Sunday, February 2, 2014

About time

I cannot believe it has been a year since I completed my last guitar. I have two in progress, just about finished up with the experimental one shown here, and have a another experiment I'm itching to build (an *exoskeleton* guitar, with all of the bracing on the outside).

The basic idea for this one was a travel guitar with a small body (classical), very sturdy, and can be assembled/disassembled without tools. Bonus points for being cheap, interesting, and sounding good.

Almost the entire thing is made out of a single, cheap, heavily flamed-maple board found at home depot; the neck, the back, and the sides. The top is "craft board" spruce from woodcrafters; they have been stocking reject guitar tops for cheap - great deal if you are willing to sort through a big stack to find a good matching set.


The external experiments include:
  • fan frets, with the 5th fret straight; 24.9" scale on the treble, 25.5" scale on the base
  • floating bridge
  • strings attached to screws on the soundboard
  • two "half" sound holes at the top of the body, spilling over the sides a bit to function as a cut-away
  • raised neck, with internal neck mount
  • flat top and back, no radius
 The interesting inside bits include:
  • extremely rigid, reinforced internal neck mount - held in place with thick maple pates on the top and bottom of the upper bout
  • extremely rigid,laminated neck with a graphite core - no truss rod
  • the neck will hold itself in place, but I added two bolts with wing nuts just to be sure
  • the neck can be easily "flipped around", making it airplane carry-on sized (like this one)
  • extremely rigid, three-layer thick sides - it is strong enough that I strung the guitar up and played it before gluing on the back
  • classical guitar-style fan bracing with a pair of much beefier middle braces to handle the extra stress of steel strings
  • light-weight, laminated spruce and maple bridge plate which is a little longer than normal and the rear portion has a couple extra layers of laminate to hold the string screws
  • I didn't take measurements, but the total bracing and bridge configuration "felt" lighter than the X-braces and rosewood bridge I made for another guitar

Now just to break it in... initial impression is good, it has a lot of volume and sustain.

Sunday, December 16, 2012


For the first time I've designed and built a guitar for someone in specific. The requirements for this one was to be as cheap and durable as possible.

The top is scraps of spruce left over from other guitar builds, as is the cherry neck. The back and sides are 1/8" Lauan laminate. Fret board and bridge are purpleheart.

I used my classical mold and used a shorter 24" scale. The top slopes downward, giving room for a raised finger board. The neck sits in a mortise on both the front of the body and on the top - it should withstand some serious abuse.  The upper bout and the sides are reinforced with Lauan as well.

For fun stuff, I started off with a pinless bridge - but it broke. Rather than steam it off and build a new one, I sanded it down the damaged portion and inserted some short stainless steel screws. To make it a bit more attractive, I filled the X's and put on a coat of pearl-essence finger nail polish. I really like this design and may very well try it again. Super easy to change the strings and should help strength the top since the screw sink into the bridge plate.

The bracing is from my favorite 2x4. I opted to go with a Tacoma style Big A bracing pattern rather than the Martin style X. Since there are fewer braces on the A style, I could make them heaver than normal with compromising the sound too much.

But in this case I did not want to put the sound hole in the upper left bout, as is usually done with the A-style bracing. The problem is that putting the hole in the middle means cutting through the braces. So what I did was put three layers of the Lauan laminate around the area where the hole would be cut, more or less extending the bracing around the hole.  Not only was this easy to do and worked well, but I really liked the visual results as well. Next time I'm going to try this, but heavily radius the inside of the sound hole to make a more visible rosette.

The head is a carved, sorta classical style. Hard to see in the photo, but I like the looks of this design.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Shake it

One of the problems with prototyping guitars is that you have to play them quite a bit before they fully develop their sound. It can take a while, at least six months of constant playing before they *really* start to sound great. For the first couple of hours, even the greatest guitars I've made sounded quite marginal...

That is a bit of a bummer when you are doing rapid prototyping. Using plywood back/sides & little concern for aesthetics, I can toss together an experimental guitar over a weekend. I won't know well the modifications worked, however, for a couple of months.

I also feel bad giving someone a relatively new guitar and say "here, play this one for a couple of months - I hope it will sound good".

So I splurged on one of these things:

Basically what this does is vibrate the guitar in a manner similar to playing it. If you play a guitar an hour a day, this little gizmo will get a month's worth of playing in 24hours. Just slap it on a new guitar & come back in a couple of days...

It works.

Table legs

Mark Skolnick had some walnut table legs from a desk he had made 30 years ago. It was just enough wood, if I sliced and diced it carefully, to make a guitar body and neck.

The sides are three strips of walnut, the back twelve. I am very, very tired of joining small thin strips of walnut ;-)

Everything except the soundboard & bracing are from this walnut. The soundboard is reclaimed fir siding from the Rebuilding Center & the soundboard bracing is from an old growth fir 2x4 that John King pulled out of his garage.

This guitar uses several of the ideas from the experimental guitars, including the "Tacoma" bracing that wraps around a centered sound hole.

Experiments #2

Second round of el cheapo spruce & plywood. I really like this one.

The main experimental idea behind this one was to see if I could have the sound hole also function as the cut-away.  This helps some, but is not as functional as a full cut-away. It also sounds muffled when playing the guitar (it projects just fine), so I added a small hole on the side - that makes an amazing difference.

Other fun stuff includes a tongue-and-grove neck joint, like a standard guitar, but flipped 90 degrees & bolted through the back instead of from the inside. Easy to make, works well - I may try this again.

I also made the bridge out of purple heart and maple, that should make it obvious how I put those together.

Experiments #1

I got my hands on several sets of reject spruce sound boards for cheap. Toss in a sheet of really cheap 1/8" plywood and a couple of other scraps and you have the recipe for experimentation.

Up first, I had a brilliant idea for a pivoting, adjustable neck. Reality got in the way of the theory, but it worked more or less. Eventually I'll remodel the neck mount & finish it up.

What did work about this guitar was the sound hole. I really like the "Tacoma" style bracing, but many people think the relocated sound hole is strange. I thought it would be interesting to make the braces go around the sound hole, then I could place it anywhere I wanted to. In this guitar, the sound hole is shifted slightly to the left. The right side (treble) brace is fully in tact. The left bass side wraps around the sound hole.

I also tried a different approach to a cut-away. It is functional, but ugly.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Fence, part 2

One of my favourite guitars is the "Fence" guitar. It was a wonderful, warm sound that is reminiscent of a classical guitar.

We recently went on vacation to Hawaii, so I wanted to bring a guitar for Bully Soares, my buddy in Honolulu. Bully prefers a classical, so making another "Fence" guitar seemed like the logical choice.

The body is all cedar fence boards, with douglas fir bracing. The neck & bridge are black walnut mill ends (I picked up a whole arm-full for $4). Fingerboard is spare Madagascar rosewood I had laying around.

Hopefully this one will age as well as the original fence guitar...