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Little Dobro

Little Dobro

by John Calkin

Published online by Guild of American Luthiers, November 2022

 

I bet that a lot of instrument makers don't know what their hourly wage is. I came with this idea for a resonator guitar with the idea of making a specific wage. The body, including the perforated ring that supports the resonator cone, was made of construction-grade plywood. The neck and fingerboard stock was sourced locally in bulk. The body hardware came from StewMac and the machines from Schaller. The textured paint required no work after it was sprayed from the can, though the necks were lacquered normally. The rosette was made of shark teeth that I got from my friend Cousin Al (who wasn't my cousin at all.)

It was not difficult to price all the materials accurately. I timed myself as I made the first two of these guitars. I wanted to make $15 per hour, which was a good wage back then, and I probably made a little more after some practice. I sold them for $600 with no case. Everything was very business-like. Sometimes we forget that lutherie is a business and get lost in it without making enough money.

All photos by John Calkin
All photos by John Calkin
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Decades of Banjo

Decades of Banjo

from his 1984 GAL Convention lecture

by Tom Morgan

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 12 ,#4, 1984



I would be a lot more comfortable today if I could have a gutiar and a five piece band, but I quickly discarded the idea of trying to set an hour’s lecture to music.

I learned to love the sound of a good banjo not too long after the vintage years, and have had the privilege of examining a lot of good instruments. RB was the designation the Gibson company used for their five string or regular banjo, and TB means tenor banjo. Small numbers such as 2,3,4, and 5 were used, and just before the war early numbers like 7, 12, 18 and 75 came into use. The new models after World War II started with 100, 150 and 250, which was also their list price, and an 800 was added later.

The Air Force sent me to Washington D.C. in 1955, where I met Callie Veach. Callie was originally from Arthur, West Virginia, and had several mountain traditions in his past such as hunting, making whiskey, riding horses, and making music. By the time we knew him, he worked at free lance carpentry, but kept a large number of musical instruments, which he modified, inlaid with Mother-of-Pearl and used to horse-trade with the local musicians.

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Building the Prima Gusli

Building the Prima Gusli

by James H. Flynn

Originally published in American Lutherie #27, 1991 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Three, 2004



The Gusli is a very old Russian folk musical instrument. Most probably, it dates back to the 11th century. The gusli is a Russian version of the ancient dulcimer or psaltry. Also in the same family, although different, are the Finnish kantele and the Hungarian cymbalom. Over time, the gusli has changed to accommodate a wide range of musical situations. Today, with especial thanks to the great V.V. Andreev (American Lutherie #17, see Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Two, p. 180), one must be specific in describing the gusli because of the many styles.

The largest of the guslis, both in physical size and musical range is the piano gusli which is shown in Fig. 1. This instrument stands on four legs (which are detachable to facilitate moving) and has a musical range of five octaves. The keyboard, which is one octave wide, is manipulated with the fingers of the left hand while the right hand works over the exposed strings with a plectrum. Activating the keyboard lifts the dampers on certain strings in all octaves.

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Attic Strads, and Why What’s Worth Something Is Worth What It’s Worth

Attic Strads, and Why What’s Worth Something Is Worth What It’s Worth

by Michael Darnton

Originally published in American Lutherie #25, 1991 and Big Red Book of American, Volume Three, 2004



One of the most common myths of violin fanciers is the existence of the attic Strad. The chances of finding a valuable violin at a garage sale are zip (or less). In recent years the number of Strads and Guarneris discovered in this world in this way can be counted on about three fingers, and they haven’t been found in attics in Kansas. Check out places like ancient European monasteries and the country homes of nobility if you want to increase your chances of finding something good. In spite of this, every large shop has several people a week coming in with a really bad violin they have been saving as a way to finance their retirement. In addition, hundreds of amateur collectors have instruments they believe are valuable Italians, which are “prevented from receiving their rightful recognition” by owners of the big shops who either “don’t want to admit that someone else has something good” or “don’t know what they’re talking about.” They are right; someone does not know what they are talking about. It isn’t the big shop owner.

In the early part of this century and the end of the last, thousands of cheap factory violins were imported into this country from Germany and Czechoslovakia. Although some of these look and sound quite nice and are made of beautiful wood, they are still just factory fiddles. Since much of a violin’s value derives from factors other than the quality of the wood and the quantity of sandpaper used in its construction, like it or not those factors don’t mean much in assessing the value of an instrument. Certainly no one would appraise a painting based on the cost of the paint and the quality of the canvas, yet many amateur violin collectors use that type of criterion for evaluating their finds.

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Questions: Vaulted Back Guitar

Questions: Vaulted Back Guitar

by Sjaak Elmendorp

Originally published in American Lutherie #97, 2009

 

AG from the Internet asks:

Any tips on building a guitar with a vaulted back, such as the Baroque guitar in Plan #27? Little information is available on the precise shape of the back and effective ways of constructing it.


Sjaak Elmendorp of Nieuw-Vennep, The Netherlands
replies:

After having made some steel string and classical guitars, I wanted to try something a little more involved. I bought a plan of a Baroque guitar with vaulted back, such as GAL Instrument Plan #27 drawn by Bruné. The plan provided only scarce information on the shape of the back, so as a novice to this field I was left to my own imagination. I must not be the only one, as there seemed to be a variety of schools of thought on the subject. Among professional builders there seems to be consensus that the guitars were constructed to have backs that have the same curvature across the width of the instrument, i.e., the cross sections resembled part of circles. From there on, it was a matter of combining the beautiful and ancient design with some modern mathematics.

Using the location of the back braces along the centerline as position indicators, the width of the back and height of sides and center of the back was taken from the plan at these points. A simple calculation in an Excel spreadsheet allowed the radius of curvature of the back to be calculated from these three data points at each back brace position. The shape of the cross sections of the back were calculated and printed. (Note: the formula for this calculation can be found in John Sevy’s article in AL#58 p. 42 and BRBAL5 p. 355.) I am happy to make the spreadsheet available to interested readers. It is available on the Extras page of the GAL website: www.luth.org. (Look for “magazine extras” under the “publications” menu.)

The cross sections were made out of plywood, to serve as a mold. The spruce braces were bent and attached with a few small short nails to the plywood. The ebony (10MM wide ) and maple (3MM wide) strips for the back were then cold bent into shape and glued on the braces using rubber bands and a few small clamps.

The sides, also consisting of alternating ebony and maple strips with reinforcing spruce braces to provide cross-directional strength, were made on a mold. A heat gun was used to bend the strips into shape.

It is now strung up and it looks, plays, and sounds correct. Although I see many areas for improvement, the back looks all right.

Photo by Sjaak Elmendorp