Highly Strung

Things are quickly taking shape, but there is still so much more to do


Winston is in the guitar building fast lane, as he is running out of time before he returns to the USA. It’s exhausting to watch. But, then, I’m feeling pretty exhausted already. This is no “holiday”! The hours seem civilised 10 till 3; but, there’s no let up; finish one thing — bam! — straight into the next. We don’t hang about eating sandwiches and swapping life stories — there’s hardly time to breath. In fact, we don’t “do” lunch. If I remember, I’ll munch on some nuts, and I devour the odd cup of tea that Chris makes. Winston’s morning tea is usually still sitting there, stone cold, at the end of the day — untouched. When I leave the workshop, for the 2 minute walk back to Divine Guest House, I am stiff and aching. An hour of good yoga refreshes me enough to get out onto the beach for a stroll and a sun-downer, or two. After my curry, I’m back in my room checking emails and listening to my “tunes”, with maybe a few minutes strumming the old secondhand guitar I brought with me; before drifting into slumber. Then, of course, being woken at various times by loud music, barking dogs, revving engines, and mobile phone conversations —loud noise is 24/7 here in India.

I’ve spent the obligatory 45 minutes shopping for something that should only take 5 minutes — “so, what price do you want to pay? Just take a look here at my ‘special’ drawer. You’re a good customer etc, etc” — just tell me the price please! Well, I suppose he was a jeweller and he thought he might sell me something gold or with diamonds, instead of three unremarkable and dull stones, which I intend to embed in the head of my guitar. A nod to where it is being built.

The Soundboard of silence

During this second week I worked a lot on the most critical part — the Soundboard. The Spruce is very soft and quite weak, but it has to withstand large forces from the taut strings, and also a good bashing from my hands. Despite this, I had to thin the Soundboard right down to about 3mm, which took a lot of doing. Placing the Sound hole in the right place is also crucial for the structure, and the rosette, once in place, prevents the hole from splitting, as well as adding a touch of decoration.

Nice looking scalloped braces and bars, that support the fragile soundboard and keep it convex and taut — like a drum. Note the rosewood patch, which will support the bridge pins, eventually.

To provide the necessary rigidity and strength, struts (or batons) with curved bottoms are used to bend the Board into a convex profile. Other struts are positioned to enhance the retention of sound within the guitar. Some people copyright their strut designs (they can become quite anal over minute details), but we’ve gone for a standard pattern that has been around since the thirties. Call it “Martin-esque”. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The struts/batons are finally trimmed down, to lighten the guitar, and then rounded off to enhance the sound quality (no sharp edges for reflection). The end result is an organic looking lattice of struts supporting the top — a bit like a tight drumskin. In fact, as recommended by my guitar building book, I have been tapping the soundboard at every oportunity to test its sound qualities. Until the struts were completed, the sound was rather disappointingly, but not surprisingly, weak, tinny and short lived. However, after the strutting, it now sounds quite bassy, with variations in tone depending where you tap it. I’m quite impressed.

A side issue

One set of Kerfing completed, the othere set is drying — held on by bulldog clips; well, the pros use clothes pegs, so why not?

My Rosewood sides needed additional curving with the hot pipe, before joining up using thick blocks of Mahogany (they play an important role in holding the whole guitar together. Now, if you have ever looked inside a guitar, you will have noticed a snake of light-coloured and notched wood, winding its way around the edge of the sides and back. This is known as Kerfing. It just provides a ledge against which, the front and back boards can be attached; plus adding some rigidity to the wobbly sides. Not a difficult job, gluing the Kerfing on, however, I had to make my own Kerfing! Let’s just say it took a kerfing hell of a long time.

Once the Kerfing was attached, I then set about, with a small plane and my Mark 1 eyeball, a curved profile along both sides. This means that the depth of the Soundbox will vary, providing aditional opportunity to “dome” both the back and Soundboard. A very satisfying thing to do, and a good result too.

Don’t fret

21 Frets to be placed in my grooves

Perhaps the one job where Mark 1 eyeballs are not accurate enough is making the Fretboard (fingerboard). The position of each fret in relation to the top (Nut) and each other is crucial to ensure that the right notes ring out when the strings are depressed. So marking and cutting slots for all 21 frets was a time-consuming task. I think I went a bit astray after the 17th fret, but it’s unlikely you’ll find my fingers in that rarefied atmosphere very often, so I’m not too worried about that. I even suggested to Chris, that we miss out all the frets above the 12th and paint the board red and yellow, and saying “Danger Zone — There be Dragons Here!”

Time for some arty jobs

Teak end flash inserted and ready for sanding

A couple of satisfying jobs this week were connected to the aesthetics, although both tasks also have practical reasons. First was trimming the excess wood from the Neck’s Heel, to form a sort of ship’s bow profile. The second was to cover up where the two sides meet (or nearly meet) at the bottom of the guitar. This is done by trimming and inserting a thin strip of Teak. It is the same colour Teak, which I will use later to form the edge bindings.

Two new guys arrived, Peter and his son Luke (from Melbourne, Australia) soon to make a start, and Winston is joining his neck and body — it looks like a guitar now! No time to rest — back to the grindstone.

The workshop with Winston, Peter, Luke and Chris. Note the basic handtools and the lethal drum sander which Luke and Chris are using.
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