Strong Indications

If you ever wondered what a typical day in the shop is like, I can say with confidence that you rarely know what you’ll get. As much as I’d like to say that it’s all cutting and carving wood and making lovely instruments, it often is far from that.

Explorer Bench

This morning I wanted to drill a few holes in a fixture I was building, but the drill bit was vibrating a bit as I set about to drop the quill. A quick inspection with my favorite Brown & Sharpe indicator showed about .005″ run-out at the chuck. This would translate to a more severe wobble at the end of the bit, so it had to be fixed. Sometimes a chuck will have debris inside, or the bit may have a burr; either of which can create a bit of run-out. I examined the bit, and it seemed fine—a roll test on the surface plate showed it was true. I was confident that a quick blast of compressed air would clean the chuck interior and I would be on my way. Or perhaps it was the arbor coming loose. My conscience demanded that I set things truly straight by disassembling the whole thing to put my mind at ease. I’d been wanting to reduce the return spring tension as well, so no better time than the present. The best way to determine a problem is to systematically go through each step until you find the source of the problem.

Out came the wrenches, wedge set and the arbor drift. Before I knew it, two hours had passed. Measured, solvent cleaned, then lubricated properly—the whole thing went back together beautifully. The culprit? A little bit here, a little bit there all added up to too much play in the end.

dial indicator

When I put the indicator on the arbor it was only showing about .001″— which is pretty much dead nuts for this type of machine. With the chuck cleaned out and fitted snugly, it was ready to rock. By then it was lunchtime.  At least I knew that the rest of the day could move ahead without incident.

Spring Forward

Yesterday was a gift. March has certainly come in like a Lamb. The mercury (remember thermometers?) touched the mid-70s, and  dogs were sleeping in the sun outside the shop. I had all the doors open, allowing a warm New England breeze to sweep through the workspace as I glued up a pair of Tulsa body blanks.

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Building guitars is always a joy, but when the weather is nice and the sun shines into the shop, it’s even better. Here is a two-piece, figured white limba back on the router table. The internal chambering has just been finished, and it’s ready to receive a curly maple top.

Tulsa Top

Next up is a similar guitar that is a few steps ahead in the build sequence. This is another maple-topped, limba Tulsa body in its final shape—ready for the pickup and control routs.

Testing Tulsa Tooling

My Tulsa guitars have been getting popular, so I decided to streamline and rebuild some of the tooling I use to build them. I hadn’t figured on “tooling up” properly so this was an opportunity to make use of my experience and do things correctly. Having great tools allows me to spend more time on the things that matter most instead of trying to remember dimensions and build order.

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One of the things that does require a lot of handwork is the fitting of the neck. Because my neck tenon is full width, and has square corners, the pocket in the body must match. The router leaves a rounded corner, so the only way is to hand chisel the corners.

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The mortise (pocket) is routed slightly undersize, so that I can open it up by hand until the neck is a tight fit, and that happens at this stage.

Pitch

Once the neck fits, I clamp it temporarily to check the pitch to the bridge. This one is getting a wrap tail, so that’s what you see here. I actually like to do this before the neck is fretted and the body completely finished. That way if things are going astray I have less time invested if I have to switch gears—like using a different neck! Thankfully, my tooling and measurements are precise, so this one is right on the money.

More Tulsa Guitars

Carving a maple Tulsa neck—this one is going to be a little different!
If it turns out the way I hope, I’ll be making more. As a big fan of the Stratocaster and Telecaster, I appreciate the snap and spank of a long-scale maple neck, so I’ve decided to build a few Tulsa guitars that stray from my usual repertoire of maple-capped mahogany with mahogany necks. It will be an interesting experiment and when they are done I will offer them for sale.

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Meanwhile, I’m busy doing more inlay work. Here, I’m using a small chisel to square up and cut sharp corners that even the tiny router bit won’t cut. This is for a Tulsa model made of white limba. This is a beautiful piece of Brazilian rosewood from my decades-old stash.

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Here we have a customer guitar mahogany neck with a rosewood head plate. The truss rod has just been installed and I am prepping it to receive the matching fingerboard.

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Tulsas on Deck

The reception of my Dantzig line Tulsa model has been very satisfying for me. It is a way to offer my designs in a more timely fashion for those who do not desire a one-off guitar. Today, I am laying out the inlays on some rosewood and ebony fingerboards. The Tulsa model comes adorned with basic pearl dot markers, but can be optioned with a number of my “signature” inlay patterns.

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I still lay the inlays out by hand and rout the pockets out manually. Not quite as quick as the CNC methods that we used at Hamer, but it’s something that I enjoy.

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These fingerboards have the “full claw” which entails 70 separate pieces of mother of pearl and abalone per board.

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The examples above feature the “Claw” inlay at the 12th fret only, but can be had with the full claw treatment as well.

Also available are Chevron and T-Bird inlays, for those who desire a slightly less intricate pattern.

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This is the three piece T-Bird inlay, shown at the 12th fret. The Chevron inlay is a single part without the center piece—the simplest of my large patterns. Many customers have opted for a 12th fret inlay only, but you can order any combination.