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The Legacy of Stradivarius

This does not have much to do with guitar making, although there are about four guitars made by Stradivarius still in existence – perhaps I will do a blog on this in the near future – but as a violin maker as well, I find the history of the violin and how little has changed over centuries, makes this a fascinating and wonderful instrument.

Cremona is truly a great city to visit. It is an old city with some interesting ancient history and it is steeped in the tradition of music and instrument making. The whole feel of the city is centred around music and if you want to see old violins, their museums are well stocked. Below is some interesting information on some of the master violin makers courtesy of Martin Gani.

The golden age of violin-making in Cremona began with Andrea Amati (1505-1577) who is considered the pioneer of the modern violin. Cremona-workshopHis grandson Niccolò Amati (1596-1684) made some significant improvements, both aesthetically and acoustically. Guarneri del Gesù (1698-1744) made robust instruments with a powerful, rich sound, qualities so admired by the virtuoso violinist and composer Paganini that he owned four of them. But the city owes its fame to the inimitable master of all time Antonio Stradivarius (1644-1737). Stradivarius crafted around 1,100 string instruments, mostly violins, of which half are still in existence. He became rich and famous in his own lifetime, violinists and collectors alike started salivating over his instruments soon after he set up shop in Cremona in 1670. In 1990 a Stradivarius violin was sold for a record $1.4m. In April 1998, Stradivarius broke his own record when his violin ‘Kreutzer’, auctioned by Christie’s in London, fetched $1.58m. The owner had paid $24,000 for it in 1958. Alas, Kreutzer’s primacy didn’t last long. On 1st November 1999 the Swiss music dealers Hug announced that the violin owned by Yehudi Menuhin (1916-1998), a 1742 gem by Giuseppe Guarneri, had just been auctioned for $2.83m.

Neck Joints in Guitar Making


Although its mechanics are invisible on most acoustic guitars, the neck joint in guitar making  provides fodder for endless discussions among musicians and luthiers. Three designs and their variations dominate acoustic guitar construction – dovetail, the mortise and tennon and the bolt-on. All three approaches are found on guitars of all price and quality levels.

A dovetail neck joint is a traditional woodworker’s joint. On a guitar, the usually the tapered dovetail is used it takes the form of a V-shaped (the tapir) , flared tenon on the neck’s heel, which is fitted into a matching mortise in the body’s neck block. DSCF9907Properly fitted, a tapered dovetail joint is very strong and lightweight, as well as, the way the joint is constructed, the gluing area is increased somewhat and the way it fits. results in a very reliable, stable and strong joint. The fact that it offers a larger area of direct wood-to-wood contact between the neck and the body, it positively affects a guitar’s tonal properties.

The bolt-on approach uses hardware to attach the neck to the body. In most cases, the bolts run parallel to the fingerboard and pass through the neckblock, meeting threaded inserts in the neck’s heel. Some designs also bolt the fingerboard extension to the top of the body. The biggest advantage to a bolt-on neck is that it makes repairs and adjustments very easy, because the neck can be removed without any complicated procedures.

The mortise and tennon joint that consists of a tennon that would be cut on the neck, that is straight, Guitar Makingwith no tapirs or angles that fits into a mortice that would be the ‘square hole’ that would be cut into the neck block. This, in the more traditional construction, would be locked in by putting a pin through the joint inside the guitar through the neck block. This too, could make repairing or adjusting easier as it could make the removal of the neck easier. This and the bolt on rely on good workmanship to ensure a good reliable joint


The Mighty Californian Redwoods

Although the Californian Redwoods are not a preferred wood used in guitar making, I thought I would share some interesting facts about these amazing trees. Like most trees in the past and also present, forests all over he world  have been raped and abused for so called ‘economic’ reasons. The photos below were before preservation was a real problem, but the felling of these magnificent trees at that time sparked concern and activists began to take action.

The redwood tree became California’s official state tree in 1937.Redwoods 1 There are two species of the California redwood: the coast redwood and the giant sequoia. These evergreen trees are the tallest trees in the world and can live for more than 2,200 years.

Location History



Redwood trees existed before dinosaurs roamed the Earth.Redwood 5 The redwoods used to grow all over the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, but now grow naturally on the Pacific Coast of the United States. Many of these trees are now found in protected areas, such as parks and forests. The foggy, humid conditions coupled with moderate temperatures is what allows the California redwood trees to flourish in the area. The trees grow tall and straight and thrive in the mountainous regions of the coast.

Species Difference


Although the coast redwood and the giant sequoia are in the same family, the trees have several differences. Redwood 2The coast redwoods grow much taller than the sequoia trees, but the sequoias are much larger in diameter. The coast redwoods live considerably longer; some remain standing after more than 2,000 years. The average life of sequoias is 600 years.



The California redwoods, which can reach 350 feet, are the tallest trees in the world. The tallest known redwood, named Hyperion, stands 378 feet tall and was found in 2008. Hyperion is in Redwood National Park, near Eureka, California.



The redwood trees are evergreen trees with long, straight needles. At the canopy of the tree, the needles are about 1 inch in length and green. The trees are both male and female because they produce both cones. The male cones are oblong shaped and the females are egg shaped. The trees reproduce sexually and asexually. Redwoods reproduce asexually by sprouting on tree stumps. The bark can be up to 1-foot thick and appears gray in color as it ages. The reddish brown color appears on newly exposed bark.



The California redwood trees lumber is resistant to decay, mold and fire. Redwood 3This makes the beautiful redwood lumber valuable timber to be used for railroad ties, decking and furniture. The redwood trees are successfully cultivated for lumber in other sections of the world, such as Texas, New Zealand and Italy.


Redwood 4

Julia Lorraine Hill (known as Julia “Butterfly” Hill, born February 18, 1974) is an American environmental activist and tax redirection advocate. She is best known for having lived in a 180-foot (55 m)-tall, roughly 1500-year-old California Redwood tree (age based on first-hand ring count of a slightly smaller neighboring ancient redwood that had been cut down) for 738 days between December 10, 1997 and December 18, 1999. Hill lived in the tree, affectionately known as “Luna”, to prevent Pacific Lumber Company loggers from cutting it down. The redwood was 1,000 years old.  Hill came down only after she and other organizations negotiated a pact with the Pacific Lumber Company. Luna, and 3 acres surrounding the tree, continue to be protected from destruction because of the pact.  She is the author of the book The Legacy of Luna and co-author of One Makes the Difference. She is a vegan.

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Quartered Sawn Wood in Guitar Making

Quartered sawn wood In guitar making  on many top end guitars, is of paramount importance for structure, sound, strength and aesthetics.

Quarter sawing is a type of cut in the rip-sawing of logs into lumber. The resulting lumber is called quarter sawn (quarter-sawn), quartered, and radially-sawn.

Quarter-sawn boards have greater stability of form and size with less cupping, shrinkage across the width, shake and splitting, and other good qualities. In some woods, the grain produces a decorative effect such as oak which shows a prominent ray fleck and Sapele Mahogany is likely to produce a ribbon figure

When boards are cut from a log they are usually rip cut along the length (axis) of the log. This can be done in three ways: plain-sawing (most common, also known as flat-sawn, bastard-sawn, through and through, and tangent-sawn), quarter-sawing (less common), or rift sawing (rare).Quartered Sawn 2

In flat-sawing the log is passed through the blade cutting off plank after plank without changing the orientation of the blade or log. The resulting planks have different annual ring orientations when viewed from the end. The relative angle that form the rings and the surface go from almost zero degrees in the external planks to almost ninety degrees at the core of the log.

Quarter sawing gets its name from the fact that the log is first quartered lengthwise, resulting in wedges with a right angle ending at approximately the centre of the original log. Each quarter is then cut separately by tipping it up on its point and sawing boards successively along the axis. That results in boards with the annual rings mostly perpendicular to the faces. Quarter sawing yields boards with straight striped grain lines, greater stability than flat sawn wood, and a distinctive ray and fleck figure. It also yields narrower boards, because the log is first quartered, which is more wasteful.

Quartersawn boards can also be produced by cutting a board from one flat face of the quarter, flipping the wedge onto the other flat face to cut the next board, and so on.

Quarter sawing is sometimes confused with the much less common “rift sawing. In quartersawn wood, only the centre board of the quarter-log is cut with the growth rings truly perpendicular to the surface of the board. The smaller boards cut from either side have grain increasingly skewed. Riftsawn wood has every board cut along a radius of the original log, so each board has a perpendicular grain, with the growth rings oriented at right angles to the surface of the board. However, since this produces a great deal of waste (in the form of wedge-shaped scraps from between the boards) rift-sawing is very seldom used. Quartersawn wood is thus seen as an acceptable compromise between economical but less-stable flatsawn wood (which, especially in oak, will often display the distinct “cathedral window” grain) and the expensively-wasteful rift sawn wood, which has the straightest grain and thus the greatest stability.

Quartersawn boards have two advantages: they are more resistant against warping with changes in moisture and, while shrinkage can occur, it is less troublesome.

In high-end string instruments, the neck and fretboards can be made from quartersawn wood since they must remain stable throughout the life of the instrument, to keep the tone as invariable as possible. In acoustic guitars, quartersawn wood is also often used for the sides which must be steam bent to produce compound curves and the soundboard. The soundboard particularly, is often made from quarted Spruce or Cedar to enable the best sound consistency and strength. The strength (flex) will be more along the length (with the grain) of the top, and the braces will support the width. (In violins, wedges are split from a specially selected log to ensure vertical annular rings). This is mainly for structural reasons, but also for the aesthetics of highly figured timbers being highlighted when sawn this way. On high-end acoustic, electric and bass guitars quartersawn wood is often used as the base material for the neck of the guitar, since this makes for a stronger and straighter neck which aids tuning and setup stability.

The second advantage of quartersawn wood is the decorative pattern on the board, although this depends on the timber species. Flat sawn wood (especially oak) will often display a prominent wavy grain (sometimes called a cathedral-window pattern) caused by the saw cutting at a tangent to a growth ring; since in quartersawn wood the saw cuts across the growth rings, the visible grain is much straighter; it is this evenness of the grain that gives quartersawn wood its greater stability.

The Sound Post in a Violin – How and Why

In a string instrument, the sound post is a small dowel inside the instrument under the treble end of the bridge, spanning the space between the top and back plates and held in place by friction. It serves as a structural support for an archtop instrument, transfers sound from the top plate to the back plate and alters the tone of the instrument by changing the vibrational modes of the plates.

Sound posts are used, in all members of the violin family, in some members of the viol family, in some arch top guitars and in other string instrumentsVioloin Sound Post

The position of the sound post inside a violin is critical, and moving it by very small amounts, as little as 0.5mm or 0.25mm, or less, can make a big difference in the sound quality and loudness of an instrument. Specialized tools are used for standing up or moving a sound post. Often the pointed end of an S-shaped setter is sharpened with a file and left rough, to grip the post a bit better.

Sound post adjustment is as much art as science, depending on the ears, experience, structural sense, and sensitive touch of the luthier. The rough guidelines in the following section outline the effects of various moves, but the interaction of all the factors involved keeps it from being a simple process. Moving the sound post has very complex consequences on the sound. In the end, it is the ear of the person doing the adjusting that determines the desired location of the post.

There is a definite effect of position on the instrument. Moving the sound post towards the fingerboard tends to increase brilliance and loudness. Moving the sound post towards the tail piece decreases the loudness and adds a richness or hollowness to the tonal quality of the instrument. Moving it towards the outside of the instrument increases brightness and moving in towards the middle of the instrument increases the lower frequencies. There is very little room to move the post from side to side without fitting a new post, or shortening the existing one, since tension (how firmly the post is wedged between top and back) plays an important role in tone adjustment. Perfect wood-to-wood fit at both ends of the post is critical to getting the desired sound