Endings

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!

New year update

Hello!

It is still January, so I feel that I am still allowed to say “Happy New Year!” For the past few years, I have written a wrap up post at the end of the year, and/or a beginning of the year update. I missed the December wrap up post, so here is a bit of a newsletter style shop update with plans for the year as it seems to hurtle forward uncontrollably underneath my feet.

Building progress has been rather slow as of late because of all of the teaching I have taken on and the recording of my CD. Fingers are still crossed for a spring CD release – I am aiming for June, so keep an eye out for updates as spring approaches. I have 2.5 more pieces to record, which I will do over the course of the next two months, and then there is editing and all of the details of the booklet and publication. I have seen a few sketches for the cover art from my incredibly talented cousin, and am very excited to see what she comes up with for the finished product. Once the CD is completed, I’ll be organizing at least one “release concert,” and then I hope to do a few more concerts in the fall once the craziness of the summer is over (uOttawa summer guitar academy take 2, Hamilton guitar festival, an exciting new guitar conference in late August here in Ottawa, and getting married).

Despite slow progress, I have been getting down to the shop a couple of times each week, and am really enjoying the new layout, benches, and dust collection. I do still have a few things to work on over the next year – I need to do something about my fluorescent lighting as it hums incessantly every time I turn it on, which does nothing to improve my mood, and I still have a few things to finish as far as door handles and storage. I am also planning to build myself a go-bar deck, probably designed to fit over/on one of my existing benches as I am really tight on space. Other tools and upgrades that I plan to make and/or purchase this year to improve my workshop include:

  • purchase better fretting tools including a new hammer (I am considering this one from Lee Valley) and a triangular file for dressing fret ends more easily
  • purchase a medium/small router plane for inlay work
  • finally set up and learn to use my Dremel properly
  • fine tune the dust collection system – I need a longer hose and some way to connect the collector to my bench for sanding work
  • add bench dogs to my new main work bench
  • purchase/make more deep throated C clamps/bridge clamps/cam clamps – I rely on 4 clamps at the moment and there are so many instances that I really need a few more and have to make do with bar clamps that aren’t really meant for the job.

If you have any thoughts on these upgrades or other tools that I should add to the list, please leave me a comment at the end of this post!

Building wise, I’ve been spending my time mostly on one of the two guitars that I have on the go, and here are a few pictures of the progress. This is a ziricote backed spruce guitar with Bouchet bracing. for the soundboard, I used the last piece of master grade Italian alps spruce that I ordered over a year ago from a supplier in Germany. The rosette is a pre-made one from Luthier’s mercantile, so quite a bit different than the last few guitars, but lovely nonetheless.

Inlayed Russian rosette from LMII

The bracing pattern is asymmetrical, and taken from the Courtnall drawing of a Bouchet guitar. This plan is available from Luthier’s Mercantile here. The tap-tone of the guitar after bracing is very clear, and different than past guitars (in a good way, I think), so I am excited to hear this guitar strung up.

Gluing the asymmetric harmonic bar that runs underneath the saddle

The finished (well, I might still tweak a few things), soundboard bracing:

I have started work on the back bracing as of today, and I should get started on the neck this week, so with any luck, I’ll have a post on putting the box together in a couple of weeks.

Performing-wise, as I mentioned before, the main project is my first CD, which should be finished in June. I have a couple concerts planned around Ottawa this year already, and should be setting up some more as the year progresses. I have recently tentatively started a bit of duo work with a violinist as well, and am hoping to pick things up again with my soprano friend Terri-Lynn at some point this year, and of course Craig and I continue to do a bit of playing when we can.

With all of this on the go, I am setting myself the goal of writing one or two blog posts a month this year, so a bit less than last year, but still plugging away. The next post should be an interview with a builder from Ireland – I haven’t done a shop talk post since last summer, so this is long overdue!

As always, thanks for reading!

Best wishes for 2019,

Emily

Updates, concerts, and next projects

Although fall doesn’t officially start until the end of September, to me September 1st feels like the start of the new season, so I decided that it was time for one of my semi-annual newsletter blog posts this week. Also, a lot of things have come up over the last couple of weeks, so I have a few things to share!

Upcoming concerts

As you know, over the next year I will be finishing up the recording of my first CD, so, in theory, I should have a good list of repertoire to draw on for concerts. I have set up a few in Ottawa – Dominion Chalmers in November, Glebe St. James in March, St Luke’s with Craig in April, and Trinity Anglican in July, and of course, I have my first concert in the States at the end of this month in Charlottesville. All of the details for these concerts can be found on my website here. It has been a few months since the last time that I performed, so I am looking forward to getting back on the stage. Of course this means that I need to get back into a better practising routine, so that will be my focus for the remainder of this month!

Once my CD is released (late spring/early summer 2019), I will put together some sort of a tour outside of Ottawa to visit some of my favourite recital spaces across Ontario and wherever I can find a willing audience! If you are interested in having me come visit your neck-of-the-woods, please let me know in the comments below, and I will do my best! I can’t promise anything outside of Canada at the moment due to Visa requirements, but I will do whatever I can to make it work 🙂

Next builds

As my current build is coming to an end (the final blog post should come out next week), I was starting to wonder what I would be building next, and all of a sudden I ended up with 2 more commissions! I am very excited to get started on these guitars – one a Padauk and Engelmann spruce guitar, the other made of Ziricote and European spruce, however, I will likely not get anything going until after my workshop is at least partially remodelled in October.

I have already ordered most of the wood for these guitars, and it is quite the colourful selection!

In the meantime, I have a couple of (hopefully easy) repairs waiting in the shop – classical guitars with buzzes, cracks, and holes, and a very interesting mandolin to spruce up and get back into a playable condition.

As I mentioned above, the main project for this fall will be the re-doing of my workshop with the help of my family. I am excited to learn how to frame a wall, hang drywall, and do all of that DIY home reno stuff. With this project, I’ll first be separating my work space from the furnace, utilities, and laundry machines so that I can control the dust in the house a little bit more. To that end I’ll also be purchasing and installing a proper dust collection system. If I have the time, I am also hoping to install a ceiling so that I don’t have quite as much of a problem with dust settling on the pipes and wires in the ceiling. Once that is sorted, I’ll be focussing on building a proper bench (or 2) with a solid, smooth work-surface that caters to my needs. I’ll also be installing shelves and every possible storage solution that I can think of to keep my workshop more tidy and functional.

New directions

Another new development in the past few weeks is that I have taken on a part-time elementary music teacher position at a private school here in Ottawa. I will be teaching ukulele and guitar to grades 4 through 8 two afternoons a week. This is something fairly new for me – I do have some group guitar instruction experience from work that I did in the summer between university years, but I have not really been traditionally employed since high school. I am looking forward to the new challenges that this will bring!

Of course, this means that I am having to work even more on my time management skills as I somehow have to fit in 8 hours of school work, 30 private students, practising, building, administration, lesson preparation, and whatever else that crops up into a reasonable work-week that allows for a little bit of “me time” as well… but that is seems to be the constant challenge of being self-employed. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do all of these things – it keeps life interesting!


On the blog here, I am planning to continue to write something for most Thursdays. I’ll be continuing the luthier interview series with another builder as soon as things calm down, and I hope to include a few more posts on books and music alongside my usual shop update posts.

As always, thanks for being a part of this tiny community. I’ll repeat myself from earlier in this post – I really do feel incredibly fortunate to be able to do everything that I have been able to do these past few years. I never intended this blog to be much more than personal blog to marry my love of guitars and woodworking with my love of spilling out words. It is hard to believe that this is blog post #161 and that I started this 5 years ago in August of 2013 when my sister said that I should write about the Baroque guitar that I was building at the time. Since then I have been in 4 different workshops, 6 different homes, and have turned my hobbies and university degrees into a career. I have built about 15 instruments since the start of this blog and have learned so much. I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years will bring. (Hopefully less moving, more instruments, many blog posts, and a few big goal achievements and life changes)

Workshop upgrades and new tools

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that I am constantly trying to improve my process to build better and better guitars. I am still very much a beginner in many ways, although I am confident in saying that I am not making nearly as many mistakes as I was a year or two ago!

Part of this journey is to gradually acquire or make tools and jigs to increase my efficiency and the quality of the finished product. Today I thought that I would share with you a few of my recent shop upgrades.

Templates

Until now, just about every guitar that I have built has had a different shape. I decided recently that this is not a sustainable or efficient method of working. For one, all of my templates and forms have ended up being temporary thrown together things that are of lower than ideal quality, and for two, I have ended up with a lot of excess clutter! I also realized that all of the classical guitar shapes that I have been building are incredibly similar, so why I thought it was important to “re-invent the wheel” every time, I cannot say.

I have decided that from now on, unless there is a specific historical guitar copy to be made, all of my full sized classical guitars will be of the same body shape. This consistency will also allow me to better judge the other changes that I make from one guitar to the next. I plan on making a similar commitment to body shape the next time that I build a steel-string.

I also finally decided to make a proper brace-arch template that is as close as I could make it to a 15′ radius. This is the radius that I will be using on my back braces – when I get to bracing the top of this guitar, I will make a 25′ radius template.

I made both the guitar half-template and the brace-arch template out of a sheet of clear acrylic that I have had hanging around my shop for at least 2 years. These templates should last me a good long time – or at least until I change my mind about the guitar’s shape or arch! The guitar shape that I settled on is somewhere in between my father’s guitar shape and the shape of Segovia’s Hauser guitar with a body length of about 19 1/8 inches.

I have more of this acrylic, so I will likely be making permanent templates for my headpiece and heel shapes when I get to those stages of the building.

Vise

Last week, I decided that it was time to invest in a proper guitar building vise. My dad had first sent me the link to this Lee Valley Universal Vise back in February, and I thought, “man, that would be so useful, but can I justify it?” Then, when Ross mentioned buying the vise in the interview that I did with him a few weeks ago, I got to thinking that I should probably just buy it. I have been struggling with the vises that I had for a few years; it was time to get something that would hold all of the odd shapes that guitar building requires.

So far I have used it to hold tiny pieces of wood for the rosette that I am inlaying in my current guitar build (post on that coming soon), and it has been marvellous. The vise rotates 360 degrees and both of the hardwood jaws rotate as well to make clamping angled bits of wood simple. No longer will my guitar necks slip while I’m sanding!

I bought the Lee Valley version, but if you’re not too keen on the green, there is the original (I think) red version from Stewart MacDonald. I have no idea how they compare, but I imagine that the Stew-Mac version is at least as good as what I have bought from Lee Valley.

Miscellaneous drill bits

These tools are very project specific, and I definitely did not purchase the highest quality bits for this project, however, what I did buy seems to be working reasonably well and the price was right. Although they are not of incredible quality, I am including them in this post because they are allowing me to do the job much more cleanly than if I were to try to do this by hand (which was my original terrible plan).

I won’t give too much away on the project, as I will be writing a blog on that soon, but I can say that these were for the rosette of the current guitar build.

I needed a selection of forstner bits and plug cutters, and I was not having much luck in finding bits that were the right size, in stock, and for a reasonable price. Lee Valley has some lovely forstner bits, and I do have one of them for drilling slots in the headpiece, but I could not justify buying all of the sizes that I needed for this project, and more importantly, most of the sizes that I needed were out of stock until June. So I did some searching around online and found this set of 16 bits on Amazon. For the price, they are pretty decent. They are not beautiful, and I cannot speak to their longevity, but they cut a fairly clean hole in softwood, which is what I needed, and there are a good variety of sizes included in the set.

I had a harder time finding bits that would cut out wooden discs. I found various plug cutters and saw-tooth bits, but finding a set that included the mid-sized cutters that I needed was nigh impossible! I ended up ordering this set of Diamond hole saw bits from Amazon, and again, while they are not incredibly well made, they do cut circles out of wood.

Here is some of my test work of plugs and holes (ignore the messy circle at the top right – that is when I was trying to excavate a perfect circle myself… needless to say, it was less than a success. As you can see, the 19mm maple disc was inlayed into the cedar quite neatly.

I’ll leave this post here, although you can be sure that there will be more of this kind coming in the next few months. I have grand plans to renovate my workshop this summer – hopefully I have time to build a new workbench and install some much needed storage space!

Barry Green’s Inner Game of Music

Last week, I read a tiny book by Alan Bennett called The Uncommon Reader. This is a quick, humorous read (I read it in 3 short sessions) about the Queen of England discovering her love of literature. Although it is an unassuming, easy to read novella, it really struck a chord in me. For the last several months, I have spent a great deal of time thinking about the amount the amount of time that I waste consuming low quality entertainment. Not that there is anything wrong with a few YouTube videos, a simple pop song, or a formulaic romantic comedy. But there is something wrong with the overconsumption of such undemanding entertainment and there is something wrong with the constant drone of mind numbing background trash. I know that I feel physically ill after falling into the YouTube spiral for too long, and I definitely feel ashamed of the amount of time I have wasted over the past few years on the internet.

So, as I read The Uncommon Reader, I was thinking about how I currently spend my free time, and how I used to spend my free time when I was growing up largely without a computer. I used to love to read, and although I can’t say that I have forgotten that I loved reading, I have become lazy. It is so much “easier” to waste an hour (or more) in the YouTube/social media/Google vortex than it is to pick up a book, listen intentionally to music, or simply be alone with one’s thoughts. I am sure that nothing in these ramblings has come as a surprise to you; I have, of course, been aware of the time I have been wasting all along. The trouble is, while it is easy to recognize this as a problem in my life, I have a really hard time getting out of the bad habit and into the good one!

Alan Bennett’s novella has made me determined to read more and really do more than just think about how I am spending my free time.

And so, I come to the real purpose of today’s blog post. Since finishing The Uncommon Reader, I have started another novel (Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje), and I finally got around to reading the second half of Barry Green’s The Inner Game of Music.

The Inner Game of Music – Barry Green

I started reading this book last year (I mentioned it in a blog post almost a year ago), and over the course of a few months, I half-heartedly picked away at the first half of the book. Not that it is a poorly written or boring read – far from it! Barry Green’s writing is easy to digest, relatable, and well thought out. His confidence in Tim Gallwey’s Inner Game theory comes across, but Green does not assume to have all of the answers; Green invites the reader to explore the possibilities of the Inner Game theory while acknowledging that each performer and each performing situation will demand a different solution, some which are not necessarily outlined in the book.

After such a slow start on the book, it seemed as though I would never get through the whole thing. But, after reading the Alan Bennett book and deciding to get back to the business of reading, I decided to pick it up and get it finished. So I read the second half of the book in two days, proving that it really is not such an arduous read.

This will not be a proper book review. I do plan on eventually working towards some proper book review blogs in the future, but for now, this will just be a few thoughts that I had while reading the book, and an encouragement for you to pick it up and read it yourself if it seems of interest.

The book would be incredibly beneficial to any musician, but I found that it would be of particular use to adult amateur musicians, music teachers, parents of young students, and professional musicians or those aspiring to become professional musicians.

The “Inner Game” can be boiled down to learning to silence the “self 1” (interferes with your potential), in order to make room for your “self 2” (the part of you that is able to express your full creative potential). It should be noted that this is not the same as left and right brain (analytical and global) thinking – these are addressed in a separate chapter, and Green shows how to use the Inner Game theory to balance these ways of thinking. The first half of the book describes the basic skills that are required to accomplish this (awareness, will, and trust) and how a student can use these skills to let go and surrender to the musical experience. The second half of the book shows how to use the Inner Game in different situations (dealing with interference during performances, teaching, listening to music, being a parent, practising, playing in ensembles, and improvising). Green includes exercises throughout the book to practise the skills. I have to say, I did not have time to try all of the exercises out as I was reading through the book, so I will go back and use this book as a practise aid over the next year.

This is not a book about becoming a virtuoso from scratch. Although practise is addressed, this is not a book about practising exactly. This is a book about an approach to performing, that, when taken in combination with technical development and good practise habits, will lead to a more enjoyable and fulfilling musical experience.

Much of this book was reassuring – without knowing about this book, I had already put many of the concepts into practise while working to overcome my own nervousness in performance. I am no longer a nervous performer (I don’t believe that I have been particularly nervous for the past couple of years), but there are many other things that I need to work on, and this book hit many of them on the head. My biggest struggle is with focus, and most of the Inner Game skills will help me with that.

I particularly enjoyed the chapters on teaching with the Inner Game principles, and I will definitely be revisiting these parts of the book to more fully understand the concepts. Teaching is something that I thoroughly enjoy, and I know that it is, and will continue to be, an integral part of my career. I think that music teachers can play a really important role in a child’s development, so our approach in teaching young children must be carefully considered. I have a lot to learn in this area, and the thoughts presented in this book made a lot of sense to me. Adult students face a whole other set of challenges, and this book does a good job of addressing these struggles. I would highly recommend that adult music students read this book.

Parts of the book are slightly dated – the tape decks and other technologies that are recommended have been replaced a few times since the book came out in 1986, and there has been a lot more research in the fields of music education, performance anxiety, and effective practice strategies in the last several years, but the core concepts of the book have not been affected as far as I can tell.

I will leave this blog with a short quote from the book that seems to tie today’s thoughts together:

“So much depends on the degree to which you value the moments, the minutes, and hours, of your life. If your life is precious to you, you will want your practice time to be both enjoyable and musically rewarding.” (page 129)

(for a non-musical, but equally inspiring remark, remove the works “practice” and “musically”)