Coming to an End . . .
It felt strange walking up the walking up through the Castle precincts and heading to the workshop for ‘the last time’ . . . only four weeks ago we all entered the building to find a pile of wood and tools and today I will walk out with a guitar!
|'The office' for the last time|
Pin Holes . . .
The first tasks of the day were to ream the pin holes even further and then make some slots in the bridge where the strings will run from the holes to the saddle. The string effectively turns 90 degrees in about 5cm so it is important to round this turn a little.
|Tweaking the pin holes|
Dressing the Frets . . .
Next came ‘dressing the frets’ – a term I have heard a million times but never really knew what it meant. Fundamentally you start with the big picture by putting a long straight edge over the entire neck to see which of the frets are proud and which ones are low and using the 20” radius sanding block you sand back the offending frets. Once that looks OK you then get a much smaller straight edge (I forgot to take a picture of the Stewmac tool that Richard has) and address three frets at a time so as to take out minor variations – remembering to take readings across the length of each fret. Finally, you come back over each fret with a fret file to properly round each one to the correct profile – which is pretty much defined by the file.
|Starting the set up|
|The big picture first|
|Then some 'black magic'|
|Sanding the frets|
Visitors and ‘the Other . . .
Despite it being Saturday we still had a string of visitors in the workshop , including Nick’s son Harmish who came in to show us the three string ‘cigar box’ guitar he has just finished. If you are wondering what a ‘cigar box’ guitar is – don’t bother! Another visitor was the gypsy jazz luthier and player Jerome – he made Phil’s new guitar sound like a Maccaferri! Phil and Richard needed to sort out the pick up Phil's guitar - which turned out to be a faulty jack. But I think Phil was showing the early symptoms of ‘withdrawal depression’. Look out Suzi – we have learned he is dangerous when he gets bored!
|A luthier in the making|
|Hey Richard - I thought we were building American style guitars!|
|That's amazing - I think I will nick this one when he isn't looking!|
|You would have thought a new one would work!|
Installing the Tuners . . .
Turning my attention to the headstock, I installed the tuners. This is a quite simple task – remembering that the three on each side are ‘opposite’ to each other and need to be put the right way around. They are lined up by eye and secured by a little screw in the back of the head . . . which sounds much more interesting than it is!
|Finally - something easy!|
|The other side we never look at|
The Nut and Saddle . . .
Making the nut and saddle is quite a detailed process . . . and a very smelly one as it is made from bone and it sort of ‘burns’ when filed. The short of it is that it needs to ‘thicknessed’ to the right depth, string slots marked (exactly), slotted, cut to length and then shaped to the right profile – but of course everything needs to be done precisely as it will affect the way in which the guitar plays AND you will see both every time you play the guitar! We will come back to both in the final set up of the guitar.
|Profiling the nut|
|Saddle in place|
Scratch Plate . . .
This is an optional item, but those of us who commit the unforgivable sin of sometimes playing with picks need to have the lower section of the playing area protected against scratching. Pick guards are often a ‘feature’ on guitars, but Richard uses a transparent film so as not to detract from the overall look. This meant marking out the overall shape of the guard, scribing a semi-circle to match my rosette and then cutting with scissors and special little compass cutter. The surface itself is ‘roughed up’ using Superfine and the Ultrafine pads so as to give it ‘satin’ look and blend into the guitar. Like most things in making a guitar, installation is quite easy but the consequences of a mistake will be very obvious!
|Cutting out the scratch plate|
Strings . . .
This subject was quite entertaining . . . Richard asked me what ‘size’ strings I would like and I said I always use 11s. For the non guitarists amongst us this will be meaningless – but strings come in various sizes, most commonly 10 to 14. The number refers to the thickness of the bottom E string (the biggest one), but the short of it is that ‘real men’ don’t use 11s! I insisted as I don’t have a particularly strong finger technique and to his credit Richard agreed and everything sounded great – although the actual moment of the first playing is no indication of what the guitar will be like as the set up is extremely important. I could tell Richard was wincing about something . . . and finally he blurted out that I “need” 12s! He stopped short of refusing to let me walk out the workshop with the 11s, but I would not liked to have tested the matter. So I agreed – and of course he was right!
Set Up . . .
Richard talked Phil and me through the setup process . . . in essence it is a matter of adjusting the height of the nut (by filing more out) at each string slot to get the exact height above the fret board. The measurement is taken by holding each string down at the F# (second fret) position and looking at the clearance over the first fret – and then adjusting the nut. The string can be ‘slipped’ out of position to do minor adjustments. And the entire neck is adjusted by tweaking the truss rod one way or the other – which is determined by holding the string down at the 14th fret (right up the dusty end of the fretboard where few of us play)and looking closely at the string clearance all the way down the neck.
In summary, set up is a matter of simulteously adjusting overall fret height and shape, each fret’s height, nut and saddle height and the truss rod – other than that it is quite simple!
Finished – Nearly . . .
So the guitar was finally finished . . . and I am absolutely thrilled with it in every way. It is a very fine guitar in sound, looks and finish – there a no compromises in any way and it is one that I would happily buy from a shop. As I look at the beautiful guitar sitting in its case this morning I am still pinching myself with the realisation that I made it – under Richard’s supervision of course! We of course celebrated with ‘swift half’ – but even while we were having that Richard was playing the guitar, adjusting this, tweaking that, ‘hoovering’ the insides again and the like. He even put another coat of French polish on the neck and gave the whole thing his ‘eagle eye’ check over – he really is a perfectionist!
|There is a crack in everything - that's how the light gets in!|
|How about that!|
|All done . . . thanks Richard!|
|Ready to go to Australia|
“Is That All There Is” . . .
So, in the words of that famous Jerry Leiber (who passed away while we were building our guitars) and Mike Stoller song, Phil and I walked out with our guitars in hand. One of the added bonuses of doing this course was the fact that I have met Phil and Suzi . . . and we will definitely be in touch and hope to visit each other’s homes in Sheffield and Melbourne sometime very soon.
And my dear blogettes . . . you will no doubt be relieved to know this is the last of my ‘daily’ blogs. I am heading to France tomorrow for a few days and then making my way back to Australia the following Sunday. I will post one more ‘reflective’ entry a day or two after September 5th which will include a photo of my new guitar ‘down under’. To Richard, Phil and Patrick – please feel free to send me anything you would like to have included.
Thanks again everyone – to Patrick and Phil for your friendship and collegiality, to Nick for taking an interest in our work and especially to Richard for your fine luthier skills, stellar pedagogical abilities and for being so patient and tolerant of this ham fisted would be luthier!
|The 'morning after' . . . I still can't believe I made this!|