Upcoming concerts, projects, and plans

And just like that, summer seems to have disappeared into fall. This morning as I type this, I am drinking tea and sitting bundled up on my sofa with a sweater against the chilly 5 degree weather (I still have a window open because it’s only September 1st!!)

This also made me realize that I have been rather absent from my blog for two whole months. I suppose that I was going through a phase of not really knowing what to write about as my summer projects were rather more scattered and messy (see bench below for proof…), so this will be a bit of a newsletter before I get back into proper blogs this fall.

real life bench photo at the end of a refinishing project (I’ll tidy it up – I promise, Dad!)

Summer Projects

In the shop I have had a couple of repair projects to do (reattaching a headpiece on a student classical guitar, refinishing one of my own builds, and lowering the action on a student’s steel string). The weather has been way too humid for me to do any serious building, so I decided to hold off on some of those projects until the fall when things dry up a bit. Also, my goal is to build 4-5 guitars a year, and I have already completed 4 this year, so I am well ahead of schedule.

Although it might seem a little strange, this summer I refinished the classical guitar, ‘Madimi,’ that I had built last fall. I had used Lee Valley’s French Polish on the guitar originally, and while the finish was OK, it really did not add anything to the grain of the wood. The guitar is built of flamed maple and bearclaw Engelmann with birdseye maple embellishments, so it is pretty much entirely covered in figure. The Lee Valley French Polish did nothing to enhance the grain, and it was actually hard to even tell that the soundboard was figured at all. The guitar was built for one of my students, so he comes to my house every week and sees most of the projects that I have going on. He saw the finished Torres guitars at the beginning of the summer and loved how the General Finishes EnduroVar looked on the figured maple, so we decided to give Madimi a new look. I think that the varnish has really enhanced the figure on this guitar, and I love the amber tone that the EnduroVar adds to maple.

While I love the look of this EnduroVar, it is quite a bit of a pain to use. I am still working at getting the perfect even glossy rubbed finish, but it is quite challenging with EnduroVar because the coats of varnish are incredibly thin, and the coats do not melt together in the way that shellac does.

Fall Concerts and Recordings

Craig and I have a few concerts lined up this fall starting tomorrow! We are playing in Woodstock as part of the Labour day weekend Canada 150 celebrations. The event organizers booked Pavlo to play a concert in the evening, and asked us to be one of the afternoon opening acts. As this is an outdoor concert, the experience should be interesting – hopefully the mics all work so that we can be heard! We’ll be playing at 3pm in the park, so if you are in or around Woodstock, we’d love to see you there!

We are also playing a concert in Hanover, Ontario next Friday at Grace United Church. This concert will be another fundraiser for the local women’s shelters, following up on our tour last fall. On Sunday, September 10th, we’ll be in Toronto, and the following Saturday, we’ll be playing back here in Ottawa. We also are excited to be part of the Wednesday noon concert series at Southminster United Church in Ottawa on November 1st. Check out all of our upcoming concert details on my website, here.

Along with preparing for these performances, I have been getting ready for my first professional recording sessions. As I have mentioned before, I am getting ready to put together my first CD, so I will be recording a few pieces this September for grant applications and possibly for inclusion on the final CD. The only recording that I have done in the past has been on my own with incredibly limited knowledge and relatively mediocre standards. Now that I am two weeks away from my first proper recording, I have to say that I am rather nervous. I will be practising a lot over the next two weeks, and hopefully this, along with the concerts leading up to the first recording will have me well prepared. If anyone has tips for first time recording sessions, please share them in the comments!

Building Projects

When I get back from all of my running around, I’ll be back in the shop and will be working on quite a few projects. I have three partially completed guitars that I would like to finish, as well as wood for two other classical guitars that I would like to start. One of those is a commission, and the other is because I purchased some very pretty wood.

Engelmann, Cedar, Spalted Maple, Rosewood, and Ovangkol

The commissioned classical guitar will be a very traditional Rosewood and Engelmann Spruce classical guitar with asymmetrical fan bracing and a sound port. The three partially completed guitars include the experimental late 18th century guitar, a zebra wood steel-string, and the spalted maple classical guitar. These guitars are at all sorts of stages of completion, and it should be a bit of a relief to get them done and hear them for the first time.

The second classical that I would like to build is because of the wood that is second from the left in this picture:

Spalted Maple, Ovangkol, Yellow Cedar, and Rosewood

I saw the Ovangkol on Bow River’s website when I was ordering wood for the Rosewood classical commission, and I couldn’t pass it up. Apparently it sounds rather like rosewood, so I am thinking that I will pair this with a red cedar top and a few modern embellishments. I am not sure whether I will have time to work on this during this fall, but this guitar will be built at some point in the next year.

As you can see, I also picked up a bit more spalted maple. I am not quite sure what I will use this for, so for the moment it will just sit in my wood pile.

More to come to the blog soon!


Year in Review 2016

So it is that time of year again! Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve, so it is time to reflect on the year that is ending. Although 2016 seemed to disappear in a flash, this has been a year of many changes, and I do not feel like the same person that I was a year ago.

I transformed from “student” to “adult” halfway through this year when I graduated from my master’s degree and was flung into the so-called “real world.” This past September was the first September since age 5 in which I did not return to school. This was both exciting and terrifying as I was not accustomed to thinking of myself as anything other than a student. I think that I have adjusted fairly well, and although I am frequently doubting my ability to “adult,” I am enjoying this new chapter in my life.


As I am on the topic of being an adult, I also went from “renter” to “home-owner” this year. This change has had an incredibly positive impact on my life and my career, so I am very grateful to have been in the position to be able to purchase a home. I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped me through this process! I now have a proper teaching studio and a  separate workshop; without these things, most of what I have accomplished would have been considerably more difficult.


As a builder, I feel like I made great progress. If you have been following my blog this year, you will know that I built three instruments, and that I learned a lot from all of them.

The first build of 2016 was for my friend Jeffery Dunn in Texas. I had a blast building this guitar (“Olivia”). Jeffery gave me complete freedom when designing this guitar, so I went a little wild and  chose to build the body out of purpleheart, maple, and walnut. It turned into a striking guitar with a lovely tone. Here is a video of Jeff performing his beautiful arrangement of Murder Song by Aurora:

The second guitar build (“Isadora”) went to Brazil, and the third (“Madimi”) to one of my students here in Ottawa. I named all three of these guitars, which came as a surprise to me as I had not named a guitar since my very first build as a child (the 5/8 size classical guitar, “Rosy”). All of these guitars taught me something different about building, and I know that I will continue to improve with the guitars that I build in 2017. I am planning to complete four guitars this coming year – two commissions (a classical and a steel string), as well as two other guitars (a classical and something else).

As a teacher, I am continually learning and being nudged out of my comfort zone. I have a full studio of approximately 24 students, which I built over the past year and a half. I have been extremely fortunate in finding students and I have not had to struggle too much in building my studio. I really enjoy teaching (it helps that I have an amazing group of students), and will continue to keep it as the central part of my career going forward.

This year, I have struggled the most as a performer. This is the area in which I have felt the most burnt out, both from university performance schedules and self-imposed high expectations. Craig and I played quite a few concerts this year, which was wonderful, but I still feel a little lost in figuring out my own artistic goals. As a result, I have not been practising enough, and I feel like I have entered a kind of spiral of not practising and lacking the motivation to practise. This will be the area that I focus on the most in the coming months as Craig and I prepare for more concerts through 2017. I am pretty sure that what I need is a clear project to work on, so I just have to figure out what that is going to be…. Let me know if you have any ideas for me in the comments below!

Craig and I already have some concerts lined up for 2017 in Ottawa, and we are working on setting up a tour out East for the spring. We will also be back in Southern Ontario at some point for some more concerts (there are a few exciting things in the works – stay tuned for details in the coming month).

I will also continue to upload videos to my YouTube channel, although I do have to think about what direction I want to take with that. If you have not already, it would mean a lot to me if you would subscribe to my channel! You can also follow me on Instagram (for quick building updates, cooking experiments, gardening, and travel photos), and on Facebook.

Ottawa Guitar Society

A year ago, I (almost accidentally) started volunteering with the Ottawa Guitar Society as a board member. I sent a Facebook message to the former president of the society and ended up starting up the monthly open mic nights as well as running the social media for the group. Since then I have redone the website (check it out here), handed the social media over to someone more capable, helped out with the guitar society orchestra, and taken on the organization of the Young Artist Series. After several years of dormancy, the OGS is making great strides to becoming a respectable organization again. We are very excited for the next year of projects!


On a more personal level, 2016 has been filled with all sorts of projects. With the help of my sister, I dug a garden and grew things (some things grew better than others). I am trying to keep some house plants alive, and so far most of them are surviving, which is a first! I made an excessive amount of salsa, went camping for the first time in years, built a few shelves, went to England, and started playing piano (albeit sporadically) again. I also commissioned my first painting from my friend Terri-Lynn Mitchell! This painting was inspired by Craig’s piece Evocation, which was published this year by d’Oz. I asked Terri-Lynn to paint this large piece for our dining room to surprise Craig for our second anniversary. Check out Terri-Lynn’s handiwork (the colours are even better in person):


2016 has been an amazing year. It feels like it flew by in a second, but I also cannot seem to comprehend how much has happened and changed this year. I am looking forward to an equally exciting  (but hopefully more organized and less expensive) 2017. I would love to hear your thoughts about 2016, and/or plans for the next year – leave me a comment below if you have time!

Thank you for your continued support!

Cheers and Happy New Year! 🙂


Somehow the month of November disappeared, and we are now nearing the middle of December!?!? I checked my mail on Thursday and was confronted with a flyer that proclaimed “Only 2 weeks ’til Christmas” and I promptly threw it in the recycling, refusing to believe that the month is disappearing at this rapid rate. However, no matter how much I try to convince myself, it has been a month since my last blog post, and the end of 2016 is arriving in 3 short weeks.

I have spent the last month working on a classical guitar named “Madimi” for one of my students. This is the guitar with the zodiac rosette inlay that I talked about in a blog post here. The rosette is the central design element on this guitar, and I have to say that I am very happy with how it turned out:


I continued the birdseye maple through the rest of the guitar as the accent wood. In the previous few guitars, I have used a multi-wood inlay for all of the decorative bits (tail inlay, heel-cap, headstock, rosette). This time I decided to shake things up a bit by using a single figured wood.


I also used birdseye maple for a centre stripe on the back of the guitar.


The back, sides, and neck are all made of a beautifully blonde flamed maple. I contrasted all of the blonde woods with simple black lines, ebony bindings, and Macassar ebony fingerboard and bridge.


The soundboard is a piece of Engelmann Spruce with a fantastic bear claw figure throughout. The figure is hard to see in the pictures, but I can assure you that it is quite striking in person.


To continue the black and blonde design scheme into the neck of the guitar, I added a couple of black stripes to the stacked maple heel block. The heel cap is birdseye maple.


Overall, I am very happy with how “Madimi” has turned out. Aesthetically, I am happy with all of my design choices. I am still working on achieving a perfect finish. I am planning to take a French polishing course at some point next year in order to learn what I have been doing wrong. I am excited to have worked with mostly Canadian woods (Engelmann Spruce and Maple) on this project. I will be working with other domestic, sustainable woods on upcoming projects, so stay tuned!

“Madimi” is not a loud guitar. Of course, her sound will open up over the next year as the wood becomes accustomed to responding to strings. She is suited to intimate performances and has a very sweet tone (when strung with nylon strings… initially I put Savarez carbon strings on her and she wasn’t too pleased). You can hear how she sounds in the recording of In the Bleak Midwinter below. This is an arrangement that I threw together yesterday morning right before recording it. You can find the sheet music on my website, here. I only had a day with “Madimi” before she was collected by the the student who commissioned her.

As always, thank you for reading!

Happy Holidays 🙂

Inlaying the zodiac rosette

This week I started to work on guitar number 12, which is a flamed maple and bear claw Engelmann spruce classical guitar named Madimi. The guitar will have a raised fingerboard, flamed maple neck, and Macassar ebony fingerboard. My customer wanted the guitar to have some kind of mystical theme (hence the name, Madimi) and we decided to use the zodiac as a jumping off place  for the design because of its relationship to the number 12.

When starting a new guitar, I almost always start with the soundboard. Some guitar building books start with the neck, however, I prefer to build the soundboard, then build and attach the neck, followed by the sides, the back, and then the fingerboard and other details.

The soundboard is a beautiful piece of Engelmann spruce with a strong bear claw figure. I purchased this piece from Bow River Woods in British Columbia.

I started by jointing and gluing the two parts of the soundboard together. Then I cleaned up one face of the plate and got to work on the rosette. I neglected to take photos before starting the zodiac inlays, however, I have talked about this process in previous blog posts. In fact, 3 years ago today, I wrote a post about inlaying the rosette on a Baroque guitar.

I cut the background of the rosette out of a beautiful cut-off piece of birdseye maple. I inlayed this ring into the soundboard with a border of black and white stripes, and then cleaned everything up with a small plane, scraper, and random orbit sander.

I then printed off the zodiac signs and used transfer paper to mark the inlay locations:



I then simply used a sharp Exacto knife to cut out channels for the inlay before gluing tiny pieces of black veneer into the spaces.


It was fairly finicky work, and took me three sessions of a couple hours each to finish, however, I am quite pleased with the results:


(Don’t worry, the messy bit at the top of the rosette will be covered by the fingerboard!)

After inlaying all of the signs, I cleaned up the surface by scraping and sanding everything flush. I then thinned the soundboard and cut out the sound hole.

There will be more inlay work on this guitar, including a symbol designed by the guitarist who commissioned this guitar. After doing a few multi wood rosettes, this one was quite fun for a change – let me know what you think!