One Week Guitar Project

Guitar #36 – made in a week!

This year has been crazy, but it did allow me to make more guitars than I ever did before. Thus I built #36 one week ago, in 7 days. It began with an idea about how I could use an old pickup. This pickup is a Seymour Duncan Jazz Humbucker I bought over a decade ago and rarely used. I had it on an old beater electric but didn’t like the sound of it on that, so it ended up in my box of parts for many years.

Recently I got it out and decided to mess with it by breaking off the legs so I could stick it right onto the soundboard of my latest Corona guitars, which have a space at the end of the neck deep enough for that to work. It sounded very good, but it just didn’t quite fit, so I puzzled over what I might do with it. Then I remembered an old guitar neck I got cheap at a thrift store some time past. It was a Fender style bolt on neck a bit thicker than the depth of my Corona neck extension, so the pickup would fit there with room to spare. I just needed a way to install it, since it now had no legs.

I hit on the idea of attaching it to the end of the neck with a bracket, like the Johnny Smith pickups on various archtop guitars. I got a metal pickup cover and soldered onto that a brass bracket, then stuck the legless pickup inside the metal casing and soldered it in place. I had a suspended pickup and all I needed was a guitar body on which to install it.

A suspended humbucker

I had lots of miscellaneous wood around, including a nice torrified Englemann spruce top, narrow walnut pieces for ribs, and an old guitar back with a hole in it. All this was perfect to construct a hollow body electric guitar from, so I immediately got to work.

I didn’t worry about the extra thick top of over 4mm since the idea was basically an electric guitar. However, after I glued the braces on it had a very decent tap tone. I put the ribs and top together and prepped the holes for the two pots and the output jack, then attached the back. The top gave out an even better tone when the box was assembled, so I decided not to cut a sound hole or f-holes in the top until I heard how it sounded. After all, there was a decent sized hole in the back already.

Repurposed back plate and hole to provide access for controls.

I had to modify the headstock to take 3 + 3 tuners, since that was all I had to work with and I don’t like the 6 in line ones much anyhow. I did this and installed the tuners and screws to act as posts for the strings in order to prevent the sideways pull of the strings from yanking the nut out of line. This was ugly but free and worked fine. The tuners were a nice set of Grovers acquired free from my sister. Thanks Val!

Modified headstock for 3 + 3 tuners

So, I got it all assembled and wonder of wonders, it sounds great without a hole in the top. Imagine my shock! Despite the thick soundboard and lack of hole, this thing is loud and sounds a lot like a carved archtop with the strong attack you want in jazz. The pickup is great too and deserves the reputation it has for not only jazz but most any type of electric guitar music you can name.

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Tour du Mont Blanc

Three years ago I started training to hike the Tour du Mont Blanc, aka the TMB. Every year since then I get nostalgic about that and start hoping that I will get the chance to return to the Alps and wander about from refuge to refuge. So far that hasn’t happened. This past year has been a write off for the world of course, so there was no hope to go to Europe let alone sleep in a refuge full of people who might have Covid 19. This summer it might be possible, if I could get up the nerve to go. However, someone will be doing the TMB and I hope they have a great time. If anyone is interested I wrote a book about my hike, which I have announced her before and am going to do so again, because I added a page to the blog called Tour du Mont Blanc, where I have posted a slice of the book to give you an better idea of what it is about. It’s under the heading above called Tour du Mont Blanc.

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The Old Man and the Typewriters

Ernest Hemingway at the typewriter

I recently read A Farewell to Arms. My wife’s book club was reading it so I decided to get myself a copy and see if I would enjoy the book. I read The Sun Also Rises once and didn’t like it all that much, so I was hoping this one would be better. It was better, much better. In comparison, The Sun Also Rises is hardly worthy of attention, and yet it got Hemingway lots of that. So who knows how this works. While doing the inevitable internet searches to see what the world had to say about A Farewell to Arms I stumbled across a number of supposed facts about Hemingway’s various typewriters, of which he had many. There were some facts that seemed reliable and a great number of what were obvious errors about Hemingway and the typewriters. I had to laugh at one comment stating he typed so hard he wore out his typewriters! If he wore them out, how come his first typewriter, a Corona folder, is still around and works?

There are lists and lists of typewriters he is alleged to have owned. Several are well documented, for example the Corona his first wife gave him for his birthday when he was 21 or so. Steve Soboroff owns Hemingway’s 3 bank Underwood, unless he sold it without informing me. I also saw photos of Ernest using a Noiseless Underwood, which I think qualifies as solid evidence for that one. Then there is the last one, the Halda, which seems to have solid provenance and which was allegedly sold at auction a few years ago. There are photos of Hem with a Royal with chrome trim around the hood too.

To fill out this list of Hemingway’s alleged typewriters we have a Royal P, as well as a Corona 4, plus various other Royals. While reading through all this a funny thought began to occur to me. I had a feeling that I own every one of Hemingway’s typewriters, or at least a close relative of same. I began to dig through the piles in the basement and discovered that indeed I do have a reasonable facsimile of every typewriter Hemingway is reported to have owned (that I know of).

Hemingway’s Halda
My Halda
Hemingway with his Noiseless Underwood
My Noiseless (Underwood and Remington models were the same machine made by Remington)
Hemingway’s Underwood 3 bank
My Underwood 3 bank
Hemingway’s Royal in Key West
My Royal Commander
Hemingway’s Underwood 4 bank at Key West
My Underwood 4 bank (one of several similar)
Another Hemingway Royal
My Royal Arrow
Hemingway’s first typewriter – Corona – in Cuba
My Corona 3 folder

I could not find any photos of Hemingway’s Royal P Portable, but here is mine.

My Royal P

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Facit-nation

1961 Facit

During my recent book writing I tested many typewriters here and came to the conclusion that the Facit and Halda typewriters were becoming my first choices. I was consequently thrilled last week when I unexpectedly came across another 1961 Facit, with larger type than the others. I found in the case a few typed sheets with several versions of a creation legend. Whoever owned this must have given up on writing, which is too bad, but good luck for me!

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The Old Corona 2C

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A Fine Month is April

Goslings in the park

I like April, especially this year. I got my vaccine last Friday. Found a very good typewriter too, a 1963 Smith Corona Clipper which is in fact a Sterling for those of you who understand these things (Series 5A that is). This one has elite type, and best of all it scans to OCR almost perfectly. That can be a problem if you write a lot on typewriters and wish to scan and edit. I completed my 12th novel last week, 60,000 words typed and scanned and edited. Some of the scans were atrociously poor, others worked well. I try to use a variety of my collection of typewriters, so results vary when scanning. The benefit of smaller type is that you can write more on a line before having to return the carriage, which interrupts the flow. Less interruptions are desirable to keep the words flowing.

’63 Clipper in pale blue

Now that I have finished this book and also the latest guitar, I think I’ll take a break and do something else for a while. Maybe write some more poems. Here’s one from last night. I typed it, then scanned it and edited the text, then printed it and scanned it to a JPEG!

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Guitar #35

Recently finished this guitar. Maple body, cypress top. Hand rubbed French polished sunburst finish, somewhat like the bass I made before this. The yellow stain is made from turmeric in alcohol and the red brown colour is Dark Brown leather dye, which works on wood. I used that on the entire maple body and neck. This guitar is a full depth body of 4″ with x braced top like my previous Corona models. Previous models of this design were 3″ deep, so this one has a bit more low end. As part of this experiment this top has less arch, and I used cedar for the braces to see how that might effect the tone. Conclusion – it worked out very well. It’s loud and bright but more mellow than my normally arched tops. This one is perhaps the best of the bunch of Coronas, due to the balance between attack and sustain. It certainly holds its own in a jam and is not at all nasal, although real loud!

Strung it with Martin 80/20 light strings, to my ear the closest thing to Argentines at far less cost. 80/20 bronze alloy (4:1 copper to tin) is thousands of years old and the same stuff they make church bells of etc, so the magic formula hasn’t changed over time. I made the head-stock joint lower down on the neck this time, which I think I now prefer the look of. With a 2 way truss rod I can dial the neck from flat to whatever relief I want. The neck is on the fat side, a bit larger than usual but I like the feel of that too, as it is substantial and will be very stable, especially being hard maple. The fingerboard is extra thick as well, which contributes to the overall stability. With zero tension on the truss rod, the neck has a bit of relief. I dropped that to a tiny bit for now, but it is very easy to tweak it either way.

The bridge is Japanese, and rosewood this time as opposed to ebony on my previous ones. Rosewood is better to work with than ebony, which is brittle as heck. I had to cut it down a bit since they come too tall for this design.

Tailpiece is gold plated steel. I made the wood insert for it as they come without one. Hard to argue with the low price of stuff from China, and it’s really not bad looking. The brass ones cost almost 10 times the price !

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A Year in the Life of a Poet

My latest novel is now available on Kindle. I set out to write a story about a poet who lives in his Mom’s basement and is enthralled by a book by a professor Schlitzenberger called The Wisdom of Gandalf. No sooner did I begin than somehow my brain hijacked the plot and turned the story into a sequel of my book The Magic Typer! I don’t know how that happened but one rule I follow when writing is to go with whatever crazy ideas come through my fingers onto the paper. So this guy, Warren, lives with his mother, but upstairs there is a girl that he is in love with, named Olympia. She of the Magic Typer, but this is 20 years later. I won’t say more, maybe you’ll read the book! I had a great time writing this one, and it’s filled with excerpts from a fictional book about Gandalf (you know who he is), as well as lots of poems and bits of another novel, plus letters that should amuse.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0923KKV39

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A Short Scale Hollow Body Bass Guitar

I just completed my 34th guitar, this one being a bass. I used the same body shape as my recent Corona style, which was convenient in several ways: I had the mold for it, and it reminded me of the Hofner Club Bass. I own a Jazz Bass solid body which is heavy and has a 34″ scale. I wanted a short scale instrument that would be easier to play and also lighter, so I decided to use the Hofner look for inspiration. I ordered a Chinese made copy of the tailpiece and bridge, and set to work designing the instrument. If you set out to build a guitar, or any instrument, you better have an accurate plan, unless you have built whatever you plan to make many times. I can build a guitar almost from memory now, but the bass has significant differences. So I designed it with my old CAD program (Vectorworks 10) which although now an antique of software, still does what I need it to do. I have designed all sorts of buildings and other things with this, and I am very comfortable with how it works.

Since the bass has long strings, which are also very thick, the forces involved are much greater than on a typical six string. I did some research and figured out what the best strings weights would be (50-105) for a short scale bass. The shorter scale also requires heavier strings for the same frequencies, or else the strings will flop around more than they should. Think of down tuning a guitar and how sloppy the strings feel. To use regular strings made for 34″ necks on a 30″ neck would be like detuning a regular bass. I tried this, and it was bad! Using information published by D’Addario I was able to build a table of string weights, unit mass, frequency, scale length and break angle. This gave me the string tensions and the pressure on the bridge. From this I basically guessed how heavy to make the braces, hoping that my intuitive feel for the strength of wood would suffice. To be safe I erred on the side of overbuilding, so the whole thing would not collapse. Since it was to be an acoustic bass however, I didn’t go too far in that direction, or it would have been acoustically dead.

In any case I built it as per plan and of course when it was done I discovered that my instrument was not exactly what I had planned for. Tiny angular rotations, like the neck angle, make large differences at the bridge. I had planned for a bridge of a certain height, which would mean a certain break angle of the strings. That determines the down force on the top, and the higher the bridge is, the greater the angle and down force.

My bridge height was higher than expected, meaning my bridge was now too short! I had to add a spacer underneath it to bring it to the correct height. This was not a problem except that I realized that this was going to increase the force on the top by about 10 lbs. I thought about using regular strings to reduce this, but decided that was not going to work, so I went ahead and strung it with the proper strings and hoped that my extra heavy braces would hold up. After 24 hours they seem to be fine. My sense is that the bracing was the right size after all, and like most well engineered things, had a decent margin of safety. Time will tell however, but so far it sounds great and is performing as well as hoped for.

In keeping with my desire to make my instruments as unique as I can, I made my own pickup using my home made pickup winding machine – an old sewing machine. I built the pickup from a maple core and walnut plates, with 4 neodymium magnets and many thousands of winds of 42 gauge magnet wire. The DC resistance is 10K, for those who know about this. That’s a lot of wire, but it makes for a strong signal and in this case it does not hum at all, unless I get close to a fluorescent light that is, like the one on my workbench. That induces a loud 60 cycle hum, but otherwise the single coil is fine.

I used Gotoh bass tuning heads rather than the silly little bass tuners Hofners have. For a Hofner you must buy special short scale strings with reduced end wraps in order to fit into the tiny tuners. This looks good and is lighter weight, but it restricts the sort of strings you can usually find in the music stores. These tuners allow me to use all off the shelf strings. I put Ernie Ball Slinkys on it, which are very good and as cheap a string as you will find. Maybe one day I’ll try flat wounds, but they don’t offer much except for lower noise from the friction of your fingers. I have tried them on my guitars and I always go back to round wounds, because I like that friction under my fingers. It all depends on preferences of course.

So far I resisted getting a bass amp, because in the house all I need is a low power amp and my Roland Cube Monitor can handle bass very well at low volume. For some reason bass amps are much cheaper than comparable guitar amps, but I have no idea why that is. A bass amp will work just fine with a guitar, but most guitar amps are not suitable for bass. So why do they cost more? Something about this tells me we are getting hosed!

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Collecting Things

Adler J2 c. 1974
Adler J2 typeface sample

Wednesday Jan 27, 2021

I’ve just collected my 199th typewriter yesterday – a 1974 Adler J2. I am typing on it here, to give it a test and see how I like it. Despite how good many of my typewriters are, I generally go back to the same old ones after a while, because they seem to suit me best. This has a delightful typeface however, which is a bonus. This machine has a plastic shroud, which makes it somewhat less desirable. Metal seems to be preferable for some reason, probably because I associate it with my childhood, an era for which nostalgia rules my heart. The idea of collecting typewriters is wrapped in nostalgia, because of the fact that they are now a thing of the past, and were mostly all made of metal. Only the later models had plastic shells, and though many of those are great, I and others, seem to have this preference for metal. It is illogical, but so is collecting things, unless done for profit, and even then there is not much profit in this when you consider all the time and effort spent to find a typewriter, clean it up, and fix whatever may be wrong with it. Often there are plenty of problems, and the hours spent do not pay well for the cost or price received when selling. But we persist, for the joy of finding typewriters, like birdwatchers scouring the bushes for rare birds, we scour the thrift shops in search of the new and unusual models, yet still glad to find some old favourite thing, even as we decline to buy it, unless it is such a bargain…

I wonder if typewriters were all $5 each, and there were half a dozen in every thrift shop, would anyone bother to collect them? I think not. We tend to value things that are rare and or expensive. If every typewriter was $5, which one would I buy to use? Not some rare old thing, unless it worked so well that I preferred using it over a better made model. When one removes price and rarity from the equation, then we find an entirely different set of values. I think of this as something like a blind test. I find this to be true for guitars, especially.

People will pay thousands of dollars for a guitar that has some label on it that they imagine confers a great value to it, even if in a blind test there is no difference between that and a similar guitar that is practically free by comparison. If I were to offer someone any typewriter in the world, and they had no idea what any of them were worth on the market, I bet they would chose simply by how the machine felt, how good the typed page looked, and last, what the machine looked like. But if I had informed them that the Hermes 3000 was worth ten times the cost of the one they selected, I also wager they might well change their mind fast! This happens to me, I should admit, despite my trying to judge things solely on logical grounds.

I think this is a factor of knowledge versus ignorance. When I was young I had less knowledge, and hence more ignorance. The things that I liked then were selected on my youthful judgment, unclouded by the opinions of others and or what the thing cost. I liked things for what I perceived them to be, not for what others perceived. When judging the worth or something now, I always try to keep that thought in mind, and think like a child, rather than as a fan of this or that because everyone else is.

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