Category Archives: Guitars

Corona Gold Guitar

Guitar #6 c. 2001

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!

 

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Clipper Makeover

repainted Smith Corona Clipper

Boeing 314 “Clipper”, named after a typewriter!

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!

The Victoria Clipper

sheet of decals

my version of the Clipper logo

my Smith Corona decal

Guitar logos:

 

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Second Cap of Caffenol

I’m on my second cup of coffee and I still can’t face the day – Gordon Lightfoot.

There should be a tariff on Canadian culture! But I bet DJT doesn’t even know who Gordie is…

Meanwhile we sweat through the heatwave that has engulfed us all. Weather has no borders.

I hike up here most every day with a 20 lb pack, getting my legs ready to walk 10 miles a day for 10 days

brined dill pickles – thanks to Mr. Katz!

fresh crete at the local playground – I didn’t write my initials in it

old farm scale – for big loads!

the wedding gig – at a farm

my axe – A Crafter made in Korea – the best electric guitar I ever had…

no swimming unless the guy is in his chair

horses, of courses

all farms have tanks for stuff

I’d like to have a bath in this

another 8 storey condo beside the park, another owl nest down

asphalt paver – our playground got rebuilt and repaved, but the kids couldn’t tell the difference

there is nothing like bedrock to remind you that the earth will still be here after we destroy all life on it

meanwhile we should all eat plenty of fresh garlic

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Filed under Cameras, Gardening, Guitars, Photography, Typewriters, Uncategorized

Hail Suzuki of Nagoya

Suzuki AD312S

Suzuki AD312S

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

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

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.

headstock logo with Suzuki Three S label

headstock logo with Suzuki Three S label

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Mystery Guitar

2-DSCN2861Last 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!

mystery guitar

mystery guitar

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

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.

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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

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.

For more on this, plus a cool video, check out the four pickup version here: Adventures in Baritone – 1965 Kingston FVN4 Japanese Electric Guitar | Drowning in Guitars!

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Guitar Surgery

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

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.

the stiffener

the stiffener

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

plate with insertion tool taped in place

insertion tool flips down to brace the plate

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

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

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.

the tail end with proper top curve

the tail end with proper top curve

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Dead Guitar Lives Again

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body with old thick finish removed

The repairs are complete, and the guitar went back home today. To my delight, it sounded better than I expected. I was amazed at how thick the old finish on the top was. I scraped it off with a plastic scraper after liberal applications of paint remover. In my opinion no guitar should have had this much lacquer on the top. I refinished it with french polish shellac, which is much much thinner, and if not subject to untoward abuse, superior to lacquer. We installed the pickup today and it had a very even and natural acoustic sound through my Roland Cube Monitor, which is a clean amp. Since the guitar had a bolt on neck, and the fingerboard extension fit tight to the soundboard, I didn’t use any glue in the final assembly. This means the guitar can be quickly disassembled and put into a carry on suitcase for air travel. My friend intends to modify a carry on bag for this. I’ll be interested to see how this works. Every musician who owns a fine instrument must sweat when they have to hand it over to the airline baggage handling department, wondering if it will arrive undamaged. Carrying it on board and stowing it overhead should be a lot less risky and stressful, in theory.

guitar with soundhole pickup installed

guitar with soundhole pickup installed

Restoring something of value and beauty is intense work but ultimately very satisfying when it works out well.

Reuben and the new axe

Reuben and the new axe

The old bridge was used after I filled the string grooves to gain a bit more height, but my friend is going to order a new bridge for it, complete with the ‘mustaches’. The original bridge did not have the correct amount of compensation (3.5mm) so it now sits crooked on the guitar. When the new bridge arrives then mustaches can be glued on to complete the correct look. Every gypsy has a mustache, no?

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