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Tag Archives: Panormo

Lars Hedelius-Strikkertsen is a Danish guitarist, who plays a 19th century guitar and specialises in the music of that time. Here he is playing a piece by Fernando Sor.

 

 

If you go to his website, you’ll see that he sometimes takes the trouble to dress the part when he gives concerts. Not surprisingly, in view of this attention to authentic period detail, he didn’t like the idea of using an anachronistic metal contraption as a capo d’astro and asked me to make him a cejilla.

 

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I’ve written about these devices before so I won’t repeat myself. But the commission reminded me of what delightful instruments these early romantic guitars are. Anyone interested in finding out more about them might like to take a a look at this excellent online gallery.

A few years ago, I made one of these guitars, which is now owned by the artist, Gill Robinson. The instrument that I copied was made by Louis Panormo around 1840, and it’s now in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments.

 

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There’s a photograph of my guitar above, and a video of Rob MacKillop playing the original instrument below.

 

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This splendid photograph was taken by John Runk¹ in Stillwater, Minnesota on an 8 x 10 plate camera in 1912. I came across it in a book, The Photographer’s Eye written by John Szarkowski. Unless the chap in the hat is unusually short, these pine boards must be around 3 feet wide and 15 – 18 feet long. The saw marks run straight across the boards which made me wonder how they had been cut – not with a circular saw obviously. Were large bandsaws in operation at the beginning of the 20th century?

Buying wood a few months ago, I realised that I didn’t know much about modern methods of conversion of timber either. Here are a couple of photographs taken in Andy Fellows’ wood store in Gosport, Hants². He has supplied me with quite a lot of the wood that I’ve used in recent guitars including the Madagascan rosewood for this nylon string guitar and the beautiful walnut for this copy of a 19th century guitar by Panormo. These boards aren’t quite as large as those in Runk’s photograph but they’re still pretty big and I’ve only the vaguest idea of how he goes about transforming them into the book matched guitar sets from which he lets me pick and choose. Next time I visit, I shall try to find out a bit more.

Sometimes, when handing over an completed instrument to its new owner, I catch myself wondering whether they have any idea of the time and trouble that has gone into making it. (Of course, it’s enjoyable time and trouble so I’m not complaining. Even so … ) But I suspect that instrument makers and woodworkers aren’t any better. When we buy wood we’re more likely to whinge about the price than to acknowledge the efforts and skills of the people who selected the log and converted it into sets of conveniently workable dimensions like those below.

1. There’s a brief biography of John Runk here.

2. Andy Fellows also sells wood at his on-line shop, Prime Timbers.

Continuing my experiments with smaller guitars led me back to the 19th century and the instruments made by Louis Panormo. One of his guitars, made circa 1840, is in the Edinburgh University Collection of Historic Musical Instruments and, rather helpfully, a workshop drawing is available. I had other assistance too. My friend, Peter Barton, who makes fine acoustic guitars in Addingham, West Yorkshire has a Panormo guitar in his collection, which he generously allowed me to handle and photograph. And Gary Demos has a series of photographs documenting his construction of a Panormo guitar copy on his website.

Here are some photographs of the instrument as it was being built. It isn’t, and wasn’t intended to be, a slavish copy. I felt no need, for example, to reproduce the inexplicable scarf joint at the heel end of the neck that was indicated in the drawing of the Edinburgh instrument and that you may just be able to see below in the Panormo guitar owned by Peter Barton. In the photograph, it runs more or less horizontally from where the neck joins the ribs to the back of the neck, ending around the 7th fret position. (Do tell me, if you understand why Panormo did this.)

I also felt free to to inlay spalted beech for the rosette instead of the mother of pearl set in mastic of the original.

I did however, reproduce the V-joint between the neck and headstock, although the width of the headstock itself was increased slightly to accommodate modern tuning machines. Followers of this blog might recall an earlier post about making the V-joint.


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The bridge design is more or less the same as Panormo’s, except that a slot was routed for a carbon fibre saddle to provide a little leeway for adjusting the action later on. His bridge has no saddle. Ebony bridge pins were turned to replicate the original way of fixing the strings.

Here are 3 photographs of the completed guitar. The body length is 450mm, width across lower bout 290mm and scale length 630mm.


 

You can hear Gill Robinson, who now owns the guitar, playing three short pieces if you click on the titles below.

Allegro

The rain it raineth

Caleno costure me

Looking around for more on V-joints, I found Gary Demos’ site where he describes not only the construction of the joint but how he made a copy of a Panormo guitar. It’s a fine looking instrument and there are a few mp3 files that show that it sounds very good as well.

Cumpiano’s website has a brief discussion of the merits of the V-joint versus the scarf joint too. (You’ll need to scroll down a bit to find it.) I enjoyed his comment:

If you use a v-joint people will shower you with praises for your skill and those in the know will guess that you don’t have to make a living at making guitars.

There’s probably some truth in that. I’ve always admired Cumpiano’s down to earth approach to guitar making and his refusal to subscribe to anything that can’t be properly explained. See, for example, his courteous but uncompromising dismissal of the mystique of tap tone tuning.

Still, in the interests of historical accuracy, I’m going to pursue the V-joint a bit further. It seemed worth shaping the neck and headstock of my trial joint to get an idea of what it would look like on a finished instrument. In reality, it doesn’t look quite as good as the photographs suggest. At this resolution, glue lines, which in places are wider than they should be, don’t show up. But I’ve discovered two useful things: first, that the joint isn’t impossibly difficult to make and second, that it’s certainly strong enough.

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Following on from my recent experiment with a small guitar, I’ve been thinking about going a stage further and making a copy of a 19th century guitar of the sort for which Panormo is famous. There’s one in the Edinburgh University collection of historic musical instruments and, rather helpfully, there’s a measured drawing available. The collection’s website has fierce warnings about all the content being copyright so I haven’t posted a photograph, but you can see the instrument by clicking here.

The neck of this guitar joins the head in a traditional V-joint. This isn’t a technique that I’ve ever used before so I’ve been trying it out, partly to get my hand in for making it and partly to reassure myself that the joint is stronger than it looks. There’s a good illustrated article on making V-joints on the Official Luthiers Forum, although you may have to register with the forum to get access. The geometry of the joint isn’t really very complicated but, on the other hand, it isn’t entirely straightforward either. The article explains it well.

The photograph below shows my rough first attempt being glued up. Hot hide glue is the correct stuff to use but, for this trial run, I substituted Titebond.

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Here it is with the clamps off.

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And after cleaning it up.

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And trying to break it.

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I wondered, in view of the endgrain gluing surfaces of the joint, whether the joint would be strong enough. So I played around, first by loading it with a 20kg weight and then by putting it in the vice and pulling on it as hard as I could. I couldn’t shift it and now feel entirely confident that it’s up to the job.

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