Birthing a Beast

I’ve had to take a brief hiatus from blogging, since I was in the midst of a commission that was going to be a birthday gift, and the giftee was someone I knew and might read about what was going on. But, it has been delivered, so I can now catch everyone up on what I’ve been doing.

The project was an acoustic bass guitar, based upon the plans of Mark Stanley. This was quite a contrast from the acoustic parlor guitars that I had built; not only was it an acoustic bass guitar, but it is probably one of the biggest bass guitars around. Stanley’s design calls for a much deeper body, and slightly wider too, than the acoustic bass guitars that are available commercially, for good reason. Most, if not all, of the mass produced ABGs, quite simply, are useless acoustically. They are unable to be heard without amplification, especially the low strings. And that makes sense, low strings produce large vibrations; large vibrations need more room; a smaller body cuts off the vibrations, effectively muting them. So, while this ABG does have a pickup installed, the design of the body, and the bracing pattern, and the woods used all combine to produce an instrument that is usable both plugged in AND au natural, shall we say!

For the top, I used western red cedar; a softer (although more stable) wood than the spruces that are typical for steel string guitars, but common on classical guitars, and preferred for this design of ABG. For the back, sides and neck, I chose walnut. Not only is it eco-friendly, being a domestic wood, it is very nice to work with on the bending iron, and, most important of all, it sounds good. I found a nicely figured board from my local supplier that was just big enough for the back.

Of course its size was too big for my band saw, but a visit to the Fine WW building here at school resulted in two sets of bookmatched backs. After thicknessing them to about 1/8′ at the drum sander, I was ready to glue the backs together. Joining boards this thin requires a different technique than normal, regular clamps would just break or bow the pieces. A simple method, which works well, is to butt one board up to a series of nails in a workboard, and then put nails against the other side of the other board so that they meet in the middle about an inch up from the workboard.

Then, after applying glue to the seam, pressing them flat produces just enough pressure result in a nice tight joint. Any type of weights can be used to keep the seam flat.

After drying and scraping the seams of excess glue (plus a little mineral spirits to see the true color), the backs are now one, revealing their wonderful bookmatched patterns.

The cedar tops get the same treatment.

Tapping on the glued up tops and backs reveals the resonance to come.

Next up (very soon this time, I promise), bracing.

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