Tailgraft, binding, and plug cutters!

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The tailgraft is in, the box is bound, and I made some nifty ivoroid position markers. So, you’ll notice that I have a thing for ivoroid, the grained celluloid so favored by the fretted instrument makers of the (first) golden age of American Lutherie. I’ve loved the look of ivoroid fret markers, but haven’t been able to purchase them. So, I made some.

For the 1/4″ markers on the face of the fretboard, I was able to use a commercial plug cutter to cut some out of ivoroid sheet stock. For the petite side markers, I took the example of Frank Ford at FRETS.com and fabricated a plug cutter out of brass tube stock. It made some nice 3/32″ plugs when chucked into the drill press. Sweet!

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Archtop Update, Pizza Pie

Time for some skillet licker pizza:  bacon-spinach with grated nutmeg, cooked up in the trusty Griswold #11 skillet.  YUM.

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I’ve kept myself busy, refining my fretwork in class, rehabilitating the archtop at home, and getting in some great tunes and square dancing in the Twin Cities over the weekend.  My friends Bob and Julie had a great house party, with Old Time tunes in the kitchen, Cajun upstairs, Quebecois in another room, and so on!  We stayed up ’till almost 5am singing ballads and sea shanties…what a blast!  It was just what I needed.

As for the archtop, I’ve had my hands full attending to the most heinous faults: filling 19 holes in the headstock with mahogany plugs, installing the correct bushings and redrilling for the Golden Age reproduction tuners, and rebuilding the dovetail joint.

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When I steamed the neck out, I discovered that this beautiful guitar was put together rather haphazardly.  The dovetail joint holds the neck onto the body, maintaining the correct extension height and resisting the pull of the strings.  In this case, the dovetail pin on the neck was badly gouged (it appeared to have been assembled that way).  With this much material missing from critical surfaces, it is no wonder why the neck had pulled away from the body.

I decided to rebuild the dovetail.  To do this, I chiseled away the gouged sections, leaving nice square and flat surfaces to splice in fresh mahogany.  Although this work will be hidden inside the headblock of the guitar, it is nice to know there is clean, respectable work in there.

Next step will be to carefully fit everything back together.  As the joint fit was rather poor to begin with, some careful shimming and carving will be required.  I can’t wait to hear what this guitar will sound like with a correct neck angle and solid neck-to-body connection.  Fun!

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The Archtop Gets an Overhaul

Is it any wonder that I’m obsessed with hand-rubbed sunburst finishes these days?  Out here beside the Mississippi, each sunrise and sunset has been spectacular.

In the last week of class, we have begun working on prepping fingerboards, hammering and leveling frets, and setting up electric guitars.  So much attention to detail, hours upon hours of focused work, then bring it on home to get some more bench time.

Tonight, I took a break from fretwork in order to mix up a batch of hot hide glue. While the hide glue was gelling, I went ahead and steamed the neck out of my beloved old checkerboard archtop.

This 15 1/4″ plywood archtop was given to me by a family member a couple of years ago. She had bought it from a pawn shop, having fallen in love with the checkerboard binding and violin-like F holes. When I first saw it, it emerged like a swan from it’s bird-poop encrusted chipboard case. It was in a sad state, with awful replacement tuners, the bridge badly out of place, and a cornucopia of typical setup and structural issues.

At the time, I performed a quickie setup, put some Golden Age tuners on it, and fell in love with the percussive bark, with it’s undeniable class and verve. Ever since, I’ve looked forward to giving it it the complete overhaul it needs to truly shine.

So I hooked up my trusty stove-top steamer to a basketball needle, heated and pulled the 15th fret, and drilled a 5/64″ hole (actually, several) for the steaming operation. It took about 15 minutes for the steam to penetrate the old hide glue dovetail joint.

There was a lot of poop-brown old hide glue inside of the dovetail (although it wasn’t doing a great job of holding the heel in place as it was intended). It looks like Kay/Harmony didn’t worry too much about having fresh glue for their joinery.

Once everything was apart, I cleaned out all the goo, and clamped everything flat so that it won’t potato-chip with all of the moisture from the steamage.

Since everything came out looking fine, I expect that after a few days to dry out and settle down, I can start trimming and shimming the dovetail back to angly goodness. Along with the reset, this puppy is getting a refret, new bone nut and hand-made adjustable ebony bridge. This poor man’s jazzbox is finally getting the royal treatment it deserves!

Fun with Fretwork, and Electric Set-Up, Oh My!

Another wonderful week of learning the Noble Arts, or at least working up some excellent set-up skills.  This week we began our Fretwork and Electric Set-Up sections.  This means we kept ourselves busy preparing a mock-up fingerboard, a fret end dressing file, practicing soldering techniques, etc.

Electric set-up seems straightforward so far, using the same care and attention we are accustomed to taking with our work.  We’ll zip through it efficiently, I expect.

For the weekend, Aaron and I had a great day in Minneapolis, playing old time music, eating tortas, then playing more music.  We made a visit to one of the great guitar shops in the Twin Cities, The Podium.

The Podium is a cool little shop.  Open since 1959, they now specialize in fine acoustic instruments such as Collings, Santa Cruz, Fairbanks, and Kopp guitars.  Since I’ve been fairly obsessed with 1930’s Martin and Gibson instruments, I was very impressed with the selection of beautiful vintage reproduction slope-shoulder dreadnaughts, L-OOs, etc.  Real nice folks, as well.  Check ’em out.

www.thepodium.com

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Classes Finished! New Classes Begin!

I just finished up my Acoustic Set-up and Neck Reset Classes, am looking forward to a hard won A grade report.  I find that the bar is set high.  It is very easy to have a very good looking (to you) nut, saddle, or bridge copy that will barely rate a C grade.  To achieve a 93% or better grade is very difficult.  Wanting that grade and working diligently simply isn’t enough.

Forgetfullness, poor time management, mistakes, the bad luck of delicate pieces of wood breaking after hours of labor; these are everyday pitfalls. However, it feels great to get over it and push through.  It’s getting better along the way.  Many in the class are struggling.  When I occasionally raise my head from my work, I can guess who is getting their work done nicely.  Concentration, care, and patience are prerequisites.  If not taken, you are undone.

Now!  On a brighter note, I am getting much better at using my tools—chisels, plane, files, sandpaper and beautiful hand cut curved scraper blades.  These past few days, I’ve been all but finished with assignments (the few I’ve had left mostly involved waiting for glue to heat up, then waiting for glue to dry).  I’ve been making the most out of free lab time to work up some more tools from home.  I’ve quickly grown to love my violin knives and hollow ground blades.  It’s always a good feeling to know that your essential tools are sharp, well adjusted, and ready to work.

One of the final assignments was to make a traditional Pyramid Bridge from a blueprint.  This was left up to us to figure out, using flatsawn rosewood with irregular grain; it sometimes felt like a punishment.  I sweated and labored over it;  I kept the refinement going until I felt I had truly done the best I could in the allowed time.  I was fairly elated to get a perfect score!  Even better, my awesome classmates were all support and encouragement.  Their support, above all else, made me feel great about the work and the community.

Next up is the Fretwork and Electric Set-up classes, with Brian instructing (I’ve had David and Steve for the past 5 weeks).  I can imagine that it will be similarly time sensitive, precarious work.  I’m determined to get ahead early on, if at all possible.  Wish us luck!

Pictures to come!