Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Bind and Purfle

Gluing the binding and purfling
I guess it's a good sign when I have three blog posts in four weeks. (Well, it's a good sign for me, at least. Those who are compelled to read it may well feel differently). In any event, it's a sign that thing are moving right along. The progress continues at a solid pace, and the only thing I see slowing it down in the near future is the fact that I'll be missing class next week for the Thanksgiving holiday. I had hoped to be at a point that I could take it with me and work on it over vacations, but it looks like that probably won't happen. I'll find out tonight, when I go to class to continue what I started last week.

I made good progress on the binding and purfling last week, managing to get half of the back done. I'll work on the rest tonight and my hope is that I'll finish the rest, but I think it's a long shot. The job isn't particularly difficult, although it's a bit tougher than the job was on my flat top because of the materials. The arch top has maple binding, as opposed to the flat top, which used walnut. The maple is much, much stiffer, so it takes a little extra care to get it to conform to the shape of the guitar without breaking it. So it's necessary to occasionally use the bending iron to adjust the shape as you go. The walnut binding was soft enough that it would conform to the shape without any help. As I said, it's not a particularly difficult job; it just takes a little longer.

But so far it looks great. The first job last week was cutting the miter where the purfling that goes around the top meets the purfling in the end graft so that it makes a clean angle. This requires a very small cut of great precision with no second chance, so it's a bit nerve wracking. Fortunately, the first one went well. We'll see how the rest turn out tonight. Either way, getting the binding and purfling installed will be a big step. Once it's glued, then trimmed and sanded, the box will be essentially finished, except for sanding (which is a very big exception) and installing the bridge and tailpiece. Then it will be on to the neck.

I also had a revelation that gave me hope that I'll be able to finish sooner than I thought I might. I was reminded that the process of lacquering should go much faster on this guitar than it did on the last one. The reason for it is that the process of lacquering the flat top involved spraying a coat of lacquer, allowing it to dry, then sanding it down so that the lacquer residue would fill the porous parts of the rosewood. But since we're using maple, which isn't nearly as porous, the filling is unnecessary. The process on the flat top took more than two months, so I'm hopeful I can save quite a bit of time.

It's always dangerous to predict you're going to save time building a guitar, and experience tells me I'm crazy to even mention it. But a guy can dream, can't he?

Regardless of when I finish, I'm content with my progress at this particular moment in time. So I'll just keep moving on and hoping for the best. But I can't deny that I'm starting to get that feeling. I'm not anywhere close to being finished, but I definitely get the sense I'm now on the downhill side, and that's a very good thing.

To close, here are before and after pictures of the installation of the binding and purfling. In the photo at left you can see two ledges. The one on the inside holds a strip of purfling, which consists of three thinner strips glued together (dark, light, dark). The outside ledge holds the binding, which is made of maple, to which a second strip of purfling is glued. So the result is a strip of binding sandwiched between a strip of purfling on the side and a strip of purfling on the back (or top, as the case may be).
The ledges before installing binding and purfling
After installing binding and purfling

Saturday, November 3, 2012

More Archtop Fun

After routing the dovetail for the neck
If only it could always be like this: I climb the stairs to my class at 5:00 on Tuesday afternoon and I leave three hours later, whistling a happy tune and ticking off a list of accomplishments as I go. Unfortunately, that particular scenario is about as common as a Tea Party/ACLU Unity Picnic, so I suppose I should just be grateful for this shining moment while I can. My short experience in guitar building has already taught me that my euphoria will be short-lived and will soon be replaced by emotions fluctuating between mild enthusiasm, intense impatience, and psychosis brought on by relentless episodes of sanding.

So allow me to revel while I can. Last week might have been one of the better weeks I've had since I first started my class over two years ago. I finished routing the slot for the end-graft; cut and glued the end-graft and the purfling that borders it; routed the dovetail slot where the neck will join the body; and even made some progress cleaning up the binding and purfling edges in preparation for gluing in the binding and purfling next week.

Gluing the end-graft and purfling
I'm predicting at least a month more - if not two - of the fun stuff: gluing in the binding and purfling, working on the neck, and fitting it all together. There should be plenty of variety to keep me interested. At some point we'll enter into uncharted territory, the installation of the bridge and tailpiece, which are radically different from those used on a flat top guitar like the first one I built. Those two components are probably the biggest difference between flat top and arch top guitars except, of course, the fact that one has an arched body and one doesn't. I'll save the exciting details about that for when the time comes. I'm sure you're on the edge of your seat.

In the meantime, I should have more tangible results to report on a regular basis before the inevitable end-game begins. You would think the end-game would be an exciting thing to begin. It means that the guitar is essentially built and you've started the process of finishing up the details. And herein lies the secret to building a good guitar: The building is about 50% of the process and the finishing is the the rest. An experienced guitar builder recently told me that it is impossible to build a good guitar quickly, because it's all in the detail. As with the last guitar, I expect to spend at least two, and more likely three, months lacquering, sanding, and setting up the instrument. It's not pretty but, if it was, I suppose everybody would be doing it. And I'm sure it's not lost on anyone that knows me that my participation in an endeavor that has at it's heart focus, patience, and attention to detail is about as natural as, well... a Tea Party/ACLU Unity Picnic.

So that's my story for the time being. After a very, very long first six months that, frankly, wasn't much fun, I'm really enjoying class again. Ted and I talked it over and came to the conclusion that there was no reason that some of the tasks we're doing now couldn't have been done in the first few months in order to break up the monotony of the carving. But, then again, maybe intense boredom is good for character development. There's always a silver lining, I suppose.