Easing back into it

I’ve been away from my shop for a while, but took some time to sharpen a few plans, break out my gouges and start working on a project I began a long time ago, an archtop guitar.  Just some  top shaping, first using the gouge to get the general shape, then using two small planes to smooth the gouge marks out.  I will hopefully continue refining this top before I attempt the more challenging part–bending the sides and building the acoustic body.

Top, tools, shavings

Top, tools, shavings



TDPRI entry planning: Baroque-caster

It’s that time of year again, when TDPRI runs their annual ‘Challenge Build’.  You get to come up with a neat idea for a guitar, and if you pull it off and get enough forum votes, you win.

TDPRI is the Telecaster Discussion Page, ReIssue.  Basically an online forum of Fender Telecaster guitar fans, with a section for guitar builders. Last year I made a walnut body Telecaster with a sapele neck and mukushi fingerboard and had a great time.  This year I’m swamped with work, personal issues, but still plan to make a telecaster and enter it.

My idea? The Baroque-Caster.  Some mutant offspring of a baroque guitar and a telecaster that will likely send shivers up the spine of any baroque guitar expert, make telecaster players scratch their heads, and will challenge my meager woodworking skills.  It should be a blast.


Update:  Sadly my mother passed away during this contest, so I never got beyond the planning stages.  Once I pull myself together and find interest to work in the shop again, I’m sure this will be a project I’ll enjoy.

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.