A little while ago a friend asked me if I had ever built an archtop. I told him I had not, and he replied, "Do you wanna make one?" So now I'm ankle deep in wood shavings, my hand has developed a nice callous, and my brain is filled with thoughts of carving, graduations, re-curve, and all that fun stuff that makes an arch top what it is.
I started with some nice aged maple and spruce, procured from Obie at Targo Woods in downtown Bellingham. I love to visit their shop, and I knew they had a bunch of wood left over from a Seattle violin/cello/bass builder. I got two wedges about 3 inches on the wide side tapering to half an inch on the skinny side. About 10 inches wide, and 3 feet long. I ran the large wedges of wood through my recently blocked up bandsaw, and got a nice book matched set of each, with plenty leftover for braces and fun projects. Joining the plates proved much more difficult than with a flat-top, because I'm dealing with a much thicker slab. I don't have a jointer in my shop, so I rely on an old school shooting board, and a large granite sanding table. After some hours of wrestling my pieces, I happily had a top and back plate, sitka spruce and western maple respectively, joined and ready to carve!
I bought Bob Benedetto's book on archtop guitar building to help me through the process. He made this really cool adjustable cradle for holding a workpiece while carving. I made my own with scrap lumber and some pipe from the ReStore (local non-profit building salvage). It's a great working surface, and I imagine I'll be using it on most projects (flat and arch top) from now on.
The top is the same profile of the guitar and has a lip so you can work on a piece with the arch side down. I figure, I'll just attach a flat piece of plywood to the top to use it for other projects.
Underneath is a bicycle quick release for quick adjustments. It works great!
The very beginnings of the shape.
The bent maple sides, and the fresh made body mold.
I'd write more, but I gotta get back to carving and scraping! More photos to come soon...
This one was recently finished and sent off to it's happy new owner in Michigan. It's a ladder braced parlor guitar, and like the last one I made, this one utilizes a fair amount of domestic woods. This has a Sitka Spruce top, and Black Walnut for the back, sides, and fingerboard. Also, the bracing on this one is a mix of Sitka Spruce and Port Orford Cedar. For more exotic faraway wood selection, this guitar features a South American Mahogany neck, and Ebony for the bridge and headstock overlay.
With a 25" scale length, and a soft V profile neck, it is a joy to play. I had a hard time putting it down in the short time I had with it, before the send off.
That's a hand carved Ebony pyramid bridge, with a compensated bone saddle.
Hand cut custom inlay work. Golden Era tuners with a slotted peghead.
I recently finished with this one. It's a ladder braced parlor guitar, based on a circa 1910 Washburn. I built it a bit sturdier than the original to hold string tension better. It is made completely of woods local to the Pacific Northwest. The sound is large, with clear treble and full bass. Being a finger picker myself, I love how it sounds for fingerstyle rags and country blues. I've been playing it and bringing it to festivals a bit this summer and also got to back up some fiddle tunes and hear others on it, and boy is it a sweet sound. Punchy yet warm. One of the best times I got to hear it was W.B. Reid (of Seattle's Tall Boys and The Todalo Shakers among others) playing it and joyously thumping out the bass runs on a Gus Cannon song.
The top is Western Red Cedar. The back and sides are Pacific Madrone (some call it Madrona).
Curly Maple for the binding.
Here's a full sun view of the Madrone back.
That's a three piece neck of Poplar (a great stable neck wood!) and Walnut.
Golden Era tuners on a solid peghead.
Walnut for the bridge and fretboard.
Rain drop style mother of pearl inlay to go with the Northwest theme.
The braces (not pictured) are made of some nice tight grain Yellow Cedar. The Madrone was a joy to work with. I had some nice straight(!) and seasoned boards that Doc of Doc's Banjos had given me 5 years ago. I wasn't sure how it would bend up, but it was smooth and easy going. I didn't stain the body other than a light base coat of garnet shellac. I did stain the neck a reddish brown. The whole thing is finished with an oil based varnish, and then french polished with blonde shellac. Overall it is still a very light finish, so I added the pickguard to help protect the Cedar top.
I have this old mandolin that I love to play. It's a L. H. Leland Brilliantone Mando from perhaps the teens. It's really a thing of beauty and sounds sweet to my ears. I've heard tell that they were actually built by the Larson Brothers. It has a neapolitan or bent top made of spruce, and nice brazillian rosewood back and sides. Mahogany neck, and a new ebony bridge which I made to replace the original busted one.
Like other mandolins of the era (and Martins for decades), this one has a bent top and relatively flat back. I love this style of mandolin, and to me it sounds great for playing rags, blues, and old time stringband music.
Pretty cool inset tuners with this big decorative coverplate. They still work good!
I decided to try my hand at making a similar style mandolin, so using the Brillantone as a model to go off, I've set about to cutting, carving, and gluing. I'm using oak for the back and sides, and spruce for the top.
Right now the body has just got it's base coats of shellac. I decided to inlay the pickguard like on the original. Producing the bend in the top was not too difficult. I studied this one and another similar mando as well as I could from the inside with mirrors, and researched more about bowl backs which use this style of top.
I love the look of quarter sawn oak. Some of my favorite old instruments are made with it, and not only is it beautiful, but it sounds great. That's koa binding.
The neck is being carved now. I can't wait to get it finished so I can play it!