My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

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Dave Higham
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Joined: Sun Jan 08, 2012 3:35 am
Location: Between Bordeaux & the Atlantic. S W France

My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

Two or three years ago my nephew asked me if I’d make him a guitar. He wanted an OM with a cut-away. I don’t make acoustic guitars, I make (mostly electric) basses, although I have made an acoustic one but it didn’t have a cutaway, and anyway, I was just about to start on another bass. What’s more, I didn’t want to commit to making an instrument not knowing how it would turn out with the possibility of his (and my) being disappointed. So I put him off and he didn’t insist.

But when I’d finished that bass I decided I don’t really have room for any more so I thought I’d have a change and give it a go, but without telling my nephew. That way he wouldn’t be disappointed if it wasn’t a success.

So just over a year ago when I was about to start on it I bid for a set of Claro walnut in the MIMF auction. I was rather surprised to find that nobody else made a bid and so I got it at a bargain price.

Here’s what I turned it into. I tend to get carried away and try to incorporate all the bells and whistles I can think of, so it has:
A ‘Linda Manzer’ wedge shaped body.
A ‘Kevin Ryan’ style arm-rest bevel.
Stephen Sheriff’s Hybrid X-fan bracing.
A fully adjustable neck, side to side and back to front.
Carbon fibre tubular struts supporting the neck block.
A circular Kent Chasson access panel in the tail block.
A ‘stealth’ truss rod cover.

All that, together with a few trials and tribulations and the odd disaster, is why it took me a year to make it.

Click on the photos for a bigger image.

The top is Lutz spruce from Shane Neifer.
1 - Copie.JPG
A closer look.
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The rosette is a sort of random mosaic of all the different bits of wood I could find. I tried to shade it from dark near the bridge to light at the neck but I think I faded it out a bit too soon.
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Back view.
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When I glued the pointy bit of the cutaway together I luckily got a pretty good join so I decided not to bind that part of it. Thanks to Larry Davis for donating this beautiful set of walnut to the MIMF.
7.JPG

Dave Higham
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

7a.JPG
Three-quarter view.
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Cutting an elliptical sound-port with a bevelled edge in a curved surface isn’t as easy as I thought. It finished up OK but slightly larger than intended.
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I was very apprehensive about the bevel. In fact when I got the box closed I chickened out and bound it normally. Then the aforementioned disaster occurred. We went away for two weeks in February and my humidifier had broken down. I forgot to turn off the heating in the workshop and when we got back there was a 5” crack in the top. I’d already ‘made do’ with one or two things that weren’t as good as they could have been, so I took this as a sign saying “this time do it properly”! So having made a new top I tackled the bevel. I had to join two pieces of off-cuts from the back to make the veneer but it turned out OK thanks to helpful advice from Steve Kinnaird and Fred Tellier.
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This view shows the wedge body and the access panel. The end pin is really a screw; it has a piece of threaded rod screwed and glued into it and holds the access panel in place.
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Dave Higham
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Location: Between Bordeaux & the Atlantic. S W France

Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

When I’ve done a stacked heel before the joins were quite visible; this time, for some reason they are at lot less visible. The rosewood button covers the head of a socket head screw which holds the neck in place and the action (string height) is adjusted by turning the screw.
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If you look carefully you’ll see that part of the headstock inlay is thicker than the rest and has a bevelled edge. That’s the truss rod cover.
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Here’s another view of it.
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The back-strap veneer is book-matched off-cuts from the back. I like these tuners, but they do add a noticeable amount of weight to the headstock.
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Well, there it is. I’ve only made two acoustic guitars before. The first was a Classic in 1971 and the second, a Dreadnaught in 1972. Back in those days I had two books; Irvine Sloane’s Classic Guitar Construction and another whose title and authors’ names I’ve forgotten. I was pleased with the Classic; I’ve still got it and everyone who plays it says it sounds good. The Dread became a wall-hanging.

I have to thank again all the people, professional and amateur who gave me an enormous amount of help through the miracle of the internet. People like Steve Sheriff, Steve Kinnaird, Colin Symonds, Pat Foster, Fred Tellier; some of these guys make their living doing this but are still willing to spend the time and share their knowledge with dabblers like me. I apologise to anuone I’ve missed out. If the internet had only existed back in 1971…

If you have been, thanks for looking.

P.S. There is a blow-by-blow account of the making of this guitar on another forum. It’s very long and includes about 200 photos. I’m not sure if it’s allowed to direct members to ‘another place’, in the days of ‘she who must be obeyed’ it certainly wasn’t, although if you’ve read this far, why not. On the other hand, if you saw it here, it would be nice to post comments or criticisms here. One can always resort to PMs.

Jason Rodgers
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Dave Higham wrote: But when I’d finished that bass I decided I don’t really have room for any more...
Um... Dave, we need to talk. :|

This is a great guitar! Even though you might have felt as though you were going out on a limb with all of these features, your design sense brought it all together. Very well executed!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

Aaron Helt
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Aaron Helt »

Wow, if you hadn't told me I'd have thought this was someone's 500th acoustic. Just perfect.
For the first time in my life, I wished I was someone else's nephew.

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Hans Bezemer
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Hans Bezemer »

I have a book that is called The Magician's Nephew.
If I recall correctly it's about a nephew who wanted an acoustic guitar.... ;)

Outstanding work Dave!

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Mark Swanson
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Mark Swanson »

That's a great job Dave! I wish you had spent a lot of that time posting on this Forum too, but that's ok! glad you posted this. It is a real winner, wish I could play it!
  • Mark Swanson, guitarist, MIMForum Staff

Jason Rodgers
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Jason Rodgers »

What Mark said. At least give us the obligatory, gratuitous shot of the top bracing!
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

Michael Lewis
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Michael Lewis »

Well balanced sense of design. Very nice appearance.

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Charlie Schultz
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Charlie Schultz »

Awesome! How was the Claro to work with?

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Bryan Bear
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Bryan Bear »

absolutely lovely!
PMoMC

Take care of your feet and your feet will take care of you.

Dave Higham
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

Thank you all for the kind remarks.

Charlie, the Claro was fine to work with, but seem a bit brittle and being curly had a tendency to chip out if tools or cutters weren't really sharp. When I routed the binding rebate on the top (the first top) I didn't notice it had chipped out quite a lot until I had finished. Being a dark coloured wood doesn't help. When I routed it with the second top I was a lot more careful and it went OK.

As to a photo of the bracing, I have lots. How about I post some of the 'in progress' photos? Trouble is, I'll have to reduce them to MIMF approved size and that takes a while.

Todd Stock
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Todd Stock »

Very nice - that turned out well. And that would be a Smith Wedge, as used by Linda Manzer.

Dave Higham
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

Thanks Todd, and yes you're quite right. Everyone credits Linda Manzer with creating the wedge body, but am I right in thinking that she did 'create' it not knowing that it had already been done and even patented? Then again Novak even managed to patent something that had existed for 400 years.
Orpharion1617.jpg

Randy Roberts
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Randy Roberts »

Dave,
I really like this guitar, and I don't agree with you as to the rosette fading to light too soon. I think the effect it has is very striking. Also like your "smiling" bridge.

Any chance you could share more info on the fanned fret example above. Really is fascinating to see the concept turn up that long ago.
Is the builder known, and are there by any chance views of the back and sides available anywhere you could refer me to?

Dave Higham
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Location: Between Bordeaux & the Atlantic. S W France

Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

Thanks Randy, I'm pleased you like it.

The 'fanned fret instrument is an orpharion and you can find much more information on it here:

http://www.cittern.theaterofmusic.com/old/palmer.html

There are lots more here:

https://www.google.fr/search?q=orphario ... FAod18QAgA

Chuck Tweedy
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Chuck Tweedy »

Outstanding Dave!
As always - your work is exquisite. Such a perfectionist. And beautiful design elements.

How does it sound? I'm sure it sounds great, but you have not given us a clue.
Likes to drink Rosewood Juice

Arnt Rian
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Arnt Rian »

Its a beauty! As always, your good sense of design and immaculate workmanship are obvious.

I know what you mean about "signs" like the cracked top, that's a strong message which cannot be ignored! Its not unusual that "signs" like that allow you make changes that you should have done in the first place.

Dave Higham
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Dave Higham »

Thanks Chuck and Arnt, and it's nice to hear from both of you again. You seem to be making yourselves rather scarce these days.

Well,it sounds quite good to me, but that doesn't mean much because I'm not a guitarist. But there does seem to be a small problem of some sort. When I was setting it up and stringing it, it was lying on a cushioned surface (in other words the back was 'damped') and the strings seemed more or less even, but when I finally put it on my knee, with the sound port under my nose, the A string seemed quite 'boomy' for want of a better word. I've also found that if I close the sound port with my hand, the 'boominess' disappears. There's not much I can do about it now as we're already half way back to the UK (in Cabourg on the Normandy coast) but I'll be calling in on Colin Symonds next week so I'll see if he has any magic he can work on it. If anyone else has any suggestions as to what might cure it, I'm all ears. Otherwise I might just have to tell my nephew to put a bung in the sound port!

Jason Rodgers
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Re: My first real acoustic guitar in 43 years

Post by Jason Rodgers »

Throwing out a SWAG... sounds like you lined up resonances with various components and dimensions just right and that sound port is grabbing the 'A' and emphasizing it. Kind of like when the windows are rolled down just right on the highway and the inside of your car goes, "WUB-WUB-WUB-WUB."

I remember an article in American Lutherie with Mike Doolin talking about tuning a soundport to shift some of the effects of that extra hole. Can't remember if it was too trebly or too bassy. He basically added a cylinder on the inside like a ported speaker and experimented with the length until he found a sound he liked.

Another solution could be to add a sliding door, to open and close the port.
-Ruining perfectly good wood, one day at a time.

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