Today was my first truly productive day in a while. For the past couple weeks I have felt like I was floating in-between projects, and I had fallen into some time-wasting habits like thinking too much without actually doing anything and the internet.
Of course, part of this time was spent doing the necessary planning and preparing for upcoming projects, and I spent a good deal of time reading and pursuing worthwhile thoughts about practise habits, goals, and repertoire. I also ordered a lot of wood and emailed back and forth with the next two guitar build customers about the details of the projects. Hopefully my wood will arrive in the next week or two, but in the meantime, I have started working with what I have already in the shop.
Just before we get into the main part of this post, I would just like to note that I have included a lot of links to external resources. Just click on the underlined words to check those out.
Project #1: Steel-String build 014
This guitar was actually one of my first commissions, however, because my cousin is extraordinarily patient, it ended up getting pushed back by a couple of more urgent guitars. This steel-string is going to be a walnut and redwood cutaway design with an off-centre sound hole and mosaic wood inlays. The guitar design is inspired by the beautiful McPherson guitars, and, while the aesthetics and building principles are informed by some of Matt McPherson’s work, I must be clear that this is not a copy of a McPherson, as I 1) do not have enough information to design a copy, 2) do not have a thorough enough knowledge of acoustics, and 3) do not have permission to use any of their patented designs for this guitar.
For a bit more information on McPherson guitars, I would highly recommend checking out their YouTube channel where you can find lots of guitar videos including a video on the bracing pattern. I would particularly recommend watching Premier Guitar’s McPherson factory tour (part 1, part 2).
This guitar has a smaller body than the two steel strings I have built in the past, and should be a fairly comfortable guitar to hold. I will be using a floating raised fretboard on this guitar, however, that part is not designed yet!
The Soundhole Design
The sound hole for this guitar will be located on the bass side of the soundboard towards the upper bout, and will be shaped rather like a mango (something I just realized today while standing in my kitchen). This off centre sound hole is something that builders have been experimenting with for quite some time. The famous Kasha guitar design (a collaboration between scientist Dr. Michael Kasha and luthier Richard Schneider) is one of the most recognizable sound hole designs, with an oval shaped sound hole in the treble-side upper bout. Canadian luthier David Freeman of Timeless Instruments has also designed a guitar with an off centre sound hole. His design maintains the traditional circular sound hole, but places it closer to the bass side of the guitar.
Besides the unique visual appeal of an off-centre sound hole, there are strong acoustic arguments for trying an off-centre sound hole. In a traditional (centre-soundhole) design, tests have shown that only the lower bout really vibrates – the sound hole seems to interrupt the movement of the top at the waist of the guitar. This is why Kasha moved the sound hole to the upper bout beside the fingerboard; his tests showed that this area wasn’t doing much for the amplification of sound. By moving the sound hole towards the perimeter of the guitar, the design allows for more of the soundboard to vibrate. More motion from the soundboard makes for more amplification of the string’s frequency, and thus should lead to a more acoustically efficient instrument.
I do not feel that I am adequately versed in bracing patterns to really talk about what I have drawn up for this guitar. I have based it on the classic steel-string X bracing pattern and have incorporated a couple transverse braces for added support. The braces will be laminated (cedar with a rosewood core because that is what I had in the shop), and I am planning to hollow out parts of the braces to reduce weight on the soundboard without sacrificing strength. This is something that can be seen on McPherson’s bracing pattern, however, it is also something that many other luthiers have experimented with over the past several decades. Some luthiers use carbon for brace reinforcement, however, I like the idea and the sound of wood, and I am much more comfortable working with wood than just about anything else!
The final experiment on this guitar will be to increase the rigidity of the neck by laminating the Walnut with maple and including a truss rod. The neck is one of the places on the guitar where a lot of sound energy can be lost. Modern luthiers tend towards building heavier more rigid necks so as to minimize the energy that is lost. As far as I can understand it (so far), energy prefers to move the lightest/most flexible thing first, so if the soundboard is fairly easy to move and the neck is heavy and stiff, more of the energy will move towards the bridge/soundboard than trying to vibrate the neck. In the Roger H. Siminoff book that I am reading, he talks about using heavy tuning machines in order to add as much weight as possible to the headstock and neck so that the guitar is more acoustically efficient.
As you can see, I need to do much more reading and learning about acoustics before I try to explain anything else! As well as reading the Siminoff book (The Luthier’s Handbook: A Guide to Building Great Tone in Acoustic Stringed Instruments), I have ordered the well-respected Left-Brain Lutherie book in order to help me along towards understanding exactly what it is that I am doing.
So far, I have jointed, cut out, and thinned the top and back, and I started working on the sound hole (separate post on that coming at some point):
Project #2: short-scale Torres build No. 015
While I was working on getting the design sorted for the steel-string guitar, I received an email asking whether I would be interested in building a short-scaled Torres copy. Of course, I said yes – this is exactly the kind of thing that I like to work on. The guitar will be an almost copy of the SE117 (I say almost because I will be using a slotted headpiece with Gotoh tuners, and I will not be copying the original wood choices). You can see a picture of the original guitar here. The scale length is rather short at 604mm (23.78in), so it should be very comfortable to play! I will be building this guitar with flamed maple back and sides, “German” spruce top, and Spanish cedar neck.
Side-note: I say “German” spruce, because I recently found out that there really is no such thing as German spruce when it comes to instrument building. Most of Germany’s spruce forests are in very poor condition because of air quality, so there is little wood harvested in Germany itself. Besides this, the species of spruce that is used for instrument building is more commonly referred to as Norway Spruce, or more accurately as Picea Abies. You can read more about this trouble with labelling spruce here. I have ordered my spruce from a lovely gentleman in Germany who harvested his wood in Italy. When it arrives, I will post a whole lot of photos and information – I am very excited about this order!
Projects #3 and #4: other guitars
Because two guitars is not quite enough for me, I have decided to get started slowly on two other guitars. These guitars are not commissions, so I will be able to experiment a bit more (yay!!!). The plan is to build these guitars for displaying at guitar shows and possibly for a CD recording project that I am still in the early stages of thinking through. One of the guitars will be a second Torres SE117 copy, but this time with quilted maple for the back and sides, and the other guitar will be another classical guitar with the same asymmetrical bracing pattern as the recent classical build No. 013, however, I will be getting a bit more funky in my wood choices this time because I can.
Just to round out this “what I am working on” post, I thought that I would mention a couple other projects that are ongoing/coming up.
I have been working with Rotary to put together the music for the Music For Humanity concert in support of the eradication of Polio again this year. The concert is on April 8th at 7:30pm at the First Unitarian Congregation (30 Cleary Ave, Ottawa). Hope to see some people there!
I am reading The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green, and am trying to improve my focus in performance. So far lots of thinking but not much accomplished quite yet. I should be able to implement some of the concepts from the book by the time Craig and I are out in Nova Scotia (check out my website for tour dates!), and am hoping to work through some of my biggest performance issues over the next year. I have another book that was recommended to me by a friend that is sitting waiting to be read (In Pursuit of Excellence by Terry Orlick), but I have too many books on the go! Once I have figured out a few things regarding focus in performance, I will try to write a blog post about my findings.
All of this work on my performing will hopefully lead towards a recording project that incorporates some of my guitar builds. Lots more planning to do there, but hopefully in the next couple of years. I am trying to figure out the repertoire at the moment.
That’s all for today! Thanks for making it through this rather text-heavy post! Cheers 🙂