Oddball projects

img_5752I’m always working on multiple projects at a time. Repairs, new builts, restorations, new designs and solutions; my friends tell me that the shop often looks like the lab of a mad scientist. In one corner a the glue of 16th century lute is drying, on the next bench a romantic guitar soundboard receives a couple of splints to fill the gaps. While on the other side of the shop an Ibanez 7-string gets a fretjob, new pickups and setup.

To some it might look as a chaos, but there is a reason why I work this way. Combining a variety of projects keeps it interesting for my wandering mind. But it also works most efficient for me. Some people need just one thing to focus on, finish and get on with the next. Often that’s the only way we learn in school.

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But instead of waiting for the glue of one project to dry, I get on with the next. And especially with restorations it helps to give the instrument time to rest and settle between the various applications. img_5498When you rush a restoration, the chance increases that an instrument will break down soon after it is finished. Having some time between the steps gives the opportunity to reflect and think things through. I often find the solutions for problems I encounter when working on another project.

Keeping a balance between these is what makes it interesting. A dance between the workbenches in the shop. Doing repairs, making new instruments, restoring and studying old instruments, teaching guitar making, writing blogs and books, drawing plans, making tools, re-enactment, getting others involved… I love them all equally and would languish completely without either of them. In fact that’s what caused my burn-out a couple of years ago. I was forced to limit myself to only one thing, that wasn’t exiting enough to keep it interesting. A little bit like the movie “Groundhog Day”…

Oddball projects

Players find their way to my shop with all kinds of projects. Guitars, lutes, mandolins, ukuleles and citterns of all types and ages. Often I can help them. And sometimes – when I don’t feel up to the task – help the owner to find someone who has more experience or expertise. The integrity of the instrument is always the first concern.

That’s why sometimes I give different options or advise against customizations that cause irreversible damage or even destroy an instrument. Like putting a set of EMG 81 pickups into an original mint condition Gretsch White Falcon. Or cutting up an old Les Paul to install a Floyd Rose tremolo. Two requests I’ve actually refused, because they went against my conscience. One of them went to another builder and let him do the job. But soon after he regretted hacking up the guitar, because it didn’t was what he imagined. Beside hurting the instrument it also damaged its monetary value. The other sold the guitar and bought another one more suited to his playing style. When I spoke to him later he recalled being glad he didn’t go on with his initial plan.

But in other cases a customisation is what the instrument asks for to be up to date. Like the incomplete Hofner Senator, that got a new pickguard, pickup and tone controls, all coherent with it’s original style.

Hofner Senator

I really love working on this broad range of instruments. All have their own character, problems and merits. And often the story behind it is even more wonderful. Like the Vox Humana archtop or this little Neapolitan mandolin from the first quarter of the 20th century.

Mandolin

It was a mess when it came in, cracks, gaps and even a missing rib. Somewhere in the seventies someone gave it a new coat of polyurethane boat lacquer, and filled the gap of the missing rib with pieces of formica…

The owner told me it had belonged to his 90+ year old mother, who got it secondhand when she was a little girl. He wanted it to be restored, so she could play it once again.

So I opened up the instrument, repaired the cracks and replaced the missing rib. The edges of the bowl were slightly cut back to lower the action. With a little fret levelling, a setup and some new strings it’s ready to play again…

Yes I am a terrible mandolin player. But this is my first attempt ever at playing this instrument. Some chords found on the internet, and my smart tophat… please don’t judge it too harshly…

 

 

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One Response to Oddball projects

  1. Matt says:

    Wonderful post. I also work (as an amateur luthier) on a couple of instruments concurrently, and find it a good way to focus on basic skills like joinery rather than ‘When will this be complete?”

    Like

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