I know I’m nearing completion when it’s time to make guitar bridges. Number 28 (Tasmanian blackwood sides & back) is close now. I am sanding out its finish, which means that the bridge will probably go on in the next week or so. I roughed out four bridges for upcoming guitars: African blackwood (a nearly black rosewood), granadillo (the golden brown bridge pictured below), and two East Indian rosewood (the brown purple blanks which will be used on the slope-shouldered dread siblings.)
I’ve put just about as much finish as I want to on these bodies. Meanwhile, I’ve pushed the neck blank toward being a neck, complete with frets, color and finish. I still need to apply some final finish top coats to both the body and the neck, then, while the finish has a chance to cure up, I’ll make the bridge, saddle, and nut. Because of the adjustable neck joint I use, once everything is cured, the guitar will go together pretty quickly. So far I’m happy with the looks, feel and sound of everything, so stringing this one up will be fun!
It’s time to get the bodies finished so I can allow the finish to cure while I finish the necks. Once the bodies are sanded, the pores in the the wood need to filled, then it’s time to get out the wood dye. This acacia body is getting a classic burst (which will look amazing over the curly wood).
These J45 twins are coming right along, and I’ve installed the sugar maple bindings and done quite a lot of the neck and fretboard work. Once the box was closed, I switched over to doing the major carpentry work on the neck, which is somewhat complicated by using my version of the Mike Doolin adjustable neck joint. For these guitars, I’ve made a small change to my method again so that the fingerboard is supported by a single, contiguous length of mahogany to further improve the playability of the neck.
The slope-shouldered siblings are moving along quite speedily, with the box on this Tasmanian blackwood guitar being closed over the last week. The Acacia melanoxylon sides and back have been a joy to work with: it bends easily, sands well, and has a nice, smooth finished surface. The box has a tremendous tap already, and the top frequency came in right at 148Hz before gluing the back on. I’ve moved onto the necks and will return to this body to install bindings once the no 30 box is closed.
I’m building two J45s this time around, and this is the second. The commissioner is looking for a pretty classic J45 sound–friendly, unpretentious and loose. I have had a really nice set of mahogany on hand for a decade or longer that was looking for the right project. This is the one. It’ll be paired with the slightly more flexible of the two Adirondack spruce tops to make a fantastic slope-shouldered dread.
I’ve just began a new set of triplets, and the first on the list is a transitional J-45-inspired slope-shouldered dreadnought for Devin. It will feature a beautifully figured Tasmanian blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) back and sides set and a primo red spruce top from Old Standard Wood. After letting the woods adapt to my shop environment (the back and sides came from an Australian tonewood company), I’ve joined the top and back plates and selected a Honduran Mahogany neck blank from my collection of seasoned neck wood. The next jobs will be bending the woods for the rosette, routing and installing the rosette, and then my favorite task: thicknessing the top and back plates and bracing them.
I never planned to build a guitar this large, but 2020 was a pretty strange year all around, including in my wood shop. When the right person asked if I’d build a J45-like guitar (and convinced me that it would be a blast to play), I caved.
I’ve played and repaired many slope-shouldered dreadnoughts over the years, and based this new model on the best one I’ve ever played, a maple-bodied banner-era J45. It belongs to Jim Nelson, a terrific old-time fiddle accompanist from the St. Louis area. What makes that guitar so great is that it has a dry, fast sound with a touch of a devil-may-care edge to it, while avoiding the trap of tubbiness so common in this shape of guitar. It’s a terrific specimen of the git-r-done aesthetic of the war-era J45s.
The most sought-after examples of J45s were built during the war years (World War Two) with pretty much whatever materials were available, and on a budget for cash-strapped players. They built a reputation as a blue-collar guitar that was never intended to be too sophisticated or elegant, but was ready to play when you were. I respect the come-as-you-are aesthetic of these instruments, and tried to hew close to the original unfussy, make-it-work ethos, in part by using sustainable domestic woods. Continue reading “No 27 – Adirondack Spruce and Red Maple”→