Completed guitar no. 022

It has been a while since I had a moment to write a new post – quite simply, I took on too much stuff this year! A few of my projects are wrapping up this week, so my schedule should return to something more normal soon (she writes with hopeful desperation), and I am hoping to get back to writing again – I have another interview in the works and a few planned posts on recent tool acquisitions.

Today’s post is about my most recently completed guitar, number 022, “Alissa”. I have been working on this guitar since mid-fall last year. This guitar has been delayed a few times due to all of the other projects that have been going on – recording days for my CD, renovating the workshop, a few concerts here and there, various repair jobs… but it is finally done! And I am mostly very happy with it. The guitar sounds incredible, and generally looks pretty darn good (if I do say so myself). There are a few imperfections in the French polishing, but I am still working on acquiring that skill. I feel like the next guitar will come out with a really nice polish, having learned a lot with this one.

guitar posed ever so elegantly with rhubarb

Because I did not record many parts of this guitar build, here is a quick summary of the guitar. The back and sides are made out of Ziricote, a very hard and beautiful wood from Central America/Mexico (more information here).

The soundboard is a beautiful piece of Italian Alps spruce sourced from a german spruce supplier here.

I used a rosette from Luthier’s mercantile for this guitar rather than fabricating my own.

I used a traditional fan bracing pattern borrowed/adapted from Robert Bouchet. I also used this pattern (or a similar one, I should say) on the Hamilton guitar that I built last year. The scale length on this guitar is slightly shorter than standard at 640mm, and the body size and depth are similar to the guitars of Robert Bouchet. I also took inspiration from Bouchet for the shape of the headstock.

headstock with Ziricote veneer and Gotoh tuners

I laminated the sides of this guitar, and I could not be happier with the results. The guitar is definitely heavier than my previous builds, but so far anyone who has picked it up has still commented that it is very light, so I guess that is all relative! The sides are much more stable because of the lamination, and I think that this contributed to the pleasing projection of this relatively small guitar’s sound.

Another new addition to this build was a 12-hole bridge, and I can tell you right now that I will not be going back to a 6-hole any time soon. The 12-hole is easier to tie and looks so much cleaner. Next time I’ll make the tie block a little bit more decorative as well.

The client for whom this guitar was built requested that a lotus yoga pose with fire element symbol be included somewhere on the guitar. We went back and forth as to where to put the carving, and eventually settled on the back of the headstock, which I think is a rather nice touch. It is very subtle but quite beautiful – I might do something similar for my future builds.

back of headstock lotus yoga pose

Sound-wise, this guitar is definitely my best so far. I am really happy with the projection, as mentioned before, but it also has a really sweet, round voice with plenty of sustain, beautiful trebles, and decent basses. I was having a lot of fun playing it over the past month or so as I had strings on and off for various stages of finishing. I actually spent a day recording this guitar for my upcoming CD as well, and that was a lot of fun. Of course, that CD is not finished yet (expect it in mid-late June), so here is a quick home recording as a bit of an appetizer.

Overall, I am really pleased with “Alissa.” Now I had better get started on the next one!!

Closing another box (guitar 022)

It’s finally here! The guitar looks like a guitar. Closing up the box is one of the most exciting parts of the building process – this is when the instrument really starts to look like what it is supposed to.

In the last building update, I showed pictures of the rosette inlay and soundboard bracing. Since then, I thinned and braced the back (just a simple 4 brace ladder with a centre graft to reinforce the centre-back seam), thinned and bent the sides, built the neck, and put everything together.

On this guitar, as always, I am trying out a few new things. Most notably, I decided to laminate the sides for added strength. I bent the outside ziricote sides as usual, and then thinned and bent a set of Alaskan yellow cedar sides before sandwiching them together with a lot of glue and a monster clamping set up (see below). I used just about all of the bar clamps I have to apply even pressure over the sides, supporting the outside with the removable side from my mold, and the inside with a purpose-built caul. The caul is a strip of sturdy but flexible cardboard with strips of wood glued across to serve as clamping points.

The neck for this guitar is nothing special – just a standard Spanish cedar neck with a slotted Spanish heel joint and a scarf joint at the headpiece. I am using a different headpiece design, taking inspiration from the Bouchet headpiece shape as a nod to the Bouchet bracing inside the guitar.

With all of the pieces ready to go, I started assembly, first by attaching the neck to the soundboard, and then the sides to the soundboard. I used basswood for the linings of the guitar to give some added strength to the joint despite the double-thick sides. After the sides were glued down to the top, I fashioned small side braces or “brace feet” to prevent some of the braces on the top from lifting. Then the sides were shaped to fit the back using my favourite small hand plane.

cleaning up the sides in preparation for attaching the back
My favourite little hand plane for these kind of jobs pictured here with a 6 inch ruler for reference. This small plane fits perfectly in the palm of my hand.
soundbox ready to accept the back
Glueing on the back

As you can see above, I did something a bit different to clamp the back onto the sides this time. I used my homemade spool clamps and was really happy with how they worked. I just have to make another 20 so that I don’t have to use the bar clamps which are really not great for this job.

tail end of the guitar with a little bit of masonite stuck – I’ll have to clean that up a bit better…
just for a bit of an idea of how the guitar will look with finish, I wiped one half of the back with alcohol, and I think it looks pretty stunning, if I do say so myself!

Finally, just a closeup of one of the brace ends that I fit into the sides for added strength. I’ve done this on most of my builds over the past couple years, and I have to say, I am pretty proud of my work this time. All of the brace ends are fitted perfectly into their slots. I owe the tidy work to the time that I have started to spend on sharpening my tools – a sharp chisel does work wonders.

And that’s it! Next I’ll be working on the details to make this guitar really pretty. Oh yeah, and strings/frets, all of that stuff that make it actually work.

New year update


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,