The last little while has seems to have been filled with finishing projects and generally coming to the end of things. There has been a lot going on—just this last week I sent 4 guitars out of my shop: 3 repair/set up jobs and the completed guitar No. 023! I will be receiving the shipment of my completed CDs early next week, so the Vespers CD project is also almost over. I am getting married in 2 weeks as well, and, as I am planning to change my last name, that seems like a bit of an ending as well.

Finally, this blog is coming to an end.

It is hard to believe, but after almost 6 years (the first post on this site was in August 2013), I have filled up the free memory space that comes with a wordpress blog. I won’t be deleting this blog, so all of my ramblings will still be available, but I will be starting afresh over on my website emilyshawguitar.ca. If you are a subscriber and would like to continue to receive my blog posts in your inbox, the easiest thing for you to do is to subscribe to my newsletter (click somewhere around here). I am planning to send out a newsletter about once a month with upcoming concerts, projects, and links to recent blog posts. If all goes to plan, it should be a good way to build a bit of a community and to stay in touch as I keep making a mess in my workshop. Don’t worry, I won’t spam your inbox with loads of unnecessary emails, and you will be able to unsubscribe at any time by clicking a link at the bottom of the newsletter.

When I get back to blogging (probably in September—with everything else going on this month, I can’t see myself sitting down to write very often!), I have all sorts of plans: a ukulele build-along series with plans available (something that I promised years ago), more luthier interviews, and of course all of the regular things to which you are accustomed. I have a Torres/Fleta copy to build in the fall as well as two or three other classicals. One of those will be for myself, so that should be a lot of fun!

Now, to the building update:

Completed guitar No. 023

This has been quite a successful and enjoyable build. Although not perfect, the finish on this guitar is my best French Polish work yet. I did a much better job at filling the pores on this one so the gloss is more even. You can see the reflections of my garden in the back of the guitar particularly well—this is definitely my most mirror-like polish on a guitar. I used an amber shellac rather than a clear finish to give some more warmth to the wood. I have to play around more with these different shellac tones to see how they affect different species of woods.

More importantly, the sound is also quite good: balanced, warm, clear… all of the things that I want out of a guitar. If I were setting up the guitar for myself, I would have wanted a slightly higher action than what I ended up with—this guitar is set up with about 3.5mm action at the 12th fret and I play a guitar with 4.5mm clearance (yes, that is a bit high), but the set up makes the guitar play really easily and is suitable for its purpose.

I have built 3 guitars with the same mould now, and I am happy to say that the results have been pretty consistent. Now that I have established that level of predictability, I am ready to make a couple of changes. The next two full size classical guitars that I am building will be for myself and for another player who needs a bit more resistance/higher action, so I’ll be making a couple of adjustments to my mould before I build the next guitar. I need to adjust the lower bout a little bit to allow for a different saddle set up, and I might add a bit of an angle to the neck… stay tuned for a post on this after I know what I am talking about.

This guitar, No. 023, is definitely a bit more on the fun, modern side as far as design goes. I used padauk for the back and sides which is a wonderful red wood that was very easy to work with. I’ll definitely be building with this again (I already have another piece in my stockpile).

I used a tight-grained piece of Engelmann spruce for the top, which allowed me to make the top quite thin without becoming too floppy. I braced the top with a lattice pattern that was my first foray into modern classical bracing patterns, and I have to say, I am quite pleased with the results, both in sound and structure. The top definitely held its shape more easily—a fan braced top has a tendency to end up a bit wavy, and that is not fun when it comes time to glue on a bridge. I will be building another lattice braced top later on this year.

For the inlay details, I went for a pretty cohesive design just using thin black veneer lines, spalted maple, and padauk. Spalted maple made for interesting bindings, although they were definitely not easy to work with as the density is far from consistent in a wood that is partially rotted/with fungus/worm-holes etc.

So there you have it: guitar number 23 is finished, and now I can take a month off (kind of—there is a guitar conference stuck in the middle of this month that will occupy a lot of my time both in preparation and then during the actual conference week). I’ll get back to building and everything else in September. In the meantime, one more plug for my monthly(ish) newsletter: sign up here!

And one more plug for my CD. I will have the finished product in my hands early next week, so if you would like a copy, feel free to head over to my website to pre-order your copy. I’ll be shipping them out as soon as I can (or hand delivering when I see you next). I’ll also have copies at all future concerts until I run out. At some point I will figure out how to have digital copies available… but that will likely be on September’s list rather than this month.

Thanks again for reading and for following along with my projects for the past 6 years. See you over on my other website in September for more ramblings!


Closing box number 023!

It was a busy week, but I managed to the the back on the guitar before my trip out to Nova Scotia (shameless promo – I have a concert this evening at Gallery215 in Selma, NS at 7:30pm – pay what you want/can admission, hope to see you there!)

I haven’t shared much of this build yet on the blog, so let’s start back at the beginning with the thinned Engelmann Spruce soundboard and the rosette inlay. I decided (with input from the future owner of this guitar of course) to go for something a bit more modern in this rosette and made a mosaic rosette out of angular scrap pieces of padauk and spalted maple. I started with an excavated rosette channel and then started gluing in the pieces of wood (each piece separated from its neighbours with thin black veneer lines):

After that, the messy inlay was cleaned up and levelled, and then I used my circle cutter to cut and clean out a ring around the outside and the inside of the rosette in order to insert a few black and white lines.

With the rosette finished, I flipped the soundboard over and got to work on the bracing. This time I decided to do something completely new and give lattice bracing a try. I looked at a few patterns and then came up with my own 4 x 4 lattice pattern for the lower bout. It is slightly asymmetrical – a little bit more bracing on the treble side, but not in a really obvious way. I made the upper bout quite stiff with a couple of significant spruce pads and two sturdy cross braces. Hopefully this will help with the projection and sound efficiency, but I will have to wait until she is stringed up to hear! Here are a couple of mid-progress shots of the lattice bracing. Later on in this post you will be able to see the whole pattern.

By this point, I had already thinned and braced the back as well. The back and sides for this guitar are made out of padauk, which is a pretty cool bright red-orange wood. I am hoping that it will sound as good as it looks!

I decided to laminate the sides in the same way that I did for the last guitar using Alaskan yellow cedar. This wood is really easy to work with for planing and bending, so the laminating process is really not too arduous at all. I was able to reuse my gluing set up from the last time as well, and I think it worked even better this time. I spent a bit more time getting the sides cut to width and shaped to fit the arch of the top before bending and laminating this time, so the end result was cleaner and more efficient.

clamp monster take 2

As you know from my last post, at this point in the build, I took a day to make some new spreaders for the mould in order to keep the sides in place. Here are the sides sitting in the mould with the soundboard just about ready to start assembly:

To start assembly, I first had to put together a neck. This time, I used Sapele, which is similar to mahogany, but a bit heavier. It was really nice for carving the heel, so I might use it again! I laminated the headstock with spalted maple and padauk to match the rosette. There will be quite a bit or clean up to do later on, but the shape is roughed out as much as is needed at this point:

Once the neck was roughed out, I attached it to the soundboard. I finally came up with a system that didn’t have me wishing to grow an extra arm, so here is a picture of the setup:

As you can see, I had the neck clamped firmly in my universal vise (from Lee Valley). I then clamped a straight-edge along the centre line of the neck (C-clamp on the left side of the soundboard). Next was to slide in and position the soundboard. I used a little spring clamp (right hand side of the picture) to clamp the straight edge to the soundboard. I then drilled my pilot holes for the two small finishing nails that I use to align the soundboard and neck. Then I took everything apart, added glue, and put it back together. I clamped the joint securely with two fast-acting F clamps (similar to these ones from Lee Valley), and waited for everything to dry.

Then the soundboard went back into the mould so that I could attach the sides. I had some work to do to fit the sides into the slotted heel, and I had to bend and glue linings to give more support to the side-top joint. Someday I might try triple-thick sides, in which case I will be able to forgo the linings. Once everything was fitted together, I added glue and clamped it all down. After a bit of cleanup, here is the open body awaiting the back:

And then I attached the back, closing in the box and making it look quite like a guitar. I clamped the back down with a combination of regular clamps, binding tape, and bike inner tube.

So now the guitar awaits all of the detail work – binding, inlays, fingerboard, bridge, carving the neck, etc.

And I’ll leave it at that!

PS – Maybe I’ll see a couple of you this evening, or at another concert someday in the future. For anyone interested in my CD, I have set up a pre-sale for the album on my website. The CD will be finished and available at the end of July. Here’s a sneak peak at the artwork that my cousin Ceilidh painted for the album cover:

Guitar mould spreaders

Today I finally got around to making spreaders/stretchers/clamps (whatever you want to call them) to keep the bent sides secure inside the mould. I have been meaning to make these since making my mould last summer, and have had the hardware for them since early this year.

To make these spreaders, I used leftover 3/4inch MDF from making the mould, 3 eye/eye turnbuckles (one for each spreader), and some scrap doweling. Each spreader is custom fit to my guitar shape, so it wouldn’t be much use for me to provide plans, but I’ll describe the steps that I took to make them.

I started by cutting out all of the pieces of MDF. For each spreader, I needed 4 pieces – 2 for each end. All of the pieces were the same width – 6cm, but each spreader required a different length in order to fit the mould. The pieces for the lower bout were about 12.5cm long, the pieces for the waist 6cm, and the pieces for the upper bout 8cm. One end of each piece was curved to match the curve of the sides. I used my guitar half template to mark the appropriate curve on each piece and then cut them all out on the bandsaw.

I then marked and drilled a pilot hole through pairs of MDF blocks to help with the alignment later on. These holes were drilled in the centre 13/16ths away from the straight end of each block.

Next, I excavated a spot in each pair of blocks to allow for a turnbuckle sandwich. To fit the turnbuckles I had purchased, I used a 26mm forstner bit and drilled about an 1/8th of an inch into the inside face of each block using the previously drilled pilot hole as a guide. I then used a chisel to carve out the rest of the material until the turnbuckle sandwich fitted perfectly.

Then I glued the sandwich together before cleaning up the sides with my disc sander. That tool is proving to be really handy!

With all of the faces smooth, I just needed to do two more things. First, I drilled a 3/8 inch hole through where the centre of the turnbuckle’s eye was buried using the previously drilled pilot hole to make sure that I didn’t hit any metal. I then drove a dowel through that hole. This step was probably not necessary, but I think it will make these spreaders last longer as there should be less of a chance of the turnbuckle becoming loose.

Finally, I glued a thin piece of cork to both ends of each spreader to prevent them from marking my sides. In the image below you can see the finished lower bout spreader:

When I am finished this guitar and have the time, I might put a coat of shellac or other finish on the MDF just to seal it and protect it from moisture, but for now they are working just fine! A big improvement on my previous clamping method for sure.

As you can see, the guitar build is going well – I have the soundboard braced with a lattice pattern, the sides are bent and laminated (in the same way I laminated the sides for the last guitar), the back is braced, and the neck is roughed out. If the next few days go as planned, I will have the box closed up by this time next week, so I will write a building update post when that is all glued up.

Other projects…

On a couple of different, unrelated notes, I thought that I would mention a couple of upcoming performance projects. Firstly, I am playing a concert in Selma, Nova Scotia in 10 days at 7:30pm on Friday, June 21st at Gallery 215. If you know anyone in that area or are from Nova Scotia yourself, I hope that I might see you and/or your friends there! I will be playing music from my upcoming CD, Vespers.

Speaking of which, the CD is nearly done!! I will have it by the end of July, so be prepared for many more references to and shameless plugging of this project over the next month. I will reveal the cover, a release date, and a place to purchase the CD in a week or two.

If you are in the Ottawa area, I am also playing a concert here on July 11th at 7pm at the Trinity Anglican Church on Bank Street.

New tools!

Over the past several months I have acquired all sorts of new toys for my workshop, and I have been meaning to make a post about them for a while, so here it is. Some of this follows up from my new years post when I made a list of planned tool purchases/projects and shop upgrades.


I have wanted more Cam Clamps for quite a while, but they are not cheap, so I decided to try making a few myself. I used the two that I had bought from Luthier’s Mercantile as models and came up with 3 more clamps made out of scrap wood that I had lying around. I am planning to make more now that I have ironed out some of the design kinks (see the extra brass pins in the bottom right corner…), so when I do, I will write a post with plans for these.

I also bought another mixed bag of plastic spring clamps from Home Depot that have come in handy for all sorts of little things. I don’t think one can ever have too many clamps!

Small Saws

I replaced the blade to my Japanese dozuki saw about a year ago and have held onto the old blade since then. It wasn’t really of much use – several of the teeth were broken off or worn away – this blade was probably about as old as I am! I have a hard time throwing things away – my dad instilled in me a strong belief that things might come in handy someday, and I finally came up with an idea for this old blade, so I guess he is right! I decided to cut the blade into a smaller saw, using the back part of the blade that was still sharp and securing it between two pieces of scrap maple with brass pins.

This little saw has a blade that is about 4 1/2 inches long and it is really handy to cut small bits and pieces like brace ends. Not long after I had made my little saw, I was in Lee Valley and saw a little razor saw, and decided that I would add that to my collection. As decent as my homemade one is, the kerf of the blade is still as thick as a Japanese dozuki, and sometimes I need something that is a bit more fine, so I thought that this would do the trick.

I didn’t notice until I had brought the little saw home that it is somehow a cancer risk… If anyone can tell me why, I am incredibly curious!

Fret Hammer

One of the other things that I had listed in my new year’s wish list was a new fretting hammer, and I have purchased that. I bought a little 8oz brass hammer from Lee Valley for fretting, and having used it a few times now can attest that it does indeed work and is definitely an improvement over my small claw hammer.

Router Plane

I also purchased a small router plane as I had planned in that aforementioned post and it is fantastic. It is great at cleaning up areas before inlaying – for instance, the tail joint and the rosette.

Bigger Tools

I came into quite a bit of good fortune earlier this year: someone here in Ottawa was looking for a new home for a few tools, and I raised my hand at the right moment, and am now the proud owner of a couple of sanding/sharpening tools, a router (and accompanying table), and a lathe (plus chisels etc)! I have yet to use the lathe – I’ll have to find a good chunk of time to sit down with some proper instructions and perhaps take a lesson or two with an experienced turner, but I have always wanted to turn things, and now I have the tools! I have used the router a couple of times, but still have lots to learn. The sanding/sharpening machines are fantastic – again, lots to learn there!

Metric Ruler

Finally, I bought myself a new ruler! Not a super fancy one, but something half decent, 36″ long, and with metric markings. Up until I bought this, the longest half-decent metric ruler that I had was 15 cm, so this was long overdue. I was converting all of my metric measurements to imperial, and nothing about that is ideal. One of these days I will treat myself to a Starett or something equally luxurious, but I think I might have to wait a year or so on that one!

I think that is all that is new in my shop at the moment. I have a few more things planned for the rest of the year, so I’ll have at least one or two more tool posts over the next several months. The next post will be a building update though – I have to introduce the next guitar build!

Completed guitar no. 022

It has been a while since I had a moment to write a new post – quite simply, I took on too much stuff this year! A few of my projects are wrapping up this week, so my schedule should return to something more normal soon (she writes with hopeful desperation), and I am hoping to get back to writing again – I have another interview in the works and a few planned posts on recent tool acquisitions.

Today’s post is about my most recently completed guitar, number 022, “Alissa”. I have been working on this guitar since mid-fall last year. This guitar has been delayed a few times due to all of the other projects that have been going on – recording days for my CD, renovating the workshop, a few concerts here and there, various repair jobs… but it is finally done! And I am mostly very happy with it. The guitar sounds incredible, and generally looks pretty darn good (if I do say so myself). There are a few imperfections in the French polishing, but I am still working on acquiring that skill. I feel like the next guitar will come out with a really nice polish, having learned a lot with this one.

guitar posed ever so elegantly with rhubarb

Because I did not record many parts of this guitar build, here is a quick summary of the guitar. The back and sides are made out of Ziricote, a very hard and beautiful wood from Central America/Mexico (more information here).

The soundboard is a beautiful piece of Italian Alps spruce sourced from a german spruce supplier here.

I used a rosette from Luthier’s mercantile for this guitar rather than fabricating my own.

I used a traditional fan bracing pattern borrowed/adapted from Robert Bouchet. I also used this pattern (or a similar one, I should say) on the Hamilton guitar that I built last year. The scale length on this guitar is slightly shorter than standard at 640mm, and the body size and depth are similar to the guitars of Robert Bouchet. I also took inspiration from Bouchet for the shape of the headstock.

headstock with Ziricote veneer and Gotoh tuners

I laminated the sides of this guitar, and I could not be happier with the results. The guitar is definitely heavier than my previous builds, but so far anyone who has picked it up has still commented that it is very light, so I guess that is all relative! The sides are much more stable because of the lamination, and I think that this contributed to the pleasing projection of this relatively small guitar’s sound.

Another new addition to this build was a 12-hole bridge, and I can tell you right now that I will not be going back to a 6-hole any time soon. The 12-hole is easier to tie and looks so much cleaner. Next time I’ll make the tie block a little bit more decorative as well.

The client for whom this guitar was built requested that a lotus yoga pose with fire element symbol be included somewhere on the guitar. We went back and forth as to where to put the carving, and eventually settled on the back of the headstock, which I think is a rather nice touch. It is very subtle but quite beautiful – I might do something similar for my future builds.

back of headstock lotus yoga pose

Sound-wise, this guitar is definitely my best so far. I am really happy with the projection, as mentioned before, but it also has a really sweet, round voice with plenty of sustain, beautiful trebles, and decent basses. I was having a lot of fun playing it over the past month or so as I had strings on and off for various stages of finishing. I actually spent a day recording this guitar for my upcoming CD as well, and that was a lot of fun. Of course, that CD is not finished yet (expect it in mid-late June), so here is a quick home recording as a bit of an appetizer.

Overall, I am really pleased with “Alissa.” Now I had better get started on the next one!!