Palo Escrito back& sides

Palo Escrito back& sides
2014 April Palo Escrito flamenca

Monday, February 28, 2011

Doing time, doing fret work

Doing a re-fret on a mando. That's me!

I learned to get my fret work together by working for Stewart Port, repair man extraordinaire.

I've known Stewie, as he is fondly called by the other gutiar makers, for about fifteen years. One of the best things he taught me was the technique of filing. Files are an essential tool for guitar making and repair work and like any activity whether it be athletic or artistic there is technique to be learned.

If you look at my left hand thumb you can see that I am putting pressure on the file an guiding it while giving it motion and pushing with the right hand. Files cut in one direction, and it's essential to attune your ear to listen to how the file is cutting, deep or shallow, fast or slow. You use the senses of hearing, vision and touch to use tools. I'm really thankful I studied with and associate with Stewart because he is a talented repair man and a stickler for developing good technique in shop work.

I have some pictures from projects going on in his shop and I'll write more in depth about Stewart Port and what he does real soon.

Electric Saz for the Secret Chiefs

This is The electric Saz played by Trey Spruance the leader of the band Secret Chiefs. (Trey is on the right, that's me on the left. )

This instrument is the brain offspring of my friend John Beal of Bealtown Guitars. John and I went to the San Francisco Art Institute together in the early 1990's. Since those days at SFAI John has become a real Orthodox priest and he has a deep interest in Byzantine chant. Now I mean to say John did not get his priestly vestments from a Cracker Jack box or some flim-flammer online buy a degree website. He went to seminary, put in his time as a novice and eventually became a full priest. Among his many talents, he can play the blues and he puts together the odd electric guitar. He also wheels and deals in vintage amplifiers.

John put this very nice electric saz together by putting a traditional saz neck on a Danelectro Longhorn body. And then Trey bought it from John and played it so much in Secret Chiefs that the sunburst saz became identified with Trey's band. Do a youtube search on Secret Chiefs and you'll likely find Trey with saz in live concert footage. ( here you go- )

After a few tours the saz' neck began to work loose and move forward, that is when John mentioned to Trey I could re work the neck joint. He brought it over and I changed the headstock to accommodate guitar tuners to replace the wooden pegs on the saz neck. Then I grafted some new wood onto the end of the neck and made it a bolt on neck that could easily be reset. I did some touch up work to the finish to make it all look original and then Trey ran off with to Europe on a tour with the rebuilt saz. I also found him a case for that thing which was not easy. Ended up after trying several cases a Gibson 335 case fit it perfectly.

John wants me to make more of these sunburst saz'. I've got ideas, lots of ideas.

What is the plural of saz? sazzes? // If you know, let me know!

Friday, February 25, 2011

A new top, Spanish style construction: neck to top joining.

On the left is a new bracing scheme I'm trying out. It's a crossed fan brace pattern. It's for a classical guitar. We'll see what happens. I think it will scream....err...sound great.  

Below this top is being joined to the neck Spanish style.  the neck and top are aligned with a straight edge and then the top is glued and pinned to the neck with a couple of small brads. This lines up the center seam of the top with the center line of the neck in one swoop. It's a fairly ancient way of working, this method can be found on extant  guitars made as early as the 1580's. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

n00bs 1979

1979? In high school when we used listen to Cheap Trick and to go the local music store dressed like this to try out electric guitars. I'm on the right, my friend Kevin on the left. I think he eventually turned out ok.

The next rosette

 This is the rosette on the guitar I'm building right now. It's a straight forward rosette, basic, tight colorful. Tease. Wait 'til this rosette gets carefully French polished. Those black bands will glow and I'll get some close in focused shots. 

But really shots like this are all about luthiers showing off those plane shavings! 


 Made for a sculpture show last summer.  There is an art gallery in the building where I have my shop.  They asked all the people who have shops here to make a piece for a group show. 

We are located by the Port of Oakland, one of the biggest ports on the West Coast. Just down the street is the edge of the water. There are huge ships floating by all the time. My entry in the show was this little boat with glass vessels as cargo. It's about 14" long. 

I have a new- used digital camera and I tried to shoot guitars in process tonight, but I have yet to master the new camera so.......we look at small ships until then.  

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Japanese antique silk wheel.

This is a silk gathering wheel from the 19th century. I saw it in a Japanese antique store about five years ago and bought it to put in my shop. To me it's beautiful and I draw a lot of inspiration by having it hanging around.

Maybe it just speaks to my worm work ethic character or there is some caterpillar to moth metaphor or some such wacky thing. Or perhaps I was a silk worm in a past life and this is like looking at the old job site. Actually that is cold comfort, forget that. I was never a worm despite what my old girlfriend said about me.

There was a basket on the left side mounted on that block and the caterpillars lived in there, eating Mulberry leaves until they were fat and full of silk. Then when they began to spin cocoons the silk was directed up onto the wheel by the silk gatherers and the caterpillars would spin and spin until the they were spent, and the wheel was full of raw silk thread. Some Sysiphean task.......

Flamenco Guitar from 2008

Since I'm supposed to be making flamenco guitars, I guess I should get going on talking about them. I found these pictures of a cedar top blanca I made in 2008.

I'm writing this blog for everyone, from jaded flamenco guitar mavens to those who don't know anything about guitars. So I will be talking in both general and specific terms to try to make an overall picture of what I'm doing that everyone can enjoy. For those of you new to looking at guitars or to flamenco guitars, "blanca" in the context of a guitar type means the guitar was made with blonde wood, usually Spanish Cypress. A "negra" means the wood is dark and usually means the guitar is rosewood. I'll get into the qualities of both types of wood over time, I'm building a flamenca negra right now and I will put up some photos soon.

This is a kick ass guitar, but like some of my guitars it was purchased and then I heard through grape vine, had to be sold because the owner had some difficult times. It's sad, but that happens. I hope someday I can make him another guitar.

Here are a few shots of the details. If you have any questions about why flamenco guitars are made this way ask away! I hope you enjoy.

Tom's oud part 4

The top photo is how the braces engage the sides of the oud in the inside. I fitted them to the sides carefully then glued them to the top and then the whole assembly was glued to the oud bowl.

There's Tom playing his oud in my shop after the restoration was finished. Tom was a student of the late great oudi and singer Hamza el Din. He's a really good oud player. Soon we'll get up a video of him playing the oud. Or some sound samples.

I would like to thank Richard Hankey AKA Dr. Oud, not only for writing the best book about oud construction known to man, but for his personal counsel in all matters oud. You can reach Dr. oud at : He has a great website oud lovers should check it out.

I have two more oud restorations slated to get underway soon. I'm going to document them as well.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Mad Clamp Disease

Mad Clamp Disease. This is a pretty bad case. May not be curable.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flat Neck Syndrome- A curable guitar neck defect

Next I'm going to talk about Flat Neck Syndrome or sometimes called Fat Neck Syndrome- a special defect that guitar neck can be born with.
It's curable, but not always pretty. FNS means the luthier did not carve the neck to be totally rounded into the classic 'D' shaped neck profile, this annoys many guitarists as the thumb of the left hand can hang up on that flat area of the neck or in the case of Fat Neck Syndrome be just plain too thick to play comfortably.

The neck profile of a guitar neck can be reshaped if there is enough meat left on the neck and there is no danger of making it too thin or structurally weakening the neck. It is a judgment call that a good repair person or guitar maker can decide on. Once you decide to have the neck modified, it's a matter of carefully reshaping it and refinishing it. Usually you want to use the same finish on the neck as was used on the guitar originally, but sometimes you must use an alternate finish for time sake or because the new finish will actually wear better.

This week I will be finishing up a neck reshaping job on a modest, but otherwise serviceable classical guitar. The guitar has horrible polyurethane finish, UHGG! Poly, the bane of all luthiers, it's thick goopy stuff and it dampens the vibrations of a delicate guitar well made guitar. However on many factory grade instruments the heavy handed long wearing polyurethane finish is often used. You just gotta roll with it a do the best you can when you repair those finishes, it's part of the repair persons territory. You out there should feel great pity for those of us who patch up your poly plastic dipped guitars.

The illustration up above shows the cross section of a classical guitar neck and shows the difference between the 'flat' and 'D' shaped neck profiles. The flat neck shape means the guitar maker rounded off the corners of the rough neck, but did not take it farther and carve the whole thing into a well formed round. Some guitarists like those flat necks and that's fine, but most prefer the 'D'.

I reshaped a neck last week as I said, and I am finishing it right now with French polish, that sounds really haughty, no? French polish is about as French as French Toast. It means using shellac, a natural finish to make a thin tough film on a wood surface. I'm going to talk about what French polishing is and why I choose it to refinish the neck I reshaped. And then I'll get back to the oud.......

Hey it's me!

I don't actually look like this, but I made this drawing as how I imagine my customers see me in my shop. In reality my arms are much thinner and my head more pointy. Self portraiture should always flatter the self.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tom's Oud #3

The oud top is shown above. This was taken after I removed the old braces from it and saved them to brace the new top which you can see below it. The old top had structural problems, basically it was folding up on itself under the tension of the strings. For an older instrument with this kind of construction it happens frequently. There are two basic cures, rebuild the old top with new supporting structure or replace the top with a new one. In this case it came down to top replacement, but I used the original braces as the structure under the top. I'll show this and tell why in a later post.

The new top turned out well, I made all new appointments for the top, pick guard, that oval shaped thing, bridge and the beard. The beard of an oud is that piece of wood near the neck that looks like an old dudes beard hanging down the face of the instrument. Only it's anatomically weird because if this were actually a face, the beard would be growing over the eyes way up on the face. This is a great reason to refrain from anthropomorphizing an oud and the main feature which distinguishes ouds from human beings.

But I digress. The rosette is made of hand carved walnut as are the other details like the beard and bridge. I had to remake the details of the top with walnut for two reasons. The old parts were made of really bad soft wood and had fallen apart or were deeply scratched. Since this oud is honestly not of historical value, it's a mass produced but good sounding instrument, we decided ( the customer and I) the attention to remaking the details and appointments would be an enhancement both structurally and aesthetically. Had this been an oud of value due to it's maker or other factor a more conservative restoration would have been carried out. This was an old oud about to die and we revived it to have another long music making life. In the end it's a players instrument not a museum piece. It's important for a restorer to understand when to make those judgements.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Oud Continued #2

This is the inside of the bowl before I excavated all the old nasty glue out. Honestly this thing really smelled bad, like rancid glue mixed with some large mammal droppings. My friend Stewart Port asked me why I bothered to even fix this thing, "For the money stupid" I said . Well. I thought about saying that, but since Stewart is one of the best guitar repairer/restorers on the West Coast, I said, "for the money", shrugging my shoulders. For the money, and for the love of ouds and all old beautiful instruments.

I put on the kinky blue nitrile surgical gloves and over several sessions, which totaled twelve hours of work, I finally removed all the black glue and dirt. I had to work slowly and carefully wetting and scraping out the tarry looking mess. As a section would come clean, I worked length wise along the ribs, I would use fresh hide glue and narrow strips of shopping bag paper to reinforce the seams between the ribs. I wish I could say I felt like an archeologist removing debris and rock from valuable rare Chinese dinosaur bird fossils, but that sounds like real drudge work.

After the whole job was done the inside of the oud bowl was no longer stinky. We joked it smelled of camel piss, although I dont know what camels piss actually smells like, I imagine it to be something like what this oud smelled like. When I was in grad school I worked part time for an over educated plumber named Ted and the other part time in a boat yard, thus I understand stink and all it's nuances. The oud never phased me.

The oud restoration for Tom Chandler #1

This oud came to hard times some years ago. I don't know how old it is, but guess it's about sixty years old. The past several months it has been in my shop under going restoration for my friend Tom Chandler who is an oud and guitar player in the the San Francisco Bay Area . He's dry and sarcastic, but generally a sweet guy and a great musician. I'm going to explain a few of the things that I did to revive this oud that he had acquired in a rather dubious state of repair.

Since I don't believe in beginning at the beginning, I'm going to start somewhere in the middle. What you see in the picture is the completed patch work and cleaning of the inside of the oud bowl with the top off the instrument.
Shit, I invited you here and I have no beer in the house. Be right back. .........