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!

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Four guitar backs and a soundboard

I decided to do something a bit differently this spring in my workshop and get a few guitars started all at the same time. I will not be finishing all of these guitars at the same time, but this should make the process a bit more efficient. Also, it will allow the more recently purchased wood to sit an acclimatize to my shop after being cut out and thinned. Although I buy my wood pre-dried, it is always a good idea to let it sit for a couple of months before turning the wood into a guitar. I have had most of the backs since early last summer, so most of the wood is good to go, but I did have to buy some flamed maple for one of the Torres copies, and that only arrived this week.

Steel-string 014 Walnut Back

I am prioritizing the steel-string guitar at the moment, so that one is the furthest along. I have also had the wood for this guitar for the longest, so it should be as stable as it ever will be and is in prime condition to be turned into a guitar.

The back is a book-matched set of black walnut from Bow River Woods in British Columbia. I decided not to put a stripe down the centre of the back, which is rather unusual for me (I am rather partial to stripes – you will know that too well if you have been following this blog for a while!).

I braced this back with laminated asymmetrical ladder bracing. The asymmetry is mostly because of the cutaway. I was going to have to angle the upper-bout brace anyway so that it would not get in the way of the cutaway, so I decided to angle all of the braces into a symmetrical sideways fan. Because of the laminations, the braces are very strong and should hold this back in shape for many years. I used redwood for the back centre graft to match the top and give some support to the back centre seam.

While working on this back, I realized (once again) the incredible difference that sharp tools make. I am trying to keep my tools in better condition, but most days I am just too lazy. While working on the centre graft, I was using my 3/4 inch chisel and was realizing that it was not really slicing the wood but was rather causing it to crumple. Time for a sharpen, I thought, and sharpen I did. After a half hour on the water stone, the chisel was ready to go again and, not surprisingly, my work was suddenly a lot neater and a lot easier. Lesson learned (I hope).

Along the same lines, I have been trying to use my scraper more for tidying up wood surfaces and for some light thinning work. I have a Veritas scraper honing guide (an older version of item C on this Lee Valley listing), which holds a flat mill file at a right angle for re-edging the blade. I have been using this for the last couple of years and while it seemed to improved the edge on the blade, it was never perfect and did not last very long.

Last week I finally got around to looking up a bit about sharpening scrapers, and I came across this video about how to do it properly. I am now using the edge of my water stone to hone the final edge and have learned how to use my burnisher to get a really good burr on the blade. I don’t have to bend my scraper blade as much any more to cut into the wood, so my thumbs are thanking me!!

Steel-string 014 Redwood Soundboard

The soundboard for this steel-string guitar is a piece of redwood from Luthier’s Mercantile. This is the first time that I have used redwood, and so far, it seems pretty great! I’ll have to see how the final guitar sounds in order to give a proper opinion, but the colour is beautiful.

The sound hole was cut out with a coping saw and then sanded carefully into the final shape. I then fit a solid piece of walnut to the hole, glued that in place with a strip of white veneer around the edge, and then cut out the sound hole again. I think that it turned out pretty well!

I have just started on the bracing of this soundboard, so I will leave that for another post.

Torres copy backs 015 and 016

The flamed maple from Bow River woods arrived earlier this week, just in time to be jointed and thinned along with the rest of these backs. This is the piece that needs to sit before I am comfortable turning it into a guitar. I read something a while ago that said that it was a good idea to join the wood, cut it out, and thin it and then let it sit for a good while before doing anything else. This sounded like good advice to me, so I am going with that.

I joined this wood with a black stripe down the centre, similar to what you might find on an original Torres guitar. This is a small guitar and I do not want to overwhelm it with details, so I will be keeping the decorations simple. I am sorry that this picture is kind of dark – hopefully it gives you the idea anyway! All of the markings around the perimeter of the piece are outside of the final guitar shape, so the back should look beautiful and clean.

I also jointed and cut out a piece of quilted maple that has been sitting in my shop since last summer. I picked this up from Bow River Woods as well because it was a one-off beautiful piece in a parlour guitar size. Perfect for this Torres copy. I used a black-white-black-white-black stripe down the centre, which is slightly more ornate than the flamed maple back, but still maintains a simplicity.

Classical 017 Maple back

Finally, I pulled out one of the most beautiful pieces of wood that I have seen (in my opinion), and got it ready to become a classical guitar back. This piece is rather unusual, and I have no idea how it will sound. This is also from Bow River Woods, and has a bit of a flame to it and a good amount of spalting. Spalting is a type of rot, so the wood is slightly softer than the other maples that I have worked with (which is why I am slightly concerned for the sound), but because of the nature of this rot, it is stable enough to work with. Even though the wood may be soft and perhaps not ideal as tone wood, I am going to try to make this guitar sound as good as I possibly can, and it will be a good learning guitar for me. Also, it will look gorgeous, and as Torres showed with his Paper Maché guitar, the back is not quite as important as the soundboard.

Because the figure on the wood is so dramatic, I decided once again to omit the stripe down the back of the guitar. I considered putting a purpleheart stripe down the centre, but then decided that I should just let the maple speak for itself.

I think that I will pair this back with a cedar top, although I keep going back and forth on that one, so stay tuned.

And that is it for today! While I wait for my Spruce tops to arrive from Germany, I’ll be working on the sides for these guitars and will keep working on the steel-string bracing.

On a side note, if anyone is looking for a good arm workout (or just a good workout), you should take up guitar building. Or just come thin guitar backs for me. Also, I should probably see if Johnson&Johnson Band-Aids wants me to promote their product… I went through a good few this week because of my self-destructive scraping technique!