Stay in Tune vol. # 66
By Luthier Patrick Podpadec
Last week I spoke of the upcoming music festivals that are coming up in the next few months. Its always a good feeling for me to go and participate in these events because of all of the people I get to meet. After spending the winter cooped up in my shop, it's nice to get out in the sun and meet some new friends. Most of the festivals are outside and I bring a tent canopy to keep my stuff dry in case of rainy weather. There are a few festivals that I have to setup inside for the certain workshops that I do.
Speaking of workshops, I will be offering mini versions of the repair classes that I teach at my shop. The first festival coming up is being held April 19- 22 at the “The Riverside Inn” in Cambridge Springs P.A. .its only about an hr away from the Geneva area. (here for more info http://www.theriversideinn.com/RiversideMusicFestival2012.htm )
I will be hosting two workshops . The first one will be starting at 2:00 p.m. And will be about “ Bending Guitar Sides” I will be explaining the traditional methods of bending wood for the sides (known as “ribs” in the luther world) of the guitar. Through this demonstration, I will be explaining the importance of the moulds or forms that are used in the building process. Once the sides have been “bent “ or manipulated by the use of steam to the desired shape of the instrument that your building it important that you keep this shape in a proper “mould” until the “kerfing” (a thin strip of wood that is applied to the sides that gives the thin sides a little more thickness so that the top and back can be glued to the sides) and neck and heel blocks are attached . Once this process has been accomplished it is possible to remove the the skeleton from the mould without worry about distortion of the shape. There are many procedures that need to be acomplished while building a guitar. For most people, bending the sides seems to be the most intimidating. I know that it was one of my biggest fears. There are a few misconceptions that are associated to side bending. Such as, boiling the sides for a couple of hours before it is pliable enough to bend. This is usually not done because there is no reason to add that much extra moisture to the wood for bending. It is more important to use the correct amount of heat in combination with some wetting of the wood ( which creates steam) . The “steam” is what actually “stretches” the molecules of the wood so that it makes it maleable to bend. Once the heat and steam is released from the wood the shape will generally hold in that position, this is where the moulds come into play. It is a developed art that the luthier acquire to better at judging the flexibility of the different species of wood. For instance, mahogany will bend at a little different heat and pressure than maple. Some wood species may require a little more steam (water) than others. Each piece of wood is different from the next even when your working with the same species of wood. After bending different species you seem to develop a “feel “ for the wood which enables you to manipulate it easier without breaking or snapping it. Some times on real tight curves it is necessary to thin the wood even more at the spot of the curve. You can always come back later to reinforce the thin area with a lamination or veneer. Once you have learned the initial process, it is the experience and repition that is needed to learn the rest . I don't know of any other way to explain the learning curve that it takes to do it. If anyone is interested in learning this or any other lutheir techniques, I can be reached for private lessons at 440 -474-2141. There is also more information on my website ( www.wood-n-strings.net) under the “repairs” menu on the different classes that I currently teach. Make sure to check back often because this page is constantly being revised.
The second workshop that I will be demonstrating is the process that I use to build or shape guitar “nuts” from a piece of raw bone. Bone is one of the traditional materials that have been used to make the nut for centuries.(the small piece on the guitar located at the top of the fingerboard that guides and spaces the strings so that the guitar can be played properly.) Small “blanks” of bone are comercially available from many diferent supply houses but I most of the time will cut my own from a piece of cow bone like the luthiers did many years ago. Bone is easily cut with a fine tooth blade such as a hacksaw for cutting metal. Although it is pretty hard, it can then be shaped with files or sandpaper, and then be polished to a beautiful luster with fine sandpapers and polishing compounds. The slots are then cut by using the appropriate size files that coinside with the gauge of string that is being guided by the slot. If it is too large of a slot the string will slide around and feel a bit sloppy when being pressed down , which will cause the string to sound like it is out of tune. On the other side of the coin, if the slot is too small it will bind the string up so that if you were to bend the note while playing it may not want to come back in tune. Also the depth of the slot is very crucial too. In the workshop Besides the proper placement of the frets and intonation issues, the job that the “nut” is responsible for is probably one of the most important issues in the playability of a stringed instrument. It makes a huge difference when it is working properly. I explain all of the techniques that I use to accomplish these tasks in the “Making the Bone Nut” workshop.
I will be also hosting similar workshops at other future music festivals that I will be posting information about on my website and in the Voice articles. So please “Stay in Tune” to all that is going on and hopefully we can meet at the next festival.
Patrick from Wood-n-Strings / Liam Guitars