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Luthiery

A couple necks

Owyhee Mountain Fiddle Shop - Mon, 09/25/2017 - 4:10pm
Spent part of today rough-fitting a couple fingerboards to a couple necks.  The 5-string is being made with a wider fingerboard, to account for that extra string.  I'm trying just a little wider this time, maybe too wide.  Won't know until I start playing it, a couple months from now, probably.


Categories: Hand Tools, Luthiery

My eBay Listing: Vintage Fales' 1884 Patent Combination Plane, Otis A. Smith Manufacturer

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:59pm
I have posted on eBay a vintage Fales'1884 Patent Combination Plane. Click here to see the listing.

For those of you who follow my blog you may remember an earlier post about this plane and in that post I said I would not sell it. I have changed my mind. If you are a collector and looking for a fairly rare combination plane, this Fales' plane is for you.

The plane is in used condition. 55%-70% of Japanning remains on metal parts. Knob and tote handles are in good shape with usual tool box dings and scratches, they are in very good shape considering the age of this combination plow plane. Plow fence appears to be birch, some wear to the corners. All tightening screws are present and appear to be original and plane has original proper round and square rods. Comes with one 3/8 inch wide blade. Tote is stamped with an owner's name, R.C. Jensen.

This plane has been in my family since at least 1936, perhaps earlier, it was owned by my grandfather.
Categories: Luthiery

More Adventures In Dulcimer Lutherie

Doug Berch - Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:14pm

 

dulcimer binding

The other day I noticed an unsightly gap in the binding around the soundboard of a dulcimer I am currently working on. Small gaps are not uncommon when binding an instrument and there are several methods for filling them.

This gap was large enough to cause me to consider removing the binding and starting again. The gap was about 2 inches long and barely open enough to catch a fingernail (my default tool for checking gaps) but I would not have slept well just filling it and calling the job done. No one would ever know but I would know I could and should have done better.

Before replacing the binding on one side of the dulcimer I thought I’d try another method of repair. At best it might solve the problem, at worst I might aggravate the problem but I was going to replace the binding anyway.

I ran hot water into the gap several times with a pipette to soften the glue and clamped the binding against the body to close the gap.

After a few hours I took off the clamp and the gap was barely noticeable. The soundboard had swollen a little due to applying hot water so I let the repair dry over night.

The next day most of the swelling had left the soundboard and after cleaning up the area with a scraper and file the gap was almost invisible. After applying a small amount of filler and a bit of spot sanding the gap was gone.

Joy!

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

More Adventures In Dulcimer Lutherie

Doug Berch - Sun, 09/24/2017 - 12:14pm

Binding on a dulcimer

The other day I noticed an unsightly gap in the binding around the soundboard of a dulcimer I am currently working on. Small gaps are not uncommon when binding an instrument and there are several methods for filling them.

This gap was large enough to cause me to consider removing the binding and starting again. The gap was about 2 inches long and barely open enough to catch a fingernail (my default tool for checking gaps) but I would not have slept well just filling it and calling the job done. No one would ever know but I would know I could and should have done better.

Before replacing the binding on one side of the dulcimer I thought I’d try another method of repair. At best it might solve the problem, at worst I might aggravate the problem but I was going to replace the binding anyway.

I ran hot water into the gap several times with a pipette to soften the glue and clamped the binding against the body to close the gap.

After a few hours I took off the clamp and the gap was barely noticeable. The soundboard had swollen a little due to applying hot water so I let the repair dry over night.

The next day most of the swelling had left the soundboard and after cleaning up the area with a scraper and file the gap was almost invisible. After applying a small amount of filler and a bit of spot sanding the gap was gone.

Joy!

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #139

Doug Berch - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 8:38am

Mandolin and ukulele duo

Mandolin and ukulele duo.

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #139

Doug Berch - Tue, 09/19/2017 - 8:38am

Mandolin and ukulele duo

Mandolin and ukulele duo.

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Dulcimer Sound Holes And Sound Ports

Doug Berch - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 12:35pm

Dulcimer with sound ports in the side.

I have put sound ports in the sides of my dulcimers for a few years and have been very pleased with the results.

Sound ports are nothing new in the guitar world but I had not seen them used on dulcimers though perhaps someone has thought of this before.

There is no standardization of dulcimer design or “right way” to go about getting the results one wants. Dulcimer builders whose work I admire each have a unique way of getting the sound they want. Materials and design elements that work on one maker’s design may or may not work well on another builder’s dulcimers. This is part of the adventure and part of the fun!

My dulcimer design is in a state of constant evolution. Over the last few years I was looking for ways to increase the volume without losing tonal quality and even response along the fingerboard.

It is easy to make a loud dulcimer but I do not find it easy to listen to many loud dulcimers I have heard. Many loud dulcimers  have little sustain and/or often have uneven volume and response along the fingerboard.

The tone I prefer is somewhat traditional; long sustain and a slightly nasal quality with warmth and even response. I did not want to trade that sound for volume.

As I made design changes to make my dulcimers louder I was on the edge of losing the tone I prefer. It became clear that if I made louder dulcimers and wanted to keep the tone and responsiveness I prefer I would also need to give the dulcimers larger sound holes.

The size of the sound hole(s) on a stringed instrument play an important role in which frequencies get emphasized or minimized. The most critical element is the total size of all openings on the instrument. One large hole will produce sound like two holes that are each half the diameter of the large hole, etc.

Dulcimers have relatively little soundboard as they are long and thin instruments. I wanted the effect of larger sound holes but I did not want to lose any more of the wood that makes up the soundboard. The obvious choice was to put added sound holes somewhere other than on the soundboard. The sides were the obvious choice.

And it worked! I got more volume, balanced tone, birds were singing, flowers smiled, and all was well with the world.

 

 

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Dulcimer Sound Holes And Sound Ports

Doug Berch - Sat, 09/16/2017 - 12:35pm

Dulcimer with sound ports in the side.

I have put sound ports in the sides of my dulcimers for a few years and have been very pleased with the results.

Sound ports are nothing new in the guitar world but I had not seen them used on dulcimers though perhaps someone has thought of this before.

There is no standardization of dulcimer design or “right way” to go about getting the results one wants. Dulcimer builders whose work I admire each have a unique way of getting the sound they want. Materials and design elements that work on one maker’s design may or may not work well on another builder’s dulcimers. This is part of the adventure and part of the fun!

My dulcimer design is in a state of constant evolution. Over the last few years I was looking for ways to increase the volume without losing tonal quality and even response along the fingerboard.

It is easy to make a loud dulcimer but I do not find it easy to listen to many loud dulcimers I have heard. Many loud dulcimers  have little sustain and/or often have uneven volume and response along the fingerboard.

The tone I prefer is somewhat traditional; long sustain and a slightly nasal quality with warmth and even response. I did not want to trade that sound for volume.

As I made design changes to make my dulcimers louder I was on the edge of losing the tone I prefer. It became clear that if I made louder dulcimers and wanted to keep the tone and responsiveness I prefer I would also need to give the dulcimers larger sound holes.

The size of the sound hole(s) on a stringed instrument play an important role in which frequencies get emphasized or minimized. The most critical element is the total size of all openings on the instrument. One large hole will produce sound like two holes that are each half the diameter of the large hole, etc.

Dulcimers have relatively little soundboard as they are long and thin instruments. I wanted the effect of larger sound holes but I did not want to lose any more of the wood that makes up the soundboard. The obvious choice was to put added sound holes somewhere other than on the soundboard. The sides were the obvious choice.

And it worked! I got more volume, balanced tone, birds were singing, flowers smiled, and all was well with the world.

 

 

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Ten Years of Blogging - A Couple of Thoughts

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Fri, 09/08/2017 - 1:48pm
The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Mark Twain, American writer

I realized the other day that I started this blog ten years ago!

My first post was on September 2, 1997.

My wife was the one who encouraged me to start a blog, she thought it was a good venue for me to become known as a guitar maker, to sell my guitars and to connect with others in the woodworking world.

I have met several wonderful people who are professional woodworkers through the blog, but I am still waiting for my first guitar sale because of the blog. All of my sales have resulted from people actually seeing and playing my guitars, either at guitar festivals, lectures I give at universities, or when players stop by my shop because someone told them I make wonderful guitars.

The Internet has done much to disseminate woodworking information, it's a little scary to see how much information there is online! When I started woodworking, if there was anything that I wanted to know I had to go to a library and look up the technique in a book or woodworking magazine!

Now, all one has to do is to surf the plethora of YouTube videos and websites to find the woodworking technique that you want to learn.

One thing I have noticed lately is there doesn't seem to be as many people blogging about their woodworking experiences and adventures. I find it a little sad these days to go to my favorite woodworking blog aggregator and see only three or four new postings. Maybe no one cares to write a full sentence or paragraph anymore because stringing together 140 characters is the most anyone can do. Instagram is a very easy platform to display yourself on.

Or is it that people just want information, but don't want to share it?

I know that it can be hard to write a weekly post for a blog, making time to do something can be a hard thing to do and accomplish.

In my experience, not knowing if I am reaching/connecting with anyone on Internet can discourage me from writing more posts, I don't get many comments about my posts these days, nor does anyone engage me in some kind of text dialogue. I stopped offering how-to information on basic woodworking several years ago because teaching online through my posts is not my intention. I noticed that when I stopped the how-to no one commented.

That said, visitation to my blog is up this year and I think it is because people want to learn more about the guitars I make. This is great for me, because if there is one thing that I will talk about passionately is making beautifully voiced guitars that will play beautiful music, that in turn will encourage young people to take up the classical guitar.

I will offer this advice about blogging -- don't be afraid to use what you learned in your college freshman English composition courses! Start writing today about what it is you are doing! Make stuff and share it and don't think you have to be the next Roy Underhill or Charles Hayward.

Get into your shop, make shavings and blisters!



Categories: Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #138

Doug Berch - Fri, 09/08/2017 - 1:42pm


Traditional Korean Music Ensemble

Traditional Korean Music Ensemble

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #138

Doug Berch - Fri, 09/08/2017 - 1:42pm


Traditional Korean Music Ensemble

Traditional Korean Music Ensemble

Categories: Luthiery

You Say Dulcimer Fretboard, I Say Dulcimer Fingerboard

Doug Berch - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 9:57am

Adventures of a dulcimer builderA dulcimer doesn’t have a neck but it has something under the fingerboard that sort of serves as a neck. Calling it a neck doesn’t really make sense but when the dulcimer has a fingerboard on top of the object that shall not be called a neck then appropriate terminology becomes even more confusing.

For no particular reason I refer to the lower portion of the assembly as the fretboard and call the fingerboard overlay the fingerboard. When describing a fretboard with a fingerboard on it I refer to the assembled unit as a fretboard.

In the photograph above I’m gluing the fretboard assembly to a dulcimer soundboard.

The soundboard is clamped to a flat workboard. Two clamps come in from the sides holding scraps of wood that rest against the sides of the fretboard at either end. This makes it easy to accurately place the fretboard in the right spot and helps prevent it from moving while I apply the clamps.

I use an old trick to clamp the full length of the fretboard down using only two clamps. A long, warped piece of wood is used as a clamping caul with the concave side facing down along the length of the fretboard.  When I clamp both ends down the flattening of the warped wood exerts pressure along the entire length of the fretboard.

You can follow more of my my action-packed adventures as a dulcimer maker by following me on Instagram.

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

You Say Dulcimer Fretboard, I Say Dulcimer Fingerboard

Doug Berch - Wed, 09/06/2017 - 9:57am

Adventures of a dulcimer builderA dulcimer doesn’t have a neck but it has something under the fingerboard that sort of serves as a neck. Calling it a neck doesn’t really make sense but when the dulcimer has a fingerboard on top of the object that shall not be called a neck then appropriate terminology becomes even more confusing.

For no particular reason I refer to the lower portion of the assembly as the fretboard and call the fingerboard overlay the fingerboard. When describing a fretboard with a fingerboard on it I refer to the assembled unit as a fretboard.

In the photograph above I’m gluing the fretboard assembly to a dulcimer soundboard.

The soundboard is clamped to a flat workboard. Two clamps come in from the sides holding scraps of wood that rest against the sides of the fretboard at either end. This makes it easy to accurately place the fretboard in the right spot and helps prevent it from moving while I apply the clamps.

I use an old trick to clamp the full length of the fretboard down using only two clamps. A long, warped piece of wood is used as a clamping caul with the concave side facing down along the length of the fretboard.  When I clamp both ends down the flattening of the warped wood exerts pressure along the entire length of the fretboard.

You can follow more of my my action-packed adventures as a dulcimer maker by following me on Instagram.

Categories: Luthiery

The Impractical Guitar Maker, Part 1

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Thu, 08/31/2017 - 7:59pm
...some contemporary luthiers refuse quite bluntly to deal with anything that has the slightest scientific "flavor" to it.

Gila Eban, luthier, 1990

The last couple of days I have been leafing through the James Krenov trilogy, The Cabinetmaker's Notebook, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking and The Impractical Cabinetmaker. As a classical guitar maker, I really don't need these books anymore, as I have said before, I make guitars, not cabinets.

Squares, rectangles and triangles don't interest me, shapes that are based on the human body do.

I keep Mr. Krenov's books because of all the little bits of advice on how to enjoy life and to see the world around you that he hid and tucked away in paragraphs about dovetails, sharpening, woodworking education, etc.

I am not a big fan of his writing style, a little too verbose and perhaps too sentimental, so these days I scan the pages looking for words that are familiar and excite me like spokeshave, friend, and curved edges and then I read.

Yesterday, as I was thumbing through The Impractical Cabinetmaker, which I first read way back in 1992, I glanced at a paragraph at the end of "Woodcraft Today", and remembered that the last few lines in that paragraph gave me much hope and encouragement back in then, which I took very much to heart.

This is what Mr. Krenov wrote:

The only good advice worth offering is: Keep your goal in mind. Get some fine wood in little bits and pieces, but get it. Put it away to dry properly. Improve the heating in the shop. And all the while think about finding or making better tools. You'll need those fine tools to do that real work. So when the time comes and you get that chance you will be ready.

This then made me think that I should explore The Impractical Cabinetmaker chapter by chapter from the point of view of a guitar maker and post about it. I sallied forth and re-read the first three pages of that chapter because I wanted to read his definition of an "impractical" craftsman.

He is the craftsman for whom an atmosphere of much-to-sell is a hindrance to doing his best always--and living accordingly. He is an idealist who wants to survive to have the chance to work with wood, but not at the price of having woodworking become something less than he hoped it would be.

Hmm. I guess that makes me an impractical guitar maker.

I say I am an impractical guitar maker because I enjoy making guitars and then selling them to people who have been affected (look it up if you don't know what it means) by the sound and playability of my guitars. That is far more rewarding that doing market research to figure out how to tap into and make money from the latest fads of the classical guitar world.

The latest fad is the same it has been since I started studying the classical guitar in 1974, it is to buy the same guitar that the hottest classical guitarist de jour is playing. In the 1970's-80's you had to play a Ramirez No.1A guitar because Segovia, Parkening, Boyd and Niedt all played them. Today you need to play a "double top" guitar by Dammann, Price, Smallman, Connor or someone else who has succeeded in making a guitar sound like a piano, because current greats likes Russell and Barrueco, etc., all play double top guitars.

Perfect practice makes you a better player.

Owning a really good guitar that you love will make you practice more, but popular makers don't always necessarily make the best guitar for you.

The are no jigs or outside moulds in my shop to create "the perfect shape" of a classical guitar, which some makers insist upon to make them "competitive" in today's global classical guitar market. I use a solera, a dished out work board to hold the top and neck while I attach the sides and back. A solera lends itself to asymmetry, which as I have discovered helps give the guitar a voice, a great voice that affects the human psyche.

Does this make me a better guitar maker? Not using power tools or jigs or moulds?

Maybe it doesn't, but as Mr. Krenov said, keep your goal in mind.

My goal is beauty.

The beautiful sound of a guitar that carries throughout the cosmos.

Categories: Luthiery

Starting a Classical Guitar Rosette Design

Brokeoff Mountain Luthierie - Sun, 08/27/2017 - 3:53pm
A friend of mine is a wonderful guitar builder. His habits are almost opposite of mine. If you look at his workbench, you will wonder how in the world anyone can ever work there. Yet he makes these world-famous guitars, coveted instruments.

James Krenov, The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, 1977

Bluebird skies this morning in this part of Colorado, but no black bears, moose or elk hanging out around our place, only wildflowers are making any noise.

I did complete a project today, a blending board for my wife. I posted that on Instagram, you can check it out there, but what I want to share this afternoon was an attempt to do some work in my studio.

Last year I purchased a wonderful piece of curly Claro walnut from Northwest Timber which I re-sawed into guitar back and sides. The pieces weren't big enough to make a full size classical guitar so I decided to use the wood to make a close copy of a guitar by Antonio de Torres, his SE117 guitar.


It is a three piece back with maple fillets.


This is a lightly bear clawed Sitka spruce top set that I bought from Alaska Specialty Woods about six years ago that is a great match for the Claro walnut.

Torres SE117 guitar is a very small guitar by today's standards, it is even smaller than a so called "parlor" guitar. The string length for the original guitar is just under 24 inches, a standard classical has a 25 5/8" string length, and the body length is just under 18 inches, if I remember correctly. Compare that to a modern classical guitar length which hovers at or above 19 inches!

What this really means to me is that I need to make a custom rosette for this guitar, the sound hole is smaller than a standard classical guitar. The pre-made rosettes that I buy from Luthiers Mercantile are made for the larger guitars, they are too big for this tiny guitar.


I pulled out black, white, red and green veneer to see which colors would go best...


...with this redwood burl.


I have had this burl for about seven years and I haven't done anything with it yet. Now is as good of time as any.


The rosette should be stunning with this Sitka spruce. I need to come up with a good color scheme, something like a cherry or walnut fillet to start a WBWBW, then a WBW Walnut or Cherry WBW and then the burl with the same WB combos to complete the mirror.

Of course, since I pulled out all the veneers and thin pieces of cherry and walnut, along with the detritus left over from thinning down the walnut back, I can't really see the top of my workbench. Maybe I will clean it up tomorrow afternoon!


Categories: Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #137

Doug Berch - Fri, 08/25/2017 - 2:59pm
Categories: Luthiery

Music I’d Like To Hear #137

Doug Berch - Fri, 08/25/2017 - 2:59pm

Violin and autoharp duo

Violin and autoharp duo

Categories: Luthiery

My Acoustic High-Precision Thickness Planer

Doug Berch - Tue, 08/22/2017 - 7:30pm

My Acoustic High-Precision Thickness Planer

Nothing original here, just an old trick that makes quick, quiet work of squaring and evenly thicknessing wood.

A few drops of super glue temporarily hold two wood runners to the bottom of a plane, in this case a Stanley #5 1/4 for those who care about such details. The plane can not take off wood below the height of the runners so repeatedly planing wood to the same height becomes easy. The top and bottom of the workpiece will also be parallel.

In the photograph I’m planing spruce brace stock for dulcimer backs. The rough brace sits on my planing beam; a flat and straight beam of oak with a bench stop at one end. I use this planing beam when truing and jointing fretboards and fingerboards, thinning bindings, and brace stock. I also use the planing beam as a caul when gluing fingerboards to fretboards.

Yes, it is a fascinating life I lead.

 

Doug Berch - Dulcimer Maker And Musician

Categories: Luthiery

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