Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Making Substitutions

Tomorrow, I hope to be buying some pine so that I can finally build myself a proper desk for typing on (I’ve spent the last two weeks as I am now; sat on the floor, with my laptop resting on top of an unpacked box! This cannot go on!!). I’ve also been thinking a lot about timbers I could use for one of the two guitar builds I’d like to get stuck in to some time and, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the subject, along with the pros and cons of using various woods for certain components.

My main resource so far has been from an excellent book titled Make Your Own Electric Guitar by Melvyn Hiscock.

I’ve said all along that I want my guitars to be made from home-grown timber as much as this is practical. I imagine it would be much harder to source the necessary components and electrical bits from a UK manufacturer but, this is something I’ve still yet to look in to. Reading this book has helped me to realise that my dream is certainly achievable.

Photo from Joe Dagony.com

It is suggested that ash is a fine timber to use for the body (I happen to have a couple of 2in lumps left over from the arm chair I made in 2010). What you really want is something that’s inherently stable and so, this rules out beech and also something like cherry, which is, quite tragically, a very attractive, even figurative species. Then again, I could stick with a stable and solid body but then laminate both faces with thin slices of a more attractive wood… This has been done many times over already and seems successful. So, I’m glad I don’t ‘have’ to use the traditional mahogany but I would consider using something like maple or sycamore some day, even if it means importing from Europe or North America.

Necks also need to be stable but, from what I’ve read, you don’t want a neck to be too heavy, either. Traditionally, you could expect either rosewood or ebony. It is said that oak, despite its open-grain character, is too heavy. In my time, I’ve found that brown oak (the staining is caused by an attack from the beef-steak fungus) can be lighter in weight. Although, without looking in to any scientific experiments or research, this could have more to do with the drying process at the sawmill (ie. mostly kiln-dried as opposed to complete air-drying). Walnut is said to be a fine choice for instrument making and I still have some thick lumps of the English stuff left over from various bits and I’d love to be able to use some of this in to one of my guitars… It’s not cheap to buy but, where cost and availability become an issue, laminating is, again, one way of attempting to resolve any problems. In my mind, it could also develop in to a major design feature (speaking as a furniture maker more than a luthier, of course!).

Image from The Tundra Man Workshop

Both oak and ash and open-grained timbers and so, this grain would ideally need to be filled before a final finish is applied on top. I’ve barely touched my acoustic guitar in the last six-months but, I do understand how ‘feel’ is important in an instrument.Again, there’s an opportunity to ‘create’ something in the surface here, if you were to use a contrasting grain filler, for example… Maybe.

Most guitars these days seem to be lacquered and, for the best results, this does require a bit of a careful set up with a spray gun (I still have one!) and perhaps also, the use of some nasty cellulose-based chemicals. I’m more of an oil and wax man (maybe hardwax oil?) and, if I ‘had’ to use a lacquer then, I’d prefer it to be water-based (acrylic), due to several reasons concerning the environment and my own health and safety. I’m just not sure about how well you can spray it and then, there are issues surrounding its use on timbers like oak, which have tannins buried deep within (they love to come out when unprotected steel and water react on the oak’s surface!).

Photo from Jeff Neville’s Fat Sound blog

There is a woodworking show coming up at Yandles and, if I can fight the crowds, I will look around inside of their wood store for any interesting body or neck blanks that happen to catch my eye. At the moment, I’m just sharing my thoughts while also trying to keep my mind occupied and positive by focusing on practical things that I enjoy. I still cannot promise that I’ll get anything done before winter strikes but, I’m already making progress in my mind.

Guitar making seems so complicated at the moment, on paper… Yet, I know, in my heart, it’s just another series of woodworking techniques that I’ve already mastered. I fear this because it doesn’t have four legs or a perfect 90° corner.

Thanks for reading.

PS. Did I mention that I broke my digital camera last Friday night?! It’s a dull story, don’t get too concerned! I’ve found I can still switch it on and off by lifting the edge of the casing (it’s cracked, badly!) but I’m still looking at buying a new one. It’ll be the same again; a point-and-shoot style camera (not an SLR) that I don’t mind using in the workshop. I’d love to find one with a microphone input for videos but, these only seem to be available on camcorders.

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2 responses to “Making Substitutions

  1. Sarah 17/08/2012 at 08:34

    Olly,
    You know if you have any ideas about the wood you’d like to use just tell me and I’ll go root around in our rack to see what I can find you.
    Steve (our sales manager) and his son have made many an electric guitar out of of timber from our humble rack. I’ve seen quite a few timbers out there with ripple and lace (plus we have lots of Plane/Lacewood!) lately if you fancy something a bit bling..!

    P.S. It’s not flashy but I’ve been using a little Canon Powershot A3200 IS for all our pics and videos.. it was £100 and I think has done a pretty good job so far. The microphone is integral so maybe not up your street but I’ve been very pleased with the little orange thing.. especially considering it gets chucked around the yard and used by everyone in all weathers..

    • Olly Parry-Jones 17/08/2012 at 16:19

      Hi Sarah and thank you. 🙂

      It’s funny that lacewood wasn’t mentioned in this book, despite being one of the most attractive species grown in the UK (then again, I only skim-read the pages!).

      Another book I have treats lacewood and London Plane as being two separate species, despite coming from the same log (one is quarter-sawn).

      Thanks for the thought. My Fuji was only £150 in 2008 yet, it seems as though I can get a bit more for the same money now and, that’s all I’m really after. At the moment, it’s a case of reading through various reviews on Amazon – the trouble with that is some people seem to ENJOY writing bad reviews! 😛

      If you’re able to sneak any photos of these guitars on to your blog (seeing as it is your timber) then, you know it would be appreciated! 😉

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