Now I also make jewelry

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Willowleaf Dulcimer

I was infatuated with the hourglass design but wanted to try my hand at the willowleaf and fell in love all over again!
I used Spanish cedar for the back and sides: a delight to work with. It smells so good and strong, the whole workshop is transformed. And it's a beautiful wood: once finished, subtle silky patterns appear and disappear in the light.
The top is Douglas fir, the fretboard is again birch overlaid with padouak, and the peghead is mahogany overlaid with cocobolo.
I've built it thinner than the previous two, a traditional 1.5" in depth, but it is even more resonant.
In time for the tulips...

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Second hourglass

Just completed... in time for the first spring flowers.

The top of this one is butternut, the sides curly yellow birch, the back cherry and the fretboard is birch overlaid with padouak; bloodwood-tigerwood for the heel and figured soft maple over marupa for the headstock.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Last year - Guitar shaped concert

Ah! tradition, bent sides, and I do like that shapely silhouette...

Western red cedar top, walnut side, mahogany back, cocobolo (miam! miam! -- so good!) bridge, rosewood fretboard, bubinga headstock.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

SupSop: Four coats, four days.

Doux comme la peau des fesses d'un bébé: un critère infaillible pour juger qu'il est temps d'arrêter!
The lines, the grain, the patterns, the waves: all those details in the wood I was as yet unaware of have come out.
The sun is shining, the day is warming up. I've been sanding other instruments for the past two hours. I used to resent the sanding process because I wanted to get it done, finish the instrument, hear what it sounded like... Now I enjoy it: one grade of sanding paper and as thorough a job as I can, then wipe the wood and let it dry. Tomorrow, I will use the same grade, then the one above and so on until the next day and the next... As a result, I do a much better job of it and I enjoy myself: everyday the wood is looking better, and I'm working outside in the sunlight with the added benefit that I can clearly see all the minute flaws I would otherwise miss. There's no rush, nowhere to get to. C'est le pied!

Friday, 17 April 2009

Dulcimer fretboard

3/4" thick, 1.5" wide, whatever length will accommodate the VSL (typically between 25" and 28"). Before cutting slots for the frets: 1) the surface has been finely sanded, 2) the strum hollow cut out and shaped with a bandsaw, rasps and files, 3) the underside under the frets (between the nut and the strum hollow) has been hollowed out. To remove the wood, some use a table saw, some a mortiser, some a chisel. I use a forstner bit in a drill stand: the line is a bit erratic, but that's allright. This will lighten the fretboard and allow better transmission of string vibrations.

This board is black walnut.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

A moment to savour

Since I started building folk instruments two years ago, and as I had everything to learn on my own (and with the help of all those generous builders/teachers on the Web), I've made innumerable mistakes.
There are so many tasks to perform in building an instrument, choices to make, so many things that can go wrong, that do go wrong, so many mishaps and frustrations. But so many joys also, tiny triumphs and lilliputian pleasures. And then, sometimes, there's the coincidence of effort and good fortune: not entirely luck because you've been trying so hard and experimenting, but still, the good fortune that befalls you is a gift. And it is an extraordinary feeling to look upon what you've made, but that was also partly made for you so that you think: what great good fortune, this is so perfect!
In this instance, it is this new finish I'm trying and I knew straightaway when I applied the first coat yesterday that I had chanced upon something special. Today, as I buffed the uke before applying a second coat, I could see the wood coming alive: all the patterns and waves and variegated colors. I'll post pics in a few days, when I've done all the coats, not sure how many yet.

This is the back of a uke I made last year: the butterfly is there to hide an ugly knothole in the wood and remind me not to take things too seriously!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Monday, 13 April 2009

SuperSoprano in the making

A lot of work has gone into laminating the neck and heel (mahogany and padauk) and the back (black walnut and padauk ). The top is Western red cedar, the fretboard padauk as well.
I have just inserted the position markers (maple dots) on the side of the neck. The whole instrument has already received multiple sandings: one more sanding with 400 grit and I'll start applying finish. The neck is set at a very slight angle so that the bottom of the fretboard does not touch the soundboard, thus providing more vibrating surface (something new I'm trying). The outside circle of the soundboard has been sanded down to 1/16".
More pics of previous stages in the building of this particular uke will be posted later.
"Super" sop because the VSL is a bit longer (14") than the norm.


The next two dulcimers that I'm in the process of finishing are also hourglass-shaped. The backs are made of very thin (1/16") cherry. They are braced with light but strong pieces of wood with a slight curvature so that the back will be just a little bit convex. The central brace, which touches both sides, the bottom and the top, is pierced with a number of holes to allow the sound and the vibrations to travel.
The sides are also 1/16" thick: I've used curly yellow birch which has a nice wavy pattern to it. The strips at the bottom and the top of the sides are there to provide to a wider surface onto which the soundboard will be glued.

I've just finished sanding one completed dulcimer and applied the first coat of finish to the body: there will be several more coats over the next few days before I apply separately a tung oil finish to the fretboard.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Last year ukes

There will be ukuleles, actually many more ukuleles than mountain dulcimers, but most of the ukes will have unconventional shapes, since my main interest is to create different designs, and the ukulele is an instrument that lends itself to invention and whimsy.
Meanwhile, here are some of the ukes I built last year. The five displayed here are all concert scale (15" Vibrating String Length -- the distance between the nut and the bridge).

Friday, 10 April 2009

First lap dulcimer

Here it is, the first of the 18 instruments I built this winter.
Now that Spring is here, I'm able to work outside (when there's no rain or late flurries) and thus complete all the sanding necessary before the finishing stages. (I cannot perform the sanding inside the house during the winter because it would generate too much dust). It will probably take me the whole summer to complete all 18instruments...
This is the first dulcimer I designed myself and built from scratch. The shape is traditional hourglass, with flowing lines and curves that really showcase the beauty of the wood, particularly the back. Entirely built with solid wood, like all my instruments: the back, sides and fretboard are made of black walnut; the top is Douglas fir; the peghead has seven layers of walnut, mahogany and beech; the strum hollow is laminated with a mahogany veneer and the bottom of the fretboard with bloodwood, ebony for the nut and bridge.
I strung it yesterday: the sound is great, with terrific sustain!