Sakura Guitar Engraving Update

The idea for the Sakura Guitar came to me in January while at a sushi restaurant. The large bottle Sapporos may have had something to do with it. My original “napkin” sketch on dinner table set things in motion with a large cherry blossom (sakura) inlaid on the body. In other views I sketched large metal plates with engraved flowers.

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As the next day arrived, the sketches still looked cool so I pressed onward. The first real step was to start a dedicated journal of drawings and notes as I played with different ideas.

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Slowly, things were coming together. The more I read about Japanese history and the significance of the cherry blossom as a symbol of rebirth, the more I knew this project was going to be fun. I decided to design a motif to be engraved on steel plates for both the front and back of the guitar in the tradition of Tony Zemaitis’ work.

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I cut the plates from a sheet of cold rolled steel, and then finished the edges and drilled and countersunk the mounting holes.

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I didn’t want to use lasers or chemical etching, the technique that is most often seen on guitars today. I wanted the real thing—hand engraving. This technique creates a sparkle and depth that absolutely cannot be matched with shortcut methods. I wanted to raise the bar.

At first, I thought about learning engraving and doing it myself. As insane as that seems to me now, I really thought of it as an option. I’m good with tools, can draw, and have steady hands—why not? Well, the more I looked into it, the more I realized that real hand engraving was a whole career path, not something you pick up in a few days or even months. The kind of work I was looking for was something that takes a lifetime of dedication. That’s when I found Heidi Roos.

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After a thirty year career as a jewelry designer and goldsmith, Heidi turned her attention to hand engraving. Recruited by renowned gun decorator Paul Lantuch in 2003, Heidi helped launch the engraving department at the legendary Sturm, Ruger & Company. Mentored by Lantuch, Heidi learned even more old world techniques that have served her (and her high-profile clients) well.

Six years ago she came to Baron Engraving in Trumbull, Connecticut where she has completed projects for celebrity customers and collectors. Her resume includes commemorative editions for Harley Davidson, Beretta and Colt, including the Centennial edition of the Colt 1911. Recently, Heidi’s shopmate Rob Bunting, engraved a custom Browning High Wall rifle which sold at auction for $143,000 to benefit the USA olympic shooting team. When I learned of Heidi’s love of Japanese art, I knew she was the only one to bring my Sakura project to life.

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Yesterday I rolled over to Baron to see how Heidi was coming along with the work and I was simply floored. The level of detail is beyond what I imagined. Seeing my drawings translated to raw steel by a master like Heidi just about brought me to tears.

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Here you can see her working on the branch and flower detail that sweeps around the edge of the back plate. In the center you can see the Sakura that “grows” up the center of the guitar.

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We decided to spot-plate the blossom petals with rose gold for a pink hue. At the top of the scene the sun peeks out from behind the clouds, signifying a new future or rebirth. The sun will be inlaid with 24k gold.

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The idea to add some green gold to the branch and leaves came up, and we decided that done subtly it would add an entirely new dimension to the work. I just can’t wait to see the finished pieces—and this is just the back!

Weighing In on the Subject

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.