JOA, Joe’s Own Archtop, top, inside

I started this project early in the summer, but had been building a lot of guitars and was a bit burned out.  So this summer I focused more on furniture and shop projects.  Fall, however gave me a hankering to get back to guitar building.

My design idea came from a wonderful book, “Hand Made, Hand Played: The Art & Craft of Contemporary Guitars” by Robert Shaw.  Specifically a guitar by Gary Rizzolo, of Rizzolo Guitar Company, Australia.  He has a beautiful arched top guitar with a bolt-on neck and a cut-away classical shape, which is listed on his website as a travel guitar, for $12,000 AUD (about $12,400 US).  I love the guitar, but don’t plan on selling a kidney for it anytime soon.  So, using my own classical guitar, I developed a pattern with a cut-away.

Usually archtops have quartersawn (or usually riven) spruce for the tops, but I didn’t any spruce, and still wanted to try my hand at this style of guitar.  I did have some vertical-grain douglass fir, so I used that instead.  Here it is with a mukushi fingerboard.  I plan to make it a 25.5″ inch scale.

I carved a practice top with some BORG pine and jerryrigged a tele neck pattern I had with an adjustable archtop bridge, and tailpiece.  Hmm, I’m kind of digging this guitar. 

I also got a floating neck pickup, which attaches to the neck and literally floats above the top.  This allows the top to vibrate, which is how acoustic guitars (including archtops) make sound.  This is going to be my swanky, jazz box, so needs to be smooth (like buttah).  I want to hear Melody Gardot whenever I strum these strings.  Oh yeah, “Baby I’m a Fool”.

To begin the arching process, I locate the bridge position and make that area the deepest part of the arch.  Robert Benedetto, the only person I know to write a book on building archtop guitars, suggests that you start the arching process on the outside, and then excavate the inside.  But that involves having a separate work plate to hold the piece as you excavate the inside and seemed somewhat backwards to me. So I started on the inside, just like I did on my practice top.

He also suggests drawing ‘topo’ lines and then use a drill press to cut a number of same depth holes.  Then with a gouge, pop out the waste.  On my practice top, I ran a router along the ‘topo’ lines using a pin router setup, but frankly I didn’t like doing that and found getting rid of the steps a bit of a pain.  So I thought I’d try Benedetto’s method

Well, my shopsmith decided to take a nap and refused to wake up so I just drilled the center portion with my variable speed electric drill and started hacking at it with my backup bench chisels.  If I had any carving gouges, now would be a nice time to use them, but alas I don’t have any yet.

Dig it.  I feel like I am back in my old life as an archaeologist, digging a hearth feature.

After the first couple of topo lines, I switch to a small plane, one specifically made for carving instrument tops.  This one came from Luthier’s Mercantile International, based on set of planes used by famed luthier, John D’Angelico.  One thing I like about it is the plane blade, a nice thick blade made by Ron Hock.  But adjustment is a bit strange with a hex bolt hold-down.  Once setup, it works great.

I keep at it, most of the afternoon.  Plane plane plane, sweep, check my progress with a raking light, feel the surface, repeat.  It is strangely engrossing, fun work.

I’m going to let the top adjust to it’s new world overnight and do some clean-up on the inside part of the archtop, then start on the outside.  Till then, “Who Will Comfort Me”?  BTW is it just me or does Melody Gardot’s bass player look like Peter Follansbee?  Sorry, I’ve been on a Gardot kick lately after watching a video on her and her struggles after a horrific bicycle accident.  Such a talented musician.

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3 Comments

  1. Al (Thomas)

     /  October 15, 2011

    Joe,
    Nice guitar work – and I love the music! Gotta get me some to play in my shop – and anyplace else! Wow. Thanks for adding it. I have been listening to one track after another.
    I’ll be following your progress… I’m still working on the monster bookcase for my friend.
    Al

    Reply
  2. Thanks Al, I hope you start up a blog or something to share the progress on those bookcases.
    Yes, Melody Gardot is an incredible musician, glad you liked it. Most of her songs are ones she composed, which is rather rare for a jazz singer nowadays. If you ever get a chance, and have the time, there is a four-part video on youtube about her and her accident: “The Accidental Musician”. It’s pretty amazing all she had to go through and still has to deal with. But rather than turn to drugs (like some other talented singers) she turned to music to cope with her pain and problems.
    I have one of those iPod shuffles which I use down in the shop, along with headphones (the earbuds that come with it irritate my ears, so I never use them). Since I rarely use power tools, I just put them on and start working, but it would probably be less useful if I had to put on ear protection to fire up a table saw and dust collection.

    Reply
  3. Wow, that looks pretty involved. I’m looking forward to the next installment.

    Reply

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