Sunday, February 28, 2010

An old friend

While after a long delay I have decided to return to my blog and share some new photo's of an old guitar. I recently was contacted by a guitarist who purchased one of my "Knutsen- Hawaiian lap steels" several years ago. This guitar was completed in 06' and was one of three built. Knutsen was the original patent holder of the Harp guitar as well as a predecessor of Weissenborn in the development of the Hawaiian lap steel. He was an independent spirit and insisted on doing things his own way. As a result he never did the same thing twice and created some of the most wildly imaginative instruments built in the 20th century. He also was a native of the pacific northwest and began his career in Port Townsend, Washington on the tip of the Olympic peninsula.
It was a thrill to discover that this guitar has found such an appreciative home and it reminded me of the secret life of musical instruments. The histories they contain and possible futures they may inhabit. Sometimes I can forget that I am making objects that can bring great joy to peoples lives, objects that will live much longer than I. This is a helpful reminder to me of all the music that is happening on guitars I have created over the years. Keep on picking everyone, share your music, play for your friends and family. Music is an old friend.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Throw your camera in the creek & a poem for John Hayes

While I am sad to report that last weekend I was hiking on the south face of Mt. Adams and I accidentally dropped my digital camera in a creek. I was trying to jump across and thought it would be a good idea to throw my pack across first. It made it to the other side but rolled down the bank right into the creek. I dried the camera out but alas the lights are on but there's nobody home.
This means that I will be unable to post pictures of the final stages of my batch of six guitars as I will not be able to afford a replacement until I finish. I will shoot with my old Nikon film camera and I will try to get the images digitized (thats a cool word) and posted at some point.
I am just now wrapping up the carving of all these necks and will be starting finish work next week.
I did take a bit of a break from blogging this spring as i was caught up in work, teaching and parenting my son Noah on my own. But I was inspired by John Hayes's poem on "robert frosts banjo" so I thought i would try one myself. I don't pretend to be a poet but I would like to learn more. I have a lot going on right now and I do feel that poetry and music best capture the human landscape.

When you fit the dovetail
There is a certain amount of hope involved
Take one thin shaving from the cheek
Then look to see if the angle is correct

The neck must fit the body at the right angle
Or the strings will always be too high

When I said I loved you
I knew that it would take some work

If you get the angle wrong the first time
You will have to take it apart
It will never play right – if you don’t
The strings will always be too high

C. Wilson

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Cascadia archtops

I am happy to report that I have completed both the Cascadia 16 archtop bodies started this spring. I am now working on finishing the necks this week and getting them ready for the finish booth. These guitars have both been incredibly satisfying to build. Yesterday found me fitting the dovetail joint, gluing the brasilian rosewood fingerboard down and cutting my pearl logo for the headplate. Today I glued the board and headplate and started roughing the neck out on the thinline.
Thurs / Fri will find me doing the same on the full depth maple / euro spruce model.
After a rather long search for figured air dried maple neck wood I decided to stick with Honduran Mahogany on both necks. This is my favorite of all tonewoods and makes great stable necks with sweet warm overtones.
I am really staying true to the vintage archtop feel of these necks with a 7-1/4 " radius on the fingerboards and a slight "V" profile with plenty of depth. I find the old "Epiphones" and "Gibsons" have really sweet necks with more depth than the more modern versions. To my mind they through the baby out with the bathwater when they started making thinner necks with a flatter fingerboard.

Teaching guitar building

This spring I was approached by a local finish carpenter with an art school background in sculpture. He had built a guitar on his own from a kit and he did a fine job. He asked if I would teach him to build another. At first I said no, I did not feel I had time or space in my shop and was unsure how to go about organizing such an endeavor.
I did teach six students at our local high school woodshop several years ago through a grant from the county but that was over the course of an entire year and was a part time project for me. I did really enjoy teaching at that time and had seriously considered going back to school to get certified to teach shop during some years of financial strife (guitar building is a tough career choice) I stuck it out on my own and I am glad I did, but teaching still has appeal. After giving it more thought I agreed to teach Ernie & developed a three week program with some more follow up days to finish and set-up.
Ernie brings a lot of skill to the process and has been a pleasure to have around. I think he is building a fine guitar and has shown a lot of attention to detail. Being forced into a framework for the sake of instruction has also helped me to re-design some out dated jigs and fixtures, and refine my process. I decided the easiest way to teach was to build a guitar alongside his so I could demonstrate each step. I am happy to report that by the end of three weeks the guitar bodies were done and the necks roughed out. We have been continuing one day a week together with final carving and getting ready to go into the spray booth.
I will be shooting these guitars at the same time I spray the rest of my spring batch. This will bring my production for 09' so far up to 6 new guitars that should all be finished this month.
Here are some photo's of Ernie building his guitar.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Cascadia archtop - looking guitar like

I really enjoyed myself last week. I found the carving of the top & back plates to be both physical and meditative. I definitely had the sense that I was "removing everything that wasn't a guitar" I have always been fascinated with carving and can remember being particularly impressed with the masks & totems of the Haida nation on display at the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver B.C. (my hometown) I can now say that I have the bug & feel that this first forray into the archtop guitar world will be just the first of many. I may even go back & try to finish the fiddle I started 10 yrs. ago then abandoned.
It has been really enjoyable to be able to focus on one project these past couple of weeks and to make some real headway. It is far more typical for me to be doing ten things at once, trying to get repairs done for people in a timely manner and squeezing in some time on building projects when I can. It is helpful to keep cash flow coming and pay bills but I can recognize that I need to have larger chunks of time set aside every month to make progress on my building projects. I am envious of the artists & craftsmen who had large commissions and patrons who understood what they were doing. Enabling them to work for years refining their craft. I am thinking of the stone carvers who cut the gargoyles for the great cathedrals. Working each day for a lifetime at their trade, knowing they would have their basic needs provided for.
I would gladly trade my skill for a comfortable humble living arrangement, just a small cottage with a little garden space and my shop. A bag of groceries every couple of days, some nice forest trails nearby to gather inspiration and the freedom to create instruments one after another out of the finest materials. What a liberation that would be, not to be wrestling with the wolves at the door.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

cascadia archtop -top & sides

Well the last couple of days have found me working away on the Cascadia prototype (16" double cutaway thinline archtop) I was originally going to build the first one with a cedar top, mahogany back & sides but I actually dreamed about this guitar & in my dream it had a mahogany top & maple back & sides. Initially I thought- no I can't do that but the more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. I have played some incredible mahogany topped flat-top guitars. Loud, clear & bright with really dynamic color.
I re-sawed the mahogany on my Walker turner 16 bandsaw, joined it and roughed it out on the new pantograph carver. After a couple hours of hand carving, scraping and sanding I turned my attention to bending the quilted maple sides. I used my side bender to bend the initial shape then came back and re-bent the cutaway portions by hand over a hot pipe.
I clamped the sides into the assembly molds after bending to leave overnight. This just helps to maintain the shape and reduce any tension in the sides. The cutaways are about as tight as you can bend figured maple without breaking it and I really took my time on the hot pipe coaxing the wood into allignment.
I really think this guitar is going to be a beauty. I will start carving the maple tomorow and begin hollowing out the inside of the top plate and cutting the f-holes.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

cascadia archtop- molds

I have been up to my ankles in dust recently. I have been making pattern molds for my new archtop designs. I just picked up this home made pantograph carver (duplicator) off another luthier who wasn't using it anymore. As you can see in the photo the router fits in the left cradle and the guide rides on the right.

I carved a pattern in MDF that matches the arch I want for the top by hand. Scraped and final sanded it, then sealed it with 5min. epoxy. In the photo I am transferring the top arch to the back mold, though I will do the top bit by hand as the cutaway is on the opposite side for the back & the lines need to be different. Now with my patterns complete I can rough carve my tops & backs in a fraction of the time and always be starting from a consistent shape as I refine with hand tools & scrapers. Its been a while since I have had to make all new molds & I forgot what a mess MDF makes when you machine it. As a result I finally hung a door separating the back of my shop from the front & made an overhead air filter. I picked up all the supplies for both projects at the re-build it center. A local re-usable building materials depot. The air filter works great. Cut way down on the airborn dust.

I am waiting for a wood shipment this week. I have purchased some incredible figured maple & german spruce. I plan on building three archtops in this first run. One Mahogany / Cedar, one Quilted maple / Sitka & one Eastern maple / German spruce. I am working on a double cutaway design I am pretty excited about. More on that later.

It has been fun to explore other blogs & look around a bit at all the interesting things people are doing with their lives. Certainly is inspirational and these hard working artists, craftspeople & musicians help to remind me to keep following my passion.