Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Cocobolo: a dream to bend!

It was exciting to bend cocobolo for the first time- one of the most dense woods I've ever worked with! It rang like a marimba bar when struck, and planed smoothly, but I dreaded the actual bending. Then- surprise!- it bent so smoothly!! Perhaps the best wood I've ever bent. I absolutely love bending the wood, by hand, over my propane fueled bending pipe. At any rate, I was surprised, but ended up with the smoothest sides.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

I had some alaskan yellow cedar that was not quite right for instrument material, but it made an excellent kalimba case! Aaron Chavez, master player of the chromatic kalimba, custom ordered this four-octave (yes, four octaves!) fully chromatic instrument, of his design.

The bass keys hang over the treble keys, so that you can double a note or chord with a bass note two octaves below simply by touching the key 1/2" or so below it! The chromatic notes are on the back side, the flat notes behind their corresponding naturals on the front.

The kalimba is imbuia and walnut, and that gray foam padding inside the case is IMPOSSIBLE to find- even though it comes with virtually every electronic you'll ever buy!

Sunday, March 27, 2011

This apple tree stood in the back yard of our last home- one we built in Eugene, Oregon. It had been long neglected and despite several years of careful pruning, it never produced many apples, and had some serious rot issues. We cut it down, sadly, but the result ended up being great. The garden saw much more sunlight, and I managed to get about 1000 board feet of usable lumber out of it!

The tree was over 3 feet in diameter at the base. It yielded several sections of 18 to 20" wide trunk wood, which when sawn on the quarter gave me a bit of wood I thought might work as tonewood. The sections ranged from about 4 to 7 feet long, so there is plenty of material to use for some cabinetry in the future.
After an initial run in a dehumidification kiln (no heat, just blows air over it to carry away moisture quickly) I stickered and air dried a few pieces that looked like possible tonewood for about 4 years. I finally had a chance to build with it, and created this octave mandolin/ bouzouki. It looks and sounds incredible, and I am very happy to know that the apple turned out to be a useful tonewood. I would compare it's feel/workability/tone somewhere in the range of walnut or mahogany.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Federated Teachers Service Corporation parlor guitar

On the bench this week is a Federated Teachers Service Corporation parlor guitar. It appears to be from the 1950's or earlier. Through a little Googling, it seems the instrument is in the same jumble as Regal, Harmony, Stella, Galiano, having derived from Oscar Schmidt's work. It has dyed maple bridge, and a dyed maple or birch fingerboard. It seems the neck is poplar, which was commonly used for these instruments. In my research another mention was made of a lap steel- interesting since this guitar came with two nuts- one for normal playing and a tall steel one, presumably for lap steel playing! The fingerboard also has fret numbers at each fret written in by hand, in yellow!
An interesting thing about this instrument- I tried removing the bridge to either reglue or replace it, and even with all of my forces (heating iron, heated spatula knife, various wedges and prying devices) I couldn't even begin to budge it. I think it may be epoxied in place, as that is the only other adhesive I have encountered with that much staying power!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Up and running again!

With the new soundboard, and a redesigned tuning, the chromatic kalimba is sounding much better! Unfortunately, that means now it is on it's way to Beijing.

The thicker soundboard seems to have increased the resonance, and pairing octaves of similar notes together also increased the sustain quite a bit. I just love the way the cherry figure pops out with the finish on...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Urban Lumber - Springfield

Visited Seth at Urban Lumber this morning for a simple planing job. It is always a pleasure to swing by his place. Right now he is mid-remodel, expanding both his shop and retail space, and adding a gallery/showroom as well. This photo shows his trusty ol' crane truck, which he used to haul my apple tree out of my yard a few years ago, which he then resawed and de-humid kiln dried.
Seth is inspiring because he really does things right- he is down to earth, and approaches everything from a fair and reasoned perspective. He also works BIG- big logs, big trucks, big slabs of incredible lumber, and big tools. He just added a wide-belt sander capable of handling extra wide boards (his old one went up to 36" wide, and the new one even wider!)
Next time you're in Springfield, swing by his place at 2440 Main Street- there is always something interesting to see and it is always worth a visit!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Chromatic Kalimba

This is a three-octave chromatic kalimba that I am working on- the good news is that it sounds great. The bad news is that, with the grain running horizontally, all of the bridge bar screws are in the same grain line- and with the tension the top has begun to crack! It sounds great, and I am glad this happened now, before it arrive in the hands of its new owner. I also think that I will make the new soundboard graduated in thickness, with a little more thickness towards the bridge bar.

It was a little strange at first to play with the circle-of-fifths layout, but it suggests melodies and harmonies, a lot of dyads (two-note chords) that you might not pluck out on a piano. After only a few minutes I was playing a few really interesting melodies and riffs that I would like to develop.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Pisgah trees

An inspiring New Years Day hike lead to this shot of some sun rays in a section of forest along the Northwest side of Mt. Pisgah outside of Eugene. I love spending time in the woods.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Another great bowl-back design

The unique bowl-back of the Timple- an ancestor of the ukulele from the Spanish speaking Canary islands.

Cremonese Mandolin

On the subject, this Cremonese mandolin (left in picture) was apparently the popular form of the instrument in Vienna when Haydn and Beethoven were living and composing there. I had no idea of this when I built the ukulele-version copy (right in pic) as a special request. I wonder if there is anyone out there who still plays the Cremonese version of the mandolin- early music practitioners, mandolin enthusiasts, etc? It has four single courses in gut, according to Graham McDonald's excellent text on the subject, "The Mandolin Project."

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Lombardic Mandolins

I love how these instruments are lodged somewhere in between the Oud and Neapolitan mandolins... it is always interesting to read about the history and development of modern instrumental forms, but when you can plainly see instruments that are hybrids, the 'somewhere in-betweens,' you can see for yourself how various instruments relate in history.

Lombardic Mandolins