Ecological Jazz Guitar Project

Building a Hybrid Semi-Archtop Ecological Jazz Guitar

BY GIDEON WEIGERT

What with 2013 being the official year of Ecological Jazz (in my house anyway), I’ve decided to keep a blog of this latest project I’m working on. I’ll be building am arched, flat-top Jazz guitar from local and recycled materials for a musician who likes to play guitar, but not at the expense of our Mother Earth’s most precious dwindling, overexploited resources.

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DESIGN

by G Weigert guitar maker
First I draw the shape on a board – using a pencil and rubber (eraser) until I am satisfied with the outline.
G Weigert guitar design
I hold the template up to a mirror to check how it will look.
G Weigert Guitars. Original Design
When I am satisfied with the outline, I cut it out. Then, using it as a template a take it to the drawing board and fill in the other features. Soundhole, scratchplate, etc.
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THE SOLERA AND THE SOUNDBOARD

I build my guitars using the Spanish method. This involves using a ‘Solera’, which is a workboard on which the guitar is constructed, face down. The whole guitar (ie, neck and body) are built together – as compared to alternative methods where the body and neck are finished separately and slotted together at the final stage.
The advantages, I find, of the Spanish method are these:

It makes it easy to accurately align the neck to the body.

The neck – body join is very strong and well integrated into the guitar as a whole.
A wide variety of body shapes can be made without the construction each time of a bulky mould.
This is the solera I usually use for classical guitars

This is the solera I usually use for classical and flamenco guitars. The red and white circles are where the wood has been given a concave depression around the area of the bridge. This will give the soundboard a slight arch when the bracing is glued on.

Jazz Guitar Solera, with much more pronounced arching.
 

Hybrid Archtop by G Weigert

This is the bracing on the inside of the soundboard. This gives it strength as well as defining the tonal and response of the guitar. Because this is to be a guitar with a tailpiece and floating bridge, all of the pressure will be pushing down on the soundboard – I have made the bracing a lot stronger than most of my other guitars.
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THE WOOD

Here are the woods I shall be using to build this guitar, and a bit about their sources and origins.
Wood
Turkish Walnut from Muzaffer in Turkey – For the guitar’s body.
Here is a picture of Muzaffer cutting down a tree with a large pair of scissors – he’s that ecological he won’t even use a chainsaw.
Flamed maple. For the fingerboard. I’ve had this piece for so long I can’t remember exactly where it came from. I think Nottighamshire.
Sesam is a type of Rosewood that grows around here, in Galilee.
London Cherry. This tree was growing outside my parents’ house in North London until the neighbour complained of it’s roots spoiling her lawn. When the council came to cut it down I made sure to save the wood. It’s now part of a few mandolins and will be the neck of this guitar.
Mystery Spruce. I think it’s Sitka. I got it from a guitar maker in Sheffield several years ago who was clearing out his workshop. Maybe he was retiring. I don’t know. The mystery is why he didn’t keep this amazing sounding piece of wood.
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ASSEMBLY

After a damp and humid April, along with lengthy deliberations about the revolutionary, innovative, electric scratch-plate design that this guitar will feature – came a very dry spell of weather. Perfect for assembling guitars.

Once the soundboard had been braced and the back and sides had been thicknessed to around two and a half  millimetres, the last thing to make were the linings. The bits that hold it all together. For this I used an old plank of hardwood, picked up in Jerusalem. Probably birch wood. Here is my fascinating photo journal of how I turned an old, discarded plank of wood into an integral part of a guitar:

hardwood plank

1.(above) The plank.

planing off the varnish

2.Planing the varnish off the plank.

cutting with elecrical saw

3.Cutting the plank into strips with an elecrical saw.

strips

contouring the strip

4.Contouring the strips.

finsished precut lining strip

A contoured strip.

sawing slots in the lining

5.Sawing slots in the strips.

guitar linings

handmade guitar linings

Finished linings.

child labour

6.Getting unpaid child labour to collect the wood-dust in a plastic bottle by letting her believe it to be fairy dust. I’m not sure if that’s ecological or ethical.

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Now that I had all of the parts of the guitar ready to assemble, and a nice clean workshop, it was time to assemble the guitar. Here’s how I did that:

Assembling the guitar

1.Glue the neck to the soundboard. That’s the Spanish way. If  I did it the American way I’d make the body and the neck completely separately and then slot them together when they’re both finished. One advantage of the American way is that it’s easier to take the neck off if the joint breaks. The advantage of the Spanish way is that the joint is very unlikely to break as the whole guitar is essentially one piece.

reinforcing the sides

2.Reinforcing the sides with Western Red Cedar offcuts from a previous guitar.

I’m sorry I didn’t put any pictures of me bending the sides. I suppose I should have done as it is the greatest mystery of guitar making – the thing  people always ask about. The main reason I wanted to learn how to make guitars, in fact, was just to know how they bend the sides. I’ll put a bit about it on my Frequently Asked Questions page when I next get round to making another exciting photo-diary.

linings all attached

3.Linings all glued on.

making the soundport

4.Sound-port cut out.

quality control

Quality control inspector takes a sniff around.

guitar ready for the back

Guitar gets stamp of approval.

carving the back bars

5. Carving the back-bars from a piece of Sycamore, coppiced in Sherwood forest, England 2003.

back bars

This will give the back its arched contour.

back bars

This pieces was then cut into three on the electrical saw.

glueing the back bars

6. Glueing on the back bars. The centre strip is local Cypress wood from Galilee.

back ready to be attached

Back ready to be glued on.

glueing on the guitar's back

7. Glueing on the back.

assembled guitar

Assembled guitar.

guitar back

g weigert guitars

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PURFLINGS  &  BINDINGS

006 - Copy

Glueing Sycamore veneers for the purflings (the black and white stripes around the edges) and local Sesam wood for the bindings.

008 - Copy

Cutting the grooves for purfling and binding.

009 - Copy

After the purflings have been glued in, the bindings are bent to shape, ready to be fitted in the groove.

013 - Copy

When it’s all glued in place, the whole body is then scraped and sanded smooth. Here it is with a coat of Danish Oil, prior to the shellac.

016 - Copy

011

012

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THE NECK

001

The adjustable truss rod is placed in the groove in the neck.  This is used to adjust the bow of the neck when the tension from the strings  pull it forward.

004

A piece of sycamore veneer is placed over the truss rod. This will stop the truss rod getting covered in glue when the fingerboard is glued on as that might limit its movement and clog up its moving parts.

019

This is to be a three part neck. The first part is the cherry wood of the neck. On top of that is an angled piece of maple to give the fingerboard  and strings greater clearance of the arched soundboard. The fingerboard will be glued on top of the maple. Pictured above is the maple being glued onto the neck.

020

Maple glued in place. Later on I’ll put a cover over the end of the truss rod. This will be attached with screws to make it accessible.

022

Now for the fingerboard itself. This is made from local Sesam wood, which is a type of Rosewood that grows here in Galilee. In this picture I’ve marked out the fret positions using a ruler and am sawing the slots with a Japanese saw.

023

Here the neck has been cut to the right width and is now being planed to the right thickness. This cherry wood is very hard. It’s a lot of work with this little block plane.

024

Carving the neck profile with a spokeshave. This is the only part of guitar making where I get to sit down.

025

The final shaping of the neck is done with a cabinet scraper. It makes very fine shavings.

027

The finished neck.

029

030

cherry wood, maple, rosewood

 

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The Scratchplate

Perhaps the most interesting and unusual feature of this guitar (and also the one which caused the most difficult design challenges) is the removable electrified scratchplate.  The idea is that without the scratchplate, the guitar is completely acoustic.  Then by the simple addition of the scratchplate, it becomes electric. All of the components – the volume and tone controls and the jack input are fitted in the small space beneath  the scratchplate. The Kent Armstrong floating Jazz pickup comes out of the side to be suspended underneath the strings.

The whole assembly easily snaps on and off  in a matter of seconds. This is thanks to the clever use of small, extremely strong neodymium magnets which are invisibly concealed inside the guitar’s bindings and in wooden feet on the scratchplate’s copper arms.

The scratchplate itself is made from local Sesam wood.

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The Finished Guitar

Here are some pictures of the finished guitar.

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label

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3 Responses to “Ecological Jazz Guitar Project”

  1. gabriellyoza May 13, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    o my, what a lovely website, you write so beautifully and the guitars are amazing, you must be a brilliant teacher indeed x x x

  2. Mirko October 9, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    Whaw!!! i must say i’m very impressed with the quality of your work. i really love this guitar, from the flamenco built to the removable scratch plait. very, very nice.

    • danf September 22, 2016 at 1:11 pm #

      Hi I’m the owner of this guitar and I’ve got to say after 3 years of playing it, I’m more than satisfied with it.
      The neck warped slightly after a couple of cold dry winters but thanks to the truss rod a local luthier was able to sort that out.

      In terms of tone, it’s loud, extremely loud and clear. The metal tail piece / trapeze adds loads of “reverb”, most of the time I play it with a piece of cloth in the trapeze in to dampen it. It’s perfect for gypsy jazz and a great guitar to play at small gigs because it cuts through.

      Another great feature is the “tone port” – the hole on the top of the guitar- while I don’t particularly believe it sucks in the air allow more to come out the front (as I’ve read elsewhere) I think it’s main advantage is that I can hear myself much better when playing with 3-4 other musicians – and it looks cool

      I don’t play the guitar electrically very often, only for gigs. Soundwise the Kent Armstrong is nothing special, the tone nob goes from muffled to trebley very very quickly with almost no gradient. The top three strings were much louder than the bass three. This was mainly because
      the pick up got snapped off during transport and I had to solder it on again and when I soldered it on it wasn’t quit straight – the bass end was too far from the strings. I’ve since managed to get the bass end closer but I think the heat from soldering also damaged the pickup slightly. – None of this is really down to the build of the guitar. It was an experimental one-off which I asked Gideon to try out and he duely obliged – personally I think if he could refine the design and it could become something truely unique (it needs another magnet possibley on the arm under the fretboard to add more stability – it’s certainly not stable enough to rock out with!). But it’s always a talking point with other guitarists. I see it as a prototype and I’m not sure there are many guitar builders in the world who would be willing to take the time to listen to the customer’s wishes and experiment with something so non-standard. I can’t praise him enough for this.

      Another thing about this guitar is the materials. I asked Gideon not to use any ebony, rosewood and where possible recycled/refurbished wood. So I’m most happy when I run my hand down the back of the neck a know it’s from a cherry tree from north London. Or that the struts were an old plank, the spruce is another luthiers old stock.
      You would certainly never know this from by the look of the guitar. The visual impact is immediate. As you can see from the pictures. Gideon’s soundhole design which is mirrored in the headstock and fingerboard end is fantastic. You can see from yourself in the pictures.

      Feelwise -The neck is chunky with a flat classical fingerboard, so for me – a Strat player- it was a bit of a shock. But it didn’t take much to get used to and now when I play a Strat it feels like a tiny stick in my hand. There are a couple of really slight waves in the neck, this is where you can feel how Gid’ plained down the neck. This just makes the guitar more unique and adds to the character. It’s not a CNC neck.

      In terms of finish, the varnish etc. is great. I can’t complain. There a a couple of details which I think might have been a little better, the screws for the trussrod cover are really too close to the edge and the head of one of the screws actually juts out. While we’re on screws, the heads of those in the tail-piece into the back of the guitar are stripped. Gideon must have had to really fight to get them in! Certainly not the end of the world but I did notice them when I was lovelingly inspecting it the first time out of the case.

      Overall the guitar plays wonderfully, it sounds and looks unique, it’s exactly what I wanted Gideon to build. He came up with a great design, wonderful materials and I feel that I’ve got something which is so very special.

      If you’re looking for a great value, genuinely handbuilt instrument, from a helpful builder Gid’s your man!

      PS. This blog was great to read and see the guitar taking shape. That was worth something in itself.

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