Friday, June 3, 2016

The 'Javelin'

The 'Javelin' started its current life as a beat up guitar body passed on to me by my friend Ken Arthur.  Tim Gorka and I were visiting at his 'art museum' home when Ken suddenly raced away.  I wondered what I might have said that would send him on the run, but I knew that it wasn't what I said, but what I do . . . I build guitars for a hobby.

Yes, Ken's home is a literal art museum of the most fascinating and creative elements a person will ever encounter, and nearly all of it is of Ken's own creation.  He's a genius, I swear!  He could take a box of beer cans and build a space capsule, but this is a story for another day.  Today, it's about the 'Javelin'.

Ken returned and handed me what was one time a guitar. He said he and his son were at one time going to rebuild it, but that venture ended with the body ending up in a pile of other treasures.

I looked over the guitar body wondering what I would do with this thing. The dinged and dented landscape painted an ugly faded red color and decorated with rock group stickers wasn't too appealing.  It was originally constructed for a Floyd Rose bridge setup complete with whammy bar cavity and recesses for humbucker pickups.  I noticed the neck pocket was the conventional shape for a Strat-style neck, so not all was for naught.  The solid body shell was a workable project, but at the time, I was heavily involved in creating acoustic dreadnoughts.  But, I sure as hell wasn't going to hurt my friend's feelings, so I eagerly accepted the gift with the end result rolling around in my head.

The naked body laid around my shop for several months before I got the urge to either bring it back to life or bury it.  

The purists reading this will recognize the neck to be scavenged from a Strat, but that the headstock has been modified to take on the 'pointy' shape similar to the body.

The headstock and body are spray painted a soft ivory color, which is the base for the handpainted purple, lite, and dark magenta accents.  A little teal and gold color finishes off the design.

The exagerated body shape with long pointed extensions seemed to call for unusual adornment.

I had the perfect skull-shaped tuners laying around to decorate this weapon.

The overall cutaway design is very simple.

Neck and bridge humbucker magnetic pickups with chrome bezels.

Chrome adjustable toploader bridge.

Volume and tone controls with a three-way switch and output jack completes the top.

In keeping with the badboy 'weapon' design and skull tuners, I decided to handpaint a wicked skull on the bridge cavity cover.

The original control and bridge area covers were missing, which required recreating replacements, but that was no sweat.

I'm not real happy with the chrome neck retainer plate, but that was the original design and I decided not to change it . . . maybe later, if I run out of other things to do.

Thanks again Ken.  It turned out well and plays great.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Super Chikan Makes Living Blues

My friend James 'Super Chikan' Johnson made the cover of Living Blues magazine, and the inside feature article tells his story.  It's a great read, so don't miss it.

The 'Chikan' is standing in a cotton field holding the six-string cigar box guitar "Delta King", I created for him.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Geisha

I love building acoustic guitars, but as I mentioned in a prior post, I get bored with repetitive creation, thus the 'Geisha' is the product  of my expanded imagination several months ago.

She is a standard dreadnought size, 25.4-inch scale, 14 fret acoustic guitar.

What makes her different is that she has a shallow body. Some builders refer to this style as a thin line.

But, there are a couple other significant differences from others I've created.

The body is only three inches thick throughout.  The exotic wood inlays are a lot more dramatic than others I've built.  And, I added a soundhole cover to accentuate the design.

So let's talk details. The neck is a one-piece mahogany design with cubist artform headstock overlay with 20 individually cut and placed pieces of exotic wood.

Black Grover tuning machines with recessed retainer nuts and washers draw Martin SP 12/54 strings over a buffalo bone nut, for a more chunky response.

I chose a light-colored rosewood fretboard to blend nicely with the overall 'softness' of color.  Small diamond-shaped abalone inlays mark specific fret positions.

And, to finish off the neck design, a piece of scrap wenge wood serves as the heel cap, which blends nicely with the dark rosewood body binding.

The body back and sides are mahogany topped with a sitka spruce soundboard, a 18-piece handmade custom design exotic wood rosette with maple soundhole insert, which is also custom designed with magnets to hold it securely in place.

A custom designed rosewood bridge with buffalo bone saddle and ebony pins with abalone inlays secure the strings to the body.

The 46-piece custom cubist Geisha design anchors the base of the top, and a
45-piece, guitar pick-shaped custom design floats within the highly figured mahogany back.  And, to wrap up the design is a rosewood end cap with ebony strap button with abalone inlay.

The guitar plays very well.  Harmonics are
right on the mark.  It resonnates well.

 And, as I suspected when I was designing the body, the sound is very bright
on the treble side and not quite as robust on the bass line, because of the reduced size of the sound chamber.  But overall, I like the Geisha a lot, and I suspect she will get a lot of play.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Martin Behind The Scenes Tour

I had the opportunity a couple weeks ago to enjoy a 'Behind The Scenes' tour of the Martin Guitar Factory at Nazarath, Pennsykvania.
The tour was the highlight of the trip, but I had an alternative motive for the trip . . . to stock up on various parts needed in the learning/building journey I'm taking in the world of personal guitar construction.

This was a fantastic experience on many levels, not the least of which was the opportunity to meet the people I've been connected with for the past three years.  The Martin family of employees follow what I believe is essential in maintaining a truly successful business . . . they treat ccustomers like guests in their home.  Thank you all for such a wonderful time, especially Gail Ventin, the guru at Guitar Makers Connection.

This is the most expensive tour I've ever enjoyed.  Not because of the price, but because no one can leave the Martin factory without buying way more toys than you can imagine.  You cannot buy guitars -- that's left for dealers --, but there's plenty of really cool accessories, clothing, historical reading material, parts, supplies and geegaws to satisfy the most pationate in the guitar world.  And, the museum is so interesting -- 182 years of the finest guitars made.  Yes, we were really there.

Please excuse the photo quality, I was shooting through glass with existing light (they ask visitors not to use flash photography, because it distracts the workers on the factory floor), and we were crusing around in the midst of people creating a massive variety of instruments.

Vintage tools of the trade.

Hand-on work goes on throughout the factory, just like in the old days, but the tools and work stations are modernized. 

This lady is carving top braces.

This guy is gluing back panels together on a special tensioning device.

Here, the finishing touches are being hand placed on the heel of a classical neck. Necks are roughed out on a CNC machine and then hand finished.  Notice the really cool neck jig the guy is using.

A fingerboard getting special attention in the Custom Shop.

The ribs of a guitar in a mold, where heel and end blocks are glued into position, and the lining is glued in place and prepared to accepth the top and back.

Not all work is done by hand anymore. Robots have reeplaced some of the process.  This is the initial polishing segment.  The guitar body is held by suction cups on the robot arm and moved automatically through the process. Final polishing is always done by hand.

A small sampling of the hundreds of guitar bodies waiting for final assembly. 

The original Nazarath Martin factory, which is now the Guitar Makers Connection.

The new factory with more than 200,000 square feet of production space produces about 240 guitars a day to be enjoyed by people like me. You really need to take a tour to experience the full measure of the work that goes into the creation of some of the finest guitars in the world.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

More 'Pickin'!

The second of two vintage Kay guitars that my friend Tim had for me is the most interesting, and completely original.

Kay Kraft Venetian-Style Arch Top Double Cutaway Acoustic Guitar

When Tim (my 'picker' friend, (whom I introduced in the previous post) presented this guitar as a an option for my collection, he couldn't possibly know how excited I was over this rascal.

In the early 1930s when the Depression was in full swing and many instrument makers were barely surviving, the Kay Musical Instrument Company contracted with Stromberg-Voisinet, a violin maker to build a deluxe arch top acoustic instrument with an adjustable neck and other innovative design features. Sorry folks, Taylor Guitars didn't invent the bolt-on guitar neck. This bolt-on adjustment is so simple and effective you don't need a technician to perform a neck reset. You can do it in about three minutes . . . loosen the strings, reach in through the sound hole, loosen the giant wing nut, adjust the neck up or down to adjust string action, retighten, and you're done!

I could continue with information about the Kay company and its history, but all that info is available online if you're really interested. I just want to introduce my 'new' vintage guitar.

This 80+-year-old Kay Kraft Venetian Arch Top Style A six-string acoustic guitar is completely original, right down to the neck adjustment sticker visible through the sound hole and the blade-head screws holding the original three-on-a-stick tuning machines in place (note the original tuning keys are not bent or broken).

Notice the shape of the headstock, which is so stylized to match the shape of the body, which was way out in front of its competition in the day.

The gold-leaf enhanced mother of pearl-style headstock overlay carries the Kay Kraft logo.  It's a little faded, but it's in better shape than I and most of my friends, and we're a decade younger.

The bone nut is original and in perfect condition.

The 14-fret neck is in great original condition.  It's straight, and the rosewood fingerboard and frets show no wear. The ivory-color fretboard binding is in great condition, but it has slight distortion at every fret location due to shrinkage of the rosewood board. Pearl position marker dots are also perfectly in place with no indentation.

The original bridge/saddle and stainless tailpiece are original and in great condition.

I did install aftermarket Martin strings, because the 'originals' were well beyond their effective playing days.

As you can see, the body is in near perfect condition. There is finish crackle and tiny scratches on the top surface, but all the ivory-color edge and sound hole binding is tightly in place. Geez, the glue they used in the old days was really good. Finish on the back and sides shows the same finish crackle, and there is a small area of 'buckle rash', which suggests the guitar was played, but the fretboard suggests 'not much'.

Here's an image of the neck adjustment mechanism.  

And, if you look closely you can see the finish crackle, but there is never going to be a 're-finish' as long as I own this little devil. It's too nice to screw around with, and besides a re-finish would lessen the value.

The simple wing nut adjustment.

The adjustment assembly apart.  Pretty simple mechanism.

That's it for the presentation of the Venetian.  I hope you enjoyed it.  Check back for more new and exciting additions and changes within the boundary of TotalRojo Guitars.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Pickin' and Grinin'!

My friend, local 'picker' Tim, messaged me a couple weeks ago about two guitars that he recently found on a vintage scrounge. He identified them as Kays and wondered if I'd be interested. You never know for sure about the condition of instruments found on a pic, but Tim is pretty reliable, so I had to take a peek, especially since my very first guitar a lotta years ago was a Kay acoustic.

I took one look and knew that I would be leaving with them. But, I couldn't let Tim know how enthusiastic I was. Tim is a very sharp cookie, and a damn hard negotiator . . . he knows what his stuff is worth. After too long dickering over price, I loaded those beauties up, before my buddy woke from his coma realizing I hasd picked his pocket.

Before I get to the good stuff, I'd like to introduce you to the Kay Musical Instrument Company, so you will have a more clear understanding of why I was excited about adding these guitars to my collection.

Kay was a musical instrument manufacturer of the United States in operation between the 1930s and '60s. Established in 1931 at Chicago by Henry Kay Kuhrmeyer, from the assets of the former Stromberg-Voisinet, which was founded as Groeschel Mandolin Company in 1890. The company initially manufactured only traditional folk instruments, but grew to make a wide variety of stringed instruments. Kay was best known for its mid-priced guitars, as well as its budget instruments.

 Kay Jumbo, which I'll introduce to you now.

This is how the Jumbo looked on day one. It was missing a few pieces and had seen better days, but not beat up. The tuning machines were worn out aftermarket pieces, which needed to be replaced. The nut was gone. The adjustable bridge was in a box, but it too needed help. And, the pick guard and tailpiece were missing. The greatest concern was a slight crack on the centerline between the bridge location and the back, but it turned out to be an easy fix. Overall, this is a very sound instrument. It just needed some TLC.

So what did I have?

A Kay Jumbo 14-fret archtop cutaway acoustic guitar. Maple neck with rosewood headstock overlay and ziricaote fingerboard. Position markers are unusually large, probably to match the oversize curley maple body with spruce top, bound with cream color binding.

Its called a Jumbo for a reason . . . the body is a bit larger than a dreadnaught or comparable-size guitars.

During the initial stage of repair, I discovered the headstock logo was a cast brass piece that when polished was quite nice, which lead me to add gold accessories -- tuners, strap button, pick guard mounting arm, and tailpiece attachment.

This photo taken in bright sunlight doesn't due justice to the beautiful deep rich color of the original rosewood headstock overlay, but the grain is clearly visible. Gold color Klusen style tuning machines match the logo. The replacement nut was hand crafted from corian. Purists claim nothing is better than bone, but corian works for the girls I go with.

You can't miss the boulder-size position markers in this photo, and it will be hard to get fingers in the wrong place while playing.

The grain of the original ziricote fretboard is pretty visible here, but again the bright sunlight has over exposed the image. Ziricote is a very dark wood and there is, in my humble opinion, no wood in the world with a more interesting grain than ziricote.

Original jumbo frets are in good shape, so I polished them and they were good to go.

The finished top is really classic Adirondack spruce, which is evidenced by the wider grain and the age of the guitar, which as near as I can research is the early '50s. The 'f'-hole design is really clean and provides a nice sound. I crafted the pickguard from a sheet of rosewood to match the headstock overlay, and the gold attachment bar and screws match the other accessories. The original adjustable bridge was in pretty good shape, so it made things a little simpler. But, the original metal tailpiece was missing, probably used to prop up geraniums in some old gal's flower pot, so I hand crafted a special design from ziricote to match the fretboard.

Ideally, the tailpiece should be able to move (hinge), so I added a gold color cabinet hinge for an anchor at the back of the guitar. The hinge is smaller than the original mount, so original screw holes are visible, but that's a small item that has no effect on sound . . . and, sound is what it's all about, right!

This shot of the body shows the cutaway, binding, and grain of the curly maple sides and arched back.

She wasn't very good looking when I brought her home, but she cleaned up well . . . I think I'll let her hanging around a while, or until someone makes an offer I cannot refuse.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

It was bound to happen!

Last weekend, I shipped a cigar box guitar to a customer in Oregon. I really didn't want to sell it, but the buyer was persistent and so complimentary of my work that I caved in.

I've shipped dozens of guitars and amps all over the globe, by USPS Priority Mail, without a single mishap.  So, when asked by the postal clerk if I want insurance, my first reaction was, "Naw, I've shipped these things to the far reaches of the planet without a problem."  She said, "You sure?" Once again, I caved and bought insurance.

This is a photo of 'Sweetness', the three-string guitar. . . the one I should have left hanging on the wall.  I especially liked it, because the Cohiba box produces a great sound acoustically, and the handwound TotalRojo magnetic pickup gave it a rich and brilliant voice through my amp.  And, it looked good and felt good to play.

This is how the guitar arrived at its Oregon destination.

I was careful to wrap the guitar in bubble wrap and to fill the box with 'peanuts', and to attach 'fragile' stickers on all sides.  I guess I should have included stickers that said, "Please don't run over this box with your Gawddamn truck!"

Oh, well, I'll now wait to see if the insurance coverage works.