Question about making Solera

Please put your pickup/wiring discussions in the Electronics section; and put discussions about repair issues, including fixing errors in new instruments, in the Repairs section.
Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

I have been reading Roy Coutnall's book Making Master guitars.

In the section on making the Solera he mentions using plywood or MDF for the Solera but that MDF would be easier to carve out the dome that is about 2mm deep.
So I am wondering what most people use.
Also would it make any sense to laminate a thin layer of solid wood like poplar or hardwood to MDF and carve the dome into that?

Another question has to do with the neck angle, he says to plane down the neck portion so the end is 3mm lower than the body.
Does this set the neck angle of the guitar, would it need to be different depending if it was a classical or flamenco guitar?

I was thinking for my first guitar I shouldn't skimp on the quality of the wood, but now I am thinking I should just use low cost wood like Alaskan Yellow Cedar.
If the guitar is playable I could use it when I want to take a guitar with me but not my good one. If it isn't playable well then it will be just part of the learning curve.

Thanks

User avatar
Patrick DeGreve
Posts: 308
Joined: Mon Jan 09, 2012 2:19 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Patrick DeGreve »

Hi Joel, I used MDF for my solera, and it works fine. I don't think you need to laminate hardwood to it. I have not read Roy Coutnail's book, but the 3mm sounds about right for the neck angle. However, you have to consider the thickness of the fretboard, and height of the bridge. I have built several classicals using a tapered sliding dovetail joint, (like Martin). This is not the norm I know, but it is very easy to adjust the neck angle and get the string action correct. As far as wood choices, I would use woods you can afford, but I believe your first guitar will be better than you think. I play my first, all the time. There is something special about your first. If you like the tone of cedar, use it, but there other reasonable choices. Most vendors sell different grades of soundboards including Student grades of Engleman, cedar, and Sitka. As for back and sides, there are several woods that are reasonable, and very nice. I like walnut and mahogany, and they are both very reasonable. Check out RC Tonewoods, Lmii, and our sponcer Alaskian Speciality Woods. They all have woods that are affordable for your first. Again, I would use woods you would like, rather than go too cheap. Good luck, please post pictures.

Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

Patrick,

Thanks for the feedback. I will most likely be using plans for a 2003 Manuel Reyes Flamenco on the GAL website.
I am guessing it specifies what the neck angle should be.
What I don't yet understand is exactly how the neck angle is set and does the 3 mm drop on the solera determine the exact neck angle or are there ways to adjust it during the build?
Looking again at wood choices I will probably be using spruce for the top and EIR for back and sides. Since I already have flamenco blanca it would nice to make a negra.
Also it seems EIR is much easier to find and cheaper than Spanish Cypress which now seems rare and comes mostly from Italy and Turkey. The only place I could find it is LMII and its a little pricey.
I would like to think my woodworking and learning skills are good enough to produce something descent the first time around but I am also prepared for failure.

Simon Magennis
Posts: 452
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:51 am
Location: Menorca. Spain.

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Simon Magennis »

I don't like MDF due to the dust, however it is definitely a good option. Anything stable is ok for a solera. Mine is recycled plywood (very fine plys) with a big chunk of softwood at the back to help keep it stable.

Beware that the consensus on another forum is that the 3mm in mentioned in Courtnall is too much. About half that is fine. I had it at 3mm originally but I reduced it by putting some veneer back on to bring it back up a bit. I mainly use the Santos Hernandez design.

I am strongly in the camp of not using master grade timber on the first builds. Alaskan Yellow cedar would be fine for back and sides. I used it for back and sides recently for one guitar but I haven't put the bridge or fretboard on yet. I got 10 sets some time back quite cheap. The best classical I made so far was with a cheap set of walnut from RC tone wood off of ebay (Zootman).

User avatar
Waddy Thomson
Posts: 270
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 8:11 pm
Location: Charlotte, NC

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Waddy Thomson »

The neck angle depends on the amount of dome you put in the top, and the location of the bridge relative to the peak of the dome. Some builders have the dome peak in front of the bridge to reduce the cupping that can occur there. Anyway, the whole point is the slope of the neck, and the tapering of the fingerboard, if you taper it, is all subject to the height of the strings at the bridge saddle. You need to know the thickness of the fingerboard including frets, and how thick it will be at the 12th fret if you are tapering the board. You want a straight line from the top of the first fret to the top of the saddle to leave you about 4 mm at the 12th fret. The 3 mm can be too much, but you can also shim the neck up a bit if the math doesn't work out. Easiest way is to draw the whole thing out on a piece of paper. Line drawings do just fine. It doesn't have to look like a guitar.

Brad Heinzen
Posts: 99
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:19 am

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Brad Heinzen »

Yeah, a 3 mm drop sounds like a bit much to me too. It might be fine if your top is really flat. If you're using a normal solera method, the neck angle gets locked in when you attach the back. The solera acts like a jig that holds the angle until the glue dries. Once your top is braced, you'll know how much dome you have, and you can do a full size drawing (longitudinal section through the centerline of the guitar). On that drawing, you can dial in the neck 'set forward', the height of the strings above the soundboard, the fingerboard thickness, total soundboard doming, etc. All of those play a part in setting up your solera. As Waddy says, you can always put a shim on the neck extension of the solera if needed. I've had a 1 mm shim taped to one of mine for years.

I think MDF works fine for soleras and soundboard bracing forms. Those have to be coordinated, since the bracing form determines the total doming in the soundboard, assuming that you're not using the solera itself to brace the top. That's how I do it.

Simon Magennis
Posts: 452
Joined: Sat Jan 07, 2012 7:51 am
Location: Menorca. Spain.

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Simon Magennis »

Simon Magennis wrote:.... I had it at 3mm originally but I reduced it by putting some veneer back on to bring it back up a bit. ...
i.e. a shim as Waddy and Brad said - the word didn't occur to me. :D

Clay Schaeffer
Posts: 1510
Joined: Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:04 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Clay Schaeffer »

I have used a "solera" for both classical and steelstring guitars. My work board is flat. When doing classicals I place a removable piece of gasket material with a built up edge cut to the shape of the plantilla on the body portion of the work board. That raises the body up above the neck portion of the board to give the proper "forward set" to the neck. When doing steel string guitars I shim the end of the neck of the work board to give the neck the "back set" required. This allows me to use a single work board for all guitars.

Wayne Brown
Posts: 52
Joined: Tue Jan 10, 2012 6:46 pm
Location: Huntersville,NC

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Wayne Brown »

Joel,
The neck angle for the classical and flamenco are different. On my solera, I dropped the the neck by 1 or 1.5mm. On a flamenco, you want the strings near the bridge to be lower than a classical in order to golpe.

Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

Waddy Thomson wrote:The neck angle depends on the amount of dome you put in the top, and the location of the bridge relative to the peak of the dome. Some builders have the dome peak in front of the bridge to reduce the cupping that can occur there. Anyway, the whole point is the slope of the neck, and the tapering of the fingerboard, if you taper it, is all subject to the height of the strings at the bridge saddle. You need to know the thickness of the fingerboard including frets, and how thick it will be at the 12th fret if you are tapering the board. You want a straight line from the top of the first fret to the top of the saddle to leave you about 4 mm at the 12th fret. The 3 mm can be too much, but you can also shim the neck up a bit if the math doesn't work out. Easiest way is to draw the whole thing out on a piece of paper. Line drawings do just fine. It doesn't have to look like a guitar.
So now I need to ask, what determines the amount and location of the dome? Is it the bracing, the 2mm carved depression in the solera or some of both?
If the depression is carved into the solera then is the dome fixed for that solera? Is 2mm the right depth?

Thanks

Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

Found this info, so I guess 2mm for the dome in the Solera isn't a set number, wonder what others here use?

Yes, the fans are determining the dome. The lower harmonic bar can be left straight to concentrate the dome in the lower bout or you can fit the lower harmonic bar to the domed shape.

I find that 15'-20' is the radius that best describes the degree of dome.

A flatter dome is less stiff than a higher dome. 2mm is on the lower side, 3mm is typical, and some domes are as much as 5mm. All are within acceptable practice.

Whatever degree of dome you settle on, make sure that you set the neck angle accordingly! I have found that dome + neck angle equal 5mm, pretty close.

http://www.classicalguitardelcamp.com/v ... hp?t=59195

Brad Heinzen
Posts: 99
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:19 am

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Brad Heinzen »

The dish that you use when you glue down the bracing largely determines the doming. In my case, I have a specially carved dish that has an irregular dome only in the lower bout. The dish is the shape of an untrimmed top plate, and is made from a piece of 3/4" MDF. I pre-carve the lower sound hole brace before glueing it in place, but not the fans and closing bars. The little braces are just pushed into the dished out form. Even so, I don't get much spring-back in the braced plate. I think I'm getting something in the neighborhood of 2-3 mm doming.

There is some trial and error involved in choosing a neck angle. Things may move around a bit when you get the bridge glued in place, the strings tensioned up, etc. A full scale drawing should get you in the ballpark, or at least close enough that you can fix it with a fingerboard taper if needed. If it turns out that you have to make an adjustment with the fingerboard, you can always adjust the neck angle on the next one.

Stephen Faulk
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2015 10:12 am

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Stephen Faulk »

Man I'm exhausted reading this <g>

Stephen Faulk
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2015 10:12 am

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Stephen Faulk »

Is this how we used to to do it <G>?

Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

Stephen,

I know you are a very experienced and well regarded builder of Flamenco guitars.
I have being playing flamenco for about six months and also do some woodworking, hence my interest in building a guitar.
I am not great at either but striving to improve.
I have yet to even start building my first one but hope to do so soon.
I am sorry for all the newbie questions, I am probably asking for too much information too soon and should probably just do more reading.
I am sure I will understand what am asking about better once I actually experience building it.
But I am a little miffed by your comments, I am sure what you are getting at. Am I asking the wrong or inappropriate questions?
I would appreciate any advice you have to offer being that you are proficient and have been through the process many times.

Thanks - Joel

Stephen Faulk
Posts: 27
Joined: Thu Mar 12, 2015 10:12 am

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Stephen Faulk »

Joel,

Evereything you are asking is correct to ask, and the guys answering are right on as usual. Don't think I could add anything. I was only joking about how exhausting it is to read. The old MIMF had a rule about making jokes you had to use this symbol <g> after you cracked a joke to make sure everyone understood it was a joke. So I was making fun of how to make fun of things, I think.

A bit of misplaced nostalgia, perhaps. You'll get a lot more practical help here than on other forums, that is for sure. The general MIMF intent might not be to build flamenco guitars, but the basics of guitar making are shared and are more solid here than on the flamenco specific forums where you would have to wade through lots of heavy handed opinion.

Neck angle is a tricky thing, just work it out slowly on paper as you progress on your guitar. What makes or breaks a flamenco guitar is the string height off the top at the bridge. Try to get 8mm to 8.5 with some adjustment 1 mm in either direction and you'll make 90% of the players happy. That kind of guitar functions if the string height is correct. Even a slightly high action at the 12th fret is ok if the guitar feels right in the right hand.

One of the best things to do is play as many flamenco guitars are you can and think about the bridge, the whole concept revolves around the bridge really. Santos' guitars are probably best to begin with, although many like Tom Blackshear's --Reyes drawing, that particular Reyes is not to my fancy. The 1951 Barbero drawing by Brune' is a good one to study also. The basic Santos with five fans and the Barbero are essentially the same thing. The closing fans in the Barbero are pitched a bit steeper, not a big deal as long as you pick a stiff light top.

The Conde' idea is to make the guitar better by making it less responsive, it has a bit thicker top and a meaty sound. It's a good guitar and a good Conde' can be very satisfying. The Santos/Barbero thing is an older style and maybe a bit harder to make well. It's touchier to get perfect. Play as many good guitars as you can and listen to what you like. Your tastes will change and frustrate you, guitars are so strange that way.

Do less reading, just make a guitar. The bridge is the pivot point, fora flamenco guitar everything begins and ends there in terms of how the instrument plays, the action and all the other stuff, you sort it out on the way as you build more. If you get the neck angle wrong, you can loosen the back and reset it. It's a pain, but it can be done.

Did I mention the bridge?

Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

Stephen Faulk wrote:Joel,

Evereything you are asking is correct to ask, and the guys answering are right on as usual. Don't think I could add anything. I was only joking about how exhausting it is to read. The old MIMF had a rule about making jokes you had to use this symbol <g> after you cracked a joke to make sure everyone understood it was a joke. So I was making fun of how to make fun of things, I think.

A bit of misplaced nostalgia, perhaps. You'll get a lot more practical help here than on other forums, that is for sure. The general MIMF intent might not be to build flamenco guitars, but the basics of guitar making are shared and are more solid here than on the flamenco specific forums where you would have to wade through lots of heavy handed opinion.

Neck angle is a tricky thing, just work it out slowly on paper as you progress on your guitar. What makes or breaks a flamenco guitar is the string height off the top at the bridge. Try to get 8mm to 8.5 with some adjustment 1 mm in either direction and you'll make 90% of the players happy. That kind of guitar functions if the string height is correct. Even a slightly high action at the 12th fret is ok if the guitar feels right in the right hand.

One of the best things to do is play as many flamenco guitars are you can and think about the bridge, the whole concept revolves around the bridge really. Santos' guitars are probably best to begin with, although many like Tom Blackshear's --Reyes drawing, that particular Reyes is not to my fancy. The 1951 Barbero drawing by Brune' is a good one to study also. The basic Santos with five fans and the Barbero are essentially the same thing. The closing fans in the Barbero are pitched a bit steeper, not a big deal as long as you pick a stiff light top.

The Conde' idea is to make the guitar better by making it less responsive, it has a bit thicker top and a meaty sound. It's a good guitar and a good Conde' can be very satisfying. The Santos/Barbero thing is an older style and maybe a bit harder to make well. It's touchier to get perfect. Play as many good guitars as you can and listen to what you like. Your tastes will change and frustrate you, guitars are so strange that way.

Do less reading, just make a guitar. The bridge is the pivot point, fora flamenco guitar everything begins and ends there in terms of how the instrument plays, the action and all the other stuff, you sort it out on the way as you build more. If you get the neck angle wrong, you can loosen the back and reset it. It's a pain, but it can be done.

Did I mention the bridge?
Stephen,

Wow so much great information a lot of which I was not yet aware of.
Now I know about the <g> thing.
Yeah I know just get on with building the guitar, sometimes I overthink things.
I only have access to two flamenco guitars, my own which was made locally and was supposedly modeled after a Santos, the other one is my teachers which I think is a higher end Fransisco Navarro. Wish I could get access to a Conde to feel and hear the difference. I am an engineer and like to use CAD programs like sketchup, autocad and Visio. I am not sure if that would be as good or better than doing a paper drawing. I know what you mean by the frustration of different sounding guitars, I get that just changing to different strings or filing my nails, or listening to my teacher play.

Thanks for all the great advise.

Brad Heinzen
Posts: 99
Joined: Fri Feb 17, 2012 1:19 am

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Brad Heinzen »

I'd go with full size, hand drawn. I'd also do it on a piece of 1/8" plywood or Masonite. I find it helpful to have the pattern hanging on the wall for reference, and paper patterns are a pain to work with. I still do full size patterns each time I do something that's a departure from my standard stuff.

Jim Kirby
Posts: 42
Joined: Sun Jan 08, 2012 6:01 pm
Location: Newark, Delaware

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Jim Kirby »

Nothing much to add here that hasn't been said. The question of how much neck angle vs. how much doming of the top revolves around how much action you want at the 12th fret and how much string height you want above the top at the bridge. You can formulate this as a simple arithmetic problem, although, as suggested numerous times, doing a full scale drawing and seeing how it is supposed to work out is invaluable.

My first two flamenco's were based on the Reyes/Blackshear drawing. Apparently, to get this right, you need extra info that Tom will part with in terms of how the doming is being done, but I didn't do any of that, I just built a Courtnall-style solera and worked out the dome vs neck angle geometry using the basic arithmetic, with the top set up as a dome inside of a flat rim all around. I used Alaska Yellow Cedar for both, and I would comment that overall, the design produced a pleasing guitar in general - perhaps not the most iconic flamenco guitar, and perhaps too dry for a good classical guitar, but a generally very useful and pleasing guitar overall.

I've used Cypress since then (look to the Turkish suppliers, by the way), but nothing wrong with the Alaska Yellow cedar. I find it's visual homogeneity to be less pleasing than the cypress, but there is certainly nothing wrong with it as a tonewood.

Joel Brown
Posts: 47
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2014 11:08 pm

Re: Question about making Solera

Post by Joel Brown »

Jim Kirby wrote:Nothing much to add here that hasn't been said. The question of how much neck angle vs. how much doming of the top revolves around how much action you want at the 12th fret and how much string height you want above the top at the bridge. You can formulate this as a simple arithmetic problem, although, as suggested numerous times, doing a full scale drawing and seeing how it is supposed to work out is invaluable.

My first two flamenco's were based on the Reyes/Blackshear drawing. Apparently, to get this right, you need extra info that Tom will part with in terms of how the doming is being done, but I didn't do any of that, I just built a Courtnall-style solera and worked out the dome vs neck angle geometry using the basic arithmetic, with the top set up as a dome inside of a flat rim all around. I used Alaska Yellow Cedar for both, and I would comment that overall, the design produced a pleasing guitar in general - perhaps not the most iconic flamenco guitar, and perhaps too dry for a good classical guitar, but a generally very useful and pleasing guitar overall.

I've used Cypress since then (look to the Turkish suppliers, by the way), but nothing wrong with the Alaska Yellow cedar. I find it's visual homogeneity to be less pleasing than the cypress, but there is certainly nothing wrong with it as a tonewood.
Jim,

I ended up getting a set of wood, Port Orford Cedar back and sides, Englemann spruce top.
Are you still using the Reyes design or did you find something you like better?
I was thinking of just using the Santos Hernandez plan that is in the book.
When I read about tuning the top it seems the consensus is its a mystery and somehow the great builders figure out some magic way to make the guitar sound great, but don't always get it right.
So I might as well just build something following some guidelines and hope for the best.

Post Reply