Taking a Break

What a difference a few days can make here in New England. My last post was about being locked down by the snow, but now it’s sunny and (relatively) warm. Accordingly, I took a few hours out of the day to stack up what will hopefully be the last of this winter’s firewood.

It was a bright, crisp afternoon—the kind that makes you feel great to be alive and privileged just to be outdoors. I worked at a steady pace piling up the logs, breathing deep and stopping every so often to look at the trees and sky. Just a few steps away was our suet feeder, which attracts larger birds. As I labored, wrens, bluebirds and thrushes flitted back and forth from the nearby trees to the feeder. A noisy group of three downy woodpeckers alternated with the bluebirds and wrens for a shot at the food. At one point I grabbed my camera and got a photo of a bluebird patiently awaiting his turn while a male downy woodpecker feasts.


Once the last of the firewood was stacked I went inside to finish up the drawings for the cherry blossom guitar. The shape of the front and back plates had been finalized so it was time to cut them out of steel. My first step was to make paper templates from my drawings so I could check the shapes with the actual guitar parts.


Then it was time to get medieval on a sheet of .059″ CRS. I had a piece that was just big enough for two sets of plates, and with a little luck I’d be able to cut them without problem. This thickness will allow the engraver to go deep without denting or puckering the plates. I chose steel because of its magnetic properties. Aluminum is fine for laser or chemical etching, but it messes with the inductance of the pickups in a way that isn’t as kind as copper or steel. Besides, I’m going with hand engraving—steel will yield better detail.


Here I am checking the overall fit before drawing out the shapes on the metal.


Using some spray adhesive, I fix the templates to the sheet so that I can trace the outlines with a scribe. I want to get the material into more managable pieces.


After transferring the shapes, I roughed out the blanks with an air shear—not my first choice of tools, but it works. This gets me close enough so that I can finish the parts on the bandsaw and then the spindle sander. which is a job for another day.




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.


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.

Snowy Sakura Guitar Morning

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.