Skip navigation

Tag Archives: walnut

There’s an apocryphal story about someone sorting through the possessions of an elderly relative who had died. Among a houseful of stuff, he comes across a shoe-box labelled ‘Bits of string too short to keep’.

I sympathise with the elderly relative – at least as far as bits of wood are concerned. It’s hard to throw away even small scraps of timber, especially when they contain an attractive figure. One solution is to heat the workshop with a wood burning stove. Then the problem goes away each winter. Another possibility is to use them up making something tiny. A few years ago I wrote about making musical boxes. This week, wondering what to do with the walnut left over from the 5-string guitar that I wrote about in a previous post, I thought I’d make a soprano ukulele.

Apart from the walnut, I was able to use up other off-cuts that I hadn’t been able to bring myself to throw away: spruce for the soundboard, laburnum for the headstock veneer and the fingerboard, and a piece of plum for the bridge.

The plans for the ukulele came from Christophe Grellier, a French luthier, who generously makes them freely available on his website.

DSC_7281

DSC_7282

DSC_7285

DSC_7286

Advertisements

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.

Here are a few photographs of a recently completed steel string guitar. It’s based on a Martin ‘OO’ model but I’ve added, although that’s surely the wrong word, a venetian cutaway. The soundboard is Sitka spruce and the back and ribs are English walnut. I used holly for the bindings and tail stripe, and Rio rosewood for the bridge.





My friend, Dave Crispin, came to the workshop to try it out a few days ago and while he was playing I captured a few moments on an Edirol recorder.



A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I had started making a classical guitar with slightly smaller dimensions than usual. I hadn’t got anything radical or particularly innovative in mind but I hoped that, by reducing the diameter of the lower bout, decreasing the depth of the ribs and using a scale length of 640mm, the instrument would be easier and more comfortable for a smaller person to play. The fingerboard and string spacing were also to be narrower by a few millimeters to suit someone with small hands, and the guitar was to be as light as reasonably possible.

The instrument is now finished. The top is cedar with lattice bracing. The ribs and back are of English walnut with an unusual ‘watermark’ figure and the rosette and headstock were made using spalted beech that Mark Bennett, who runs a funiture making business called the Woodlark, sold me a while ago. The fingerboard and bridge are of Rio rosewood and the tuning machines were made by Keith Robson. The final weight, with strings and tuning machines in place, was just over 1400 grammes, which is significantly lighter than the weight of most of my instruments.

It has only been strung up for a day or two and it has yet to be played by a proper guitarist but my first impressions of the sound are good and the volume doesn’t seem to be perceptibly less than that of larger instruments. I’ll try to add a recording sometime but, in the meantime, here are a few photographs of the completed guitar.

dsc_0018

dsc_0016

dsc_0020 dsc_0019 dsc_00231 dsc_0005 dsc_0011

A report from the UK last year complained that gender stereotyping influenced children’s choices about which musical instruments they took up. Girls get to play harps and flutes, while boys prefer trumpets and drums. I don’t know whether this is really right or that, even if it were, it would be a very terrible thing, but it certainly is true that more boys than girls play guitars. And while this might be gender politics, I can’t help wondering if the dimensions of the guitar have something to do with it too. The body of a concert guitar can be too big for many women to hold comfortably and I suspect that the usual measurements for the string spacing and fingerboard size are optimised for a male rather than a female hand.

I thought that it might be interesting to make a guitar with a slightly smaller body size than usual and combine it with a shorter scale length and narrower fingerboard. The idea is to make an instrument that a woman will find easy and responsive to play without compromising either the quality or the volume of the sound it produces.

The water-mark figure in this walnut is attractive but delicate and I think that it might work well for the back of a smaller guitar:

dsc_0003 dsc_0004

The front will be cedar and I’ve inlaid a rosette of spalted beech. I’ve carried the same theme through to the headstock veneer.

dsc_0001dsc_00081

%d bloggers like this: