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Woodchopper’s Ball

Woodchopper’s Ball

from his 2004 GAL Convention Lecture by Bruce Harvie

previously published in American Lutherie #90, 2007 How many people are here because they are thinking about processing their own wood? I highly encourage it. It’s very satisfying to build instruments from wood that you’ve cut. You can get a spruce on a firewood permit. It’s a great feeling to be out in the forest.

When the Guild was first starting out over thirty years ago, the word “tonewood” was not in common usage. Back then there were maybe only three or four suppliers. Now you can Google “tonewoods” and get a hundred suppliers.

There’s still a lot to be explored in the world of tonewoods. Englemann spruce didn’t really come on the market until 1978, and Red spruce not until ’89 or so. I can think of four or five species that are virtually untapped in the world of tonewoods: Noble fir, California red fir, and true white fir are all great woods. In Europe, you have places like the Ukraine opening up right now. They have beautiful spruce. I’ve seen quite a bit of it. We have wood here at this convention from the Balkans. That’s nice to see. It’s amazing how much wood is here. It’s just great to see all the guitar tops and woods for sale. And don’t miss the auction.

If you look at the woods that were used in guitars in the first part of the 20th century, you see some scuzzy looking wood. On some of the best-sounding prewar Martins, the tops are mismatched and the grain is running every which way. You see tons of runout because that wood was supplied in the form of lumber, not split billets. I see some wonderful-sounding old guitars that were built with wood that people would throw away nowadays. But a typical guitar store today has walls full of Breedloves or Martins with tops that were milled correctly, probably by Pacific Rim Tonewoods up in Concrete, Washington. They do an incredible job of milling guitar wood.

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The Trio Romantico and the Requinto

The Trio Romántico and the Requinto

by Fred Casey

previously published in American Lutherie #89, 2007

Picture it: You’re sitting in an open-air courtyard, perhaps in Guadalajara, perhaps in San Juan, perhaps in Buenos Aires. Your surroundings are lit only by the candles on the tables and the stars above. The air is like a caress on your skin. Across from you sits someone you care about very much.

Nearby, in the semi-darkness, a small group wanders from table to table. You hear voices in close harmony, singing in Spanish, singing of love. Two guitars throb in the rhythm of a bolero or a tango. And above, between, and around the words, a third guitar pours out cascades and arabesques of clear, shimmering notes.

As the song ends and the group moves on, you gaze through the candle light, deep into the eyes of your companion, and say:

“I’d love to get a closer look at that lead guitar; it’s got a really unique sound. Maybe I could get my inspection mirror inside it and get a look at the bracing.”

We can’t help it: we’re luthiers.

You were listening to the sound of a trio romántico, and the lead instrument was a requinto, a smaller version of the regular nylon-string guitar, tuned a perfect fourth higher (ADGCEA).

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The Imperator

The Imperator

Revisiting the Lyra Guitar

by Alain Bieber

previously published in American Lutherie #88, 2006

The year 1806 is very special for my personal guitar addiction. As reported in a previous contribution (AL#80), 1806 is when Giovanni Battista Fabricatore of Naples produced the first guitar I know of with a fully adjustable neck. This lyra guitar (or lyre guitar), now in the Paris museum, might have inspired Stauffer and the whole Viennese School. I have no proof of that, but I remember that Stauffer started his career by replicating the Neapolitan master’s models. Legnani also played a role, as everyone knows.

I have become a complete fan of adjustable necks. After a dozen guitars inspired by the Stauffer model, I am more and more attracted by this basic option. I no longer see the superiority of the fixed neck. To me it is less convenient and less stable across time, due to the difficulty of adjusting the action. To summarize, I admire G.B. Fabricatore as well as the Viennese luthiers who enhanced his pioneering efforts. For these reasons I decided I should celebrate the bicentennial anniversary of the 1806 Fabricatore by building a lyra guitar, with an adjustable neck, of course. I would also find out through this exercise if such instruments were really as bad as commonly said.

The so-called neoclassical infatuation flooded the world at that time and produced the lyra guitar. This instrument is a reflection of the Greco-Roman craze which influenced all aspects of arts and crafts, including the lutherie world, as early as 1750. Without that context, the lyra guitar would have been either nonexistent or very different.

The neoclassical movement emerged during the Enlightenment as a facet of the profound desire for change of the whole society. Among its foundations are the concomitant archeological findings of the Naples area. A real cult for the artistic accomplishments of the ancients resulted. From this basis, a new, more austere style of furniture with multiple links to the archeological images available appeared and seduced a society which was a bit fed up with the royal styles that preceded it. All artists and craftsmen where ready for a profound change. In a rather short time the Louis XVI style was born. This moment is still considered by many as the apex of European cabinet making.

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Top 40 Wood List

Top 40 Wood List

by Nicholas Von Robison

previously published in Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1994

See also,
“Taxonomy and Nomenclature” by Nicholas Von Robison
“Glossary of Basic Wood Terms” by Nicholas Von Robison

The contemporary luthier can be said to be either in a bind or in a unique evolutionary position, depending on one’s point of view. In the following list of lutherie woods, many will be noted as banned, extinct, prohibited, embargoed, unavailable, and/or expensive. In many cases I have listed viable alternative woods to replace the traditional species based on my own knowledge, education, experience, and on the advice, suggestions, and experience of respected, reputable wood specialists, dealers, and luthiers. While many species can be freely exchanged or adopted in place of the traditional woods of beauty and adornment, those that fall into the category of replacements for traditional resonant woods must be tried without any assurance or guarantee that musicians will accept these alternative woods. The acceptability of a wood species for the production of stringed musical instruments is largely dictated by the traditional practices and materials handed down through centuries. Many of the favored wood species are those that were available in commerce not only to the luthier but to the European furniture craftsmen as well. It can be very difficult for the luthier to obtain acceptance of new materials by the end user, the musician. The musician expects to hear a certain sound from an instrument, and any variation from that sound, as well as any variation in physical appearance, is suspect. In view of this, the chances of obtaining musical acceptance for instruments built with nontraditional woods has been slim in the past.

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Glossary of Basic Wood Terms

Glossary of Basic Wood Terms

by Hart Huttig (1975), updated and expanded by Nicholas Von Robison (1994)

previously published in Lutherie Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1994

See also,
“Taxonomy and Nomenclature” by Nicholas Von Robison
“Top 40 Wood List” by Nicholas Von Robison

Guitarmaking of necessity requires not only a supply of various woods but also knowledge of their origins and methods of cutting and storing. A good luthier should have a considerable fund of information about the history of wood procurement. Lutherie is an ancient craft, and it is a requirement that the luthier should be well conversant in the entire spectrum of wood cutting and classifying. To this end I have made excerpts in the form of glossaries and explanations. This information has been compiled from several sources which will be listed in the “Wood Bibliography” (pp. 23–29). Some of the terms are now archaic but should be of interest from a historical standpoint.

Trees used to be felled with axes and the logs snaked to a work area and cut into baulks with adzes and broad axes. Planks and boards were made by the sawpit method. They were also rived from the logs, that is, split from straight-grained pieces with froes (or frows) or sometimes with power wedges or go-devils. Rails were split with oak wedges or gluts, driven by a beetle or burl maul. Trees were cut into logs and rafted to mills in remote locations when rivers or streams were near enough. Until the 15th century, lumber was sawed by two men equipped with a large hand saw. The log was mounted over a great pit. One man stood below it and was showered with saw dust. The other man stood on top and had the heavier task of lifting the weight of the saw with each cut. Around 1420, near Breslau in Germany, the first saws were driven by water power in mills on river banks. These saws were made to move up and down the same as hand-operated saws. In 1781 Walter Taylor, a saw miller in Southampton, England, began to saw wood with a circular saw, the blade being driven by a water wheel by the River Itchen. In 1808 William Newberry of London patented a saw with teeth formed on an endless metal band revolving around two wheels. He was unable to make a satisfactory commercial bandsaw because the steel available for the blades at that time would not stand the strain. Practical bandsaws were first made by Perin of Paris in about 1855

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