I drove the body to Southern California this week because my insurance company wouldn’t cover any damage due to shipping. Kevin sprayed a coat of finish on it as soon as it got there.
And here’s the maestro pretending to put his hand in the wet lacquer.
All that’s left is the bridge and bridge pins. I bought a clear piece of fossilized mastodon tusk from David Warther, and after Kevin shaped it on his CNC and milled a channel around the perimeter I filled it with copper dust and CA glue. The pins were cast in 18k gold by Michael Reiley, who also mounted the rubies in the tips. The side dots on the neck are also going to be rubies, and to keep the guitar safe we have a white Calton case with a blood red interior.
Kevin will be taking photos of the finished guitar and I’ll have them posted as soon as possible.
Kevin sent the body, and it’s as beautiful as I imagined it would be. There are two coats of sealer on the back so hopefully I can get most of the leveling done without grinding any sanding dust into the grain of the holly. The top and sides need to be protected while I deal with the back inlay, so I cover them with poster board and tape.
The next step is to spray some adhesive on the underside of one of the drawing copies and smooth it down onto the back, making certain it’s exactly where I want it. There isn’t much room on either side of the waist, and the bottom border has to be perpendicular to the center line of the back.
All the red ink on there is covering the areas that I don’t want to rout. Once I get going, it’s sometimes difficult to see what needs cutting and which side of the line I’m supposed to be on, so this method alleviates a lot of stress and mistakes.
Now, with as much light as possible I begin by routing the perimeter of everything with a .020″ diameter end mill at .040″ deep. The back is at least .085″ thick, but I usually inlay thin material because it’s easier to work with and is lighter than the standard .060″ material. You’ll notice in this shot that there’s a dental exam light on the right (from the 70’s - remember that burnt orange color?), a 100 watt halogen lamp on the left, a small LED light in the router base and two LED spotlights on my QED headset. If I could have more without raising the temperature of my shopto uncomfortable levels I would.
Once the outlines are done I change to a larger end mill and remove the bulk of the wood from the center. This part goes much quicker than the perimeter work, but I have to make sure that my router base always has a surface to sit on or the bit will plunge all the way through the back. Here’s a shot of the completed routing.
After checking to make sure everything fits I begin to glue in the inlay one section at a time, using the low ceiling of my shop as a go deck. Most of this inlay went in with epoxy so I’d have sufficient time to maneuver the dowels in place and not have to worry about the glue drying before the pieces were flush. Small pieces were glued in with cyanoacrylate.
Twenty-four hours later I was ready to sand it down. All the shell and metal in the inlay were .040″ thick, so they were at the level of the surface of the back, but more fragile materials like wood and acrylics were cut from thicker stock. Here’s a shot showing just how much had to be sanded off.
And the sanding process, like all my other inlays, had to be done with a hand block, not power sanders, or things could heat up in the inlay and pop out, or the glue underneath could expand with the heat that’s generated from staying on one area too long and push up pieces of inlay as I’m sanding them. I didn’t want to have to go back at this juncture and recut anything. It was hard enough to make this the first time, but repairing it would be a nightmare. so here’s how I leveled it.
And a shot of it almost leveled. The left side is pretty much done, but the right side needs to come down some more.
It’s beginning to take shape, but there’s a lot of detailing left. On the original manuscript there are thousands of red dots either surrounding letters or in grid patterns between them. Eadfrith painted them. I’m going to drill holes and push in copper wire. Here you can see the process, as well as some filigree that needs to be routed with a .010″ end mill.
Here’s the back with all the holes drilled and about a third of them filled with the wire.
Once that’s over with and the back is sanded again, down to 400 grit, there is painting and engraving to do. Some of the letters have the interiors painted, as well as the filigree to the left of “ER” near the top. I attempted to get close to the tones on the original, but then realized they didn’t match the materials I used in the inlay, so I tried to stay within the spirit of the project rather than make an exact copy. There are reds, greens and gold to do, as well as some gold leaf, which will be the absolute last thing I do to this before getting it back to Kevin.
I sanded the paint just a bit to lighten it somewhat. The lacquer finish will darken everything. All that’s left for me to do is gold leaf the areas inside the “R”, “N”, “U”, and “X”.
Oh, and I put my logo inside the body, next to where Kevin’s label will be.
On to the next project!
Kevin told me the body was finished and wanted to ship it to me to inlay the back. I’ve been working on finishing the inlays in between paying jobs, so it’s been somewhat sporadic, but managed to have a whole week without anything to work on but this.
I’d been dreading the borderwork around the large three letter combo “LIB”, as it’s three layers of very thin white/black/white, and no matter what materials I use to make it with it presents some problems. The first thing I did was to order an 8″ jeweler’s saw frame, which is still not deep enough to swing around the outside of these pieces, but certainly more wieldy than the 4″ one I usually use. Then I made a new benchpin out of Plexiglas. This one has no vacuum hood on top and is held to the bench by countersunk screws, so I can maneuver large sheets of material without bumping into any obstructions. The vacuum hose still picks up the dust, but not as efficiently as the standard pin.
After all the border layers were done I glued them down onto wax paper that was taped over the drawing, ensuring their conformity to the pattern. Then I glued down all the other interior sections that had been previously cut, and proceeded to fill the empty areas in between with 18k gold dust that had been saved from many earlier inlay jobs. Once the dust was filled to the level of the inlay plates I wicked in some very thin superglue to bond the whole mess together.
When everything was dry I lifted the plates off the wax paper to see what I had wrought. On the borderwork plates I waited to trim the last outline until they were all glued together. It was much easier to handle that way, but on the large lettering plate I didn’t have that luxury and had to deal with everything flopping all over the place while cutting it.
The undersides of these parts look like everything will be OK, but the hard part is yet to come. Inlaying it all into the light colored holly will be difficult, but not as trying as leveling it without grinding all that black epoxy matrix dust into the pores of the back, which will leave the surface looking dirty, not the virginal appearance I’m hoping to have.
Anyway, the next step is to see what’s left to cut before the body gets here this week. Once again I laid up all the finished parts on the drawing, but this time they’re not glued. This is just a quick way to note the undone pieces, most of which are the little scrolly things above and below the two secondary lettering lines. There are also some animal heads and one or two miscellaneous pieces, but the majority of the cutting is over, thankfully.
The knotwork to the left of the letters “ER” will be done after the majority of the inlay is in and level, probably by routing thin lines and gluing in .004″ silver bezel. Then there are over 1800 small holes to drill and fill with copper wire, and sections to dye and gold leaf, as you can see from this plate of the original manuscript.
At that time, I’ll get it back to Kevin for spraying and final assembly, and he can worry about it for awhile.
Kevin sent me the neck with the tuner holes drilled, peghead bound and purfled and the CNC cut, outlined logo in place. I was all ready to start routing the cavity for the inlays when I realized I had neglected to take the truss rod cover into account. Many of the peghead inlays I do are either up higher, or are on instruments with the truss rod adjustment accessible from the opposite end of the neck. That’s no excuse, but now I was going to pay for being distracted.
I sat for about an hour and looked at the peghead with the inlay sitting on top of it, trying to visualize what steps were necessary to keep the lines of the inlay intact, and in what order to do everything. Having the inlay embedded in the truss rod cover still proud of the surface was a possibility but I didn’t want the outlines of the TRC to be visible. I had done an eagle shaped peghead on a banjo years ago where the outlines of the truss rod cover were borders of adjacent inlay pieces and the cover was flush with the surface of the peghead.
All you could see when it was done was the screw that held the cover in place. That time, however, I knew what to do during the design phase and didn’t have to reverse engineer the whole thing to make it work.
The first step was to clamp the inlay onto the peghead and scribe around the perimeter with an X-Acto blade. Then I rough sawed the parts that hung over the edges of the binding so I could accurately mark where the inlay would abut the purfling. This was accomplished with a compass with one pointed side and one longer dull side that went around the edge of the peghead while the point scribed the inlay at the edge of the purfling underneath.
Now I had to break the inlay plate apart where I wanted the outline of the TRC to be, so it wouldn’t interfere with the lines of the design. Part of Kevin’s traditional cover would still be exposed at the bottom, so I drew a centerline on the peghead and over the inlay to help line up the various elements. The ebony cover got its outline traced on a piece of holly, and then the inlay was positioned exactly where it would reside, and I penciled the rest of the cover shape from there. Here is the resulting cover outline.
From that point things got a little easier. I rough cut the outline and milled the underside to a workable thickness, workable being slightly thicker than the cover would be inlaid into the peghead. The inlays themselves are .04″ thick, so the cover had to end up thicker than that, in order to have something to glue the shell onto, butI had to keep it thin enough to pass over the top of the truss rod adjusting screw as well.
and routed the peghead so it would fit in there, and sanded it flush once it did. You’ll notice some slop with the fit here, but the inlay itself covers that.
All that’s left to do is inlay the main section of the design into the peghead and then inlay the rest into the TRC. The lettering on the right side was done before anything else here, because I didn’t want it to run under any tuner washers.
Rather than use a screw to hold it in place, Kevin is going to fashion something with small magnets underneath the cover.
The last thing that had to be done was engraving the faces and details.
Whoops - and clear out the tuner holes and final sand… seems like there’s always something more to do.
Speaking of which, here’s a shot of the rosette, which just got finished two weeks ago.
Obviously this guitar isn’t going to be finished in early 2009 like we had hoped, but it may be done in time for the Healdsburg Guitar Show in mid-August.
To those of you who have posted comments about my blog, my apologies for having to turn that section off. As I have a full workload aside from this project and can’t monitor what goes on here very often, I realized my comments section had been hijacked by commercials for ringtones , penis beauty cream and auto repair shops. How rude. Henceforth anyone wishing to take the time to say something to me will have to email me at email@example.com.
Kevin Ryan managed to find some holly of the right dimensions and clarity for the body of the guitar, and has started to build the neck, which is also going to have a holly overlay on the peghead. In the Lindisfarne Gospels, each chapter begins with a painting of the saint whose account it is, a full page known as the “Carpet” page, and the beginning of the text, or the “Incipit” page. The carpet page is basically a knotwork filled cross, with more contrasting knotwork filling the surrounding empty spaces. It ends up looking like a woven rectangular carpet. I may use some of the elements of the Matthew Carpet Page somewhere on the guitar, but the peghead is reserved for the painting of Matthew.
No one seems to know who the person behind the curtain is (”Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”) , and there isn’t enough space for the whole picture on the peghead anyway, so here’s the drawing that I’ll be using to cut the parts for the inlay.
The text on this will likely have to be moved somewhat, once I find out where the tuning key holes will be drilled. In the meantime I can still cut the letters and put everything else together.
The next step is to make some copies of the drawing and carefully cut out each piece to be glued to their respective material. Multiple copies are needed because I have to cut each enclosed section outside of its drawn perimeter, which destroys the ability to do the same to all the surrounding sections of the drawing. To that end I indicate the extent of each enclosed section with red pen, and mark it off on the master drawing so I don’t cut the same piece twice. Marking the master drawing in this way also lets me know if I’ve missed anything. Here’s a shot of the marked drawings, with some of the pieces glued to white, and gold mother of pearl.
Once all the pieces of drawing were glued and dry on the inlay materials I was ready to begin cutting.
The first shot here shows the selection process for the highlights in Matthew’s robe. That’s rippled green abalone. The second one shows all the pieces laid up on their respective plates. Since I’m working in a different medium than Eadfrith, I’m attempting to keep close to his color scheme while still promoting the beauty of the shells and organics that I normally use. This necessitates the integration of some “mundane” materials, like acrylic or Corian, alongside gold and black abalone.
Normally I cut with 3/0 jewelers’ blades, but in this case the detail was small enough for me to switch to 6/0. By just barely cutting the lines off all the drawing pieces I was able to fit everything together like a little jigsaw puzzle on the first try… well OK, a few pieces had to be filed to fit, but not many.
Here is the peghead inlay ready to be inset once I get the neck. I haven’t cut the Ryan logo yet because I want to see the overall effect before deciding on which material to use for it. The disc around Matthew’s halo will be done in 18k gold dust after everything is in and level, and parts of his feet and the rug, the stool and angel’s wing will have to be trimmed to fit against the purfling around the peghead perimeter.
I’m still cutting parts for the back of the guitar, but that’s all I can do on the peghead for now. More to come…
Here’s a shot of the section with all the cut pieces done. I didn’t have to number any of these because the pieces were of sufficiently different sizes and shapes that when I glued them to the wax paper it was easy to see where they went.
The next step was to fill the areas that were going to be black. Usually I’ll cut these shapes from ebony or use ebony dust then superglue, but some of these areas were too small to cut, and what was left wasn’t always the exact outline of the underlying drawing (this is why undercutting is important). Sometimes ebony dust and glue isn’t the best way to go, for various reasons, so I’m trying something new, and using a fabric dye instead.
From what I’ve seen so far, the glue thoroughly wicks throughout the matrix of particles, leaving no dry sections like ebony dust sometimes will. My concern at the moment is that it will stain the surrounding holly when I level the inlay, so I’m having Kevin Ryan send me a scrap of holly to test before I make any more of these sections this way. Here’s hoping I don’t have to recut this one.
The next step is to heap some dye into the cavities of the inlay, and rub it in with a finger, then clean the residual dye from around the perimeter. The stuff is a dry powder, but it stains my hands pretty easily, and takes a while to clean off.
Once that was taken care of, I dripped superglue onto the top of the inlay and let it wick through the whole piece and let it dry overnight.
This morning I pried the whole thing off the wax paper with a modified biscuit flipper and cleaned off the excess glue and slightly sanded the underside, which you can see here. There’s still more to do to this, but not until I’m further along with some other sections. The top will definitely be better looking than the underside. I wonder if Eadfrith had his doubts about it when he was halfway through the manuscript. Things don’t look as nice at this stage as when it’s all cleaned up and engraved and has a finish on it.
By the last week in December I managed to move enough jobs out of the shop so I could have some unfettered time to get back to the Lindisfarne inlays.
This time I started with the top section of the letter “L”, which has many series of interlocking curls. Here’s a shot of the color coded drawing copies which will each be incised from the paper and glued to their corresponding materials.
When all the sections are glued to the material I can begin cutting them out. I use different size blades depending on the needs of the design or material, usually 3/0, but also 4/0 or 6/0.
Cutting the individual pieces had to be exact or everything will shift off the pattern when I glue things together. This means slightly undercutting each piece so there’s no black outline whatsoever. Easier said than done. In an ideal world I’d be able to cut each outline in half lengthwise, and everything would fit together perfectly, but those lines are less than .010″ wide, and even with decent magnification, there are still some areas that are a couple thousandths wider than they should be. Splitting hairs, you may say, but that’s approximately what I’m trying to do, and at this level it does make for some pieces that won’t fit. Here you can see most of the cut pieces for this section.
And here almost all the pieces are glued into place on top of wax paper which is over the drawing. Not only does this method allow correct placement of everything, but it also shows me if I missed cutting anything.
There are a lot of empty spaces here that will be filled with black mastic. I’ll show that process when I get to it.
I got so tired of continually blowing off the dust from around the saw/ material interface that I hooked up this apparatus to do it for me. Plastics like Plexiglas and recon stone seem to have more propensity than shell or metal to clump up on top of the drawing while I’m cutting. I’m not sure if there’s a slight electromagnetic field or if they’re just gummier, but I’m not into hyperventilating just to get the dust away from the cutting lines. This tube hooks up to my little airbrush compressor and blows all the dust away on the downstroke of the saw without getting in the way (too much - there’s always some tradeoff). I take it off when I’m using the router, because the hose then fits into the back of the base to blow dust from there and into the vacuum. The air pressure isn’t strong enough to blow the dust out into the room, which is what I’m trying to avoid with the vacuum system. I’ll probably add a small rubber tip to the end of the copper pipe so it won’t whack me in the fingernail occasionally.
Happy New Year.
Well, I still don’t have the time to get back to cutting anything, but can at least give you an idea of what tools I’m using to accomplish this set of inlays.
I have to have some sort of magnification other than my eyeglasses, and up to this project I’ve been using a jeweler’s Optivisor with a #4 lens, which is 2x normal (there’s a shot of me wearing one in the last attachment). At the opening of the Museum of Making Music’s inlay show in June of this year (’07 for those of you who still aren’t sure) I met Ira Cooper from qedisit.com. His company makes beautiful magnification headgear with lights attached, either LED or halogen. Ira asked me to critique one of his products, and the only things I changed were having two lights instead of one, and having them be able to adjust on x and y axes instead of just up or down. The lenses are easily interchangeable with lower or higher magnification, and they’re easy to see around without having to flip up the headgear, unlike the Optivisor. Here’s one in action with a #5 lens, which is 2.25x I believe. Makes all the difference in the world. Thanks Ira.
I have several jeweler’s saw frames that I use constantly. All of them have the screw clamp on top and bottom that squeeze the blades between two metal plates. I’ve never used the ones that you have to feed the blade into a tiny hole and then clamp it, but it sounds like more work than I want to do. My two four inch frames are presently holding #3/0 and 6/0 blades respectively, because I switch back and forth a lot. The 6″ frame holds #2 blades for gross cutting large shapes quickly. If I have a bunch of pieces of drawing glued to a large plate of ebony or silver I’ll hog out the general outline of the area with that saw first.
Lest you think I’m undercutting my book and DVD sales, this page gives some information not covered in either media, but there’s not enough room here to go into the detail I poured into those other efforts.
Anyway, the saw in the center has the blade length adjusting screw ground off, and I slotted what was left for a screwdriver to tighten it. It kept getting snagged on my shirt while cutting in close quarters, and that extra half inch helps considerably.
The plates of inlay material are being cut on a bench pin I made from 1″ Plexiglas with a 1/8″ aluminum lamination epoxied on top. It’s stiff enough to take a lot of punishment, but I’m not wrecking all my blades when I run into the edges. Notice it has the ability to gather dust from above and below the pin via the vacuum attachment. Most pins have just a V slot heading directly away from the front edge. I also have one perpendicular to the long one, which is where I do 95% of my cutting. It gets chewed up by the saw, and I have to replace it about every 8 months.
Aside from my headlamp array I have a dentist’s articulated spotlight hanging from the ceiling over the bench and a gooseneck lamp with a full spectrum flourescent bulb on the other side. The more light the better…
What you see on the bench in this shot is a neck having its inlay clamped in the cavity while the glue is drying. The bent dowels hit the ceiling on the top end and apply pressure to the shell pieces. This is known as a go deck, among other names, and is used by many luthiers to glue braces to guitar tops and other fun stuff.
My router is a flexshaft model made by Otto Frei, similar to the Foredom, with good low end torque. I had to make my own bases for it, as they’re not made for any of the handpieces. The flat base is the one I use the most, and it has a hole through the base from the rear where I attach a hose from an airbrush compressor to blow away chips as I rout. While routing the cavity I hold the dust collector hose in front to catch the detritus the hose is blowing toward me. I have another base with a very small flat area around the bit which is useful for routing convex and concave curves, like on an archtop guitar.
I still have a slew of old dental bits for the router, but most of the work now is being done with carbide end mills ranging from.125″D down to .005″D.
Usually I rout the perimeter of the glued down drawing with a .020″ bit and graduate to larger ones for the interior.
Cyanoacrylates, or superglues, as they’re commonly known, are the adhesive of choice for inlays. I use the medium thin ones, where the viscosity is around 40 cps, so they’ll wick under inlay plates for a better bond. In the early 20th century inlays were installed with hide glue, which works well until moisture gets into it. Lots of pieces of shell have fallen out of those old harp guitars and other highly decorated instruments of that era. One of my superglued inlays was once in a house fire and was rescued after the firemen left. One side of the wooden plate was charred from the flames, and the whole thing was covered with a thick layer of soot. When we wiped off the grime, two feathers of the inlaid bird were pushed out from the surface a little’ bit, from the glue expansion in the intense heat, but the rest of the inlay was as flat as the day I leveled it. I’m not too worried about the inlays lasting over long periods of time.
The rest of my inlay tools are fairly commonplace: some sanding blocks, tweezers, a couple of X-Acto knives with #11 blades and a few medium grit needle files round out what I use on a daily basis. The only other not-so-common tool is a set of sheet metal Visegrips that have had the 3″ jaws sawn down to 1″. I use those for gripping tiny pieces of shell when they need to be filed.
That’s all for now.
Sometime in 2005, when I was part way through the 00 Nouveau inlays, I decided to approach another master luthier about collaborating on another large project. Kevin Ryan was a logical choice as I had done many inlays for him over the years, and I have great respect for his ability to consistently make superior guitars.
When I think of themes for these forays into the unknown I take into account the type of guitar I’ll be altering, the personality of the luthier building the instrument, and what kind of artwork that will hopefully still have appeal and investment potential hundreds of years from now. I could, if I wished, assemble some inlays reflective of life in our world as it is today, but if it was representative of, say, Madonna, in 2307 it would maintain little or no appeal (unless of course, if she turns out to be the Second Coming or the Antichrist, and then the guitar might fetch some stratospheric price). Anyway, Kevin and I talked about it and he was leaning toward a Celtic knot theme, which I wasn’t all that keen on, after taking it to the limit in the 90’s with the Fender Celtic Telecaster.
While looking for some simpler knots for position markers on another guitar, I came across something called the Lindisfarne Gospels. To quote our friends across the pond, I was totally gobsmacked. About eighty years prior to the Book of Kells, Eadfrith, the Bishop of Lindisfarne managed to design and execute one of the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts I’ve ever seen. As with other literature at the time, it was religious in orientation, comprising the first four books of the New Testament. I knew Kevin would be pleased.
Keeping in mind that he had his Bishoply duties, like eight religious services a day to preside over, keeping the acolytes in hand, visiting the sick, performing weddings and funerals, blacksmithing, gardening, kowtowing to whatever edict the Pope sent out, and enduring Viking raids, Eadfrith managed to write and illuminate 256 pages over (scholars believe - nobody’s sure) twenty years.
Oh, and it took place between 710 and 730 CE apparently - no magnification, and sunlight or oil lamps to work with.
So naturally I thought, well if he could do it, surely I can replicate one of the pages on the back of a guitar. That remains to be seen.
I got started by purchasing a disk with the three images I was interested in from the British Library (they own the LG), and had the Incipit page from the book of Matthew enlarged at a copy shop to about 2 x2.5 feet in size. Then, after mounting it on some foam core board with spray adhesive, I taped a large piece of tracing paper over it and got to work. A couple weeks later, when I had a reasonably clear copy, and a sinking feeling in my stomach, I realized what I was in for.
Even at the poster size there were still a couple sections I would have had a difficult time doing as an inlay. How did Eadfrith pull this off? The more I looked at it, the more resolved I became to put myself in his headspace and just focus on one piece at a time. A second tracing that cleaned up residual flaws in the first one became the master drawing for the back inlay. I had it reduced to 45% of its size and made about 30 copies. The resulting image will fit on the back of a Ryan Nightengale model, and is about 30% larger than the original.
Kevin is searching high and low for some holly to make the back and sides of the guitar from, and is encountering some difficulty, as holly usually doesn’t come in widths able to construct a two piece back, or lengths clear of knots, so we’ll see how this plays out. If he manages to come up with it though, the guitar will be a virginal white, imitating the manuscript vellum to a degree, with black binding and blue paua purfling on the top, sides and back and under the fingerboard and around the peghead. The lower left bout bevel will be inlaid with knot and/or animal scenes from the text, and the bridge will be ivory with no inlays.
For the fingerboard I chose some patterns from what is known as the canon tables, which are a kind of index that cross references similar passages from the four books. The indices are separated by columns of red, with either knot patterns or herons chewing on each other, so I adapted that and used both on the fingerboard.
In an attempt to keep close to the original colors, I utilized a hardwood called “pink ivory” from South Africa for the red shades, 18k gold for the knots, and black abalone hearts for the interior of the herons’ bodies. There’s also plenty of gold, black and white mother of pearl and red and green abalone, and silver for the claws. Obviously the inlay palette is considerably different from the inks Eadfrith was using, but I’m more interested in paying homage to him than maintaining historical accuracy.
The peghead will have an inlay of the miniature painting of Matthew that Eadfrith did 1300 years ago.
Once I got started it became hard to stop, and I managed to complete most of the simple lettering as well as some decorative sections. I decided to cut all knotwork one piece at a time instead of cutting the perimeter of one whole knot, piercing the interior negative spaces, and engraving the over-and-under lines after leveling.
Now I have several large jobs sitting on my bench, so I have to put this off for awhile (since no one’s paying me to do it at this point), but Kevin and I think we may have it finished by late 2008 or early 2009.
More to come…