Thursday, July 19, 2012

Starr Hill Bluesmaster (IW#42)


Well, I have been trying to build a resonator guitar for a while now, but the last serious attempt failed (which is okay, of course.  You gotta try new stuff).  I think I have landed on a good one, though.

I have been building tenor guitars for a while, now, and have a few under my belt.  I like having four strings to play with, and the 23" scale seems to fit nicely with the size of a cigar box.  I have been playing mostly tenors lately, since that is what I have been making, and since my friend St Wish (who is a real damn luthier and makes real damn instruments) made me a tenor a few months ago.  I tune them Chicago style, so I am not playing them like a true tenor guitar, but that is only because I don't know how to play tenor guitar.

Fork for a tailpiece and bottle cap buzzers
Anyway, what we have here is a flea market brownie tin with a pie tin on top of it.  the tension of the strings is deforming the pie tin a little which messes with the intonation, but that seems to have stabilised for the most part.  And on my recent travels I had some Starr Hill beer, which is a brewery in Charlottesville, Virgina.  I gotta tell you, they make damn fine beer.  They also have real nice bottle caps, which became the inspiration for the decoration.  Not having decorated any of my instruments so far, I have to say it was a lot of fun.  And that the beer was good.  And that the bottle caps make a nice swampy buzzing sound when you play.  Here is what it sounds like:


Good-sounding little box, I think, and it makes me want to play the blues a lot.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Branching Out (IW#'s 43 & 44)

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to take apart an old piano, which yielded a bunch of white pine veneered with what I think is rosewood.  It is a very old piano, what is left of it, and the rosewood veneer is really thick.  Concurrently, I seem to have a lot of friends that play uke, and as it seemed a shame to throw out any of the wood, and as all the pieces were small, making a pair of ukes out of the scrap is obviously the way to go.

While it has not been my intention to make this a "how-to" or process blog, I am wading through some new water for me, and I thought it might be useful to document some of the process here.  Unfortunately, I did not get any photos of the pieces as they came off the piano, nor of them before I thicknessed them.  So the documentation picks up sort of mid-stream.  Being that white pine won't bend, I am making my own cigar boxes, in a way, and then I will make the boxes into instruments.  I am actually making these ukes from zero, which has never been the intention here at the Instrument Works, but it seems right for this pair.  And I sure have learned a lot about what I don't know about making instruments.

Here is the story so far, picking up after the pieces have been thicknessed and ripped to width:

Here are the parts for the two boxes.  I am mitering the corners so the veneer wraps.  I had contemplated finger joints like you see on cigar boxes, but this seemed to make more sense.

For the lids I salvaged some shingles form a house that is getting reshingled around the corner.  Turns out the old cedar was too fragile, even though I tried gluing up several pairs of shingles I only had one survive the trip through the planer.  The other top and the backs will be made from cedar siding scrap out of the same refuse pile.  They homeowner replaced the shingles with siding and left the off-cuts on the curb.  It is a little thicker (I am almost afraid it is too thick, but only time will tell).
Here they are home from the big shop and on my bench, ready for hand work.

Of course it is important to me that all of the parts come from the piano, so I laminated some up to make the necks.

the shingles, once they were planed down, were so skinny and delicate that I thought that some bracing might be in order.  I have never put bracing on a lid before, here's hoping this works.


Here are the heads getting glued on to the necks.  It is almost like I am making real instruments or something.


So there is a lot of faux luthery going on here, cobbled together out of what I remember from visits to actual luthier shops.  I hope these sound ok, I am sailing new waters here for sure.  More updates as I have time to post them