2 1/2 years ago Don Ross approached me asking if I would consider taking on a Harp Guitar project. Though my first inclination was to run as fast as I could in the opposite direction, I soon warmed up to the idea and was pretty excited about the challenge involved.
As usual Don gave me a lot of freedom on the design side but had a few details that he wanted to incorporate. The body size would be based on an SJ Jumbo, the same as every guitar that I've built for him and he specified 6 sub bass strings as well as a pinless bridge (a really long one!). Being a Fanfret the main neck used 25.4" treble and 26.25" bass scales.
Originally I had planned on using a beautiful Quilted Mahogany for the sides and back but had to abandon it when the side material absolutely refused to handle the tight waist bends without fracturing! For plan #2 I chose African Padouk, a wonderful responsive tonewood that also looks great. For the top wood I was lucky to find a very old piece of Sitka Spruce that even had some cool bear claw figure.
The project took two years to complete including much R&D in the beginning and seat of the pants design work, especially in regards to the top bracing. After breathing a large sigh of relief I must say that I am pleased with the results. Don now has the guitar in his very capable hands and I am really looking forward to hearing what he comes up with.
One other challenge of this project was what to do about a case since you can't buy one of these off the shelf! I was fortunate to find a keyboard flight case that was just about the right size. The learning curve included making the interior out of foam and gluing in the velour lining. More skill learning but, again, decent results!
From the first time I saw Bocote wood I was struck by it’s rich beauty. I find the colours both warm and brilliant. The contrast of the golden amber and the darker grain lines was beautifully striking.
Like many guitar makers, I am always on the lookout for beautiful or unique tonewoods. While visiting one of my favourite wood shops a while back I came across some stunning Flamed Granadillo. This wood was incredible with an amazing curly figure throughout combined with a contrasting figured white sapwood along the edge.
I've seen a lot of changes in the guitar making world since building my first instrument back in 1974. At that time there were no personal computers and the idea of a world wide web would have sounded not only amazing but the stuff of science fiction. When I started out there were only a handful of books on the subject and these were not easy to find. I did devour the few that I came across and this, besides meeting Jean Larrivee in 1975, was the extent of my access to established knowledge on the subject. I learned by studying quality instruments but mostly by trial and error.
I find myself building and promoting, or is that promoting and building more maple guitars recently. I’ve really come to love this wood in its many figured varieties. Flamed or curly maple, birdseye and quilted maple all have their own unique visual characteristics. It took me a long time to warm up to the idea of maple as a guitar wood, but now I really enjoy working with it. I guess in the early days, you could say I was a bit of a purist, using only Mahogany and Rosewood.
One of the attractions of guitar building for me is the ability to create a wide range of guitars starting with one basic model. Even small detail changes can greatly alter the character of an instrument. In this talk, I’d like to show you what I mean.
As I touched on in an earlier guitar talk things have changed greatly in the realm of guitar wood choices. Not so long ago, an instrument made with a non traditional wood (something other than Rosewood, Mahogany or Maple) on the back & sides of a guitar was a rare sight.
When I started building guitars in 1974, I assumed that, given a few years of experience, I’d pretty much figure out the secrets of guitar making. It didn’t take long to realize how naive this assumption was, but by then I was hooked and it was too late to turn back.
As with many other design features on my guitars, the soundhole inlay has gone through a series of transformations over the years.
My first few instruments had a simple ring of alternating dark & light wooden strips. This was simple to execute and served the purpose and my somewhat limited skills at the time.
When I built my first guitar in1974 which, incidentally, I still have, I was under no illusions as to the quality of the finished product. In fact, I used an old set of Kluson tuners salvaged from a Gibson I had owned, thinking that I wanted to improve my skills before spending hard earned money on new machine heads.