Classical Guitar 253(B)

This guitar was started in 2019. The intent was initially to build a guitar that sounded as good as #251 which I built several years ago in Fort Collins. That guitar initially didn’t speak to me at all. It was a Cedar double top with Cocobolo back and sides and a 5 piece laminated neck. Now I tend to impatiently wait to listen to an instrument. I will often string a guitar up long before it is ready. This was the case with 251. I’ve been using water borne finishes for several years now and one of the things about it is that it takes up to a month for it to fully cure. Until it does, the guitar sounds dull. So the finish wasn’t cured when I first strung 251 up and I set it aside for several years while I built a few guitars that I french polished. No long waiting time for those.

At any rate, this summer I dragged 251 out of the case and started playing it and realized that it was one of the best sounding instruments I’d built. It was loud, had a great bass and the treble was as loud as the bass without being harsh. I impressed a few local players with it and decided to do it again, maybe trying a solid top this time. The photo below is of #251 before attaching the back.

Top bracing and configuration of #251

The main thing missing from the photo is the set screw pivot that acts to support the small transverse brace below the soundhole from the carbon fiber rod. The other thing it doesn’t show is the support rods that replace the upper transverse bar.

The bracing pattern is my own creation, which I have dubbed the diamond spider. Diamond because of the centrally located diamond, and spider because it has 8 ancillary braces, or legs like a spider. All the angles except for the center brace adjoin at 90 degrees. The center brace adjoins the others at 45 degrees. I’d say this qualifies as a radial bracing pattern, of which there are many. But it started as a large, rather open lattice. Most lattice bracing is joined together at the crossings, often with carbon fiber threads and epoxy. My first try at this (a year or so earlier) sounded really tight and I tore the back off and reworked the bracing to roughly what the photo shows before it started singing well. So far, this bracing yields the best sound from a double top for me.

Now I can seldom leave well enough alone, so in addition to doing this bracing with a solid cedar top I decided to change the bracing a bit.

The bracing above is what I tried. I extended the top legs up into the upper bout and shaved the small transverse bar down a bit. The cedar top was thinned down to 2mm around the edge with almost 3mm in the center. This is a bit thicker than I’d normally have done it in the past, but I was going more by weight than thickness. Since I was in experimental mode, I strung this up with the back clamped on. I played it for several days and didn’t like it at all. There was no bass response and the treble was thin. I proceeded to drop the bracing down to 4mm tall and glued on the back. Oh, did I mention that I was using a wood rod instead of the carbon fiber ? I thinned that rod down too. Comparing it to #251 side by side was sad. I got a bit more bass out of it, but still not good.

The last thing I did, with the back still glued on, was to sand down those two extending braces below the soundhole almost level with the surface of the top. There was marginal improvement, but it wasn’t balanced. The treble was too shrill and the bass without depth. It has now been a couple months or more. I sent 251 off to it’s new owner and built another copy, #257 using Brazilian Rosewood. The next entry will be about that guitar. Against that guitar 253 sounded just as weak… sigh… I should mention that when I talk about the sound of this guitar it is in comparison to the other guitars it’s being compared to. In reality 253A wasn’t that bad a guitar and would have held it’s own against a good many guitars in most stores. But the bar is high here.

So top A came off and a new top B was prepared, along with some other changes…

This version (253B) is much more like the original 251 (and 257) and is a cedar double top. The transverse bar isn’t shown here. In addition, I made a few changes to the body as well…

Here the transverse support pivot can be seen with the set screw in place. I also added a carbon fiber support in the lower bout to sturdy up the lower bout, which felt a little too loose to me. That was probably because I had just finished the sides for #258, which are extremely thick and stiff. That brace across the lower bout would be a really bad idea if I didn’t have a vacuum press for gluing on the bridge. I’ll also mention that 251 and 257 don’t have the longitudinal back bracing, instead they have 3 transverse aromatic cedar braces. At this point I added the cedar (pink) transverse brace on the back. Then it was attach the new top, re bind and finish the top.

So to summarize all that. I started with a top that was too stiff, or such was my surmise having very little low end and a shrill high end. All my efforts didn’t get me to where I was satisfied, so I replaced the top and stiffened the back and sides. Having sent #251 away I wasn’t really able to compare the same way I had before the switch, however I can say with certainty that there is more depth in the bass response and that the treble is not shrill at all. Did I get close to #251 ? I don’t know for sure since 251 is gone, but it’s certainly much closer. It’s quite loud, which is a nice change. When I play it, I am pulled into a more romantic style, pulling for deep emotion. It has grown in the month that it has been strung up. It started sounding a bit mushy (uncured finish ?) but has opened up nicely in the past week or so. Another month or so and polishing up the finish on the new binding around the top and it should be ready for someone. I expect that I’ll be using it to judge 258…