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.
- First I draw the shape on a board – using a pencil and rubber (eraser) until I am satisfied with the outline.
- 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.
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.
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:
1.(above) The plank.
2.Planing the varnish off the plank.
3.Cutting the plank into strips with an elecrical saw.
4.Contouring the strips.
A contoured strip.
5.Sawing slots in the strips.
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:
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.
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.
3.Linings all glued on.
4.Sound-port cut out.
Quality control inspector takes a sniff around.
Guitar gets stamp of approval.
5. Carving the back-bars from a piece of Sycamore, coppiced in Sherwood forest, England 2003.
This will give the back its arched contour.
This pieces was then cut into three on the electrical saw.
6. Glueing on the back bars. The centre strip is local Cypress wood from Galilee.
Back ready to be glued on.
7. Glueing on the back.
PURFLINGS & BINDINGS
Glueing Sycamore veneers for the purflings (the black and white stripes around the edges) and local Sesam wood for the bindings.
Cutting the grooves for purfling and binding.
After the purflings have been glued in, the bindings are bent to shape, ready to be fitted in the groove.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Carving the neck profile with a spokeshave. This is the only part of guitar making where I get to sit down.
The final shaping of the neck is done with a cabinet scraper. It makes very fine shavings.
The finished neck.
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.
The Finished Guitar
Here are some pictures of the finished guitar.