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It Worked for Me

It Worked for Me by Spiros Mamais, Steven Kennel, and Mike Doolin Originally published in American Lutherie #151, 2024   ■ Here is a double press for joining soundboard halves. It’s a real time saver because it allows you to glue two soundboards at the same time, quickly and easily. I used hollow profile tubes of […]

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Side Soundports

There’s a Hole in the Bucket

by Cyndy Burton

A Discussion of Sideports, with Contributions from Kenny Hill, Alan Carruth, Roger Thurman, John Monteleone, Mike Doolin, and Robert Ruck

previously published in American Lutherie #91, 2007

See also,
Sidewaysby John Monteleone
“Herr Helmholtz’ Tube” by Mike Doolin
“Three Holes are Better than One” Robert Ruck



Just in case we become too self-satisfied with our “discovery” of ports, Alain Bieber, in his article on lyra guitars (AL#88, p. 16), points us to the Neapolitan Gennaro Fabricatore’s ported lyras from the early 1800s. (Alain ported his own contemporary lyra guitar, too.) So we know prominent makers were putting holes in the sides of their instruments in the late 1700s, early 1800s. Many of us are also aware of Carleen Hutchins’ groundwork in the early 1980s. Her “Le Greyère” violin, with sixty-five sideports, has provided a wealth of data about violin resonances since it was made in 1982. She donated the violin to the National Music Museum in 2002. See some great photos of Le Greyère and a list of publications reporting on that research at collections.nmmusd.org/Archives/NewViolinFamily/Hutchinscheeseviolin.html.

People are sensitive about putting holes in things. Many guitarists — perhaps more classical guitarists than others — find the ports some sort of denigration, a violation of the sanctity of the guitar’s perfect form. In all fairness, we’ve met with very strong feelings on both sides of the port issue. Luckily, our customer was very open to the idea. He’s not a concertizing musician, but he’s a serious player, and occasionally he plays publicly for special events. We wanted to try ports for him because he has a hearing loss, and we thought ports would be a great way for him to hear himself better. At that time, Robert Ruck had made about a hundred ported guitars, so we figured he had worked out the kinks. He kindly advised us on size, location, and so on. We followed his lead. The result is a wonderful instrument that the owner truly appreciates. We love the feedback — the monitor effect for the player — and when we tested it in a small auditorium with an overflowing audience, we could not discern any loss of projection or quality of sound. But was it louder? Our evidence was very meager and inconclusive. Many makers are adamant that it’s louder with the ports open for both the player and the audience.

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Ken Parker’s Uncut Personal Take on the Genesis of the American Archtop Guitar

Ken Parker’s Uncut Personal Take on the Genesis of the American Archtop Guitar

as told to Mike Doolin

Published online by Guild of American Luthiers, July 2023



First, let’s note that a well developed, centuries long tradition of plucked, fretted instruments travelled to America from Europe, just like CF Martin did in 1833. He was the key figure in the evolution of the 6-string American guitar, and the importance of his work as a ferocious, persistent, successful instrument inventor cannot be overstated. Although there were other builders who did exceptional work and have had some continuing influence, CF laid the groundwork for the flattop designs we still revere and copy today.

There is no analog in the field of archtops, which have kind of stumbled from insult to injury, as I’ll try to explain. It’s my view, and you don’t have to like it, but I’ve been obsessed, and paying a lot of attention for a long time, so I hope you’ll give me your ears.

Circa 1890, brilliant oddball Orville Gibson decides to try to improve fretted instruments for his own use as a hobbyist. He played mandolins, which were becoming very popular, and he saw room for improvement and his artistic expression. He didn’t care much about the guitar, and so didn’t make many of them, maybe a dozen, some think even fewer. Orville concentrated his efforts on mandolins and harp guitars. He turned out to be a talented and prolific builder, and was active as a musician and performer. Orville had no training as an instrument maker or woodworker. He grew up on a farm in Western NY state during the second Industrial Revolution, and we all know that farm girls and boys can do a lot with a little. He moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, a fast growing manufacturing center ripe with opportunities, full of startups and others eager to make their mark in the modern world. He was self-financed, working day gigs as a sales guy in a shoe store, then in a restaurant, whatever it took. Sound familiar? He made a close friend, Thaddeus McHugh, an expert woodworker, who may have had some training in Lutherie. Thad had a great singing voice they performed together. More on this important guy later… Orville was a good musician and although I’m sure he knew about violins, when he designed his arched mandolins and guitars, he followed his own design instincts. Some of his innovations were good, and others… well let’s say there was very little that he took from violin family bowed instrument construction.

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Waterborne Solutions

Waterborne Solutions

by Mike Doolin and John Greven

from their 2001 GAL Convention demonstration

Originally published in American Lutherie #73, 2003



Doolin: Waterborne finishes and methods of working with them are constantly evolving. New products come out every year and old formulas are continually being updated. This workshop is like a snapshot of what John and I were doing at the time, and our techniques have continued to evolve. We trade techniques back and forth and share our results with new products as they become available. We never seem to be using exactly the same products or techniques; this just goes to show that there is no perfect finish product or technique yet. However, John and I agree that the products which have become available in the last few years are finally up to the task of producing a finish worthy of a fine handmade guitar.

Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I want to talk about what waterborne finish is. First, think of lacquer and shellac. Both lacquer and shellac are resins dissolved in solvent. Spray it on, the solvents evaporate out, and that’s it. There’s no structural cross-linking reaction going on. Anytime after the finish is dry, you can use lacquer thinner to wipe the lacquer off the guitar. The same is true for pure shellac, which is always soluble in alcohol. That’s useful for a finish which will be rubbed out, particularly if you’re going to be touching up at a later time. You can melt that coat in. Otherwise, if the subsequent coat has to stick by a mechanical bond, you get a witness line if you sand through the top coat. One of the advantages of the new waterborne finishes is that they seem to do that — to burn into their previous coats. That’s one of the things we’re looking for.

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Intonation in the Real World

Intonation in the Real World

by Mike Doolin

from his 2006 GAL Convention lecture

previously published in American Lutherie #92, 2007



Getting guitars to play in tune has been a major topic of interest for many years, both for guitar players and guitar makers, and it has been a major source of frustration as well. During our current “Golden Age of Lutherie” the bar has been raised for standards of craft, playability, and tonal quality, as players have become more sophisticated in their expectations and builders have become better educated and more demanding of their own work. Expectations for accurate intonation have come along with all that: it’s no longer acceptable for a guitar to only play in tune for the first five frets, or in a few keys. Modern players are using the whole neck, exploring extended harmonies, and playing in ensembles with other instruments. They are looking for instruments that play in tune with themselves and with the rest of the musical world.

It turns out that guitar intonation is a huge can of worms, because it is really two topics:

▶ What does it mean to be “in tune?”
▶ How do I make a guitar do that?

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