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!!

Closing another box (guitar 022)

It’s finally here! The guitar looks like a guitar. Closing up the box is one of the most exciting parts of the building process – this is when the instrument really starts to look like what it is supposed to.

In the last building update, I showed pictures of the rosette inlay and soundboard bracing. Since then, I thinned and braced the back (just a simple 4 brace ladder with a centre graft to reinforce the centre-back seam), thinned and bent the sides, built the neck, and put everything together.

On this guitar, as always, I am trying out a few new things. Most notably, I decided to laminate the sides for added strength. I bent the outside ziricote sides as usual, and then thinned and bent a set of Alaskan yellow cedar sides before sandwiching them together with a lot of glue and a monster clamping set up (see below). I used just about all of the bar clamps I have to apply even pressure over the sides, supporting the outside with the removable side from my mold, and the inside with a purpose-built caul. The caul is a strip of sturdy but flexible cardboard with strips of wood glued across to serve as clamping points.

The neck for this guitar is nothing special – just a standard Spanish cedar neck with a slotted Spanish heel joint and a scarf joint at the headpiece. I am using a different headpiece design, taking inspiration from the Bouchet headpiece shape as a nod to the Bouchet bracing inside the guitar.

With all of the pieces ready to go, I started assembly, first by attaching the neck to the soundboard, and then the sides to the soundboard. I used basswood for the linings of the guitar to give some added strength to the joint despite the double-thick sides. After the sides were glued down to the top, I fashioned small side braces or “brace feet” to prevent some of the braces on the top from lifting. Then the sides were shaped to fit the back using my favourite small hand plane.

cleaning up the sides in preparation for attaching the back
My favourite little hand plane for these kind of jobs pictured here with a 6 inch ruler for reference. This small plane fits perfectly in the palm of my hand.
soundbox ready to accept the back
Glueing on the back

As you can see above, I did something a bit different to clamp the back onto the sides this time. I used my homemade spool clamps and was really happy with how they worked. I just have to make another 20 so that I don’t have to use the bar clamps which are really not great for this job.

tail end of the guitar with a little bit of masonite stuck – I’ll have to clean that up a bit better…
just for a bit of an idea of how the guitar will look with finish, I wiped one half of the back with alcohol, and I think it looks pretty stunning, if I do say so myself!

Finally, just a closeup of one of the brace ends that I fit into the sides for added strength. I’ve done this on most of my builds over the past couple years, and I have to say, I am pretty proud of my work this time. All of the brace ends are fitted perfectly into their slots. I owe the tidy work to the time that I have started to spend on sharpening my tools – a sharp chisel does work wonders.

And that’s it! Next I’ll be working on the details to make this guitar really pretty. Oh yeah, and strings/frets, all of that stuff that make it actually work.