Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mixed blessings, cont.



After a late start this morning, I accomplished quite a lot this PM.  If I can get the pictures to load, I'll post some shots.  Anyway, I seem to be getting in the groove a bit on the "making" part of guitar making.  I trimmed the ribs, laid out the linings and cut a whole bunch of tentellones.  So I'm getting nearer to gluing up L's guitar, so that I can fit the back and neck and fretboard, etc.  I think this guitar will come together nicely.  I had previously inlaid the back stripe with a white-rosewood-white back strip, which sets the tone for the bindings, puflings, etc. and I'm going to make the armrest and bridge out of rosewood as well.  I contrast with the cyprus and spruce, this should look very distinctive.

Oh well, here are the photos I mentioned.  The first, trimming the top of L's guitar to size and the other two fitting the ribs and showing how the tentellones might be positioned when glueing them in.  But first, I'll have to trim the ribs to the proper width.  Next, fitting them into the Spanish heel on the neck..actually more detail than that, but I'll get to that. 

Not much else to share today, except that I had to spend a bunch of money on getting this computer disinfected from a virus some asshole sent me in an email, oops, did I say that?

That, along with what's below is all I have for today.  g'night.

Mixed blessings

A good part of another day spent dealing with the lovely folks at the BMV to get our license plates for the car.  A bit less painful than before, but still a pain.  If I can get the pictures imported, I'll show what I accomplished at the shop today...cut the top for L's guitar to size, fitted and trimmed the sides (ribs) to length, or close and tried them on for size in the adjustable mold.  One photo also shows how the top and sides will be joined...with tentellones, glued into place one-by-one all the way around.  I'm trying to decide if spacing them, or gluing them butted tight against each other is the best way.  Luthiers do it both ways.  I'm going to close this post and try to get the photos imported to where I know I can access them.  Be right back.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Resonance and how to measure it????

Here's what I've been working on recently...it's a setup to excite the top of a guitar to test the resonance responses at various frequencies.  The top acts as a speaker when the frequency sweep is fed through a coil, to a rare earth magnet stuck to the top with double sided tape.  The response is then fed to the computer via the microphone and recorded on a chart using a program called "Visual Analyser".  The program captures the responses and, according to my friend Brian Burns, the resulting profile provides you with information regarding the characteristics of the top and ultimately the finished instrument.  Here, I did a profile on Guitar #1 that I completed in '01.  The curve is a bit noisier than those in Brian's example, but the major peaks appear to be near the right location.  Testing of the raw tops is also possible, using a tap method.

I spent more time organizing the shop and trying to get things in very good order so that I know where all of the important tools and materials are.  Wood storage is a problem, but I'll get it the way I want it soon.

It's interesting being located in the Schmoll industrial park...it seems to be full of opportunities for synergy.  Today, I wandered into IndyCraft, a finishing company, which specializes in fine finishes on beautiful wood surfaces.  I talked with owner, Kevin Kinder, who is a musician, martial artist and finishing expert...I'm sure among many other things.  Another business in the park provided me with some Corian material that I used to make the nut on a friends lute.  There's a recording studio, run by an acoustic engineer with whom I've been trying to connect.  I'm sure he could give me some pointers on the acoustic analysis I'm trying to do.  And then there's the coffee roaster the Bier Brewery, the Wine hobbyist shop, etc. etc.  I'm sure that there are resources I haven't even heard about yet.  I did meet the luthier at Paige's music and he might be interested in doing some work together.

Gonna keep on truckin' on the three guitars:  L's, C's and the EI rosewood classical.  Practice WILL make perfect as I go through the various steps of making these instruments.  I may work on and prepare several tops, which may be used on these instruments, depending on their characteristics.  The flamenco will be different from the other two, in that the bracing is much lighter and there are fewer braces.  I think I will employ Brian's design with the transverse braces on the outer edges of the lower bout.  This should provide extra brightness in the trebles for the flamenco sound.

BTW, I'd love to get some feedback from my few subscribers, who've signed on.  I know that my focus right now is guitar making, but for good reason, I have some commitments to keep, to my benefactors as well as myself.  Bear with me.

That's all for now.


Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Visit with "Richard the first"

After a nice weekend...well, actually Sunday, Monday and returning Tuesday...I was back in the shop today.  But first, While in Elkhart/South Bend, we visited friend Anne and Friend Steve at the Victorian Pantry.  Most importantly, for me anyway, was a nice long visit with my first guitar teacher, Dick Wisner "Richad the first".*  I'm proud to announce that I got my start with the classical guitar in his little shop in South Bend and bought my first nice guitar, an Alvarez Yairi classical.  I bought this in 1972 and still have it and play it.  Not as much as I used to because I have two guitars that I made, #1 and #5, which I like to play better.  Dick and I played my guitar and several of his...he has, as he puts it, an accumulation, not a collection...of guitars.  Some really nice ones including a Ramirez, and six or eight more rather notable guitars.  I really enjoyed the visit and promised him that I will come to visit each time I complete a guitar, so that he can be among the first to play it and judge it.  *I say Richard the first, because all of my guitar teaches have been Richards, including Richard Patterson, who runs the Omni Foundation and sponsors the "Dynamite Guitar" concert series in San Francisco; Richard "Rick" Heizman, with whom I studied at Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto.  See http://www.frets.com/ to learn more about Gryphon and Frank Ford, one of, if not THE best guitar repair person in the country.

A new addition to my "waiting room".  A corner hutch.
Checking the neck,/fretboard and top for proper spacing.

Hand Planing the back braces.

Fitting back braces and center reinforcement strip.
OK, shop stuff.  I'm posting some pics of what I did today.  This work is on L's guitar, which is the Barbero flamenco.  I think I have some clues how to use the Visual Analysis program to test the top for this and C's guitar, work upon which will follow shortly.  I hand-planed braces which were split, not sawn, from a piece of fir I got at Northwest Lumber.  I think these will not only look good, but will have superior acoustic properties,  They are very well quarter sawn, have nice, tight grain and stiffness and should  promote a nice sound quality to the degree that the back contributes to that.  I glued two transverse top braces on the top for this guitar on Saturday.  These were already made and are spruce.  The top has a nice tap tone, judged at this point, to be about an "E",  This will change as I test and tweak it.  On Brune's drawing of the Barbero, he states that the completed guitar has a strong "G" resonance.  We'll see where this comes out in the audio testing.  Re: hand planing...it sure is nice to use sharp tools.  I had tuned up the plane I was using on my Burns sharpening system, which, if you're interested is at http://www.lessonsinlutherie.com/ under "double bevel sharpening,"  He also has a section in his website on testing top wood and tops.  Maybe I'll add a links section to this sometime.

I delivered Sam's lute today, with the new Corian nut that I made for it.  Both Sam and I felt that the instrument had a brighter sound than with the ebony nut.  I traded the work on this for lessons from Sam, who is completing his PhD at Ball State under Paul Reilly. 

So, enough for tonight.  I plan on making significant progress on several fronts this week.  L's guitar, work on the selection of top wood and materials for C's guitar.  Beginning to prepare the rosewood for thinning (or thicknessing, as it is called).  I can't wait to begin to work with this wood.  Perhaps a setback on the rosettes...seems Dmitry's father is quite ill and requires considerable care and attention.  may affect the delivery date of the rosettes, but we should still be OK with the delivery of the guitar....I hope, I hope.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Hate the BMV

It's been a few days since I posted anything for a whole bunch of reasons:  Spent three days at the BMV getting new driver's license, trying...that is, trying in several senses of the word...to get the boat (a 10' inflatable for cryin' out loud), the trailer (a simple little 8' utility), and our car registered.  And, we're still not done!  I did get my new drivers license with a picture of some old coot on it that I might recognize, but it's not the guy I see in my mirror every morning.

I worked on a lute yesterday, so I guess that must make me a real luthier now.  Also drew up the pattern for C's guitar and glued two cross braces on the top of L's guitar.  The shop is in pretty good order, but could be better.  I'm hiring Alec to help out.  He helped me hang a piece of pegboard and is organizing my toolbox.

Next on the agenda:  Beginning the process of thinning and preparing to join the back and bend the sides for C's guitar.  Can't wait to see how the Brazilian behaves, feels, smells, bends and sounds.  I'm really excited about working with it.  I'm also working on the testing of the tops I have  in my inventory to choose the one I'll use on this guitar.  I'm going to see my old (first) guitar teacher, Richard, in South Bend.  Haven't seen him for many years and I'm looking forward to it.  He said that he has a stash of wood that he wants me to look at.  I'm interested in seeing what he has and I may acquire some of it for future use.

I'm really interested in talking to him about the students he's taught over the years.  I know of at least two who have become quite notable in the classical guitar world.  One is a professor at USC and he and another founded a trio of some note.  I'll bet that Richard has started quite a few people on their way to careers in guitar.

More when I get back.

I'm trying to learn more about the use of the Visual Analyser program and the gadgets that I need to test the top wood and tops I'll be using and the tuning of them.  I really want the guitars I have in the works and future ones to be truly outstanding instruments.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

No shop today

No shop work today.  Going to Ball State to see Andrew York, a member of the LAGQ, composer and guitarist.  Sometime in the '90s, I spent several days, 3 or 4 hours a day, with Scott Tennant, another LAGQ member *(Los Angeles Guitar Quartet).  Today, I will monitor a master class and attend the evening concert.

Last evening, I watched a program about Sherman's march to the sea.  My great grandfather Morgan D. Mercer was on that march.  The program stated that there was a considerable amount of pillage and destruction caused by the foraging members of the troops who were responsible for feeding the huge army.  I believe I have read elsewhere that this was not the case, that they took what they needed and were not cruel to the residence of the countryside they passed through.  I'll see if I can find some firsthand accounts of this campaign to support one or the other of the claims.  I know that there was destruction of, for instance, Columbia, SC, but Sherman did not order that, but he was not apologetic about it either.  The amazing thing about that march was the incredible distances the troops marched each day, sometimes waist deep in the swamps.  However the Commissary details kept the troops fed, clothed and in good condition so that when they marched into Washington, they were in high spirits

On the other hand, my great grandfather Jasper Newton McClain, who had at the time of the Grand March, recovered from a wound and re-joined the army,  He had served in the MI 8th Infantry, but rejoined as a member of the 7th Cavalry during one of George Armstrong Custer's tenures.  After the Grand March, they thought they were going home, but instead were sent west to Fort Laramie to guard the wagon trains going west.  Well, it seems they were ordered west, but were given little besides their horses, weapons, slabs of bacon and hard tack to survive on.  So, out of necessity, they "foraged" along the way, taking what they needed from the farms and towns they passed through.  It was said that the "Bloody Michigan Brigade" would come into a town and pillage whatever they wanted.  Towns, learning of their approach would lay barricades to fend them off.  I don't know how effective this was.

I don't know if they actually reached Fort Laramie or not.  Seems to me, that I read that they were diverted to guard the Boseman trail and engaged in skirmishes with the Indians.  I'll fill this detail in as I get more information from my Sis.

Thats all.  G'day

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Moldy story

OK, now it's done...the mold that is.  Somehow, this turned out not to be a trivial exercise.  But it is a fairly important tool when it comes time to assemble C's guitar.  It will assure that the shape is accurate and will allow some testing in the meantime.

Exercise in futility...so far anyway:  I have this cello bow that I acquired at a flea market along with two others for a trifling sum...$22 for the three.  What was there to lose, eh?  Well I had the bow in question apparaised by a notable violin maker in Arnold, CA and he said that it needed quite a bit of restoration, but  once repaired could bring up to $3000.  Here's the trick - find someone interested in, and capable of, restoring it; find someone interested in buying it, restored or not; or find someone interested in doing both, restoring it and buying it, or perhaps selling it for me on consignment.  It's pernambuco, German or maybe French, shows quite a bit of use wear, probably indicating that it is high quality and was probably used by a symphonic musician.  I've heard it said that it was used by YoYo Ma.  Who knows???

That's all for today.  G'day.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Glue up

Glued up the mold for the Burns Classical guitar today.  This will be used to assemble C's guitar.  Tired but it was worth it. 

Got a picture of the tuning pegs for L's guitar.  These look just like regular cello pegs, but they are geared with a 4:1 gear ratio so tuning is fast and sure and they are very light so they will balance the guitar well.  This guitar will have a very traditional overall look, but special features will make it special sound-wise and I want it to have a very responsive touch.  I'm kicking around some theme ideas and will chat with L about this.

Geared tuning pegs for L's guitar
That's  it for today.

Monday, February 6, 2012

A day in the shop - Hah

My intentions were honorable.  I had planned to spend the better part of the day finishing up the mold (form) that will be used in the testing and construction of C's guitar and other future ones.   It didn't quite turn out that way, with minor emergencies and unplanned errands taking precedent.  Nonetheless, I got more done on teh mold. My intent is that it will be useful for both purposes...testing tops, and assembling the body or the guitar such that it can also be tested and adjusted during construction.  It still needs to be glued up and tested, but I think it will do what I want.  The photos above show how it might work.

Next challenge:  More organization in shop; acquisition of the information I need to conduct the testing of the various tops which might be used for both C and L's guitars.  I've picked up some clues as to how to accomplish this, but haven't tried it yet. 

Civil War:  Morgan Darius Mercer joined the Michigan 10th Infantry regiment during its formation (dates later).  He was present at Pittsburg Landing during what became known as the battle of Shiloh.  A historical diary written by one of the regiment by the name of F. W. Hewes, describes the action during that period.  I'll talk a lot more about this, but what broght it to mind was, on Antique Road Show, someone brought in a Union battle flag that was present at that campaign.  The appraiser said that despite its condition, it was worth  $10 to $15,000.  The person who brought it, believed it was carried by an ancestor in an Illinois regiment.  I'll spend some more time on this history as well as that of my paternal grandmother' father, Jasper Newton McClain, who was a member of the 8th Michigan infantry and later, the Michigan 7th Cavalry.  Pique your interest?

I have the complete line that shows that I am a descendant of Elder William Brewster spiritual leader of the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.  I'll put this on sometime soon.  Interestingly, I subscribe to a Facebook group of descendants of Brewster and none that I've seen so far share a line beyond the first or second generation in common with me.  But I am related to Ashley Judd, the Mayflower Madame and Princess Diana.

That's all for now. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Still Experimenting

OK, I'll admit it.  I haven't a clue what I'm doing, but so far, I've been able to get onto the blog site, post something save and publish it and get to it again.  Yea for me.

Now, re: the shop:  I have a space rented in a small industrial park near here ( Jill's house).  We managed to get a semblance of a shop set up, and once properly organized (OK, I'm working on it), I think it will work out quite nicely as a guitar making shop.  This is my main workbench, obviously in need of organization.

I have a cabinet where I'm storing my wood in order to keep it in the right conditions humidity wise.  I have the basic woodworking tools and some specialty tools, such as chisels, planes, jigs, workboards, molds and fixtures for assembling guitars of various sizes and shapes.  My wood stash includes some joined tops and backs as well as some back, side and top sets yet to be joined.  I now have commissions to build two guitars, which I'll refer to as C's guitar and L's guitar.

C's guitar is planned to be a very special instrument for which I have acquired or am acquiring the following:

Back and sides - the wood for this is a set of very special brazilian rosewood obtained from a friend who has had it in storage for a very long time.  Brazilian rosewood is, of course the most desirable wood for guitar backs and sides (ribs). 

Top - I have a pretty large selection of tops, both joined and unjoined.  Some of this has been tested and shown to be potentially superior wood for tops and will be further tested through the process of making the guitar.  Most likely this will be spruce, either Engelmann or European spruce.

Tuning machines - These are Alessi, hand made machines from Italy.  I chose these for their functional excellence as well as their simple beauty and that they have a plain, unengraved backing plate which may be the palette for some custom engraving.

Rosette -   The rosette for this guitar is one of my design, but will be produced by a Russian craftsman who specializes in producing custom rosettes.  These should be delivered sometime in March.  I could add a sneak peek at this feature of the guitar....Naaahhhhh!  Later

Other - the rest of the parts, the design or "plantilla" and the design of trim, head piece, inlays, or other special features will be determined during the construction process.  I have ideas, but they are not yet firmed up.  The bridge will be Brazilian rosewood with an overlay of the Rosette design

Sound - I am working on some methods for testing the tops of guitars using techniques used by a friend who tells me that he has produced guitars judged by a group of very experienced luthiers to be equivalent to guitars that it took them up to 100 guitars to achieve.  I've a lot to learn about the testing methodology, but nonetheless, I think I can be assured that I'll have it in place in time to test and produce an outstanding top for this and all future instruments.

I intend that this instrument will be a thing of uncommon beauty and excellence.  I'll begin to post some photos of progress as it occurs.

L's guitar is already under construction and will be customized for the recipient to meet some special requirements for ergonomics.  Essentially, it is a Marcello Barbero, 1951 flamenco guitar, which will be modified to bring out the more "classical" resonances and sustain. 

Back and Sides - will be of Monerrey cypress,  which is the wood of choice, in my opinion for flamenco guitars.  It is very light, aromatic and pleasant feeling and looking.  The set on the right is the cypress back and ribs and spruce top.

Top -  The top is spruce, again either Engelmann or European, but it will also be tested and adjusted to bring out the desirable characteristics of sound. 

Rosette - the rosette is a design very close to that used in the original 1951 Barbero and will include an overlay for the bridge tie block.  The bridge will be brazilian rosewood.

Neck - The neck will be spanish cedar, again the wood of choice for flamencos because of its light weight, but desirable resonance characteristics  The fretboard will be ebony.

Other trim, inlay and design characteristics are yet to be determined. 

That's it for now.  More to come in the near future



The primary purpose of this blog site is to chronicle the activities in my shop where I am on course for making classical and flamenco guitars.  I'll be posting activities and thoughts about how I'm going about this and as I deliver each guitar to its new owner, to provide them with a written and pictorial look at the process, progress and opinions about these steps and the results. 

In addition, I want to write a story about my family and what I know and what information I can collect from various sources, but primarily from by sister, Carol Sukolics, who has collected, researched, verified and re-verified the genealogy of the various branches of the family and has a room full of this information.  I don't know how this will be organized and it may just be random thoughts about the things I learn or have learned.  I do know that the Mercers have deep roots in the history of this country from the landing at Plymouth Rock, to the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and period following.  I'll talk about these and my thoughts about them.

Politics?   NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Religion?  NOT!!

Philosophy?  Maybe

My Grandkids?  Likely

My wife and kids?  Maybe, but certainly respecting their privacy to the extreme.

I haven't a clue how this site works, so I'll probably lose stuff and generally muck it up so that it hardly makes any sense, but perhaps, with a bit of experience, I'll figure it out.

So, here goes...what follows is the first, last and best attempt at this that I have figured out so far.