Thinking about a steel string ...

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Simon Magennis
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Location: Menorca. Spain.

Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Simon Magennis »

I basically just do classical guitars. Up around no 25-30 by now. I am currently experimenting in using ready made laminated parts. These are normally destined for factories.

This morning I got the idea of trying a pair of acoustics on the same basis. The supplier also has ready made acoustic necks but with a spanish foot rather than a dovetail, however there is plenty of wood, so it would be perfectly possible cut off the heel. But it does suggest that some commercial producers in Spain do their steel strings with a Spanish. Back when I started, I did D and 000 using the StewMac kits which are great but x3 times the cost of what I want to spend on this. Plus as I live in Spain now the cost of shipping plus the sales tax (21%) etc make them very spendy.

Anyway, the real question. I was thinking of this as a present for an neighbour who plays in a local band which I like. They play a bit of everything and are generally good entertainers as opposed to first line instrumentalists and of course play mainly amplified. A workign guitar rathe than an heirloom item. Assuming something in the general shape of an 000, probably as a cutaway, what kind of bracing would you use for this? An X, a fan? lattice? Ladder? Any plans you could recommend?

Given that is might well be played out of doors and be subject to full sunshine and get knocked around a bit, then plastic binding seems like a better idea than wood and I suppose some sort of lacquer/poly finish rather than shellac. So far I have only ever done shellac as I don't have a spray booth. Maybe one of the carpentary places might spark it for me.

He generally play a cutaway with with some sort of pre-amp and mic build in as you can see the controls on the guitar. Any recommendations on that front? Again, working instrument quality, for part-timers who gig a fair bit.

Thanks.

Marshall Dixon
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Marshall Dixon »

Triple O is a nice size. X brace opened up to 100° to help the bottom end. Venetian cut-away. Bolt on neck.

The bridge patch effects tone. You need something hard because of the ball ends, (unless you use a pin-less bridge) but hardness effects high end tone. Maple gives a mellower tone, rosewood brighter. You have some control over that with the thickness and shape (size) of the piece.

I'm a big fan of Emtec6000 finish by Target coatings, using a shellac sealer to snap out the grain of the B&S or Z Poxy if you need a filler.
I would seriously consider an off the shelf poly urethane that you might use for furniture or floors. Here is a link to an extensive conversation about that subject:

https://www.talkbass.com/threads/using- ... b.1116168/

I've used K+K Pure Mini pickups. Not under-saddle type and they don't have that squawky sound. They are passive so battery on the inside but will need external notch filter and volume control. That could be a problem for some but generally can be controlled externally. That may be something to consider based on your neighbor's present amplification. They make several active type pickups that I've heard and liked.

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Barry Daniels »

Here are my recommendations based on my 45 years of steel string experience building and repairing them.
Bracing: definitely X-brace, don't even consider anything else.
Neck Joint: dovetail, if you have done them before; if not, then do a bolt on. They are easier to build and they are adjustable.
Binding: plastic is a bit more protective, but wood can work fairly well too if you use something durable like hard maple or rosewood. If you use plastic consider Ivoroid. It looks really nice.
Finish: Yes, shellac is too delicate for his needs. Lacquer would be better or some type of poly. Don't let carpenters near it. They will make a mess of it. And don't spark it, spray it. ;-)
Electronics: Install a K&K piezo pickup under the bridge or something similar. Don't put a control panel in the side. They are cheesy and will eventually go bad leaving a big hole in the guitar. If he insists on on-board controls, use one of the sound hole accessible units. All you really need is a volume control.
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Alan Carruth
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Alan Carruth »

The OM/000 is god's size for the steel string guitar. Unless you really need a lot of low-end 'thump' that's the way to go.

I've been using a double-X brace pattern on the top for some time now; it's easier to 'tune' using the tap tone/Chladni methods due the symmetry. In an 'almost matched' pair experiment at an ASIA meeting the double-X was slightly preferred by a margin of 2:1. That is, twice as many people thought it was a little better than a 'standard' braced top. Some comments suggested that the double-X sounded more 'modern' while the standard brace was more 'traditional'.

I took a workshop on 'tap tone' tuning with Dane Bourgeois a few years ago.I brought along a double-X braced Dread top and all of my signal generator stuff (with his permission). He used a top for a demo with his asymmetric scalloping profile: the treble side arm of the X brace is left full height, and only the bass side is scalloped. The idea seems to be to 'tighten up' the treble side. What I saw when I tested it was that the un-scalloped treble brace helps to make the top stiffness less asymmetric, so that the tap tones are 'clearer' ad the Chladni patterns better formed. You can feel this in flexing as well. When flex the lower bout on diagonals, along the length of either X arm, the tone bars add stiffness on one diagonal, but not the other. Leaving the treble arm of the X tall helps make up for the stiffness of the tone bars on the other diagonal, the main top tap tone, the 'ring+' Chladni mode, becomes better formed. Well formed Chladni modes seem to produce cleaner trebles from the completed guitar, so it's not a matter of 'stiffening up the treble side', but just getting the whole top to work better. IMO

Do avoid shellac as a finish. I've been using brushed oil varnishes for a long time. It's pretty labor intensive, but cam make a very durable finish. Recently I've been using Murdoch's 'Ure-alkyd 500' floor varnish from Sutherland Welles in Vermont. It's about as hard as nitro when it cures, or maybe a little harder, and it's tougher; less prone to chipping. It does not have the solubility issues of shellac, which can break down with sweat, and is more stable over the long run than nitro, as well as being safer to use. Another good oil varnish is Pratt & Lambert's #38. I think they were bought up by Sherwin Williams a while back, but they still make the varnish.

Do use a bolt-on neck. The best adjustable truss rod I know of is the one the Mark Blanchard makes. It's a double'acting rod with differential thread, so it's easier to adjust. Not cheap, just good.

Plus one for K&K pickups.

Enrico Schiaffella
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Enrico Schiaffella »

About finish I recently had decent results with tru oil. Just on the neck though. I read it was nice for the neck and I can confirm that. I don't know about durability though. Also, I do not dare to do the whole body with tru oil. I read that it can be done, but I am not sure about the results. It doesnt get as glossy as nitro or poly.

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

If you are new to building steel strings remember to leave the tops a little thicker. I remember David Newton saying "the sound is in the wood" (or something to that effect). Working from a plan is not a bad idea for the first couple of instruments.
Laminating veneer can be a great way to keep costs down and use beautiful woods for the back and sides. And cosmetically lower grade tops can often be acoustically as good as higher grade soundboards. If you buy tops intended for dreadnoughts and build smaller guitars with them you can often cut out or hide cosmetic flaws. By trimming the edges, putting the defect in the soundhole cut out, or under the fingerboard you can often "upgrade" a top cosmetically. I generally spend less than $100 for all the wood needed to build a guitar.
Oh! and not all carpenters will make a mess of guitar building - there was this guy, Tony Torres, who built a few guitars and got pretty good results, even it he did use mismatched wood on a lot of his instruments. :lol:

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Barry Daniels »

I only made the derogatory statement about carpenters because I was one before I built guitars. Absolutely none of the carpentry skills I had were useful on that first guitar. However, my short stint in a machine shop was definitely applicable.
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Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

Barry Daniels wrote:
Mon May 04, 2020 10:40 am
I only made the derogatory statement about carpenters because I was one before I built guitars. Absolutely none of the carpentry skills I had were useful on that first guitar. However, my short stint in a machine shop was definitely applicable.
Hi Barry,
I seem to remember you mentioning you have carpentry experience in your background, and didn't take your remark to heart. I worked as a cabinetmaker for a number of years as well as in various technical fields. But I have run into comments over the years from people who have implied that experience as a woodworker adds nothing of value when it comes to lutherie. It is as though the craft is so esoteric that a common woodworker is incapable of understanding it. In fact 90% of lutherie is a woodworking project and anyone following a good plan can build a passable guitar (and many have). Experience may get you the other 9% toward building better instruments. The last 1% needed to build great ones may require an innate talent that not everybody possesses.
Reading Romanillos's book about Torres it struck me that he probably worked as much as a carpenter as he did as a luthier. Many of his guitars used woods we would have rejected, but he got superior results from them. It also struck me that he never achieved any great monetary success with his work. I guess he had that in common with Painters (house painters and otherwise :lol: ).

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Barry Daniels
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Barry Daniels »

I didn't say i was previously a woodworker, but carpenter. Big difference.

I agree with you that woodworking is very applicable.
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Peter Wilcox
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Peter Wilcox »

I built schools in Gabon, Africa, (sure wish I'd grabbed some of that wood), and then worked as a framing carpenter for awhile in the US. Between that and wood shop and metal shop in school, I got used to using tools and thinking about how to build/repair things, which have been helpful in my amateur lutherie endeavors.
Maybe I can't fix it, but I can fix it so no one can fix it

Simon Magennis
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Location: Menorca. Spain.

Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Simon Magennis »

Thanks for the advice so far. I probably have the StewMac OOO plan somewhere so that would give me an X-Brace system but not a double X. It is always a bit tricky finding varnish/laquer equivalents across the atlantic but I will have a look. Actually come to think of it a neighbour here is involved in furniture making of some kind. He should have an overview of what is available in the way of finishes on the Spanish market.

With the laminate I have in mind I don't think a Venetian cut-away would be doable. I reckon the solution will be a variation on a florentine.

The other question I forgot to ask was what about body depth? Standard 000 or thinner? Any preferences for gigging?

Clay Schaeffer
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Re: Thinking about a steel string ...

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

I would stick with at least the standard body depth. Thinner guitars have been built successfully, but triple Os are not overly deep as it is.
If your neighbor does any cabinet work he may have some 2mm PVC (or ABS) edge banding. I buy the 15/16 inch wide stuff and rip it down for plastic bindings. It's similar to bolteron and is pretty cheap - pennies per foot.

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