Monday, January 23, 2017

Guitar String Action -- Direction or Dilemma

So, what is the ideal string action for an acoustic guitar?

There are as many opinions about this controversial subject as there are about the meaning of life.


The conventional recommendation is that string action (the distance from the top of the fret to the bottom of the string, when measured at the twelfth fret) fall within a range of 3/32" to 7/64" for the bass 'E' string, and 1/16" to 5/64" for the treble 'e' string.  And, that the neck have 'relief' (a slight arc) of .004-.010 at the 6th fret when a capo is applied at the 1st fret, and the bass E string is fretted at the 12th fret.

Sounds pretty simple, right?

However, there are numerous variables which can and will affect this wisdom.  For example,  Humidity and/or dryness; wear and/or grooves at the nut and saddle; depth of nut grooves in relation to fingerboard; saddle contour; tension placed on the top, which may cause it to warp; other structural problems such as loose bracing, nut or bridge; something as simple as changing string gauge; neck relief (whew, this is a controversial subject); and unlevel frets, to name a few things that can keep the debate alive.

Why is string action so important?  Because it affects playability.  If the action is too high, fretting the strings is uncomfortable, and if the action is too low, strings buzz.

Although many experts offer specific recommendations for adjusting string action, it is really left to understanding an individual player's technique that dictates how a guitar should be set up.

Well, Larry Cragg, a Northern California luthier, who has vast experience setting up guitars has a different view.  He adjusts the guitar neck so that it is perfectly straight after he makes a few preliminary changes (if necessary) like replacing plastic bridge pins and saddles with bone and/or ebony.  Some, who have studied guitar setup, may view this as wrong, but if asked, Cragg will smile and say, "You know, the book says that there's got to be neck relief.  That's all bullshit!"

Have you ever gone into a guitar store and taken a good look at the string action on the various models you've played?  I have, and I'm continually mystified by how the string action setup varies so greatly, even with high-end brands.  One can only assume that setup at the factory is un-precise so that the music store tech can adjust to the desire of the buyer.  But, if the setup is un-precise, wouldn't that discourage a player when trying out the guitar?  While working at a local music store, I was constantly checking nut groove depth and adjusting saddle contour and height to make guitars more playable, while keeping them within the recommended action range.

And, there is also the occasion when a player wants their acoustic guitar to play like an electric. Nice idea, but not very realistic.  They are two separate and different instruments.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Boneyard Boogie'


This old guitar, which I found at a thrift shop, was collecting dust in my shop, and it was useless for anything other than a fly swatter until I saw something created by another goofy guitar maker.

My Granddaughter Ellie loves anything rtelated to skeletons, so my creative juices started to flow, and as a result we now have 'Ellie's Boneyard Boogie'.

Thanks to leftover Halloween supplies at the local drug store, I was able to put some boogie action into the boneyard, but not without an abundant amount of thought and difficulty.

The project required ripping the guitar apart.  It's shaped like a guitar, but that's about the extent of the original piece.



The top was carefully removed from the body so as not to damage it beyond further use. A Shire horse skeleton complete with a boney rider in armor astride the beast fills the soundhole.  A makebelieve bridge serves as handles to open the doors to the sound chamber (note the hinges on the side).


The body required reinforcement throughout to stabilize it after removing the top, but that worked out well, for the hinged doors.

Nothing is ever easy during a project like this, but I opened a can of worms with this idea.

The legs, at the hips, were the only moveable parts on the seven-inch-tall skeletons, and I discovered soon that I had no glue in the shop that would attach severed pieces.  I don't have a clue what in hell the Chinese used to mold these boney creatures, but the only way I could reattach the surgically altered arms and legs was to use my heat controlled woodburning tool.

I built a piano, upright bass, drum set, acoustic guitar, coffin, and the mic the singer is holding.  Then I had to posture each of the skeletons to fit the instrument they were destined to 'play'.  In short order, I got well skilled at rearranging heads, hands, arms, and legs and welding them together.  After each piece was complete, it was glued into position inside the guitar body.

To finish off the process, I attached computer downloaded illustrations and Ellie's favorite band names to the doors.




















































Here's the cast of characters.  The piano players hat is an old amp knob converted for effect.

Wrapping fingers around the necks and mic were a real fun experience, and uncomfortable as hell to boot, because of the heat from the iron.
















This was a lot of fun to create, but once is enough.   Hee, hee.







Maggie's Bowlulele








My Granddaughter Maggie has been pestering me for a long time to make her a ukulele, and I have been avoiding the project, but she got the best of me about a month ago.

I don't have a body mold or any of the necessary jigs to accommodate building a traditional uke, but I did manage to wrap my head around the project and I came up with what I think is a reasonable facsimile.

A 9-inch diameter black walnut nut bowl was gathering dust in my shop, so it became the body for the new venture.  A through-body walnut neck with Indian rosewood headstock overlay and leopardwood fingerboard was adapted to the bowl.  With the neck in place, the curly maple top was added to finish off the design.

I cut specially designed soundholes in the top to allow sound to escape the sound chamber (the bowl). But, to add a little oomph, two piezo transducer pickups were glued under the bridge and connected to an output jack, so Mag can play he 'uke' through an amp.

Open-gear tuning machines draw the strings from the exposed tailpiece over a custom made Corian saddle and nut.




























Sunday, November 20, 2016

Spare Time Stuff


There's always small pieces of exotic wood floating around my shop getting in the way during the guitar building process, so I decided to turn them into something useful . . . guitar picks.




Decorative hand painted duck decoys is another 35-year sidebar interest I've played with.  It doesn't take much to keep me amused.





When I get really bored, I resort to working on 'Piano Man' creations for my friend Ken Arthur's elaborate art ehibit, which he shows at galleries, museums, and universities around the State of Ohio.

This particular creation is a representation of my blues music playing friend James 'Super Chikan' Johnson.  All the pieces used in the construction of the figure are from the internal workings of a baby grand piano dismantled by Ken and given to various artists for their unique contribution to his exhibit.






















These cool guys, Luigi and Gianni, who adorn the walls of our kitchen, are carved from chunks of poplar wood and hand painted with acrylic.  Another 'honey-do' project to keep the cook happy.





I like all types of artwork, but abstract pieces seem to gravitate toward the front of my skull when I grab a brush and a tube of acrylic paint.

I don't have a discription for this painting, but funky balloons come to mind when I look at it.






A fireball racing through the night sky over a city is what I see in this acrylic.

Others viewing this may see a helluva mess of mis-applied paint, but, it doesn't really matter, because it keeps me sane in the process.



And, when I really get bored and distracted, I turn to painting rocks for our flower gardens.


If you look carefully at the butterfly, you will see a message of peace and love in the wings, which is being surveyed closely by the psychedelic frog.

I think it's time to go find something to do.  More later.


Delivery Rig


I finally ran across an example of the perfect delivery rig for my guitar building gig.  It'll be a Harley 1200 cc two-banger that's street legal with lights and horn, and with a guitar nestled safely in a gig bag strapped on my back, I can fire up this scoot for a helluva good time making a delivery.  Yup, I'll wear a helmet, too, but it'll be a chrome military bonnet with flames painted on the sides.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

'Bigfoot' on Journey to Hollywood

Hollywood calling...
'Bigfoot' is going to Hollywood to be a part of a Nickolodean promo shoot for a new Yeti episode. More later.
Geez, TotalRojo Guitars finally made show biz.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Get Acquainted With 'Raffaella'

'Raffaella', the latest creation to escape the workshop, is a six-string acoustic guitar.  I chose the Italian female name because it seemed appropriate at the time . . . and, it means 'God has healed'.

The only way I've managed to maintain my sanity the last couple weeks, while painters have taken over our home, is to spend as much time as possible in the shop working on the guitar.

It is pretty easy to craft an acoustic guitar now that I have experience under my belt, but I'm not into simply creating a guitar.  I want each creation to be different and unique, so I try to spice things up with a little unusual treatment.

The mahogany one-piece neck has a rosewood/mahogany combo headstock overlay; bison bone nut; and, cocobolo rosewood fingerboard with maple position markers on the edge.  You'll notice the tail curvature of the fretboard matches the shape of the headstock.

The Wenge (pronounced WHEN-gii or WHEN-ghay) body is a very dark, distinctive straight-grain Central African wood, which is heavy and hard.

Many guitars makers use wenge because of its natural beauty, which is often referred to as African rosewood or faux ebony, and because it is easy to shape and finish.

The bookmatched walnut pieces used to enhance the Sitka spruce top and to surround the multi-piece rosette inlay are highly patterned, and the color works well with the highly figured cocobolo rosewood fretboard and bridge.  My granddaughter Maggie thinks it looks like melted chocolate.

Black Grover tuning machines and ebony bridge pins finish off the overall appearance.





























The headstock is a simple curve of mahogany to match the other elements. And, the head on the reverse side is rolled to add a different, but pleasant, effect.



The rosette inlay is created from 17 individually fitted pieces of mahogany, rosewood, zebrawood, walnut, yellow heart, and maple.



You will notice the absence of a logo on the headstock, which was replaced with a piece of cocobolo inserted into the internal vertical back brace, on which I painted the 'T' logo.







This photo shows the maple/ebony backbone stripe, which is inlaid into the vertical center of the back.

The heel cap is a combination of spruce, mahogany, and cocobolo rosewood, and the body binding is Indian rosewood.

Wenge is a medium brown wood, sometimes with a reddish or yellowish hue, with nearly black streaks.

However, the photo above of the interior of the guitar gives a better idea of how dark this wood can be. Photo flash brightened this shot.
















This photo really demonstrates the beautiful grain of the cocobolo rosewood bridge, and the ebony bridge pins with abalone inlay.  And, the fretboard is exactly the same.  Both pieces were cut from the same stick.  Notice the maple position markers on the edge.




Internal bracing for the top and back is hand shaped and scalloped from mahogany stock

The 'X'  and 'ladder' brace patterns follow the Martin guitar layout from the pre-war (WWII) manufacturers design.

Some experts judge this style to be the 'best'.






Wenge Custom Acoustic Guitar

Body             14-fret dreadnought
Sitka spruce top w/custom inlay rosette – w/book-matched walnut overlay
                        Wenge back and sides
                        East Indian rosewood binding
                        Cocobolo rosewood bridge w/ bison bone saddle and ebony pins
                        Hand-rubbed satin finish
                        Custom scalloped mahogany ‘X’ top bracing
                        Custom scalloped mahogany ‘ladder’-style back bracing

Neck                One-piece mahogany, standard ‘C’ profile
                        Dual-action truss rod
                        Custom mahogany/Indian rosewood headstock overlay
Cocobolo rosewood 14-inch radius fingerboard w/custom maple position markers
                        25.4-inch scale
                        1-11/16 bison bone nut
                        Grover black enclosed-gear tuners recessed into headstock overlay
                        Hand-rubbed satin finish

Extras              Elixir extra light 010-.047 strings
                        Inlay hand-cut and assembled from exotic wood
                        Mahogany/Indian rosewood tailpiece w/ebony strap button
                        Maple/ebony centerline backbone insert
                        Cocobolo heel cap


                        Handcrafted in Mansfield, Ohio (USA)    TotalRojoGuitars.com

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

'Kalea'

The Chocolate Mango acoustic dreadnought guitar, which I've named 'Kalea', is fresh off the bench.

I chose the name 'Kalea', because in Hawaiian it translates to 'Filled With Joy', and that is exactly what best describes this creation.


Mango (Mangifera Indica) is a beautiful Hawaiian hardwood, which also grows in tropical Asia.  A medium to large tree that frequently grows to around 50-65 feet in height and 2-3 feet in diameter. Dark brown, but with streaks of lighter wood sometimes, even orangish in color.  It is often spalted, making a beautiful and exotic figure.  Mango is moderately heavy, works easily and sands beautifully making wonderful musical instruments.  The wood has a good bright tone similar to Koa. Chocolate Mango exhibits a lot of dark chocolate brown heartwood.  If you're looking to build a guitar that is both different and beautiful, give Chocolate Mango a try.

I first became acquainted with Mango a couple years ago while vacationing on Maui, and when I recently saw this particular guitar back and side set offered for sale I couldn't resist the temptation to use it to craft a guitar.


















































The following spec sheet below will point out the various characteristics of the creation.


Chocolate Mango Custom Acoustic Guitar

Body               14-fret dreadnought
                        Sitka spruce top w/custom inlay rosette
                        Chocolate Mango back and sides
                        East Indian rosewood binding
                        East Indian rosewood bridge w/ bison bone saddle and ebony pins
                        Hand-rubbed satin finish
                        Custom scalloped ‘X’ top bracing
                        Custom ‘ladder’-style back bracing

Neck               One-piece mahogany, standard ‘C’ profile
                        Dual-action truss rod
                        Custom inlay headstock overlay
                        East Indian Rosewood 14-inch radius fingerboard w/pearl position markers
                        25.4-inch scale
                        1-11/16 bison bone nut
                        Grover black enclosed-gear tuners recessed into headstock overlay
                        Hand-rubbed satin finish

Extras             D’Addario EJ15 phosphor bronze .extra light 010-.047 strings
                        Inlay hand-cut and assembled from exotic wood
                        Zebrawood tailpiece w/ebony strap button
                        Maple/ebony/walnut centerline insert on back
                        Wenge heel cap


                        Made in Mansfield, Ohio (USA)    TotalRojoGuitars.com




Wednesday, September 7, 2016

'Donatella'

It's taken a bit longer than I had hoped to complete the latest guitar project, but 'Donatella' is off the bench and making music.  From the headstock to the tailpiece inlay, this guitar is unique and very different from the others I've built.  Sure, it looks similar, because it is the same modified
dreadnought shape as the others I've created, but that's really the only construction similarity.

The Martin Guitar Company designed and built the first dreadnought guitar in 1916 for the Oliver Ditson Company, and it wasn't until 1931 that Martin produced dreadnoughts carrying the Martin name.  This particular design has been the most copied by other guitar makers because it's currently considered the 'standard' acoustic guitar body style.  It's comfortable to play.  It has an incredible sound delivery.  And, it looks great . . . some say it has the shape of a woman.


Every guitar I build commences in my head with an imaginary concept for the final product.  But, in each case, I visualize a specific element and move on from there.  The bridge design for 'Donatella' is what drove the overall design.  I had the basic shape in mind, and the shape of the headstock and fretboard followed.







The headstock shape follows the subtle curves of the bridge, and the overlay consists of individually hand-shaped pieces of Indian rosewood, Carribean rosewood, birdseye maple, and the Chatke coc (red heart) 'T' logo inlaid in position.

I chose black Grover closed-gear tuning machines so as not to contrast greatly with the design.

The recessed tuner nuts and washers serve two purposes, to compensate for the added thickness of material, and to provide a more refined look to the headstock.

The nut at the leading edge of the fretboard is handmade, as is the saddle, from a piece of bison bone.







The neck is a solid piece of mahogany contoured to a 'C' shape and customized at the heel to add a little color to the underside of the guitar.


The fretboard is the other element that was a driving force in the overall design. The grain in Ziricote wood is my absolute

favorite, and I was determined to make the fretboard and bridge from the same stick of wood.

To let the fretboard stand on its own without intrusion from traditional dot-shaped position markers, I chose to insert small pieces of maple and red heart on the bass string side of the board, and carried on the simple design to the bridge.














The body is what really makes this guitar stand out.  The shape is one thing, but the wood grain is what makes it pop.  There is, in my opinion, nothing that compares to the color and grain of the spruce used in building tops for acoustic guitars.










To add color and definition to the top, I chose to create a soundhole rosette made from seventeen individually hand shaped pieces of exotic wood.

The random design with the subtle angular shaped pieces carries on the headstock design.









But, the Pau Ferro (Bolivian rosewood) sides and book matched back with Indian rosewood binding complete the body design in a way far beyond what I had rolling around in my head a couple months ago.  (The dark spots on the side near the bottom are shadows created during this amateur photo shoot).







And to finish off the body, I decided to add a custom inlay touch to the tail where the abalone-enhanced ebony strap button, which matches the bridge pins, is located.






I will briefly mention a few construction highlights that make this build a little different.  The finish is sprayed satin, which gives the guitar a soft appearance, and it lets the wood grain stand out.






Internally, the 'X' bracing is all hand formed and scalloped and finish sanded.











The back braces have a special treatment whereby I drilled equally spaced holes in each brace to give them a customized appearance.







The rib bracing has the same scalloped treatment.








Pau Ferro Custom Acoustic Guitar

Body                      14-fret dreadnought
                                Sitka Spruce top w/custom inlay rosette
                                Pau Ferro sides and back
                                East Indian Rosewood binding
                                Custom handmade Ziricote bridge w/custom bison bone saddle and ebony pins
                                Hand-rubbed satin finish
                                Custom scalloped ‘X’ top bracing
                                Custom scalloped ‘ladder’-style back bracing

Neck                       One-piece mahogany, standard ‘C’ profile
                                Dual-action adjustable truss rod
                                Custom inlay headstock overlay
                                Custom handmade Ziricote 14-inch radius fingerboard w/custom position markers
                                25.4-inch scale
Custom 1-11/16 bison bone nut
Grover black enclosed-gear tuners recessed into the headstock overlay
Hand-rubbed satin finish

Extras                   Elixir extra light strings
                                Inlay hand-cut and assembled from exotic wood
                                Custom inlay tailpiece w/ebony strap button

                                Ziricote heel cap