Hell’s Half Acre Build Completion

The HHA build has been underway for a number of years—yes, years. But it’s finally completed, and the wait has been worth it. A lot of other guitar builds and various projects kept me from dedicating my time to “The Acre” but I alway knew I’d return to this patch of ground.

Acre Body_01

Now it’s time for a new owner to start writing the rest of the story. In the meantime, I’ll do what I’ve done with every signature guitar (and Artist’s Proof models too) which is to invite players of all kinds to pick up and play Hell’s Half Acre. Because a guitar’s story doesn’t end when I finish it, I want musicians to handle and perform on my guitars, even before the next owner gets it. Life is experience, even for an instrument.

Acre Full both

 

Acre Control Plate

Acre Controls

Acre Head Back

Acre Head

Hell’s Half Acre: Vintage Guitar Wiring

The Hell’s Half Acre build has been over five years in the making. During that time there’s been a lot of stops and starts, and a lot of waiting in the wings while other projects received priority. All through it “The Acre” hasn’t complained. It knows that this is part of its story—the pre-history built right into the guitar.

This week I had some time and applied it towards the completion of this wonderful instrument. The cellulose faux tortoise shell material I got from my friend Paul Chandler was the perfect stuff for the pick guard, backplate and truss rod cover. Cellulose is highly flammable, so you have to be careful not to heat it up on a sander or saw. The final fit is done with hand files because this guitar is a one-off and doesn’t conform to any tooling that I have.

filing pickguard

Before loading the electrics, the control cavity gets coated with some defense contractor-grade shielding paint. A friend of a friend works for Pratt & Whitney, so I didn’t have to buy the minimum order of 20 gallons. This is the stuff that big corporations and the CIA use to block communications in safe-rooms. I figured it would be fine in an electric guitar. It goes on like pudding, so I have to use a special tip on my spray gun. Honestly, I only use it because I can, and it looks really nice.

Shielding paint

This guitar gets one of my prized Centralab rotary (blade) switches from 1953. It came out of some old telecommunications gear I bought at auction. One can only imagine the conversations that have passed through this piece. I spent about an hour and a half cleaning and aligning the contacts, then adjusting and lubricating the spring mechanism. It should be ready for at least another 50 years of duty.

switch refurb_1

I love the look of the brown phenolic circuit wafer, and it has a lovely (and rare) old Bakelite switch tip that will look great on the guitar. The new versions of this switch are not built to this standard any more, and I enjoy finding and repurposing these.

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The electronics are twenty-year-old NOS potentiometers from CTS, and the tone cap is a Sprague Black Beauty that was pulled from some vintage equipment.

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I realize that 1930s materials and wire, 1950s switchgear and 1990s potentiometers don’t line up exactly with the 1860s theme of Hell’s Half Acre, but every decade is capable of raising a little hell, right?

If you haven’t seen it already, here’s a video about the inspiration and build of this guitar.

Tulsa Pro Artist Proof Guitar

As the week begins, I’m back in the workshop with another Artist’s Proof guitar. This one is something I’ve wanted to do for a while—a double German carve Tulsa in white limba. The face of the instrument is a tightly figured curly maple, while the back is a nice chunk of figured limba—sometimes called korina here in the US.

german Back

I’ve built the neck from a single piece of limba with a beautiful Braz rosewood fingerboard. My signature “Claw” inlay is at the 12th fret. As is often the case on my guitars, the headstock face is black ebony.

frets

Jack Drill

I’ll be using a TonePros adjustable wrap bridge, which should be interesting on this guitar. Here’s how I check the neck fit and angle before I glue it in place. The fit is extremely tight so I have to make certain it’s right before bonding—you don’t get a second chance do do it!

neck check

Following Guitar Instincts

A four decade tenure in the guitar-making world has given me a pretty good overview of things. As a guitar tech and musician I’ve recorded dozens of times in real studios and played live hundreds of times. As a designer, facilities and plant manager for a number of brands, I’ve overseen the production of tens of thousands of guitars. My lean/Kaizen consulting business has seen me working in the biggest guitar factories in the US and Mexico, and I’ve toured the guitar plants of Japan, Korea and China.

factory floor

But what I really enjoy the most is making guitars one by one with my own hands. And that’s why I’m really digging this Tulsa Artist’s Proof thing I’m doing right now. Each of these instruments starts off as a completely freewheeling, let-my-instincts-rule sort of jam session. They are ideas I’ve toyed with, or suggested to clients before—and never followed through with.

Two Pines

They aren’t “stock” models, and they’re all different. Some utilize combinations of woods, hardware and electronics that I don’t really offer on the stock models. Normally, I have a small team helping me build the Dantzig models: Tulsa, Milano, Tupelo and Rialto, but this is a different thing altogether. I’m a lot more hands on, and honestly, it’s the closest you could get to one of my signature guitars without the signature.

Marigold Guitar Morning Inspirations

Musicians are a bit like vampires. No, I don’t mean they’ll suck the life out of you—although that can be the case. It’s the hours they keep. I used to enjoy the upside-down, unconventional world of the working musician.  While others were brushing their teeth, getting ready for their meaningless day of drudgery at the office, my musician friends and I were stumbling out of a party or loading out from the night’s gig. The pale glow of the morning’s approach was always a special, quiet time before the bustle of the straight world took over.

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I’d been in the company of artists—like-minded souls, with great conversations and interesting points of view. Then it was home, for a solid six hours of sleep before rising at noon.

Today, it’s the reverse. The quiet time is still precious to me, but it’s at the start of my day now. I sip my coffee and listen to the birds—first a robin, then the Cardinal’s chip chip chip chip. As the sun crests the ridge, I’m walking down the wooded road to my shop. In the distance a chainsaw fires up and a dog barks faintly. This is the best time—so full of promise.

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My wife, Carla, had planted Marigolds at the entrance to my shop, and every day they make me smile as I approach the door. They are bright and welcoming—exploding with red, gold and yellow in the morning light. So, it wasn’t a surprise when I mixed up a new batch of glowing lacquer shaders and dyes to use on a few new instruments.

I’d been staying mainly with browns, deep cherry, naturals and muted ambers, which are still some of my favorite guitar finishes, but the flowers had made me think of more bright reds and yellows. So I made a few sample blocks.

Samples

I still think about the old times, and staying up all night. Bill Murray holding an enormous bunch of colored balloons in a deserted warehouse district street at 4 AM, or David Copperfield sharing cocktails and a childhood story on a balcony overlooking the lights of Chicago. Too many good memories to dismiss as wasted youth. But I like the morning for different reasons now, and my head doesn’t hurt.