Preparing the Rim

Once I was satisfied that the adjustable neck design was going to work on a tenor, I was able to get the rim ready to go.

Closing the Box and Putting the Neck Together

This winter, Dwight Lamb, Nate Kemperman, Amber and I decided it was high time, after playing together for nearly 20 years (!), to record a few tunes together. We wanted to get some of Dwight’s rare and common Missouri Valley tunes down, but we also thought we’d try to capture what it sounds like when friends get together in the music room over a weekend. Missouri Valley fiddle is a little different–with more ornaments, more notes, and *way* more free reeds, it sounds almost Canadian sometimes–and we hope it’ll be a fun listen.

The resulting CD will be called “80” in honor of Dwight’s recent birthday, and we’re hoping to get it released by mid-May.

I’ve been doing some sample mixes and thought I’d share a short excerpt or two just for fun. Musicians: Dwight Lamb & Nate Kemperman, fiddles; Amber Gaddy, pump organ; David Cavins, guitar (a red maple grand concert)

Bill Gray’s Quadrille
The Inimitable Reel

I enjoy making these unusual cookies, which remind me of growing up in a Flemish family in a very Flemish neighborhood in Moline, Illinois. I can remember going with my Grandpa DeGreve to Mrs Drummonds’s kitchen door around the back of her house to pick up fresh lukken and spicy cookies called speculaas. Several years ago, my parents bought me a lukken iron (it actually says “lukkenyzer” on it!) after I proved that I could make a creditable lukken in a krumkake iron (that’s the Scandinavian name for a similar cookie). Continue reading “Lukken”

A cool guitar built by Antonio Torres in 1888 is up for auction at Brompton’s. The top appears to be made up of at least three unmatched pieces of spruce. If you look closely, the joints and grain lines in the spruce are angled about 6° from the centerline of the body. The back is also made up of three pieces; the center is a strip of rosewood with mahogany wings to make the width of the body. The description says that the sides are also rosewood.

I don’t point out the irregularities of this guitar to throw stones–Torres’s guitars always seem to be effortlessly built. The headstock on this guitar is perfect in its simplicity, and the solera or body shape couldn’t be more elegant. He built outstanding guitars using materials that probably wouldn’t be used in a fine instrument now, and I love how he worked around narrow soundboard and back materials, for instance. This guitar was built with human ingenuity, and the irregularities make me love it all the more.

See Brompton’s listing for larger photos and a video of the guitar being played. (It sounds great.)

Because I like a challenge, I decided to apply a transparent sunburst to the top of the walnut orchestra guitar (serial number 16) that’s just a few weeks from being completed. I wanted to show off the beautiful grain of the Adirondack spruce top, so I chose to use reactive dyes to produce the color without the opacity of applying colored finish. Generally speaking, dyes enhance the grain while color coats, like colored lacquer, dry to a colored film that’s more like a lens.

Applying dye directly to wood can be pretty dangerous: the surface preparation needs to be perfect (no oily finger smudges, no glue smears that didn’t get cleaned up thoroughly) and the application needs to be close to perfect. The dyes can be dissolved in water or alcohol; alcohol is quite a bit more forgiving because it dries more quickly. (The longer the dye stays wet and active, the stronger the color. That’s why tie dye t-shirts look the way they do.) Because it dries quickly, you can mix the dye to a much weaker strength and apply more coats, making it easier to control the blend. Also, alcohol doesn’t raise the grain of wood like water.

To get a rich color that responds to a variety of lighting conditions, I ended up using a series of four dyes. I first lightly dyed the entire surface with a golden yellow. Then I began creating the burst with a peachy toner around the edges. Next, I further refined the edges with mahogany-ish tone, with the final edge treatment a reddish walnut color.

I masked off the herringbone body purfling and rosette rings with a liquid frisket from my watercolor kit before I began, and the results are very crisp.

I’ve made nice progress on a 14-fret auditorium and an orchestra guitar, both made of lovely air-dried walnut. What’s the difference between those models? Mostly scale length. The bodies have the same shape, but the top bracing has been shifted accordingly. (Here’s a comparison graphic of my model sizes.) I used a different rosette and purfling design so that I wouldn’t mix them up at a critical moment.

This pair also uses a hybridized bracing scheme that relies on the X-brace for the overall structure but uses a Torres-inspired lower fan in the belly area. I’ve been very happy with the guitars I’ve built with this scheme, and on this pair I’ve even trimmed down the lower legs of the X-brace a bit more because the fan structure does a nice job of resisting the torque of the strings on the bridge.

The bodies are in good shape, and the necks are well under way. I hope to have these guitars finished in early June. The price will be $2600 for either guitar.