Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Guitar Ad

I've always been fascinated by old instrument catalogs and ads, and have wanted to create something similar for the guitars that I've made. There were several challenges that stood in the way of the project, first I suppose was making all the guitars and then getting pictures of them. Second was finding someone to take on the task, as I'm not that savvy when it comes to that type of thing. My buddy Jimmy Burns from Vermont, in addition to being an ace fiddler, is also a talented graphic artist who understood what I was trying to do.

Jim and I did a lot of work to get it together. I had to track down a all the different models and get good quality pictures of them. I also had to buckle down and write all the text. In some cases I took language right out of the old catalogs. I tried to capture the language and spirit of the time.

Jim thumbed through a lot of old catalgs to get ideas for the layout. He converted all the photos to line drawings. His layout really managed to capture the look and feel that I was after. He did a bang up job and I couldn't be happier with the final product.

I'm currently looking at different printing options, so I can't even say that it's hot off the presses at this point.

Thanks a million Jim!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eventful summer

I've had a full and busy summer and haven't been too good about updating the blog. Sorry about that. I made a conscious decision at the beginning of the summer that I was going to try to make the most of it, spend a lot of time with my family and outdoors. Now that the weather is turning colder and the days are getting shorter, I'm sure I'll be better about sitting down to record what's been going on.

I usually spend a fair amount of time traveling around during the summer. I try to get to a couple old time music festivals each year and get as much playing in as possible. The music festivals that I tend to go to usually focus on old time hillbilly music. The festivals are participatory in nature and the attendees are the ones who provide the music. The focus isn't on a stage, or on outside acts. The folks who go to the festival are the entertainment. People set up camps and sit around and play music and catch up with their friends. When they're not playing, they're usually walking around listening to music at the other camps. It's a foreign concept to a lot of folks who are into Country Blues, but it's a really great way for people to get together and play music.

I'm not really a hardcore old time nut. I consider myself more of a songster. You can only play tunes for so long until it gets boring and somebody needs to start singing. As a result, I usually congregate with people of like mind, who appreciate good tunes but need to have some ballads or blues in the mix.

My favorite festival of all the ones that I've been to is the Harry Smith Frolic in Greenfield, Mass. The Frolic was started by a group of folks in Northern Massachusetts and Southern Vermont who felt that people who play old time music should listen to the recordings of artists from the 1920's and 30's who played the music, rather than listening to modern musician's interpretations of this music. The have brought a lot of new people into their community and folks up there are making some of the best music I've heard.

In addition to being a great music festival, the Harry Smith Frolic is a celebration of the Anthology of American Folk Music. The Anthology was a six album set of music originally released in 1952. Much has been made of it since its reissue in the late 90's and I think that all that hub bub sort of made me shy away from it. The fact is, Harry Smith did a pretty amazing job of presenting an accurate snapshot of early American vernacular music. I'm not going to go into it here, but in short it's a great collection and everybody should have a copy.

While most festivals tend to focus on old time fiddle music, the Frolic equally values ballad singers and blues players. There is a pretty eclectic bunch of performers for the relatively small number of people who attend. One of the highlights of the festival is a reenactment of one of the three volumes of the Anthology, which occurs on midnight of the second night of the festival. For the first seven years of the Frolic, folks performed Vol. 1, Ballads. This year the decision was made to perform Vol. 3, Songs.

A guitar maker is much like any other trades person in that they don't often get to reap the rewards of their craft. In other words, I don't usually have one of my own guitars. When I do have one, I usually end up selling it during a lean time. When I go to festivals, I don't usually have anything to show for myself. Sometimes there are folks there who have an instrument that I've made, but I'm not usually one of them. I decided that this year I was going to make a guitar at the beginning of the season that I could haul around to the different festivals and not be shy about letting folks play it. I didn't want to put a huge investment into the guitar and I wanted to build it as quickly as possible.

I decided that I would make a smaller model as it would be easier for traveling. I chose the Annunziata as it is sort of a combination between the Loretta and Erma and I thought it would get the most sound out of a small body. For materials, I decided to use wood that people had given me, or things that, for one reason or another, I couldn't use on a custom guitar, but were too good not to use. I had a nice set of koa that my good friend Federico Sheppard gave me, so I decided to use that for the back and sides. I had a nice old set of German spruce that was too small to use on anything but a concert sized guitar, so that was going to be the top. My buddy Federico had also gifted me with some Madagascar rosewood that I wanted to try for the fingerboard and bridge (he is a really good friend and super generous guy).

I kept it simple using only a black/white/ black line for the rosette and purfling. I bound it with some nice flamed maple, on the top only, and skipped a center strip on the back. The neck blank was one I had sitting around the shop that had a knot on the back of the peghead. I put a rosewood veneer on the front and back of the peghead and it was no longer an issue. I decided to do the Neapolitan headstock and whale tail bridge to dress it up a little bit. I was out of pearl dots, so I cut some quick diamonds for fret markers. I gave it a pretty quick French polished varnish finish and had it strung up nine days after I initially joined the plates. I probably could have done it in seven, but I have a family and I don't work in the shop on weekends.

The finished product is a really sweet little guitar. I've been playing on it all summer and it has really opened up. It's been great to have one of my guitars to bang on and not worry about. It's also been great being able to pass it off to friends for them to try out. It's had quite a bit of playing done on it in it's relatively short life. I'm looking forward to seeing how it continues to develop, and where it ends up.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

9 String

A few years ago my friend Mike Ammons and I were looking at the liner notes to the very excellent CD of minstrel tunes, Good For What Ails You, on the Old Hat label, and Mike asked me "What kind of guitar is that?", commenting on a picture of Daddy Stovepipe. I hadn't really looked at the picture that closely as there are plenty of odd things going on, a musician in a top hat posing next to a recording horn. We got out the magnifying glass and saw that the odd shaped headstock had 9 strings, three single strings on the bass side and three courses (six strings) on the treble side. Neither of us had heard of a nine string before, and I thought it would be a fun side project.

I could tell from the photo that the guitar was an inexpensive Chicago made guitar, smaller in size. Since I didn't have any orders for a nine string, and seeing as it didn't seem likely that I'd get one, I decided to start by making a neck and fitting it to an existing body. I had a couple candidates, the leader being an old Regal whose neck had been boogered up by someone along the line. The Regal was an all birch Hawaiian model. The top was in pretty rough shape, so I decided that it would probably be best to replace that while I was at it. I know what you're saying, "Why didn't you just start from scratch?" At a certain point I think I asked myself the same question, but these things tend to snowball, and when you're obsessed and have to get something out of your system, you don't always make the most prudent decisions.

I put on a new spruce top and made a poplar neck for the guitar. Lots of folks don't take poplar seriously as a neck material, but as I've said before and I'll say again, it's great stuff. I've made several poplar necks and have never had issues with them. The 80 year old guitar that I play on a regular basis has a poplar neck with no reinforcement and it's as straight as the day it was made. I'd choose it over maple any day of the week. I made a rosewood fingerboard and a six pin pyramid bridge.

The guitar had a short scale of 24 5/8", so I put on light gauge strings (doubling the 1st and 2nd course with an octave on the third) and tuned it up to E. I was pretty happy with the way that it turned out. Definitely a lot of fun to play. I sent it around to some friends, one of whom, John Miller, decided that he would rather keep it than send it off, so we worked out a deal. I was very happy to see it go to such a fantastic player.

As these things tend to work, I eventually got an email from someone who inquired about the nine string. Gary Selufsky, who proved to be one of my bravest customers, put in an order for a nine string and decided to have fun with it. I was very excited that Gary decided to get maple back and sides and a poplar neck. He also decided to add a Kay Kraft type bridge, funky pick guard, bound headstock and fingerboard. I was really looking forward to building an uptown version of the guitar.

The guitar turned out great. After some experimentation with strings, we decided that the it was happiest with a set of extra light strings, doubled on the 1st, 2nd and 3rd courses.
I was very happy to hear that Gary and John met at the Country Blues Week at the Port Townsend Washington and were able to compare their nine strings. My only regret is that I wasn't there to hear the ensuing madness.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Celebrating Five Years of Self Employment

This weekend I celebrated five years of making my living solely as a guitar maker. I've been making and repairing them for much longer than that, but I made the leap from a nice cozy, secure construction job, for a life as a luthier. From a financial standpoint, it probably wasn't the smartest move in the world, but I'm healthier and happier for it and I've been able to pursue my passion. The task would not have been possible without the many great customers that I've had, the musicians who play my guitars, my consigliere Frank Basile and, most importantly, my very loving and patient wife Lily who has stood by me during all of it, encouraging me and advising me along the way. Thank you to all.
As part of the celebration my old friend Paul Geremia came to visit and play a gig. I don't know how long I've known Paul for, but I've been going to see him play for quite some time and he was very instrumental in developing my interest in the 12 string guitar, as he is one of the only people who has been playing an old style, long scale 12 string for his entire career which has spanned over 40 years. Paul is a real road warrior. He plays all over the country at venues ranging from small coffeehouses, to blues festivals, to Prarie Home Companion. He drives every inch of the way, putting on miles like a long haul trucker.
Paul comes through Madison about twice a year and usually plays a gig at the local cofeehouse. He stays at our house and we usually end up doing some setup work on his 12 string, adjusting it for seasonal changes or applying some French polish where the finish has been worn away by his right hand. He's had his Fraulini for 4 1/2 years now and has probably played it every single day of that time. As a result it is an extremely live and open instrument. When I was making it for him he told me to build it as lightly as I dared, which I did, but the real reason it sounds so great is that it gets daily use, by one of the best people in the business. An instrument is happiest when it is played.
The gig was at Mother Fool's Coffee House, a local institution that is the best place in town for acoustic shows. I opened the show and played a variety of songs spanning from Reverend Alfred Karnes to Cryin Sam Collins. I always like to open for Paul because then he comes out swinging, showing everybody why he has the reputation that he does. He was fantastic! My favorite tunes were Silver City Bound and Meet Me in the Bottom. Of course I'm biased because he plays both of those on 12 string (his 30's Gibson J-35 sounded pretty good too). It's always great to sit back and listen to a master play, especially when it's an instrument that you've made. I'll look forward to the next time he comes.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Tenor Guitar for Hank Sapoznik

My friend Hank Sapoznik presented me with the challenge of making a tenor guitar a little while back. I was not very familiar with the instrument and the role that it played in the music that Hank played. Hank is a fantastic 5 string banjo player and plays both claw hammer and classic three finger style for old time, hillbilly music, as well as a variety of rags. He primarily uses the tenor when he's playing Klezmer. I wasn't really familiar with Klezmer, so I had to do some listening and acquaint my ears with the role of the tenor in the group. I also stopped down to Spruce Tree Music to get Wil Bremmer's opinion on tenors and see if he had any guidance to offer.

I learned from listening to Hank's group, the Youngers of Zion, that he primarily uses his tenor guitar as a rhythm instrument, to compliment the bass or tuba as the fiddle does the majority of the solo work. He occasionally inserts a fill or a run, but primarily plays a very hard driving rhythm.

Wil's take on the tenor guitar was that it evolved from the tenor banjo as a somewhat softer alternative. The tenor banjo had evolved from the banjo mandolin, as a less shrill alternative, and the banjo mandolin evolved from the mandolin during the banjo craze. He said that there were no rules that applied to the scale or body size of the tenor guitar and that most companies just attached a shorter tenor neck to one of the many body styles they offered. I had been thinking about making a smaller instrument, but Wil told me to consider making a bigger one in order to get more sound.

The main influence for the guitar came from an instrument called the Octachorda which was played by two early wizards of the strings, Roy Smeck and Sam Moore. Smeck had told an interviewer at some point that he and Sam Moore were the only two people to have octachordas made for them and that his was stolen from a hotel room sometime in the 20's. Smeck's octachorda was a very fancy instrument, with lots of inlays, pearl trim, heart shaped soundhole, elaborate carved bridge and a scroll type headstock with some type of head carved in it (possibly a lion?). Sam Moore's instrument was more plain, with a standard slot head, simple white binding and a square pyramid bridge. The feature that really sticks out on both instruments is the Florentine cutaway, which just sort of dips off at the 12 and curves elagantly down to the center of the upper bout, rather than curving back up as is the case on the majority of modern cutaways.

Rather than trying to do a somewhat straight copy of the octachorda, I decided to use the shape, hoping the wide, short lower bout would fill out the tone of the smaller body, and draw from bowl back mandolins for the other defining features. Instead of the heart shaped soundhole, I went with an oval. I had made some mosaic purfling for a Stoneman copy and decided that the pattern would give the body a nice look. I've been favoring European spruce and maple back and sides lately, so I decided that it would be a good combination for the tenor.

The shape of the headstock and the scroll cutout came out of the Neapolitan mandolin playbook. Hank and I discussed inlays and he decided on an intertwined Star of David. It was good exercise for my developing inlay and engraving chops. It really stands out on the finished product.

The bridge was my design, a hybrid of a couple different mustache bridges. It added a nice touch to the overall look and seemed to compliment all of the other curves and features of the instrument.

It's always great fun to get an order for an instrument and not have any rules to follow. This one was the product of several different instruments and a lot of sleep deprivation, largely due to a teething one year old. It made it's debut at Hank's Klez Camp Roadshow this past weekend and it was fantastic to see and hear it in a great room with a bunch of world class musicians. That certainly doesn't happen every time.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A Guitar for Mike Seeger

I recently had the honor of making a guitar for one of my musical heroes, Mike Seeger, . I can't say enough good things about Mike. He's a fantastic player, scholar and historian. In addition to being the first person to record Elizabeth Cotten, and the person who tracked down Doc Boggs, Mike is one of the people who made the world at large aware of old time traditional music, as well as Bluegrass. As a member of the New Lost City Ramblers, he turned people's ears from the Folk Revival back to the source material that the Revival was to have generated from. Two of his latest recordings, Southern Banjo Sounds and Southern Guitar Sounds, are essentials for any collection.

I first met Mike at the Appalachian Music Festival in Clifftop, West Virginia. He is working with country music historian, and fellow Madisonian, Bill Malone on his biography, so he occasionally passes through town. He came to the shop a few years ago to see what I was up to. This past summer he was in Madison to play at the Sugar Maple Traditional Music Festival. He had sent me a Galiano guitar to do some work on and stopped by the shop to talk about the work. He saw some of the things that I was working on and expressed interest in getting a new Fraulini. He was interested in getting a guitar made of all North American woods and wanted something lightly built as he preferred to use extra light gauge strings. He said that one of his favorite guitars was a Bradley Kincaid Hound Dog, which I believe was made by Harmony in the early 30's.

I borrowed a Hound Dog from Wil Bremmer at Spruce Tree Music. After going over it, I realized that it was very similar to my Loretta model, so I was able to use existing molds. The Hound Dog was a little deeper than my standard Loretta. Other than that, it is a fairly standard, very lightly ladder braced parlor guitar.

Mike said that he liked white oak for back and sides and I had some nice oak that came from a tree not too far from the shop. For the top I used red spruce, which came from the Adirondacks in New York. I used yellow poplar for the neck. Poplar is a great neck wood. It is strong and stable, knot free, carves nicely and takes stains like a dream. I have several old guitars with poplar necks and they have stayed straight and true over many years. I would use a lot more poplar if people understood how good it was. I used persimmon for the fingerboard. I have heard that persimmon is the N. American ebony and have wanted to try it for a long time. I also wanted to try it because it grows in Mike's part of the country and because of the old song "Possum Up the Simmon Tree". Master fiddler Kirk Sutphin was able to locate some persimmon boards that were perfect for fingerboards. For the bridge, I used some maple which had previously been part of an old beam in a barn that I worked on back when I was a carpenter. I did a simple black/white/black diagonal purfling and a maple binding.

For the finish, I fumed the oak using industrial strength ammonia. The ammonia causes the oak to turn dark brown. It also caused the top to turn green, but a coat of garnet shellac made it instantly look 80+ years old. The garnet shellac also added to the color of the fumed oak. I ebonized the persimmon fingerboard and maple bridge, and I stained the poplar neck a reddish mahogany color. I used an oil based varnish over the shellac and left it thin, in keeping with the lightly built, old style motif.

The final product surpassed my expectations. The white oak back and sides and red spruce top gave the guitar a lot of volume and sustain, while the deeper sides gave the tone a little more time to develop. I was a little nervous that, with the extra light gauge strings, it wouldn't generate all that much sound, but keeping the bracing and the finish on the light side allowed the top to move enough so that it made plenty of sound. You didn't have to lean into it either, it almost played itself. What a relief.

Monday, March 2, 2009

New 14 Fret Model- Felix

I've been wanting to make a guitar for my friend Craig Ventresco for a long time. Craig is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. He plays real ragtime, drawing from source material that is neglected by the vast majority of musicians who attempt to play early American music. Craig has an incredible of knowledge of early popular music and plays it with the spirit and attack of some of my favorite early blues players, without attempting to imitate their music. He has a unique technique, using a flatpick while also picking with his ring finger, that leaves the listener wondering how one person can possibly make all that sound. If you haven't heard him, I strongly encourage you to look him up and get one of his CDs, or check out one of his YouTube videos. You won't be disappointed.

Back to the guitar. All of my existing models have 12 frets to the body. Craig is a player who takes full advantage of the fingerboard and really needs to have a 14 fret model. In general, the guitars that I draw my inspiration from are 12 fretters, and there are a fair amount of luthiers who are making copies of early Martin and Gibson 14 fret guitars, so I didn't want to copy one of those. I decided that I would have to design a model especially for Craig. I tried to imagine what some of my guitar building heroes might have done if they had to build a 14 fret guitar.

I started out looking for suitable shapes. I settled on an early guitar by John D'Angelico. D'Angelico learned his trade in the shop of his uncle, Raphael Ciani, and built a lot of really beautiful instruments before he started making arch tops in the early 30's. The shape was very distinct with a wide lower bout and a tight upper bout.

For woods, I chose a German Spruce top and maple back and sides. I wanted the guitar to be loud and to ring out very clearly. Craig is a dynamic player and I wanted to make an instrument that would be capable of kicking out some sound, but wouldn't muddle all that was coming out. I've had good results with the German and maple combination in the past, so I thought it would work well for this one. I ladder braced the top.

It's always fun when you just get to build a guitar and you don't have to follow any rules or try to match an existing instrument. Craig gave me free reins on the project, so I was able to pick appointments from some of my favorite instruments and mix them up on this guitar. I chose a headstock design that I saw on a guitar by Rocco Mango, a NYC luthier who worked independently in the early part of the last century. The design is fairly common on Neapolitan mandolins, but doesn't tend to show up in guitars. It is a beautiful effect.

I used the same fingerboard inlays that showed up on many of the old Galiano and fancy Oscar Schmidt instruments. The old inlays were most likely cut in Germany and sold through some supplier at the time as they show up on quite a few of the old instruments.

For the bridge, I designed a sort of hopped up floral/mustache bridge, similar to the bridge on the Stoneman Galiano, but with relief carved flowers on the ends, something that shows up on a lot of early European parlor guitars.

I figured that there was enough going on with the general aesthetic, so I used a fairly plain diagonal purfling, along with a rosewood binding .

I finished the guitar with an oil based varnish. The oil based varnish can go on thin, not quite as thin as French polish, but gives better protection than either shellac or spirit based varnish. It also dries nice and hard, which I think contributes to the tone. Most importantly, it's not super toxic, like nitrocellulose lacquer, it's relatively easy to work with and gives a great depth to the finish.

The end result was a great sounding guitar. I haven't heard Craig play it yet, but from all reports he's happy with it and it's doing everything he asks of it. I'm really looking forward to the time that I get to hear him play it in person. Hopefully it won't be too far off.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

12 String Tailpiece

I recently made up a batch of 12 string tailpieces for some guitars in the current batch, so I figured I would document the process. The tailpieces I make were slightly modified from a tailpiece that came off of an old Stella 12 string. The guitar was an early 12 string (teens era) and the holes for the ball end strings were a little too small to accommodate modern strings. I made the holes a little larger and widened the overall dimension of the tailpiece in order to have sufficient material in between the holes. In the old days strings came with either ball or loop ends. The old tailpieces were set up to use either loop or ball end strings. These days loop end strings are obsolete, so the posts for mounting them are, for the most part, decorative.

I put in quite a bit of time trying to figure out how to make tailpieces, but I figured it was an important element that I wanted to include on my guitars. I had a very limited budget, so farming the job out to a metal shop was out of the question. I worked extensively with my dad, Fred Cambio, on the design of the tailpiece. My dad mapped out the original 12 string on Solidworks and we went over some of modifications together. After the modifications were setup, I had a die made that stamped out the embossed portion of the tailpiece. I stamp the tailpieces out of brass. That was the material that the original ones were made out of, partly because it is easy to work, partly because it is easy to plate.

After the blank is stamped out, the rest of the process is hand work. I use a jeweler's saw to cut the silhouette of the tailpiece, and I drill out all of the holes on the drill press. I've developed quite a few jigs and fixtures for the drilling portion of the process as the drill press can grab ahold of the brass blank and do some real damage to your hand. I learned this the hard way.

After the holes are drilled, I use a jewelers saw to cut slots in the ball end holes. On a side note, the jeweler's saw that I use belonged to my great grandfather. I don't know what he used it for, but it was in his toolbench, along with some carving tools. I had been using a new jewelers saw, but it did a poor job of holding the blades. This saw is over 100 years old and continues to do a great job.

After all the holes are drilled, I use a countersink on the back side of the holes for the loop end posts. When the posts were turned, we left a little extra material on the portion that goes through the hole. The extra bit of the post that sticks through the back side is"skwedged" over with a hammer. "Skwedging" refers to the process of smashing the brass on the post so that it fills in the countersunk portion on the backside of the blank. I hope that all makes sense. After the post is set, it won't move. This is that same way that the old posts were set, and it is that same way that old tuning machines were made. I've repaired gears on old tuners using the same technique.

Once the posts are set and everything is filed and slotted, the final step is to bend the tailpiece in a metal brake. Everything is then polished to a high gloss and then it is sent off to be nickel plated.

I have thought about having the tailpieces laser cut as it can be difficult to dedicate a day or two to making them, breaking the rhythm of production, but that would limit the possibilities. As things are currently set up, I've made six, nine and 12 string tailpieces. I've also made left handed tailpieces. One of the things I appreciate about the old tailpieces is the variety that they come in. I feel that the more handwork I do, the more that variety will be reflected in my work.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stoneman Auditorium Galiano

I mentioned the copy of Ernest Stoneman's Galiano that I made, but realized that I haven't explained the guitar yet. Here goes:

Ernest Stoneman was one of the earliest people to record country music. He came before the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers, and actually had a hand in setting up the legendary Bristol Sessions. Stoneman played guitar, autoharp and harmonica, he was a great singer and songwriter. His real gift was as a bandleader. Stoneman assembled the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers and the Pilot Mountaineers, among others.

Besides being one of the pioneers of country music, my other fascination with Stoneman was his guitar, an Auditorium sized Galiano. I was first introduced to the guitar by Kirk Sutphin, who asked me if I had ever come across a similar one. That started five year search to figure out exactly what it was that Stoneman played.

Galiano was a brand name of guitar that was used by several builders, among them, Antonio Cerrito, Raphael Ciani, Giuseppe Nettuno and Antonio Grausso. The Oscar Schmidt company also made guitars under the Galiano name, but these guitar don't differ much from the other stock models that they made. The guitar that I've played for the past ten years is actually an Oscar Schmidt made Galiano, which has a Galiano label pasted directly over a Stella label. I'm not sure where Galianos were marketed. Likely it is a generic name referring to the Gagliano family who made violins and mandolins in Naples, and was used much like the Stradivarius name was used on inexpensive violins.

Stoneman's guitar was made by one of the smaller independent shops, most likely Antonio Cerrito's or Raphael Ciani. The whereabouts of his actual guitar are unknown. His daughters told me varying reports, that it had been backed over by their car after forgetting to pack it after a gig, and that he sold it during the Depression. Hopefully it will someday surface.

In making a copy of the guitar I worked off of photos of Stoneman with the guitar and gained clues off of the different angles which he was holding the guitar in the photos. From the photos, I was able to deduce that the guitar had unstained maple or birch back and sides, a dark binding, probably rosewood, the same fingerboard inlays which were used on some of the fancier Galiano and Oscar Schmidt guitars, a bound fingerboard and headstock. I had many conversations about the guitar with ace remastering engineer and co producer of the Stoneman set, Chris King.

I also gained a lot of information from old guitars in making the copy. I had an Auditorium sized guitar made by Antonio Cerrito in my collection. I compared the measurements of this guitar with the guitar in the photo and came to the conclusion that, while the woods were different, they were nearly identical in size and shape. In determining which woods to use, I looked at several different Galiano, Cerrito and Ciani guitars. Maple, rather than birch, seemed to be the choice on some of the fancier guitars, along with a rosewood binding and a German spruce top. The fingerboard and bridge were ebony and I just needed to figure out the neck wood. I went with mahogany as it is more stable and much easier to carve than maple.

For some of the details of the guitar I had to use intuition. I had the patterns for the fingerboard inlays from some guitars in my collection and had worked them out for other guitars that I had made. I had a rough idea of what the purfling looked like, but I wasn't able to find any that matched so I used something that had a similar motif, although it lacked the colors and intensity of the original stuff.

The very distinct bridge took a very long time to figure out. I did several sketches and tried to deduce the size and shape from proportional measurements taken from the photos of the guitar. It took a whole day of measuring, sketching, comparing, starting over, before I felt comfortable with the look of the bridge. it took another day to figure out how I was going to make it, and actually pull it off. I was so excited when I finally had the finished bridge in my hand and realized that I had nailed it. So excited that I fumbled the bridge, dropped it on the floor and the inlaid dots on the tips busted off. I was flabbergasted. I made a second bridge in a quarter of the time and was very careful in my handling of it. I finished the guitar with a very light French polish.

The finished product was really extraordinary. One of the best guitars that I've made. It had an extremely well balanced sound from the treble to the bass, with a nice depth to the tone. It was loud but still managed to maintain the clarity and dry sound that old guitars have. My friend Smitty became the lucky owner of the guitar and has been loving it ever since.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Eventful weekend

This past weekend was quite eventful. My old friend John Hasbrouck came up to play a gig and visit. John and Matt Gandurski make up the world's only all left handed resonator guitar and mandolin duet. The Northside Southpaws play a nice variety of rags, waltzes, tangos and bluegrass and put on a refreshing show. John has does a great job on the mandolin and Matt has really put in his time learning how to second on guitar, but is still able to insert a nice fill every now and then. The Southpaws were playing at Mother Fool's Coffeehouse . Another old friend, Joel Paterson, was playing a gig down the street and stopped by before the gig. Catfish Stephenson was also there. The five of us reminisced about guitars, music, recording etc. It was great to catch up with old friends.

After the show John, Matt and Catfish came back to the shop for a late night jam session. It was nice to listen to everyone play. I spent most of the time talking to another friend, Bruce, a former machinist, about better ways to make a 12 string tailpiece. It's official, I am now more of a luthier than I am a musician.

On Sunday I finally was able to connect with Hank Sapoznik. Hank is a fantastic musician, author, scholar and producer of CD compilations on Charlie Poole, Ernest Stoneman, Murder and Disaster ballads, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I'm not yet aware of. Hank is in town teaching a class on Jewish music at the University of Wisconsin. The class sounds like a great one.

Hank was kind enough to include the copy of Ernest Stoneman's guitar that I made in the Ernest Stoneman box set. Hank came with his dog Stinky and also brought some fermented and smoked sausages from his friend and cohort Mark Rubin. Mark had sent the sausages up from Texas and Hank was very generous to share them with me. After catching up over sausages and coffee, Hank and I headed out to the shop to look over guitars and talk about building a tenor guitar for Hank. The project sounds like a fun one as Hank has no specific idea of what he wants, other than a tenor that is loud. I get to play around with the aesthetics, which is always fun.

I'm hoping to get together with Hank as often as possible while he's in town. We have a jam scheduled for next weekend. It's supposed to be warm out, so maybe we'll get to fire up the grill.