Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Three Sisters (IW#58, #59, and #60)





Someone in our neighborhood threw out a piano a couple of months ago.  This is a pretty common occurrence, actually.  Now that it is possible to get an electronic keyboard that sounds really good and has weighted keys for a couple of grand, buying or repairing a piano that takes up a lot of space, has to be tuned, and that costs way more than the electronic version is less attractive than ever.  The New York Times Magazine even wrote an article about this recently.  Here is what I found in our neighborhood:

The owners (or inheritors, I have no idea what the story of this piano was) obviously cut the harp out with a sawzall, probably to sell it for scrap.  The rest of it they left out for trash pickup.  I don't fault them for this, I am sure they had their reasons.  But if you know me you know I couldn't just let it sit there.

The piano parts really filled up the shop at first.
So I brought a bunch of the wood home, and by being careful about layout I was able to make three little tenor guitars.  I have been wondering about sound hole shape for a while now, and I decided to make the three instruments absolutely identical and just vary the sound hole shape to see what that did to their sonic identities.  Quite a lot, actually.

I based the body size and shape on a cigar box guitar I had already made, and basically made three new cigar boxes.  The piano was made of chestnut, a wood that I love to work with on top of which was a cheap veneer that had been stained a deep red.  I peeled all of that off and planed down the material and was left with three beautiful little boxes.  The tone wood is spruce from the sound board of the piano, which was all beautiful, straight-grained stuff.  I made the bracing from some maple that was part of another part of the piano.  The only things for these that did not come from the piano is the strings and tuners.

There is a local graphic designer here named Jason Evans.  He has ridden his bike to all corners of Syracuse and taken photos of some iconic building in that neighborhood, which he then makes into these beguiling prints.  We love the Westcott print, which is our neighborhood, and bought the print from him at a street festival some years ago.  Because these guitars are from scrap sourced in this neighborhood I contacted and asked him if he would be interested in trading work, boy am I glad he said yes.  He will get one of the sisters, I will keep one, and the third will go to a friend and fellow Wescott neighborhood denizen named Colin Aberdeen, who is my favorite guitar player around.

These little boxes sound just great, really clear and loud.  And yes, the sound hole shape really does make a difference.  The F-holes have the richest sound, but it is noticeably muted.  The off-set round holes are by far the loudest and brightest, almost crisp.  The central sound hole is, as you would imagine, right in the middle, with a decent presence.  Pretty interesting.  I had two good friends over to play them with me, and they all sounded great on "This Land."