This summer I attended the week long summer acoustic music camp put on by folk and acoustic radio station WUMB. It was an extraordinary, overwhelming event with about 100 attendees from all over the country and superb instructors. I took blues fingerpicking with Rev Robert Jones from Detroit, Celtic guitar with David Surette, and general technique with Bennett Hammond. There were endless instructor concerts, open mikes, a student concert, and jam sessions. Many people had a chance to play and hear the two guitars I brought and had extremely nice things to say about them. Here is a video of Bennett Hammond trying out my 12 fret 000 koa guitar. I would highly recommend this event to anyone serious about their playing, regardless of their level of experience.
Celtic guitar with blues influence
The latest shop research project is a non-six-string guitar. Not a full twelve string, more likely 8, 9, or 10. The idea is a guitar that excels at fingerpicking and also has power and drone in the bass range. My dentist Tim Gosley, an avid player and guitar enthusiast, kindly loaned me his 12 string with permission to take off and add various combinations of strings to see what gives just the right effect.
At the summer music camp I discussed this design with noted Celtic player David Surette and also with blues performer Rev. Robert Jones from Detroit (click on their names to see their websites). Both gave valuable feedback and David (who lives close by) has agreed to consult on the project as it unfolds. In particular, we have decided that the doubled bass strings will be pairs of the same gauge, not pairs in which one string is an octave higher than the other (the latter is what is typically found on 12-string guitars). Rev Jones informed me that our scheme is how Leadbelly’s unusual 12 string guitar was strung, giving a clear (not jangly) bass. Furthermore, much Celtic music is played with the strings tuned differently (DADGAD) than standard tuning (EADGBE). Altering the tuning changes the guitar’s intonation by an amount that is measurable and perceptible. To sound really good, a guitar in an alternate tuning would need to have the string lengths slightly altered, which means installing the saddle in a slightly different position. So that’s what I’ll design and build – a guitar specifically intonated for DADGAD (it will also do well with DADFAD which is used in certain blues tunes) and have a powerful, yet clear bass tone to bring out walking bass runs (blues) or Celtic style drone. Using less than 12 strings means the neck can be kept narrow and stings spaced to make finger picking easy.
This idea is still in the design phase and I would really value recommendations from you.
Do you understand social networking? I don’t. I got a Facebook message from my guitar-building student Liam saying he was at the Dunkin’ Donuts. Aha, I thought, social networking is for exchanging daily pleasantries. So I replied that my associate Gordon had brought me donuts that very day. Pleased that I had at last mastered social networking I was astonished and deflated when later in the week Liam arrived for his lesson asking “Why on earth did you send me that message?” But the story ends well, because Liam brought a box of donuts. Here is a photo of Liam and his finished guitar which is a 14 fret small jumbo. Note the headstock inlay – an artistic interpretation of Liam’s initials rendered in woolly mammoth tusk, an exotic but possible-to-find material.
Liam is delighted with the sound of his guitar. Here is a video of him playing it. The guitar was finished just in time for the arrival of Liam and Danielle’s first baby.
Why build guitars?
There is a new sign in the shop. It expresses the purpose of the endeavor. A bit far out maybe, but thanks to the great people that show up here it’s something I have experienced and have seen people get an inkling of.
Here may you learn
the deep and sacred knowledge
of how to walk in beauty,
content in a troubled world.
Don’t worry about new age rituals though. All we do is have a good time in the shop making guitars. Here are some video clips to illustrate.
Alex is working on his rosette. It is an extraordinary design, as you will see in the next newsletter.
John is applying his binding. It takes 20 minutes so we use fish glue.
Here is me shaping sides to the correct curvature.
I will be conducting guitar making demos at the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen’s Fair at Lake Sunapee, NH on August 6, 8, 10, and 12. If you are there then, please stop by tent U and say hello.
© 2012, John Whiteside