I enjoy having visitors to the workshop play my instruments. I feel as though each musician leaves a little bit of themselves with the guitar. The process is to roll the camera and then put the guitar in their hands and see what develops. Here’s my friend Mike getting greasy on the Crow.
Since my childhood, the electric guitar has called me in ways I simply cannot explain. From the first strains of “Greensleeves” that shook the camp gymnasium windows, to the feedback drenched nights at Chicago’s Electric Theater—I was hooked. Similarly, my builds are formulated in a part of my brain that defies concious explaniation.
I imagine dusty boots walking railroad tracks, birds of prey and the jumble of words racing down antique telephone wires. A sixth sense that connects the delta with those who live in the city. The Crow is a messenger, harbinger and scrappy traveler. Like the touring musician who lives by his wits and intuition, the crow is alive in all of us.
After a few week’s absence from the docket, the binding of Hell’s Half Acre is back on the burner. Both neck and body are trimmed with a checked purfling made of ebony and maple—then bound with Italian-made cellulose.
Of particular beauty is the florentine cutaway, which is my siganature flourish. I love the way the purfling and ivoroid binding mitres at the peak. It’s a bitch to do, but the results are worth it. Getting the black stripe of side purfling to line up isn’t a walk in the park either. If it were easy, wht fun would it be?
The idea here is to evoke the cowboy theme contained in the history of Fort Worth’s most lawless period and place known as Hell’s Half Acre. The checked, half-herringbone really does look like the trail driver’s lariat. Now the guitar is completely roped in and ready to bring home. Just as the trail bosses pushed their herds north from Texas to the railheads in Oklahoma, we’re ready to push on with our project.
Any build is a journey of refinement as it progresses. Rather than beginning with an idea fully formed, I set off in a direction and look and listen for clues along the way. That’s not to say there isn’t a plan, just that it isn’t set in stone. The constraints of stubbornly adhering to a preconcieved path ignores the creative and intuitive process.
As Hell’s Half Acre starts to shape up, with its rope purfling, my eye told me that a little extra touch was needed on the side of the instrument to balance out the busy look of the top. It didn’t need to be so ornate as to distract, so I settled on a single black stripe within the ivoroid binding.
Starting with some strips of cellulose binding in ivoroid and black, it’s a matter of laminating three pieces togeter before adding it to the guitar.
Acetone-solvent adhesive is used to melt and bond the edges together on a caul of aluminum. There is a raised stop that holds the parts true and provides sideways clamping pressure as the assembly sets up.
There are lots of different ways to do this, but I used this technique to make some test strips up to check the appearance before I commit to it.
The next step is to rough trim the black material so that it can be scraped flat to the ivoroid. The black strip was a little too big so I’ll have to trim it with a nipper.
A few passes with the cabinet scraper is all that’s needed to get things ready to put on the body. I’l also trim the final edge on the binding to reduce the width of the small white stripe and make sure it fits perfectly into the routs on the instrument.
I think this is going to look great on the sides of the guitar which will be painted with an opaque black lacquer.
Now that spring seems to be truly here, work on finishing the Sakura guitar ramps up. Here’s a bit of background on the control knobs.
I had decided to use my own handmade control knobs like I did for the Crow. First, I tried a series of metal Tele-style and plastic old-school cupcake knobs—they just weren’t right. The Sakura guitar demands something that both blends in, and complements what’s already there. The chrome just stood out too much and dark knobs did too. So, it was time to pull out the knob-making gear.
The first step is to pour acrylic resin into my silicone mold. I made the form from an original 1947 lap steel knob I got from a collector friend of mine. I was lucky to find one in good shape without any crazing or cracks. The secret to using this resin is getting all the air bubbles out before it sets up. I found that vibrating the material with an electric oscillating sander did the trick.
The surface tension in the mold creates a slight dish shape on the top that I want to remove. I use a fine file and then sandpaper on a stone to take the scratches out.
The fine scratches are then removed on a polishing wheel with some white compound. Spinning the knob slowly in my hand also breaks the edges slightly, which gives the knobs a broken-in feel.
As nice as the clear knobs look, they were slightly distracting on the Sakura’s cherry face, so I had decided to add some opaque silver in the inside cavity. This will tone down the look and match the engraved front plate better.
Here you can see the knob’s full .650″ height. Although they are larger than a traditional “speed” knob, their clarity keeps their look balanced on the guitar. I mixed a little yellow into some silver lacquer to match the nickel plating on the front plate.
As you can see, the silver changes the look just enough to subdue the knob slightly. There is still enough clear to allow the background to show through too. After the lacquer cures completely, I’ll swap out the test knobs that are on the guitar.