Category Archives: instrument building

The Shop Is Ready

I cleaned out my workshop, such as it is, this past weekend. The temperatures looked like they were going to drop into the low 90s and stay there, but that hasn’t been the case. Unfortunately, today was over 100. Again. C’est la vie! In any case, the workshop is cleaned up and ready for business. I even got the OM project out of my studio closet to assess where I left it when the heat of the daystar became too great to overcome. It looks like I need to finish up the frets, do the binding for the top, and then make with the shellac. Lots and lots of shellac. I learned a lot from my last instrument and hopefully the finish on this one will be better.

In a fit of optimism, all of the bits and pieces for my very first electric guitar were ordered this weekend as well. I’m thinking of something with a Les Paul body style but no carved top. I want to keep it simple. The electronics will be a fun project as I’m winding my own pickups. I’ve done stuff like that in the past but always with more of an experimental bent. This time, I’m starting with a particular sound in mind and I’m going to see if I can execute. It’s all going to be fun and most importantly, it will reinstitute the weekend father/son garage work.

As a total aside, we repaired a birdhouse and a bird feeder this weekend while we were getting the shop cleaned up. The boy made good use of some sandpaper and deck screws. He’s becoming quiet handy and before he gets to school I’m sure he’ll be a fine assistant!

Lots of stuff is happening around one of my album projects and there’s another one brewing. By the end of the year I should have at least one project completed and another in full swing. Plus the weird and wild stuff I do on my lunch hour that harkens back to my days in more traditional computer music. “Traditional Computer Music.” Is that even real? In any case, I have a rather large piece in the making.

Lots going on and nothing to show for it but this blog that makes references to all of the stuff that’s coming and never shows a damned thing. I guess that’s what 2011 is. It’s the year of doing a lot and showing a little.

Another Cool Build

Ben over at Crimson Guitars pointed out that I’d linked to an older build diary. Things have changed a lot and his latest build is more amazing than the one I’d previously linked. Check it out here! It’s really an inspiration when a talented luthier like this guy shares his process with the rest of us. Gives the amateurs like me something to aspire to – or at least enjoy watching.

Crimson Guitars

This is a full on guitar nerd alert. I’m preparing to build an electric guitar as soon as the heat dies down some. As is my custom, I was doing some research into different shapes and specs. I did some quick searching on Robert Fripp’s guitar and came up with a link to the studio that makes his instruments. There is a build diary there that I can’t imagine getting sick of. Amazing work and really cool techniques. Definitely worth a look!

Crimson Guitars Build Diary:

Have A Plan

The odds are very, very good that I will never be a master luthier. If I ever build a truly magnificent instrument, it will likely be a function of luck and repetition. But that has nothing to do with my quest.

I don’t want to buy the perfect guitar. I do want to have it. I want to play it. I want to know that it’s mine for a while. But buying it seems like a cop out. Building and playing shouldn’t be related in any way, because they aren’t, but that’s the quest. I believe that we create our own challenges – if we didn’t, what else would we do?

I look at my workbench every day when I pass through the garage and I think about the things that I could do on it. I think about the half finished guitar in my studio closet. I run my fingers over the plane on the bench and consider spending an hour or two on finishing up that OM. Then the sweat begins to collect on my spine and I remember that it is 100F outside and probably warmer in the garage. I abandon the thought, or try to, and go inside.

Recently, a chunk of my time was spent looking at guitars. Flipping through the portfolios of great builders and digging through the catalogs of different companies. The price points are painful. All of the instruments that I identified as being in my range were serious compromises. For example, I don’t want any plastic on my guitar. That’s a tough one. A lot of bindings on instruments under $2000 are plastic. And no composite necks. One piece of wood, not fragments, please. For a quarter of the price of an instrument that barely meets my specs I can have the makings of one that has no compromises in material – but I have to build it myself. That is to say, I get the enjoyment of building it. That’s still only half of the quest.

I can picture very clearly tuning up the guitar that I’ve built myself. I can feel the strings. I imagine the action of the instrument. The way the neck feels as my thumb slides over its length. It is perfect for me in every way. The most important detail is the flare on the headstock. The indicator that it is my instrument. Made with and played by my own hands. That’s the quest. It’s important.

Why is it important? Because it’s the sum of all the traits and desires that make me who I am. There are thousands of reasons not to do it, but ignoring the urge won’t make it go away. I like to think that everyone has that itch somewhere and that we all take a swipe at scratching it. I shouldn’t be so optimistic, maybe, but as long as we’re alive there’s a chance.

So I have a quest. It’s now a plan. I’ll start my next instrument in September. By then I will have all of the bits and pieces necessary for the project. The important thing is to remember that this is The Plan. No more catalogs or reviews. No more day dreaming about a custom Collings guitar. There’s only me, some wood, the tools, and the time. That’s The Plan.

New Instrument Ramble

Thinking about the state of the world as it relates to the important things in your life is an exercise worthy of consideration. How do the things that you love impact the world around you and how does that impact agree or disagree with your values? I ask this of myself whenever I start in on a new instrument building project. The thing is, a lot of the wood that is used in building a guitar isn’t managed the way it should be for maximum sustainability. I derive a great deal of pleasure from building an instrument, not just from playing the final product and I’d like for others long after me to have that experience. So I check myself.

There’s a documentary being filmed right now called [LINK] that talks about the wood that goes into the instruments that I love so dearly. They are digging into the supply chain starting in the forest. I can’t wait to see it and to hear the analysis of the filmmakers. I’m sure that this is just one of a million problems that fly under the radar when we talk about conservation, but since it’s important to me and my values, I really want to get down in the mud and think about it. After all, it’s my responsibility to think critically about the things that I do. I have an example to set.

This of course comes back to acquiring a new instrument. My dream is to someday build the perfect (for me) guitar. Right now, I have a couple of instruments that are clearly early first drafts. Not too shabby for a guy who learned from a pile of books, but a far cry from a wonderful instrument. As a result, I’m looking.

I’m looking for an instrument that inspires me. I’m sure that I could order one and drop a few grand on it. That would be fine (assuming I had a few grand to drop), but I’m more interested in finding the right instrument. A workhorse that begs to be played. I would prefer a used guitar to a new one if only for the history and to have a more settled instrument. If I do buy new, I have to consider what I said above. Luckily, there are a few makers that are building with sustainably harvested materials. I need to do more research on that, but if I go with a new instrument I pretty much have to do it that way.

There is a lot to think about and having a price constraint makes the game more interesting. It adds a bit of chance. Walking around with a bit of cash makes every trip into a music shop dangerous. Who knows what I will see and where that might lead? There’s always something to buy. But this is more of an artistic quest. When and where will I find the right instrument? What will it look like and will I know it when I see it?

Sounds like it’s time for some deep research.