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Hawaiian guitar bracing question

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Hawaiian guitar bracing question

Postby James Meloan » Sat Jan 14, 2017 1:10 pm

I've been wondering about the bracing schedule in the old flattop Hawaiian guitars a lot lately. Thinking mostly of instruments like the square neck Gibson HG's, Roy Smeck's etc (not Weissenborns). I've never owned or gotten to work on one, and I can't find much info anywhere online or in Erlewine's Gibson book about the bracing/soundboard thickness in these.
My instinct tells me they had to be built a little more robust than a standard flattop to facilitate multiple open tunings, but this is just my assumption. I know plenty of players converted their Smeck HG's to Spanish style with decent results (Norman Blake comes to mind) but I don't know if this conversion was just the obvious new neck and compensated bridge or if it involved some brace shaving.

I'm sure some of you with more hands on experience with these models could clue me in.

Thanks!
Last edited by Jim McConkey on Tue Jan 17, 2017 7:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Spelled out abbreviation in title
James Meloan
 
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Re: HG bracing question

Postby Freeman Keller » Sat Jan 14, 2017 10:46 pm

James, I can't answer this directly but I wonder why you think that they needed to be braced "more robust(ly)". Most of the time these were tuned to "slack" tunings such as open G. With modern medium gauge strings, open G is about 170 pounds of total tension, at concert they would be 188. Many players would increase the first strings a bit but you are still looking at similar tensions.

Also remember that the big advantage of a square neck is that it doesn't slide off your lap as readily as a roundie, the structural advantage are pretty minor. The neck block and joint are still the same (not true of resonators of course which have neck sticks). In my book the big difference between a Spanish style and lap style guitars would be - flat vs radiused fretboard, high flat nut (possibly wider), flat non compensated saddle, no need for physical frets (markers are adequate), possibly a square neck and strings selected for the particular tuning.

I don't have any direct experience with the specific guitars that you mention but I have built several Weissenborns (and experimented with different bracing), several resonators (square and roundies) and I do play a lot of open tunings on standard lightly braced acoustics. However I will be interested in comments from people who have worked on the the "H" models

edit to add, here are two Weissies - the first is traditional '30's bracing

Image

and this is a little more modern Martin style tone bars

Image

I know you aren't interested in this style guitar but my point is, they are braced pretty much like a standard acoustic, they are strung with mediums (with a 0.014 or 15 first) and tuned to D or G. Btw, most of us feel the old bracing sounds "better"
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Re: HG bracing question

Postby James Meloan » Sun Jan 15, 2017 11:59 am

Thanks Freeman.

Nice looking Weissenborn, thanks for the pics.
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Re: Hawaiian guitar bracing question

Postby Dave Meyrick » Mon Oct 23, 2017 4:46 pm

I realise this is an old thread and my question is somewhat off topic but...

If I was to build a lap steel to be used acoustically rather than amplified what do people think would be the right way to go about building a guitar with good acoustic volume? We could stay with the Wessie design to narrow things down.

I was wondering if using spruce rather than Koa, or indeed mahogany for the top would work? The bracing shown in this thread also looks very heavy - does it need to be so? Is the back's response heard in the sound envelope?

These thoughts are from a complete novice in this type of guitar. I have been building steel string acoustics and classicals as an amateur so I suspect my experience doesn't translate too well to the lap steel world.

Any thoughts would be appreciated.

Dave
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Re: Hawaiian guitar bracing question

Postby Freeman Keller » Mon Oct 23, 2017 10:04 pm

Dave, first, a Weissenborn is by definition, an acoustic guitar. Also, during the 1930's there were a lot of name manufacturers, including both Martin and Gibson, that made "Hawaiian" versions of acoustic flat top guitars design for lap play - these are actually the guitars that the OP was asking about. Most of these were pretty much braced like the Spanish version - they simply had high nuts, flat fretboards and frequently no compensation. There were also a series of square neck National tricones that were made for "Hawaiian" or lap style play (and were very loud).

My Weissenborns are pretty loud - they also have a much longer sustain than a normal flat top played lap style (my wife jokes that notes go up in the neck and it takes them a while to come back out. The traditional wood for Weissies (and actually some of the Martin Hawaiian guitars) was koa, duh, they are Hawaiian instruments, however all mahogany is somewhat common and there are examples with spruce tops. You could certainly lighten up the bracing to make them louder, but as I discussed in the previous posts, you need to consider string tension and playing techniques. Adding finger picks also increases the volume.

The bracing in the first picture is traditional taken from 1930's guitars - thats the way they made them, thats the way I made mine. I had seen the bracing in the second example in an American Lutherie article - since I was building two otherwise identical instruments I thought I would try it. If I build any more they will be the traditional bracing - everyone prefers the sound (and they are both loud enough)

Does the back come into play? Well, I think the back is always in play, but in this case probably much less than a Spanish style guitar. A steel guitar of any sort sits flat on your lap and legs - that is going to pretty effectively dampen its contribution.

Fwiw, these guitars (Weissenborns, "Hawaiian" flat tops and the square neck Nats) all morphed into electric lap steels which preceeded electric Spanish style guitar - I guess back then maybe they gave up on making the acoustics louder and threw the new horseshoe pickup in them. Its certainly a different sound. Those of us who play Weissie style instruments usually put a pickup in them (Sunrise sound hole are very popular) just like any other acoustic player who wants a little more volume.

Good luck, post pictures of what ever you build.
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Re: Hawaiian guitar bracing question

Postby Freeman Keller » Mon Oct 23, 2017 10:12 pm

post script - one more comment on bracing. Weissenborns are traditionally built with perfectly flat tops and back - no dome. That means that as the wood moves with humidity change the bracing has to be able to keep it from splitting. If you notice the top picture, there is even a strip of cross grain reinforcement on the top seam (just like a back seam). In my small repair business I see lots and lots of guitars with split tops (and occassionally back) from humidity swings - I'll just say that my Weissie gets a sponge humidifier just like all my other guitars but between summer and winter there are no action changes and no signs of splits.

I guess what I am saying is, if you are going to lighten the bracing you better think about doming the top and back

Image
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Re: Hawaiian guitar bracing question

Postby Dave Meyrick » Tue Oct 24, 2017 1:01 pm

Freeman thanks very much for that. Since this a new area for me this is all useful stuff.

I guess my query re spruce was partly prompted by what to my eyes looks like massive bracing compared with ordinary steel strings, and thinking perhaps spruce would be stiffer than Koa hence requiring a bit less. I do see that there is much more area to support. Am probably trying to be too clever.

Yes as soon as you said flat I was thinking that doming would help with humidity changes.

Well if I do take this further I will certainly throw up some pictures. I have promised myself another go at a classical just now having been disappointed with the last one.

Thanks again Dave
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Re: Hawaiian guitar bracing question

Postby Freeman Keller » Tue Oct 24, 2017 9:53 pm

Spruce is certainly a viable option for a Weissie, as are several other woods.

https://www.weissenborns.com/pages/tonewoods

Remember that whatever you choose for the top has to be quite a bit longer than a standard guitar top - it needs to extend all the way to the head. I also had to be fairly creative about both the body mold (and how to hold the head) and the bending mold for my Fox bender. I got to keep one of the Weissies - since this was a commission my customer chose the one he wanted (the traditional one) and I got the other. Here it is along side another koa guitar - this time a wood bodied tricone

Image
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