Wednesday, April 24, 2013

el charango

 this picture was taken 4-18-08, the day i received this armadillo shell.
 i completed el charango and strung it up for the first time 4-24-13, almost exactly five years from the beginning of this project to the end.

there is an undersaddle pickup with an endpin jack installed.
all the dots inlayed on the neck are bamboo.
i stamped it when i completed construction in late 2012. the finish is all shellac, which i took my time with.

i cut out and re-shaped the back of this violin case to fit the charango. 
the lining is from a sweet corduroy vest i had that just didn't fit.

the build

its been on hold for a very long time but i finally got back to working on my charango. i'm using a real armadillo shell that was found in a leather shop in mexico by my mom. it had started to split and i had been too sketched out about getting the shell glued to the neck/frame/lining solidly without cracking it worse in the process. i ended up soaking then boiling and then letting the shell dry into shape. then after a little more fitting it was at long last time to glue it all together. heres what the dry clamp test run looked like.
so now its all downhill. next step is to clean up the lining frame which i left chunky for the clamping. then i cut the soundhole and rosette and get the top ready to go on.
the top of the charango is made of sitka spruce. the upper bout has a veneer inlayed as a fingerguard. i've got the soundhole cut and have started on the rosette. it's going to be alternating white and pink mother of pearl all the way around.
 i completed the rosette and braced the top. a classical fan brace layout seemed logical to me to use since i've never had a chance to look inside any other charangos.
i tend to build instruments i've never actually seen a real physical model of a lot. i'll go off of pictures, drawings and/or measurements. i know, i know, i know that's definitely a habit i need to kick. i should seek out, play and thoroughly inspect the instruments i plan to build. i have played a couple charangos before, i've just never looked inside.
next the lining got trimmed down from it's clamping state and notched for the braces. here the top is ready to glue on, but first i have to deal with some splits in the shell. here you can see a long crack going down the center and a split between the ribs on the right. there was another split on the left side too.
i partially re-boiled the places that needed to get glued up to get the leather pliable, which was actually a lot easier than i had been worrying. the armadillo shell softens quickly in hot water but dries very hard and brittle.
after those repairs were done i glued on the top. i used binding tape since there was no way to clamp to the round back. sorry but i didn't bring my camera the day it was all taped up. to get an idea, here is a bowl back mandolin i'm restoring. i'm using binding tape to pull a split between two staves together. this also gives you a size comparison.
here it is all put together with the finished rosette and the edge routed for binding and purfling. most of the "routing" had to be done by hand.
i decided against mother-of-pearl purfling and went with layered wood like the rosette outline. the color pattern reverses where the fingerplate inlay starts so there are four sections of purfling. i glued each section separately.
the outer binding is rosewood which had to be bent on the bending iron and fit into the ledge then glued in. then i have to carve the binding flush with the edge of the armadillo shell.
i also decided to line the insides of the peghead with veneer, which i bent on a soldering iron. i'm also doing some pink and white shell inlay on the peghead face.
i cut the pieces from shells, flatten the top and bottom surfaces on the sanding board, then shape the inlay with dremel and needle files. but before inlays, the fingerboard gets glued on.
 rough shaping the neck with spokeshave.
one last thing to make up for not doing a mother-of-pearl edge inlay, i'm doing a carving on the heel.
 rough sketch and starter lines cut into one side that i'll transfer to the other.
after the neck is shaped and carved, i finish inlay work on the head. then the bridge gets shaped and glued on and that's it except for shellac and strings.
after the finish work is done i scrape off shellac from where the bride goes and glue it in place. then the pickup, strap pins and tuners get installed and i can string it up.


  1. You are so very talented and such an amazing artist!

  2. This is amazing! One of the best looking charangos I've ever seen. Certainly the best armadillo one. Is it for sale? Do you take on commissions?

    1. thank you so much. the charango is for sale, e-mail me about inquiries or offers. i indeed take commissions depending on the instrument. i really prefer to explore new territory when it comes to building.