Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Finished... Woohoo!

The black guitar went to M this week! He's pleased with it and so am I.

Here are the last few stages.

The whole body was covered in layers of low tack masking tape and then the channels for the maple binding were routed. Scraping the bindings back to flush with the surface was tricky but the masking tape protected the black finish. When a guitar is the natural wood colour all the finishing is done after the the bindings are completed.

The neck joint needed only minimal adjustment.

The fretting was done before the finger-board was glued into place and then the neck finish was applied. The neck was left natural because over years of use the black finish would be worn away by the fretting hand.

The precise measurements required for fitting the bridge could now be marked out on the masking tape. The area was stripped of the top layers of black finish with Nitromors. Gulp!

Then it was time for the tuning pegs and stringing.

The final set-up and fitting of the pick-up was done by Paul Walker of Courtney and Walker. He has many years of experience with guitars, violins and also woodwind and brass instruments. He did a great job and the guitar was comfortable to play.

So what now for GBG? A little break and then on with the next commission. A spruce and rosewood combo 000 for B. NOT IN BLACK!

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Don't speak too soon...

Shhhhhh... it's going really well... shhhhh

So the top has been braced and the braces scalloped to create the tone.

Then the top is glued to the rim.

The back is also glued into place. Bindings are the next step. It's really making progress now M!


Thursday, 18 August 2016

5 Shades of Black

People who know I've been struggling with this black guitar have been asking me what's gone wrong. The answer is the black finish but for various reasons. So – those of you who want the details of exactly what has happened and why the top has taken me this many attempts – this is for you.

Attempt 1. I initially had in mind that I would install the rosette in the top and then stain the wood black. The rosette was going to be celluloid with green malachite and neither would allow the stain to soak in, it would sit on top. I havent worked with celluloid much before and polishing it did something strange to the grain of the surrounding wood. It didn't look bad, just slightly different from elsewhere, an almost zig zag effect. I thought the black stain would hide this but unfortunately the Spruce took the stain differently in this area, it wouldn't go fully black. As the spruce was now damaged I needed to start the top again.

Attempt 2. Fortunately, as I confessed recently, I had another guitar on the go and this kit was only being partly used. For Jonathan I had substiuted a Red Canadian Cedar top because he likes a mellow sound. This left me with a spare spruce top so with a Blue Peter 'here's one I made earlier' flourish I started work on that. I thought I might be better off appying the finish to the guitar and inlaying the rosette afterwards. Thinking that this may require a thicker finish I added Wudtone's black guitar finish to the process. Stain, deep base coat, black top coat, clear top coat. Each stage needed several applications and therefore drying times. Again I got on with Jonathan's guitar while I literally waited for the 'paint' to dry. When the finish was complete, I carefully covered and masked the top and prepared to rout the circular slot for the rosette. I hadn't removed Martin's pre-existing black and white rosette thinking this would easily be removed by the routing. The black and white bands were easily removed but plastic is harder than Spruce and despite my best efforts a small strip of plastic dented the finished black top. I attempted to patch the finish but with no success. So, I scraped and sanded the black finish back to almost bare wood and began...

Attempt 3. This begins with a routed top that again needs finishing. I went through the stages and once again got on with the other project between coats. I also braced the back and sides of M's guitar and did the Fox inlays. As I reached the top layers I realised that the thickness of the finish was very difficult to keep even near the routed slot and soundhole. The edges seemed to go back to light wood with each gentle 0000 wire wool rub down between coats. I tried a slightly thicker application and this created an unsightly ring around the soundhole – no good at all! With the routing already done and the realisation that this finish would not work unless it was done before this stage I began...

Attempt 4. I now needed another piece of wood so a call to Dave Dyke's luthier supplies and a bill that was not in the budget took care of that. The new Spruce arrived but I had to joint the top, they are always made in two halves, before beginning. The finish on the previous attempts had been somewhat inconsistent. The black base coat had a tendency to remove previous layers on application. In order to achieve an opaque finish I read some other people's experiences with Wudtone and decided to try a slightly different approach. A thicker coat of base finish on a slightly rougher wood. Cutting a long story short and abbreviating attempts 4a, 4b and 4c. This wasn't successful! I have applied and stripped (inhaled despite using a mask) 4 batches of finish. At this point well meaning friends who asked 'what exactly was the problem with the finish' may have received a terse 'it's COMPLICATED!' I tried again building the finish up in thin layers but it just wouldn't take consistently to the new top. Each time on one area, an area of grain that would lead to a knot, the base coat always removed the lower layers of colour. It seems that every piece of wood is different. Soooooooo...

Attempt 5. In between working on the top I applied the black finish to the mahogany back and sides and, if I do say so myself, it has come out beautifully. This left me two options: 1.Change the top to mahogany. A different sound but a good chance that the finish would work. Or, 2. Try a different approach on the spruce. Soft woods and hard woods do behave differently so maybe treating them differently would be the key. I reverted to plan A. I invested in some good cabinet scrapers and a tool to make sharpening them easier (sharpening cabinet scrapers is an art form of its own in my opinion and one I haven't mastered). I worked on the spruce until it had a very very fine finish and then I applied the stain. I used several coats to make it very dark and then used the clear neck finish from Wudtone. The neck finish has more traditional lacquer in it and I thought it would seal the colour well – it did! The finish on the top is not quite the same as the back and sides but it is black and it is a different material after all.

After the black finish was done I covered the whole top in low tack masking tape and routed the slot for the rosette. I routed another piece of wood at the same time and created the rosette in that. As it was being installed after the finishing was done there was no need to use celluloid and I reverted to the original plan of maple and black fibre purflings. Once the rosette was complete I polished it in the wood it was created in and then routed it out to install in the real top. Then I added the soundhole. Next I will brace the top ready for gluing to the back and sides.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Festival Season

It has been festival season for GBG. That means it's Sharpie time! I've added some more dragonflies to Freddie the Festival guitar. The idea was to make it look more like a swarm than a line of insects. I'm not sure if I've improved the design or made it too fussy. Anyway, next year I may well remove the design with meths and do something else.

The pic below was taken by Jo Elkington while I was queueing for a slot on the club tent stage.

I met some lovely musicians in the queue this year, as I did last year. The folk trio Kadia, Emily Mae Winters and Gina Leonard. Lots of chat and a few tunes dodging the rain showers. AND... Lee's (Kadia) mum is the creator of the knitted folk artists!! Being knitted is how you know you've made a mark in the folk world. I wonder if anyone in the family would like some sharpie art... 

Between acts on the main stage the large screens are used to post photos that the audience tweet. Freddie and I made it and so did my parents. 

I also rediscovered my love of screen printing with the Portable Print Studio at Cambridge. I'd love to get back into printing. A range of guitar t-shirts for girls is brewing in my mind, maybe starting with a  'Folk Star' design.... any thoughts girls?

Last but not least I just opened my Etsy shop to sell the leather bracelets (including dragonfly ones) I often make at festivals and singarounds. Amy's Beads And Braids Hmm... I wonder if Lee's mum would like to trade some custom made bracelets for a knitted GBG...

I will end this post with a meme I first saw posted by the lovely Ange Hardy. She may even have created it. 

Happy summer everyone!

The next post will be the various stages and attempts at the black finish for the top of M's guitar - much more serious and educational but probably not as colourful.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

A Confession...

Ok it's time for GBG to break the silence with a confession. The black guitar is still ongoing but there have been a few setbacks. I have now attempted the finish on the top 5 times! This is most definitely going to be the only black guitar I build. Fortunately M is a most patient customer. I WILL get this right eventually! The problem has been the finish pooling around the rosette and sound hole. So I have started again on a new piece of spruce. The back and sides in mahogany are looking lovely and I think/hope I have the top well on its way now. I'm using a different approach for the spruce.

Confession Time- What I haven't mentioned here before is that I started two guitars when I began the black one for M. The other one was finished a few months ago as it was a natural wood colour. It was for Jonathan Lewis, a guitarist I play with whenever I get the opportunity.

Photo courtesy of Neil King from Fatea

So I'm going to do a few posts on the building of that guitar in between updates on the black guitar. I'm also going to use this blog for my other musical projects - my songwriting, recording and gigs.

On that note, the video for my song Gladdie (expertly produced by Brian Kutscher) is in the semi-finals of the UK songwriting competition. Here it is!

Friday, 11 December 2015

GBG is Back in Black

So, where has GBG been? I'm sure my avid readers (all three of you) have been wondering about the progress of the black guitar.

Well, as I have now explained to M why his guitar has been delayed and decided that it's not really good enough to only blog the good parts of the project I will explain.

The black finish is proving very tricky, to say the least. On my first attempt I installed the rosette first and polished it up before applying the stain, knowing it would scrape off the rosette componants. Unfortunately, in polishing the rosette I damaged the grain of the spruce. This was only evident once the black stain was applied because the timber around the sound hole wouldn't take the stain in the same way as the the rest of the top. After several attempts to fix this I also realised that getting the finish back off the rosette was much harder than I had thought. So, I started again. I routed the green malachite back out of the top and put it aside.

I stained and finished top number 2 before routing it. I planned to create the rosette in another piece of board, polish it and then insert it in the new top complete. The finish came out very well. Then whilst routing the rings (and despite taking every precaution I could think of, vacuum suction, masking tape, sheets of paper between all surfaces) I managed to scratch the black top. I may have become a little frustrated at this point! 


I also googled for any tips from fellow luthiers who have completed similar projects. In the top 3 search results was MY OWN BLOG! I'm sure there's a moral there somewhere...

So, after trying to repair the top and failing I completed the routing, removed the finish and started the finishing process AGAIN this time with the routed circle in place. I used the same set-up on the circle cutter to rout a channel in which to create the rosette for installation as a complete unit.

At present the rosette is complete and ready to be inserted once the top finish is complete. I have to leave it 48 hours between coats of finish so it's taking sometime to prepare.

I am hoping the mahogany back and sides will be rather easier to finish, they at least don't have a rosette to worry about!

As for future projects I think I will stick to natural coloured guitars unless the customer can be persuaded that a 'distressed' finish is the height of cool. So don't worry M, when you finally get your black guitar it will truly be one of a kind.

On the positive side I have completed the fret-board fox inlay. When the guitar has a body I'm sure this little fox will set it off beautifully.

In other news, I am just putting the final touches to my second album. Perhaps surprisingly it does not contain a song called 'Black Guitar Blues'. Maybe for album three...

Monday, 21 September 2015


So... Nitrocellulose! The original plan was to use maple bindings (the bit that goes around the guitar body where it joins to the sides) but I had to rethink this. The guitar I'm building will be stained black so if the bindings were installed before staining they would also turn black. I did some experiments to see if I could fit them after the staining. Bindings are fitted so that they are slightly proud and then scraped/sanded back to flush. I found that even in my best efforts I could not get them flush without removing some of the black stain from the surrounding wood. Then of course I couldn't repair this without risking getting the black stain on the pale maple. The stain is a watery consistency and seeps into the grain so masking the maple wouldn't work, even if I could create a mask that followed the changing radius of the guitar shape. I must admit that this problem really had GBG scratching her head for a while.

Plastic bindings were one option, the stain wouldn't sink into them, but the thought of something that looks 'plasticky' (technical term) around the beautiful tone woods I'm using didn't appeal. I had a look around at the options available from luthier supply companies and decided to try 'Ivoiroid'. This is a type of plastic that has been made to look like ivory, grain lines and all.

After the Ivoiroid samples arrived I was trawling the internet for the best glue to use with them and found out a bit more about celluloid which is the plastic they are made from. Now I must confess I don't know much about plastic. I tend to think of it as 'hard', 'soft', 'clear' etc. Hubby is an engineer and is always frustrated when people come into the workshop and ask for a piece of 'ordinary metal' so I really should know better. Anyway, celluloid, or nitrocellulose, was the first thermo-plastic and I was somewhat concerned to find out that one of it's early uses was as a plastic explosive...

“WHAT!! That innocent looking band of fake ivory sitting in my workshop (which incidentally is in the garage under my BEDROOM) is a form of plastic explosive??!!??”

No wonder I wasn't allowed to import the stuff from the US!

I read the Wikipedia page on nitrocellulose with concerned interest. Most amusingly I found that the Terry Pratchett passage from Discworld novel 'Men At Arms' about exploding billiard balls was based on truth. Ivoiroid was created to make synthetic billiard balls and they did indeed explode!

I also found out that Ivoiroid can be very unstable when used with certain solvents including alcohol. As I have decided to change to a spirit based stain this was somewhat concerning.

So... having taken the precaution of sorting out the photos for my second album first (pics without eyebrows are never great) I turned the workshop into a lab and began experimenting.

Nothing caught fire or melted so I breathed a sigh of relief and discussed Ivoiroid bindings with M.

But nothing in this life is ever simple... Ivoiroid bindings are a deep yellowy-cream colour... ermm... ivory coloured in fact. The lines around the soundhole ring need to match but ivoiroid comes in a 1.5mm thickness and nothing thinner. Yes you're probably thinking that isn't very wide but the lines around a soundhole are usually 0.5 or narrower.

So, back to the drawing board. I have now settled on black pearloid bindings and M is happy with the effect. I will use a band of white either side so that there is a clear definition between the body of the guitar and the bindings.

Now the decision is made I can get on with the matching rosette. This is a time consuming but very satisfying part of the project. Here it is under construction.

Next post will be the staining and some more inlay work.