Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"The beauty that flows from this instrument..."

Inscription in the new guitar

Signing and sealing: 

A Milestone 

What would you write inside the top of a guitar being made just for you, something no one but the owner and the builder will ever see? Bruce Roper, the luthier at Old Town School and now a good friend, told me I could say whatever I wanted. Never at a loss for words, I was at a loss for words until I thought about it. What was I getting out of this experience? I didn't need another good guitar, having many. I didn't need much of anything in the way of musical instruments, but if you have been following this blog, I think you will understand that the wood and the glue and the cutting and pasting and clamping were just the mechanical part of the process. What I value the most is the friendship I have built with Bruce Roper over the past few months. He produced a CD for me so I knew him, but I didn't really know him. Now I have listened to his gentle explanations of what is going on, his feelings about wood and how to pick it, his thoughts about writing and performing music. I have watched him use his hands in a hundred ways on this project. I was watching someone who knew, from long practice, what to do about anything that came up. So I thought I had to say something that stretched beyond the guitar.

I have also heard him talk with great affection about his bandmates in Sons of the Never Wrong, Sue Demel and Deb Maris Lader. I have been in bands and I know the kinds of pressures that build until the whole thing fractures and you run away screaming about one another. After nearly 25 years, he still laughs when he talks about the times they have had (and continue to have). When you see them on stage, what is there is genuine. They aren't acting. I so admire that. 


"The beauty that flows from this instrument is friendship," I wrote, in my own ridiculously sloppy handwriting. Then I signed it, and so did Bruce, and then the whole process moved on to the finishing of the box. This is a very important step because it is the first time anyone can get a full view of how the guitar will look when it is finished. The chatoyance I talked about much earlier is stunning, front and back and sides. It is going to be such a lovely work that I hesitate to put a pick guard on it. I plan to use the guitar for finger picking (without picks!) so I don't think I'm going to be banging it up.

The back, braces trimmed and ready for glue

Bruce trimmed the braces and got them ready for glueing to the sides of the guitar. He put the top on last week in a similar process. This side involves a little guess work and some measurement by eye. He has done it so many times it goes smoothly.

Marking the brace spots

Because the bottom has to fit tight against the sides, Bruce must trim little slots into the sides where the braces will fit, just so it all looks tight and sealed when he moves to the next step (placing the bindings, which comes next week.) He does his trims with a Dremel tool then uses his band saw to cut little notches in parts of the top that don't fit handily in the jig when the bolts are installed.

Cutting the brace notches
It might seem like a tedious process, but it isn't. It's just a series of steps that Bruce follows closely whenever he makes this kind of guitar. He's helping a client build a classical guitar on another bench nearby, and that one involves a whole different world of steps. Those will be meticulously followed, too.

Watching him work, I got to thinking about which part of this process actually leads to a good instrument and I concluded, "All of it." I know, that sounds like a cop out. But it's not. Guitars are a process of the whole, but the individual parts have to be right or it's not going to play well or sound good. So I think what I am seeing is a craftsman at work who knows all the steps and performs them at a very high level of skill. It takes the romance out of the instrument, I suspect, but there you have it. It's a bunch of pieces of wood glued together so they vibrate well and create a noise.

Here is how it looks when the back is glued up and screwed down to dry, a process Bruce completes just after he glues a series of rosewood straps along the inside of the sides of the guitar. This is protection. Sometimes guitars are bashed around a lot and the sides can be broken fairly easily unless they are reenforced. Nothing much better for that than rosewood strips.
Top glued down. Looking at the neck
Rosewood reenforcement strips on sides

Closing this all up was a little sad, like being four days through a seven day vacation and knowing that it's all going to end. But guitar building is just like life, I suppose, which is a really stupid thing to say because, after all, everything is just like life. It begins. It develops. It ends.
Except with this, you get a friendship and music! Next: Binding and then on to building the neck.

No comments:

Post a Comment