Thursday, August 16, 2012

El Gato BluesMaster (IW#046)

There is this guy that it has been my good fortune to play music with off and on for the last ten years or so.  He is one of these guys that can play the hell out of anything he grabs, you could give him a folding chair and he could play the blues on it.

Well, when I made the first BluesMaster it was obvious that he needed to own one.  So I began the hunt for the parts.  I also began trying to figure out what to paint the banjo head.  When we played together a bunch of years ago, he sometimes referred to himself as "Lovercat," so the black cat seemed like a good choice.

The fork tailpiece wraps around to the back.
It is not quite as loud as I was hoping it would be, but it has a pretty nice sound.  I drilled some holes in the top cake pan to let more sound out, and that helped a fair amount.  Getting the ratio of sizes right pan-to-pan is clearly pretty important in terms of projecting the sound forward instead of trapping it in the sound chamber.  The neck is a piece of maple that came out of the same board as the original BluesMaster, one that I had salvaged from a woodworker's shop when his roof collapsed and he went out of business.  The last time I used maple I only put a coat of oil on it, and I have noticed already that the steel strings are starting to stain it where I press them down.  So to try to keep the neck a little cleaner this one is lacquered. Not sure I am sold on that, though, it seems like too technical a finish for these instruments.  Should work, though.

Once again I used Corian for the bridge, I am starting to really like the results I get from it.  It is set up as a tenor banjo tuned Chicago style, DGBE.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Pete Seeger Tenor (IW#045)

I have been getting a lot of mileage out of old number 38, the first Punch tenor.  The box is a good size, it sounds pretty good, it is a nice size.  So I went back to the smoke shop and asked if they had another of those boxes.  Took them a while to get one empty (something about cigars not selling as well.  A health risk, apparently.  Who knew?), but finally one came free and they called me.  About that time I found out that an old friend named Lance from New York had a connection to Pete Seeger and said that if I could get a box over there that Pete would sign it for me.  Holy jeebers.  Thanks to the USPS and Lance I ended up with a cigar box with Pete's autograph  so clearly had to make another tenor.

This one has been an interesting process.  Not only is it more fraught for me because I damn well better not screw it up, it is the first time I am building something I have built before, with the possibility of building it better.

That is Seeger's autograph below the bridge.
For a neck I got out some black locust that had been a tree in our backyard.  We took it down a couple of years ago and I had some of it sawn into lumber.  It is about ready to use, so I took a chunk of that.  I have never use black locust before, it is kind of stringy with an open grain.  Looks an awful lot like red oak, actually.  For a bridge I used a scrap of Corian, a countertop material.  I got that idea from my friend Steve Wishnevsky. He told me that Corian transfers the sound to the tone wood better than a lot of woods, so I have been using that.

All in all, it came out pretty well.  I have a new favorite instrument.  And if anyone wants the first Punch tenor (the one that is linked above) drop me a line.  I'm looking to sell it to a good home.  I can't play two of them.

It being autographed by Pete Seeger, I had to have the first song be a Seeger tune.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Mountain Ukes (IW#'s 43 & 44)

I wrote a little while ago about a project making ukuleles.  These came, as I described before from an old piano we are dismantling in conjunction with a dance piece for a company called Dance Exchange.  I got enough scrap to make two ukes, which I have dubbed the "Mountain Ukes," as they are being made for that piece.

The tennon on the neck fits in to a mortice on the body for a secure joint.
This has been my first foray into making the sound chambers, and I tried a new method for setting the neck, which I stole from Joel Eckhaus, a very accomplished luthier who presented at the Furniture Society conference recently.  He has a tennon cut on the end of the neck which he bolts into a mortise in the body.  Very clever, so I stole it for these.  One of the limitations I have run into doing the "stick-through-a-box" method is that the sound hole can't be where you expect it to be:  the middle of the box.  if you put the sound holes on the sides (something that a lot of cigar box banjo makers do), it looks less "guitar-y" which in some cases is something I am trying to achieve.  So for these I tried it and by jeebers it worked!

The cedar lids sound great, the very thin one out of the recycled shingles sounds brighter.  Overall, they are pretty great boxes and fun to play.  Not sure I want to get in the line of making whole instruments, though, even out of found materials.  There is too much temptation to start acting like an actual luthier without having the knowledge and skill set one needs to follow up on that.  And I really like that I was able to leave the original finish from the piano on the fingerboard, as an homage to the instrument that was, and that is living again in the new instrument.