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 !
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!
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.
Two months, no gigs. For a musician this pandemic has put a halt to that, among everything else. But, we came up with a plan this week – a concert on the front lawn, maintaining 2 metres between players. I debuted the Corona Gold guitar, which performed flawlessly. I however performed less flawlessly, and more so as the temperature continued to drop and the wind picked up. By 8 PM we were done, after 90 minutes straight out fun.
my band – bassist Larry is behind the tree
the sign says it all
Meanwhile, life in isolation goes on. Meetings are held via computer. Days are spent alone, mostly, making something, or lately – painting again. I made a second guitar following the pattern of the Corona Gold, but this one strictly acoustic. I switched the top bracing from parallel to X, and made the body a little deeper than the previous one. Also employed the X brace on the back, and the same projected neck design. Having a tall bridge allows using a nifty adjustable bridge too, which makes action adjustments dead simple. Body and neck are maple, with spruce top.
Corona Gold II – the acoustic version – Engleman Spruce top
back plate – arched X braced
detail of projected fingerboard
detail of neck heel
Again I finished this using wiped on polyurethane varnish mostly, with a few coats of french polish shellac on the top to make it glossy.
When the guitar was done, I decided it was time to get out the paint again, after a year. My first project was a kid sized card table, which became the canvas for duck. This is for the amusement of my 3 grandsons.
duck on a small card table
Two of them saw it, and were mostly impressed with the little pictures of trucks I painted around the edges. So much for the duck!
Next up was a scene from the Presidential Range of the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Once upon a time I spent many vacations hiking along those ridges, and several times staying in the huts. Lake of the Clouds hut is the largest of them all, and commands quite a view from its perch on the shoulder of Mt. Washington.
lake of the clouds hut
Sticking with the wilderness theme, I rendered my vision of a scene along the Cold River in the Adirondacks of New York (corrected from previous label of Raquette River, which was somewhere else). This was from a slide (Kodachrome even) I took while hiking the Northville-Placid Trail in 1979. May it remain ever wild and remote.
I’ve also been working on another picture book for kids, called Ciel The Blue Horse, and intend to publish it any day now.
Ciel frees Aaron the snail from the bucket in which he was captured.
When I took up guitar building, I began by attempting to build an archtop guitar. I quickly concluded that I should try something simpler, so I put that aside and built five other guitars before returning to the archtop in 2001. I carved the top from a hunk of cedar I glued up from lumber I found at the local yard. It was a huge thing, and it sounded great, but when I tried to stick a pickup on it I ruined the top. I was going to throw it away, but then decided to see if a simple domed top would work. I removed the old top and made a new one for the body.
body with top removed
new top – domed plate
attaching new top to the old body
I didn’t try to disassemble the neck, because it was made like a classical guitar, with the ribs built into it. So I slid the new top into place and glued it on.
guitar #6 – version 2
I played this guitar for years, and stuck a face mounted pickup on it. It sounded great, but it was still huge and unwieldy. Last year I decided to have a go at turning it into a thinner, smaller guitar that I could use in the band, so I sawed the back of it off, and reformed the lower bout, reducing it by 2″. I put on a new back, and made a cutaway so I could access the high notes. I needed controls for the pickup however, so I cut a hole in the lower bout, planning to mount the controls there on a plate. When I played the guitar after making the hole, it sounded better! I decided to leave the hole, and I mounted the controls on the body between the two main braces. I stuck a mason jar ring into the new soundhole, because it just happened to fit. Everyone seems to notice this.
guitar#6 – version 3
This became my main guitar for band use, since everyone who heard it said it was better than my other guitar. This may have to do with the pickup, an old Framus single coil. I played it for a couple of years, and recently decided to build a copy. I hadn’t built a guitar in 5 years and thought this would be a good idea, if only to see if I still had it in me to do it. I began in February and worked on it steadily for the past 6 weeks. Building a guitar is intense , and I thought of little else for the time I was engaged on the project. The guitar has a maple body, stained gold with home made dye made from turmeric. Since it is the colour of beer, I have called this guitar the Corona Gold.
the Corona Gold
I copied guitar #6 closely, with a few improvements. Luckily I had a second old Framus pickup, so the pair of them sound pretty much the same plugged in. The new one has a bit more punch however, as it is a little deeper than #6. The new neck is attached with a dovetail joint. The body is exactly 70mm deep. I made the neck in two parts – the dovetail block was made first, then the neck part was glued to that. This allowed for a solid neck from end to end.
neck projects and is not connected to the body below
the back – gold stained maple
That’s it for now – I have too many guitars as it is!
It’s been years since I repainted a typewriter. I recently sold the last one I repainted, so when I picked up a drab Smith Corona Clipper I decided to have another go at repainting. I had forgotten just how much work it is, and how fussy. I removed all the panels, sanded out the chips and scratches, then filled in the holes with quick body filler, sanded again, then primed and then got down to spraying. Of course I screwed it up right away by missing spots and then adding too much paint to others. You can’t respray this paint unless you wait 24 hours, another mistake I learned about the hard way when the old paint wrinkled. This machine has CLIPPER printed on the back of the paper feed, but the serial number and features are those of a Sterling, series 5A, not 5C. So it’s a Sterling with a Clipper label. I decided to recreate the Clipper logo with the Boeing Clipper, and print my own water slide decals for that and the Smith Corona name. I copied the clipper logo from a photo I found on line and worked up a reasonable facsimile by hand drawing the plane and importing that into MS Publisher. Combined with text and another imported file of a blue line I drew for the waves, I designed my own Clipper logo, which I then printed on clear water slide decal paper.
Same thing for the Smith-Corona logo.
I clear coated the lid to protect the decals and reassembled the bodywork. It’s a lovely typewriter, but I’m going to sell it because I have several of these already, and don’t need more of the same. I hope someone will enjoy this little gem. I won’t get enough money for it to justify all the work involved, but it was fun all the same. Also, I learned how to make water slide decals, and made some labels for my guitars.
During the process of hunting down the logo for the Smith Corona Clipper, I learned a lot about the Boeing 314 “Clipper”. Air travel should be like this! Beds and staterooms, dining rooms, lounges, and separate bathrooms for men and women. Air travel has really improved since those days, because now we have gender neutral toilets. Plus we have 50 channels of programs. Back then they had to get up to go eat. Now they bring you the “food”, and it is so delicious.
Boeing only ever made 12 of them, all for Pan Am Airways, but the plane is much larger in legend. Every plane was called a Such and Such Clipper. There are none left. Only typewriters remain…and of course our own Victoria to Seattle Clipper – a fast catamaran that goes from here to Seattle daily. Maybe they will buy this typewriter for the passengers to use!
Found at a thrift store for $40, with bridge almost detached. It also had cracks at the tailpiece, but nothing serious. Everything else about this guitar looked OK, so I brought it home to repair and maybe sell. Little did I know how great it would sound and play. First I patched up the cracks at the tail end. I didn’t bother to worry about how it looked, as I consider wear and tear on an old guitar part of its charm. I then pried off the bridge with a hot knife. It was obviously way too thin, for reasons that escape me, so I sanded it flat and glued on a 3mm thick scrap of walnut. The bridge is rosewood but I didn’t have any rosewood scraps about. I sanded the perimeter and stained the new wood black to match the stained rosewood. After prepping the top by a little sanding to smooth it out, I reattached the bridge with clamps and cauls. That brought the bone saddle a bit too high, so I had to bring it down a millimeter or so. Looking inside I found that the bridge plate was a piece of softwood, which was getting chewed up by the string nuts, so I glued in another small walnut plate to strengthen that. Some guitarists have removed heavy bridge plates, but what I added was not even an ounce of wood, so I had no qualms about potentially muffling the tone here. Six new 25c bridge pins and a set of extra light Gibson phosphor bronze strings completed the repairs. I prefer using light gauge strings, if only because I’m quite used to how they feel. This guitar most certainly didn’t need heavy strings for it to deliver the goods.
label – Suzuki Nagoya
I didn’t know anything about these guitars before but I’m wise now. This one is quite excellent. It has a fine top of solid spruce, and the bracing is pretty much standard post-war Martin Dreadnought. The body is all laminates but that is not a problem here – this thing has killer vibes! The post-war Martins had their braces moved back an inch to make the tops less prone to warping, as well as having straight braces, as opposed to the earlier scalloped design. There are heated arguments on both sides as to which design is best. Taking advantage of this, Martin now makes some models with “forward shifted scalloped bracing”. This is basically their old design made new again. But every design change to a musical instrument has consequences. The new old design being lighter braced, and forward-shifted means the sound is bigger and has even more overtones. Some players like this sound, and are convinced it’s better. Others say it tends to muddiness. All those overtones cannot be had without a concurrent change in the whole dynamic, which means you lose clarity of the fundamental note. I love the clarity of this guitar, which I would attribute somewhat to the “tighter” bracing of the old=new post-war backward-shifted non-scalloped design. Whew! One difference I observed in the bracing vis-a-vis the Martin standard, is that the main x-braces appear thicker but lower. So Suzuki copied Martin, but not quite exactly.
new old bridge
I was contemplating selling this guitar at first, but after playing it I decided to keep it – it’s just too good an instrument to part with, and for what the market would value this at, not enough money to turn around and buy anything nearly as good. Considering it dates from 1977 as far as I can gather, it hasn’t much wear on the frets – they’re almost unworn. This guitar has the power and bass of a good dreadnought, but quite a distinct clarity when picked. Now I will be on the lookout for more old Suzuki guitars. Suzuki Nagoya no longer make guitars but they still exist and make violins, as they have done since 1887 according to their label.
Last weekend I found this old Japanese electric guitar in the back corner of a thrift shop. It had no strings, one tuner gear and post was missing, and it looked rough – but I took a chance and bought it. I figured the cost would provide me the enjoyment/education of either fixing it or discovering it was irreparable. At the worst it was worth it just for the possibility of the spare parts!
When I got it home I plugged it in. Static. I proceeded to disassemble it. The entire face plate comes off with all the electrics mounted to it. The jack was loose and the cable flopped around in the throat, causing intermittent signal. After replacing the cable plug with a new one, and cleaning up the switches it responded with a signal. All three pickups tested for continuity, so that seemed in order. Down to the guitar shop for strings next. With strings on the action was way too high, even with the bridge bottomed out. Neck off, the retaining screws had lost their bite in the wood. Holes filled and re-drilled, a 0.76mm plastic shim was inserted to tilt the neck just slightly backwards, dropping the string height. Action OK, next I discovered the nut was all wrong, with string spacing uneven and again too high. Fortunately the nut had so much extra meat on it I was able to file the grooves out and re-cut it.
coil spring whammy
The tremolo needed work, of course. Under the plate is a coil spring, like a car suspension. Things were bent and rubbing but with a bit of filing and bending it too came together. The wheels to adjust the bridge height were gone, but I salvaged a pair from my parts box. Luckily they had the same thread. The bridge had no compensating angle however, but the face plate holes were oblong, which allowed me to move the treble end a bit closer to shorten the high strings.
individual rocker switches for each pickup
More work included scraping crud from the fingerboard with a razor blade, gluing various loose plastic neck trim bits, and scrubbing up the aluminum face plate. I fixed the missing tuner post with a salvaged post and gear, which was not perfect but seemed to work well enough.
rosewood bound fingerboard, with tiny narrow frets
After one more check-over all was ready for the big test. Amplified it sounds surprisingly good! Despite the fact that the pickups are single coils they are very quiet. With three pickups and one master tone control the sound possibilities have a great deal of range, from high and clear to deep and crunchy. The scale length is 680mm (26.77″), which means the neck is very long indeed and while it’s not hard to play chords, it is quite a stretch out to first position! The neck is a honker however, almost like a bass. The whammy bar is effective – it gives just a little trem and returns back to tune.
My latest rebuild came back for a tune up. The soundboard, which was very thin to start, got thin enough at the tail end that it began to bulge under string tension.
soundboard very thin here
The first problem was figuring out what to do about it. My first reaction was to consider placing a longitudinal strut between the tail block and the rearward main brace. However, I rejected this because the soundboard had some soft spots, and I didn’t want them to stay that way, fearing future dings might just break the top. So I settled on adding a plate across the tail end that would stiffen the weak zone entirely.
Most of the work was fitting the plate and bracing it. I did a number of dry runs until I was sure it would go in smoothly and could be maneuvered into position. To this end I fashioned some tools to place the plate and brace it.
plate with insertion tool taped in place
insertion tool flips down to brace the plate
Two similar braces were made to prop the wings. Once I got the piece inside I also clamped it lightly from outside to ensure good contact. Because the inside of the soundboard had been shellacked it wasn’t possible to use wood glue, so I had to resort to epoxy. I used quick set clear epoxy, which gave me a few minutes working time, and is also very flexible.
inserting the plate through the soundhole
I inspected the innards in the dark in order to make the new plate. The top is so thin that a weak light will shine right through it in the dark.
the inner light
After a day I strung it up and everything held well. The tone may even be better, a little crisper! There was no unwanted uplift, just the gentle arch as it was supposed to be.