Work continues on the metal plates for the Sakura guitar. The task of making the pieces has taken the better part of three days but they are looking great.
The pickup adjustment will take place directly from the top plate, so they needed to be drilled along with the control holes. Around the edge the mounting screw holes needed to be countersunk.
After smoothing the edges and drilling, a brushed finish is put on the metal before it is to be nickel plated and engraved.
I had the foresight to cut a second top plate because I’d been talking to a client about another guitar that would use one. It’s a guitar that I’m calling “Hell’s Half-Acre” and I can’t wait to get going on it. Stay tuned!
Now that the major components of the Crow guitar have been glued up, I continue to work on the Sakura project. The drawings for the metal plates and the guitar itself have progressed to the point where I can start to cut the material.
The body will be a single florentine cutaway made from a single slab of Honduras mahogany. My mental vision of this instrument dictates a somewhat heavier weight than what is “popular” right now. I’m a big fan of lightweight guitars, but I’ve heard dozens of beefy guitars, and there’s just something about them that I like as well. In order to tailor the Sakura (or any of my guitars for that matter) I cut the body material into a standardized block to determine its relative weight.
Here I’m weighing a group of likely candidates in order to pick one that will achieve the weight and sound I’m looking for. That’s my trusty Pelouze scale that’s been with me since high school! I worked at the Pelouze factory in Evanston, Illinois when I was in my teens and this was a “factory second” that was given to me by my supervisor. For you Hamer guitar history fans, this was also the scale that was used in Hamer’s shipping department right up through Arlington Heights. If you own a USA made Hamer guitar made before 1997, it’s probably been on this scale. Luckily, I saved it from the dumpster after it was deemed “outdated” and with a little internal tinkering I made it work again. I guess that job at Pelouze has paid off more than once.
Now that I’ve got the sketches done, it’s time to lay things out in actual size. I like to use the real components to visualize the ergonomic and esthetic relationships of the final design. I’ve always done it this way—here’s a photo of me in the old Arlington shop designing Paul Stanley’s double neck the exact same way.
About ten years ago I learned AutoCad, and find it useful in a production environment; but I would still draw everything by hand first to see things in real space. In this case, I won’t need to create tool paths for CNC routers so the drawing and a few paper templates will be as far as I take it.
Sweaty and breathing a little hard, I stamped the snow off my boots and leaned the shovel against the barnboard of the workshop. It was a beautiful Winter morning, so I paused for a moment to drink it all in and fill my lungs with the crisp fresh air.
The sun was breaking coldly through the trees just above the horizon—making the icicles glow with a pinkish light. Turning inside, I was greeted by the Bakersfield boys streaming from the sound system. Don Rich’s sweet twang had segued into AC/DC by the time I had my coat off.
Yesterday, the interior carves were finished on The Crow guitar. I’d gotten the spruce top and maple back glued up and it was still in the vacuum press. As tempted as I was to take it out—I resisted. The Sakura guitar had been the subject of my dreams and I wanted to put some ideas down on paper before they slipped away. I got some books on Japanese art out of my library for reference. The basic idea fell right into place.
Here’s a quick look at what I’m thinking. In my dream, the guitar was heavy like a ’60s Les Paul, with that banging midrange that sounds so wonderful through a Marshall stack. I’d dropped the idea of an elaborate body inlay, and wanted to concentrate on the engraved front and back plates. The first step was to consolidate my overall design in a series of sketches in the journal that will accompany the guitar through its construction. I like to think of this as building the soul of the guitar.
As requested, here are some closer views of the journal.
This is my sketch of the cherry blossoms, which will be engraved on the metal plates. Check back in a few days to see more progress.
“There is no percentage in remembering the past”
— Taj Mahal, Take a Giant Step.
For the most part, I view lingering in the past as a cry for help. If you are afraid that your audience will abandon you, the first thing some performers do is dig into the archives for the old hits. I’m not saying that old hits are bad, I’ve had my share of “glory years” but they’re all in the rear-view mirror now.
As time passes, I become more attuned to the different needs and desires of my own motivation. I want to build guitars that have a back-story built in as opposed to building the back story for the second or third time.
Here’s a look at the hand-made book of sketches, dimensions and ponderings that accompanies each “Signature” guitar that I build. It’s a place to draw, doodle and communicate the concept that drives the build. It’s a place to record dimensions and ideas. The pages step through the thought process behind my choices—the true back-story that is built into the guitar. This is one that I’m calling “The Crow”, and when the instrument is finished, the book is hand-stitched, bound with a beautiful cover of original artwork and goes with the guitar.
I bring my experience, my taste and my sense of humor to each project. Serving the client is only one side of the coin; just as fitting my designs into a template dictated by a company policy isn’t my priority any longer. I’m free to express my own desires and esthetics with my own projects. I love what I’m doing and I hope it will show. It’s not such a bad place to be.
All of this comes to mind as I am simultaneously designing new instruments and building a classic “replica” for Anthony. In that regard, it certainly feels better to obsess on someone else’s past than your own.
The question that remains is, can guitar designs that owe so much to a vintage esthetic, move ahead without being purely nostalgic?
While Jim was keeping himself busy building up a neck blank fore a new commission that we’re calling tentatively The Black Dahlia, I decided to get some color on the Tele we’re making for Anthony. Here, Jim is slotting Dahlia’s neck blank for the truss rod. The three piece, opposed grain system used to strengthen the neck is clearly visible. All three parts are sawn from the same board to maintain the integrity of the neck—the grain on the outside pieces are opposed to use the natural forces of the wood to self-stabilize. The center part is a neutral, quarter-sawn piece.
Now, back to that guitar for Anthony. Most times, for color coats I use nitro with tints, or some PPG colors that are suspended in DBC clear. However, this time I decided to experiment with a waterborne acrylic. I’ve had the stuff for a while and thought it would be interesting to try. I got it for a window sill refinish project, and it worked so well that I thought it could be used on a guitar.
The first step was to mix some Golden Yellow Oxide and add a little brown until I got the shade I wanted. I did this into the clear waterborne directly, then cut the whole mix with good old H2O until the viscosity was correct for the gun. The color looked good on the test piece, so onward we go.
I’m using a SATA minijet with a 1.1 tip which is my weapon of choice for most small jobs like sunbursting. I decided to use it for this full-body color job because the Minijet has a thumb-wheel fan control on the left side which would let me control the spray with the unfamiliar water-based material.
I needn’t have worried. With the air pressure at 30lbs. the material sprayed like a champ. Very easy to control and the build was good. I can see if I had used a bigger tip it might have been prone to sag—after all, it is water. The clean-up was a breeze, and the stuff is almost odorless. I’ll let it set up for a day, then I’ll continue with the clear coats.
The color is classic Butterscotch, and on the body it looks great. The only question is whether to use the nitro as I usually do, or continue with the waterborne…