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American Lutherie #149 - Summer 2023

Page 4 - Meet Ken Parker

by Mike Doolin

Members can read an additional article by Ken, his candid take on the genesis of the American archtop guitar, in our Articles Online here.

More About How the Old Boys Nailed Necks to Lutes

I took a page from the Renaissance lute builders’ playbook. Lute necks were often made from spruce, or some other light, vertical grain, stiff, straight grained material, covered with a hardwood veneer on the back and faced with a hardwood veneer fingerboard. This is brilliant engineering by our predecessors! It made a light, good-sounding neck because the core was yummy tonewood, with hardwood on the outside to resist wear and improve appearance, but most importantly, these necks were extremely stiff, which raised their resonant frequency. The resulting composite structure was stiff enough to minimize the neck’s unwanted movement, and they looked awesome, as if made of a giant chunk of ebony! The exoskeleton is a proven engineering winner, taught to us by so many examples in the natural world: lobsters, hollow bones, everywhere you look.

Let me raise one more point about this incredible, ancient hi-tech lute neck design. After the neck was veneered and glued on (diagonal hide glue butt joint, check it out!) the neck and neck/body joint was stiffened and reinforced by a long, tapered, rectangular cross section iron nail forged to your spec by your local blacksmith buddy. Before gluing on the neck, the builder would drill a hole in the center of the neck block, then after the neck was glued, get the skinny end of the nail red hot, and drive it into the neck core from the inside of the bowl, before (duh) the soundboard was glued on. The wrought iron spike is so hot it would set fire to the wood, but without oxygen, it makes charcoal, vaporizing the wood in its way. You can be confident you’re driving the nail perfectly aligned by the hole, as the core can’t argue with red metal. I have done this myself, and it’s an out-of-body experience, between the big steel hammer and the sound of the 0.020" (0.5MM) thick lute bowl you have spent forever making barking with every blow (take my advice and wear hearing protection), and the big cloud of smoke, wow, it’s really something! You’ll leave a little, 1/2", 13MM of the nail protruding, wait for it to cool down, then finally smash it in tight with the last blow, and man, this is some connection! I believe that this is the first non-adjustable truss rod, don’t you?