Two new rosette methods

And here we are at the end of April! How did this happen?!? I have been working away at the guitars in the shop, but I have neglected this blog for a couple weeks, so I have some catch up to do!

I am almost ready to put the steel string box together, however, I am stalling a bit as I think about the best way to attack it. I switched gears a couple days ago to brace the three classical backs (2 Torres backs each with centre grafts and two lateral struts, and the classical with a centre graft and three lateral struts). I will post a picture of those when they are all cleaned up. I need to get a go-bar system going for brace gluing because my 2 cam clamps and two long C-clamps just aren’t up to clamping this many braces efficiently!

I also received the spruce in the mail in the week before the Easter weekend. I have recently glued up two of my sets to be used on the two Torres copies. I will be buying a piece of cedar for the spalted maple classical guitar because I am quite tied to my idea of building a cedar guitar.

Today I wanted to talk about the rosettes that I have inlayed in the steel-string guitar and in the two Torres copies. Both styles are using methods that I have not really used before.

Steel-string sound hole binding

Because the sound hole on the steel-string is not round and the aesthetic is more modern, it was pretty obvious from the get-go that I would not be inlaying any kind of rosette, however, I also knew that I would not be leaving the edge of the hole raw. Not only would this look unfinished, but it would also be structurally and acoustically problematic. It is widely accepted amongst luthiers that the edge of the sound hole needs to be rather stiff for higher efficiency and projection. This is why the sound holes are often surrounded by a “doughnut” brace pad. The traditional rosette also increases the stiffness of the wood around the sound hole, so isn’t just a pretty design!

I wanted to bind the edge of the sound hole in a way that would be similar to the binding that will go around the body of the guitar, so I chose to use walnut with a thin stripe of white veneer.

I took inspiration for the inlay process from an interview that I watched with the builders at McPherson guitars.

I started by cutting out the sound hole by hand with a coping saw. I then sanded the edges of the hole to the final shape with some sandpaper wrapped around a thick dowel. I forgot to take a picture of this first step, so please use your imagination!

Then I cut a piece of walnut to fit the hole out of a leftover scrap from the back wood. I sanded it so that it would fit snuggly in the hole with a piece white veneer between the walnut and the redwood. Then I glued it together. (I actually did this process twice, because the first time I didn’t get the white veneer placed well enough, so it looked messy from the front.) Apologies for the poor photo – not sure what I was thinking!

Then I drilled a few holes in the walnut and cut out the sound hole once more with a coping saw.

I then sanded the edges smooth once again and called it done!

Torres copy striped rosette

The Torres copies called for a much more traditional rosette, although I did not want to over complicate things with a mosaic rosette, so I went for a more appropriate Torres style striped rosette. The colours are actually in the same order as the original SE-117.

Because I was dealing with 25 strips of veneer, I did not want to try to inlay them all directly into the soundboard. I have done this in the past with up to 6 stripes, and that was always terribly messy and hard to control, so there was no way that I was going to do this with an entirely striped design!

I looked around for something appropriately sized to build the rosette around, and came across a terrible roll of masking tape that I had purchased in desperation from Shoppers Drug Mart. The tape barely sticks to paper, so I didn’t feel like I was wasting valuable material by cutting off several layers of tape in order to get a perfectly sized rosette guide. Because the centre of a masking tape roll is not terribly stiff, I braced the circular shape with small nails around the inside of the roll. I put clear tape down around the outside of the pine block that I used as my base so that the finished rosette would be easy to remove.

I cut all of the required veneer strips from sheets of coloured veneer that I had purchased from Luthier’s Mercantile and Bow River Woods. Here are a couple hard-learned tips for slicing off strips of veneers: 1) use a very sharp knife. 2) clamp down your ruler/cutting guide very securely.

coloured wood veneers strips

Once everything was set to go, I started to glue the strips of veneer around the rosette form. I did the rosette in three chunks, which is exactly how the rosette was divided on the guitar plans that I am following. I let each section sit for at least 30 minutes before adding the next section of veneer. I used tacks and small nails to hold the stripes against the tape roll.

Here is the second layer:

And a close-up of the final layer:

After letting it dry for a bit, I took it off the form and cleaned up one side before inlaying it into the soundboard in the normal method.

A couple of tips for carving the channel for the rosette: 1) use sharp tools. 2) use sharp tools. (1 was for the circle cutter, and 2 was for the excavation chisels).

After gluing, clamping, and a bit of cleanup, I am pretty happy with the results!

And a close up for a better idea of the colours (and check out the beautiful grain and “silk” on this spruce):

I have a second almost identical rosette drying in the soundboard at the moment, but it is much to ugly to photograph until tomorrow when I clean it up!

I will be inlaying one more rosette in the next couple months. This will be another handmade traditional mosaic rosette for the spalted maple guitar.


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I play guitar. I build guitars when I can. I enjoy all sorts of music, but Baroque, 'classical' guitar music of the 19th and 20th centuries, and jazz music hold special places in my heart. I am using this blog to document some of my adventures in guitar building, performing, and teaching, and hope to give my readers a bit of a look at the world inside a guitar.

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