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Cleaning Shop, Part 2

Cleaning Shop, Part 2

by John Calkin

see also,
Cleaning Shop Part 1 by John Calkin

 

There aren’t many scraps in a guitar shop that are useful for making guitars. What guitarmaker would throw those out? But if you scale down to flat-back mandolins or ukuleles you can make use of a lot of expensive material that would otherwise end up in a landfill. The wood I threw out in Cleaning Shop Part 1 was wood I thought I wouldn’t live long enough to use. I had no one to pass it on to. After working for Huss & Dalton for 19 years and more than 4000 guitars I had a crazy amount of scraps. The material I still have should keep me working on my own for years to come.

Quartersawn spruce and cedar strips for center seam back grafts. All photos by John Calkin.
Fingerboard cut-offs for banjo tailpieces, heel caps, inlays, etc.
Rosewood aplenty for headstock caps, inlays, heel caps, laminated fingerboards and bridges.
Material for back grafts and end grafts.
Neck stock. (The fingerboards didn’t come from anyone’s scrap pile.)
Spruce and mahogany ukulele tops and backs. Mahogany for uke sides comes from the neck stock.
More fingerboard cut-offs, good for fingerboard bindings and laminated bridges.
Just to present ideas, these ukulele or mandolin fretboards were laminated from mahogany and rosewood.
A banjo tailpiece.
Unfinished boxes made of mahogany, rosewood, and ebony. What? You don’t make crafty gifts and stuff in your shop?

see also,
Cleaning Shop Part 1 by John Calkin

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Adirondack Spruce Growth Rates and Accessibility

Adirondack Spruce Growth Rates and Accessibility

by Ralph S. Charles III

Originally published in American Lutherie #81, 2005 and Big Red Book of American Lutherie Volume Seven, 2015



With a day job in the forestry and logging industry, I know a little something about wood. After thirty years of selling saw logs and pulpwood for a living, I thought that a move into the tonewood business would be a natural transition into retirement. Membership in the GAL, however, has uncovered a realization that some luthiers may appreciate my perspective on tree growth rates in general, and Adirondack spruce in particular.

The grading of wood for instrument tops takes into account at least the following considerations: evenness of grain, straightness of grain, tightness of grain, color or discoloration, location or lack of knots, figure, heavy grain lines, pitch pockets, foreign objects (bullets and barbed wire), closeness to quarter and runout, and stiffness. The following discussion is directed at the evenness and tightness of grain which are a direct result of the laying down of the annual growth ring.

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Rosewood and Ebony Shortage

Rosewood and Ebony Shortage

by Robert O. Larson

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly, Volume 8 ,#1, 1980



Note: Mr. Larson is President of VIKWOOD LTD., a large American Importer of rosewood, ebony, and spruce. He is a member of the Forest Products Research Society and has served as Tropical Woods Committee Chairman and is currently on the Mid-West Board of Directors.

Innumerable articles have been written during the past year concerning the extreme shortage of rosewood and ebony supplies for the luthier trade. Having just returned in November from my second trip to India in 1979, I am happy to report that the situation is not as glum as it appears from the articles in the trade journals. There are adequate supplies of rosewood and ebony logs and a large number of competent log converters who can supply dimensioned items such as backs and sides, fingerboards, and even machined bridges in goodly quantity.

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This article is part of our premium web content offered to Guild members. To view this and other web articles, join the Guild of American Luthiers. Members also receive 4 annual issues of American Lutherie and get discounts on products. For details, visit the membership page.

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Cleaning Shop, Part 1

Cleaning Shop, Part 1

by John Calkin

see also,
Cleaning Shop Part 2 by John Calkin

 

Anyone who has entered the field of lutherie in the last 25 years will have a difficult time envisioning the lutherie scene when we Old Farts came up in the 1960s through about 1985. There were very few books available, and useful magazine articles were scarce. Tools and jigs had to be made in the shop. Previously owned instruments were used; there were no vintage instruments until George Gruhn began telling us there were. A few small outfits sold tonewood. There were no mega-suppliers like today.

When I slotted my first fretboards I saved the sawdust in 35MM film canisters to use as wood filler. I saved every scrap of precious hardwood I encountered. My life as a luthier packrat had begun.

I had my own shop from 1980 until 1997. I started with dulcimers and added hammered dulcimers, electric guitars, flattop mandolins, bouzoukis, resonator guitars, bowed psalteries, banjos, ukuleles, and acoustic guitars. Each instrument required separate molds, benders, wood, workboards, jigs, and often tools. I was able to move quite a bit of stuff when I changed states, maintaining my status as a packrat, but my bad habit exploded when I hired on with Huss & Dalton. I worked there for 19 years, and many scraps from the more than 4000 guitars and banjos we made came home with me. As the years went by I spent less and less time in my shop, yet the collection of stuff continued to swell. Seriously, the concrete floor began to fracture.

I knew other packrats well enough to notice the signs of the disease. As their collections increased, the old stuff was buried under the new. Yet in their minds they not only thought they could remember it all but how and when it would all be used. They were pathetic. When I finally realized I was avoiding my shop because of the clutter, I had to face the fact that I was one of "them". I began tossing bits and pieces but the shop looked the same. I backed my truck up to the shop door and threw in all the obvious dross, but the next day I couldn't tell the difference. The second load contained enough rosewood and ebony to tilt my truck slightly sideways, not to mention sections of old-growth redwood 6x6s a friend had given me that I was eventually going to jig up to resaw into quartersawn soprano ukulele tops. Parts of my shop saw daylight for the first time in 20 years. I'm still not done, but I think I've lost my rank as a first-class packrat. I'm down to third-class, maybe.

So what was all that stuff? You'll have to wait for Part 2.

Both photos by John Calkin.

see also,
Cleaning Shop Part 2 by John Calkin

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Early Engelmann

Early Engelmann

by Jan Callister

Originally published in Guild of American Luthiers Quarterly Volume 10 #3, 1982, updated 1993 and Luthier Woods and Steel String Guitars, 1997



In 1975, while completing my third guitar, I became very interested in the interplay of the different woods and their significance in the construction of a guitar. Most beginning guitarmakers, I am sure, have had the same interest. However, I questioned the use of European spruce as the most esteemed tonewood. Why didn’t our own domestic spruce wood have the same qualities? I began researching the literature to gain information on our own domestic spruce and its use for musical instruments. I found some references concerning Sitka spruce, mainly short paragraphs relating to tonal characteristics of violins. I couldn’t help wondering if the Engelmann spruce from the forests on the mountains just east of my home near Salt Lake City might have possibilities for guitarmaking. My research revealed hints that Engelmann had been used successfully by a few violinmakers as far back as the 1900s. A local industrial arts professor noted for his knowledge of woods, however, told me that Engelmann had no merit as a tonewood. Undaunted, I continued my research and found positive confirmation of Engelmann’s tonal value from Peter Prier of the American Violin Making School in Salt Lake City, Sam Daniels from Jerome, Idaho, and some records of R. Peter Larsen who had built over 100 violins in the late 19th century and said Engelmann was “superior in tone to Italian wood.”

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