A-11s).
I’m feeling so excited about the week’s work, that I’m gonna go ahead and give the blow-by-blow: By the end of the first day, my #1 Adirondack Spruce top was jointed with hot hide glue; templates cut for body and neck profile, and the layout work for a headstock template and workboard. Day two and three, I stayed the master-multitasker thickness sanding, profiling, and doing rosette layout for the top; jig up and shave down celluloid binding strips for the rosette (more on that in a moment), finished the workboard, finished templates, and managed to sneak the #2 Adirondack top in to get it jointed and glued; I’ll bring this one home to thickness with hand planes—the old fashioned way. Each day this week, I’ve been excited to get home and work on the F5. So far, I’ve got the top kerfing, levelled, and am waiting on fresh instructions from the maker of the kit.
I’m really excited about the rosette. Wanting to stick with the ’30s Gibson aesthetic, I wanted a black-white-black rosette ring. I had noticed a local supplier carries vertical-grained celluloid binding. I struck on the idea of tortoise/ivoroid/tortoise binding in play of fancy herringbone or some such readymade rosette. I wanted somethin’ special. I went ahead and ordered the binding and hoped that it would look as nice in reality as my mental picture. Literally the next day, I walked into a Minneapolis boutique guitar shop to find that my idea was far from groundbreaking—somebody else already does it! But it looked great, so…
Celluloid is an early iteration of plastic; created in the mid-19th century, it was often used on musical instruments in place of ivory during the 1920s through the late ’40s; the first Golden Age of American Guitars. A highly flammable combination of nitrocellulose and camphor, celluloid plastics today are rare; as far as I’ve heard, the entirety of celluloid production these days comes from Italy. While a bit harder to come by, I think grained celluloid (ivoroid) and tortoise shell celluloid are lovely trim.
A few words to explain the jointing of tops. I had heard and read about the importance of a perfectly top joint, so it was great to finally do it!
We had No. 7 jointer planes set up on shooting boards, set to remove very fine shavings from the spruce edge being jointed. The tops are held together over a light table, and are checked for good fit. If any light shows through, even the slightest line, then you must decide where the problem area is, and work the whole piece over once more on the shooting board. Once the joint appears perfect, it is glued and clamped flat in a fixture—Voila! The first major step towards building a guitar!