“Dirty Secret” – Electro-Acoustic, Variable Resonator, Steel-String Parlor Guitar

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I received this 70’s era, Trump classical guitar from my mother-in-law a few years back. A few of the tuners were broken, the neck was bowed and the bridge was either broken or I just decided to cut it off—it’s hard to say at this point—but knew when I saw it, that I wanted to do something drastic.

I looked around and found an adjustable floor register and then cut a large rectangle out of the body; but then it sat, because I wanted to strip off all of the finish. I found that it was very difficult to remove the finish, but finally a couple of days ago I locked a wire brush attachment into my drill, determined that the finish would come off once and for all—it did, sort of, but I also distressed the livin’ out of the wood. No problem, because sometimes ugly is part of the game.

I call this one, Dirty Secret; it’s like that horrific kid in the horror movies, that’s hidden in the basement— someone unwittingly finds themself in said basement; it’s dark and cluttered, unseen feet are heard scampering across the floor, and then a ball comes rolling out from the shadows, creeping everyone out…well it’s not like that, but stay with me…you have a Les Paul and a Strat up stairs in the stable, but instead, you prefer to play this piece of trash, for some indescribable reason…why?

Body and Finish:

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As stated earlier, I cut a 4″x8″ rectangle into the center of the guitar to accommodate an adjustable metal floor register. The purpose of the register is two-fold—primarily, to create a resonator sound and secondarily, to control the amount of resonator sound. The outcome was not as drastic as I would have liked, but there is a distinct difference between the louvers in the closed position and open position: in the closed position, the sound is tighter/cleaner, as the louvers move to the open position, the sound becomes more resonate and rattly.

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Since I cut through all of the bracing, the top needed need reinforcement, so I cut a few pieces of 1″ square rod to offer stability and a solid base through which to install the floor register. Additionally, I cut a a small groove into the top/center of the register to accommodate the fretboard—it just looded more finished and covered up the fact that I cut the hole incorrectly.

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The old finish was removed with sandpaper on the head, neck, and fretboard; however, the finish on the body was removed with drill-powered wire brush. Much of the heavy finish was removed, but a red stain remained; additionally, the brush removed too much material in some places, which left the body distressed and damaged. After sanding all of the surfaces, I applied a finish made of vinegar and steel wool that helped accentuate the distressed areas on the body.

Tuners:

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The tuners had to be replaced—some were broken, others were seized. I subbed in a set of butterfly-style Grover tuners, which had shafts that were larger than the original tuners. I enlarged the holes to 3/8″ and installed the replacements.

Tailpiece and Bridge:

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I used a discarded tailpiece from a previous build. I sanded off the tarnish and centered it on the body. Two small zip ties hold the tailpiece tight to the register to reduce friction noise. For the bridge I used a brass hinge pin; I flattened the bottom with a file and found the correct scale based on doubling the measurement of the twelfth fret.

Pickup and Output Jack:

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I taped two JSA Nd144 Electromagnetic Cigar Box Guitar Pickups together and connected them to an acoustic guitar endpin jack. I couldn’t place the pickup in a normal location, because of the louvers on the register, but there was a small location just back from the  end of the fretboard. I superglued an old razor blade below the fretboard and installed the pickup by attaching the magnets on the pickup to the razor blade. A 1/2″ hole was drilled, in the bottom of tyhe guitar, where the strap button was previously located.

Check out these quick demonstration videos—one is amplified with distortion the other is not—enjoy:

Thanks,

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“TSA Certified” SlipStick Carry-on Electric Steel Guitar

Well…this steel guitar is not actually TSA Certified, but at a length of 20-3/4 inches it does fit diagonally in a carry-on suitcase. I had built the first incarnation of this steel guitar a few years back when I had to go on a business trip and wanted an instrument to take along. I was only taking a carry-on so it had to be small enough to fit inside—it turned out to be a perfect fit.

Follow this link to the official project page for additional photos and build notes:

https://wp.me/P3WRqw-NH

Thanks,

PVC Bamboom Stick

PVC Bamboom Stick

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The handle on Bennet’s Bamboom Stick failed during its first use. Bamboo is strong for its thickness, but, in addition to the handle, the frame cracked in four places, while I was cutting and shaping the instrument. The cracks were easy to fix with glue and clamps, but I’m not sure how it will hold up over time. Surely the handle will hold up with the addition of a dowel, but there was still reason for concern.

This led me to look for a more resilient material. PVC is strong and flexible and easy to manipulate. 1-1/4″ PVC pipe is an excellent size for the body and 1″ is perfect for the handle, as 1″ PVC fits close inside of 1-1/4″ pipe.

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For the handle slot, I made horizontal cuts on the body with a hacksaw and then used a 1-1/8 spade bit to remove most of the material on the front and back of the frame. The rest of the handle slot was shaped with files. I cut the handle from a 1″ piece of PVC; it fit snug within the opening. I also slipped a piece of 1″ wooden dowel into to 1″ PVC to reinforce the handle.

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I cut the pickup hole in the same fashion that I shaped the handle slot. Much like the bamboo version, it allows limited range, but a bit more room to install the piece of angle that would hold the simple tuner and the 1/4″ jack. The wall of the 1-1/4″ PVC was too thick for the nut on the 1/4″ jack to fit, so I filed down the outer side of the frame, around the hole, until installation was possible. Although it appears ugly, I have started using hot glue to strengthen my solder joints; it keeps me from having unexpected delays.

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To create more clearance at the front of the handle, I cut down a 1″ cap and glued it to the front portion of the handle. I filed a small triangular notch into the top of the handle and used a screw to tighten the string down. A binding screw worked well to allow the handle to pivot. I added an eye bolt, bent to an angle, to act as a nut and to set a consistent action. For this PVC version, I decided to use heavier eye bolts than I used on the bamboo version to further strengthen the instrument.

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Because of the limited space, I had to set the piece of angle, then install and solder the jack to the pickup, then install the bent eye bolt, and finally, set the pickup in place. In this PVC version, the JSA Nd144 pickup sat loose in the hole, so I cut and shaped a small piece of 1″ PVC to fill the space. I filed the inner sides of the 1″ piece of PVC until the pickup fit snug. After that, I added the usual simple machine to set the open note/octave.

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I added two 1-1/4 jacks to the top and bottom of the frame and a 1″ cap to the back of the handle. For the bottom, I installed a screw-on rubber bumper so that it doesn’t slide on the floor. Additionally, I left the remaining string intact, since there is no easy way to keep the instrument grounded. The jack is grounded to the bridge eye bolt, so one must simply hold the remaining string against the handle, while playing, to keep a constant ground.

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Just like the bamboo version, there is only one E string, but the instrument has a lot of range. I added a simple tuner so that the player can set the open note/octave. The player controls the pitch by tightening and slacking the string with the handle and there is definitely a learning curve, as the player has to listen for the note correct pitch—I place the difficulty level somewhere between playing slide guitar and trombone.

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It seems important to note that when I tested this instrument the string broke rather than the frame or handle.

Check out this quick and thoroughly awful video:

Thanks,
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Bennet’s Bamboom Stick

Bennet’s Bamboom Stick

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“Bamboom” was how Bennet used to pronounce “bamboo” when he was younger. In Army of Darkness, Ash called his shotgun a “boom stick”—no real correlation, just a fun fact.

This instrument was commissioned by Bennet. I can’t remember what it is really called, but Bennet fell in love after playing one at the St. Louis Cigar Box Guitar Club. Both the frame and handle are constructed entirely of bamboo. The one that he saw included a cigar box and piezo pickup, but I wanted to streamline the design, so I cut a hole and installed a JSC Nd144 electromagnetic pickup. 

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Bamboo is incredibly strong for its thickness and weight, but it is easy to manipulate once a hole is created. I made horizontal cuts with a hacksaw and then drilled a couple of holes, where I wanted to cut vertically, and sawed a half inch strip out of the center. After that, a sharp chisel cut the rest relatively easy, with a surprising amount of control over how much material was removed.

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I cut a handle from a smaller diameter piece of bamboo; it fit snug within the opening. Build note: if you are thinking about constructing a similar instrument and use a bamboo handle, consider reinforcing the handle with a piece of dowel rod. The handle on this instrument cracked during its first use. I’ll just remove the twine and then glue and clamp the handle on Bennet’s, but it’s better to reinforce the handle from the start.

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From the pickup hole, I had limited range to place the piece of angle that would hold the tuner and the 1/4″ jack, but that was the only access that I had without creating more holes. It was tight, but it all fit without interfering with the connections. IMG_1642IMG_1643IMG_1645

I filed a large rectangular notch into the top of the handle and use a 1/4″ bolt and rod coupling to tighten the string down. A couple of brass pieces and binding screw worked well to allow the handle to pivot. I also rounded out the back of the frame to allow the handle more range and added an eye bolt, bent to an angle, to act as a bridge and set a consistent action.

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Because of the limited space, I had to set the piece of angle, then install and solder the jack to the pickup, then install the bent eye bolt, and finally seat the pickup. I was extremely happy that it all worked the first time. After that, I added the usual simple machine to set the open note/octave.

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For the bottom, I added a screw-on rubber bumper so that it doesn’t slide on the floor. I fit perfectly, with a little persuasion.

There is only one E string, but the instrument has a lot of range. I added the simple tuner so that the player can set the open note/octave. The player controls the pitch by tightening and slacking the string with the handle and there is definitely a learning curve, as the player has to listen for the note correct pitch—I place the difficulty level somewhere between playing slide guitar and trombone. Good times.

Thanks,

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Cecil Whittaker’s Pizza Box Guitar

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I had this clean Cecil Whittaker’s Pizza box, so I strung it up to see what it would sound like. I cut down the neck, glued it, and carved the Double Razorblade head design that is now the official Junk Shop Audio head. Then, I cut a channel in the neck for my Junk Shop Audio Nd144 pickup and stained the neck with a steel wool and balsamic vinegar blend that looks awesome. The old looking strap came with my Jay G. parlor guitar; it seemed to match this build well. I made a strap adapter out of duct tape, which works well with the disheveled theme.

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I cut a hole for the 1/4″ jack, along with removing part of the inner box. The jack works great, but care must be taken when inserting and pulling out the cord, as the wall is a bit weak.

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I installed a small piece of angle with three brass screws. and then added the simple machines—made of ground thumb screws and rod nuts—and a bridge made of cut brass rod, filed flat on the bottom. To hold the box closed, I used the strap button, which is made of a brass knurling nut and a vandal-proof bolt—when this is removed the box opens.

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For the head, I used stainless bolts, brass washers, and brass knurl nuts to hold the strings in place and a cut bolt for the nut. For the frets I went in a new direction—after marking the fret distances, I cut small grooves into the top corner of the neck to mark the fret positions. These small grooves can be seen from both the front and side, so it is visible from all angles. I like the subtle look of these markers.

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Acoustically, the guitar is not super loud, but it’s great for jamming out in the driveway after hours; amplified, it sounds great.

Thanks,

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