Wednesday, June 18, 2014

my hurdy gurdy

this is pretty much my main instrument and interest as of the last couple years.
i even quit playing bass, which had been my main instrument since the beginning of my musical life at 17.
now i just play hurdy gurdy and bouzouki mostly
(although i've recently started playing electric guitar for the first time in a band, stay tuned!).
 it has six strings: 2 melody strings tuned in unison to D; an octave lower D drone and the G below that are on the keyboard side; a low A drone and the trompette tuned in unison to the melody strings are on the back side.
i use a viola D string for my melody
strings(or canters), a nylon guitar G string for my trompette(or dog), and wound classical
nylon strings for the drones(or droners).
 the body comes from a salvaged sigma. it was bought only for the pickup and preamp, then donated to me. the top originally had a blue-black sunburst finish which was majorly chipped and peeling off in huge sheets. the bridge was coming off too. right about summer 2011 someone asked me if i could build them a hurdy gurdy out of a guitar body. i investigated online a little and found that a few people have used guitar bodies for hurdy gurdies so i knew i could too.
i never heard from my prospective client again, but now the idea had been implanted, i had already started making sketches and i had the sigma to use. i began by pulling off the neck and cutting the bridge out (not off, out) of the top leaving a hole for the wheel. the laquer peeled off of the top easily but not the back or sides so i opted to leave them and get on with construction.
i routed rosettes for the wheel cover anchors to match the section of original soundhole that is still visible.
all of the added wood is either maple or ebony. alot of the maple is heavily spalted with black or blueish streaks. the ebony keys have some light streaks.
i actually made the tailpiece back in red wing. when i decided to use it on the hurdy i think it looked sort of like tailfeathers so the bird theme evolved from there.

the headstock is one piece of maple. it is dovetail(sorry!) joined to the body just like the neck had been. the eyes go all the way through, you can see light in the pic. he's modeled befittingly after a buzzard.
the drone bridges are less distinct birds-of-prey.
the trompette is the rhythm feature of hurdy gurdies. the string goes over a "buzzing bridge" which simulates a sort of snare drum sound. the rotation of the wheel pulls the string upward, while the strings own tension pulls it back down, striking the bridge foot against the soundboard. i made several bridges to experiment with.

now a look inside the buzzards keybox we see the tangents. these are the pieces that contact the strings to play notes. each one is adjustable to be intonated accurately. the keys work by gravity so when released they just drop back down.
the last key is a mute switch for the melody strings, two ramps lift the strings off the wheel. the strings slide up the ramps and stop in grooves cut at the top. to release the mute i just push down on the back of the key with my thumb.
 all of the drone strings have their own mute switch in a lower row of four keys close to the wheel. in the picture above the keys are all set in playing position, all of the the drone strings are touching the wheel.
 the strings are pushed away from the wheel by leather dampers mounted on each key. the picture on the right shows all of the drones but the top back A string being muted.

another lower row of keys is meant to play a "second" melody on the A drone. this was a sort of unsuccessful experiment. the tangents press the string away from the wheel rather than back across the surface, into the rotation of the wheel so the notes just choke out. in these pictures that drone string is a plain nylon tuned up to a high G.  i now use a wound nylon string tuned to the low A and the increased tension helps this function some. i can usually get to the C before losing the note.

the crank is a french door handle. a bit of overkill but i like it. i turned the handle on the drill press.
obviously that means i need to invest in a lathe.
  i finally had to make myself a backpack to bike around with. 
when anyone asks what kind of instrument i have, i reply: "no, this is a jet-pack."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

my greek bouzouki

 back in november i wrote that my next major project was to rebuild my greek bouzouki.
 i have finally completed it after a little over four months of intermittent work.
 i got this bouzouki back in 1998 for $25 at an antique shop in red wing while in luthier school there. the soundboard was cracked and warped badly and patched sloppily with paint stir-sticks. i replaced the soundboard with this western red cedar top and inlayed the black applique that was glued on originally.
i hadn't played it seriously until about two years ago when i quit the bass and switched to hurdy gurdy and bouzouki in the Knotwells. the tuners were crap and needed replacing, but i didn't like having a slotted peghead and i never liked the neck which was maple with a black lacquer finish. 
the cedar top was also warping around the soundhole. it was time for another overhaul. a new mahogany neck for the new tuners and a new spruce top.
besides all that, i wasn't satisfied with the overall look. traditional greek bouzoukis are typically very lavish. mine wasn't up to my own standards of craftsmanship.
the soundboard is 3 piece sitka spruce made from one half of a bookmatched pair.
the two outer pieces are from the cut away upper portion. 
the other half of the bookmatch got used for a one piece ukulele top.
the pickguard and headstock face are bookmatched walnut burl veneer.
the inside of the bowl is lined with floral wallpaper. i came up with the inlay design and color scheme first, i just happened to have a roll of paper that matched well.
the inlays are made of abalone, pink and gold mother-of-pearl, black pearloid and, green swirl acrylic.

 the body binding is green acrylic with walnut and maple veneer on each side. the headstock and the original wenge fingerboard  have maple and walnut binding.

 there are 275 individual pieces of inlay including the big green side dots and the abalone inlays on the bridge.

the bridge is also wenge. the nut and saddle are bone. the neck is a nice curly grained mahogany.
since i was going to finish it just in time for my 42nd birthday (which is today) as a present to myself i decided to stamp the head with:
 the bowl back, the fingerboard and the tailpiece are the only original parts.
 i believe the bowl is made from olive wood with maple or similar light wood spacers between the staves.
on alot of the fancier greek bouzoukis the large overlapping tail strip and the top staves it joins to are also inlayed. i've considered doing this in the future if only to cover the staple marks left from the construction.
the staples actually bent the wood grain and the marks are basically a part of the grain figure. impossible to sand out because they go all the way through.
as of now there is no pickup of any kind. i had planned on putting an undersaddle pickup in the bridge but i couldn't bring myself to drill into this top. eventually i will install something internal.

the build 

it started with wanting new tuners, which led to a new neck, which led to a new top, which led to inlays everywhere. 
i began building the new pieces before dismantling the bouzouki so i wouldn't be without it as long. first came the neck. a shmancy new truss rod gets installed, the headstock gets shaped, faced, and drilled out.
 the top gets joined, and planed down to thickness. then the walnut veneer gets inlayed. the top has about a 15 foot radius arch. the bracing had to be glued before the inlays went in to avoid splitting or cracking them from bending the wood into its arch.
 all the different pieces of inlay get cut to rough shape with a jewelers saw then smoothed out with files. here i have an abrasive strip used by dentists to file fillings between teeth. its about as thick as a sheet of paper, i use it to file out the sharp inside point.
each piece has to be fit with its neighbors. you can see pencil marks on the flower petals to keep my angle from rotating as i fit them.
i sand all the pieces down to a final thickness with this sanding board. there is tape layered around the edge to the height i want. the inlays are taped face down on a piece of plexi, then run over the sanding board until no more sands off.
all the inlay pieces get positioned and tacked down with a drop white glue. 
then i cut around the outline with a scalpel blade.
then i pop the inlays off the top and rout out with a dremel. all the corners and smaller places where the dremel couldn't reach get chiseled out with this little flat chisel, small round chisels and more scalpels.
the inlays get glued in with epoxy dyed to match the walnut. after the epoxy cures it gets scraped down and the whole area gets sanded flush.

by this point i had already built my back-up bouzouki and had started with the disassembly of this one. i used heat lamps to soften the glue. i peeled off the fingerboard, then the top, then i heated the neck mortice.

the bowl was lined with blue construction paper which i scraped out and replaced with floral print wallpaper. the original tail block was completely off center and poorly fit. i replaced it with a maple block.

the outside of the bowlback had a thick lacquer finish which i scraped off. there were also(in addition to the staple marks) deep scratches left by a disc sander in the construction, i sanded those all out.

here the top is getting glued on with binding tape. the body is sitting in a foam cradle i made to keep it from rolling around. next a binding ledge is cut around the edge and the binding gets glued in the same way.

the fingerboard gets inlayed the same way as the top. here all the scalpel outline cuts are filled in with chalk to see better while routing. two of the original dot inlays breach the new outline. those spots get patched with wenge before the inlays go in.

now the neck gets fit to the dovetail mortice and glued in. through the soundhole you can see a wedge, it's pushing the neck tenon up at the end as the ratchet strap pulls the neck and body together. the side dots are also being glued in now.
the headstock binding goes in just before the fingerboard glues on to insure the edges where they meet at the nut line up and aren't too wide or narrow.
 after that the fingerboard is glued in place and the back of the neck is shaped flush to it. then a final fret level and final sanding. i did three light coats of shellac and called it good. i'm really into the open grain look.
 for anyone keeping track, this instrument takes care of  sectionB #8: custom inlay or rosette work on my fender gold level certification, bringing me down to five jobs left to complete.