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Monthly Update 
 November 2011
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Product Highlights
Luthier's Tip
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Luthierie Camp
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2011/12 Luthierie Camps...

        April 22-27, 2012
        July 15-20, 2012            Oct. 14-19, 2012         
Tap Tuning:
         Nov. 12-13, 2011
         Nov. 3-4, 2012

Tools & Fixtures
         Mar. 24-25, 2012

Please visit our website or email Kali for more information about these programs.  

Dear Luthiers, 


We were in Nashville for IBMA in early October where I gave a presentation entitled "The Lore of Loar" - a slide presentation on the life and work of Lloyd Loar. It is the story of Loar from his youth, through his work at Gibson, his adventures into ViviTone electric instruments with Lewis Williams, and his professorship at Northwestern University in Chicago, Illinois. I've given this presentation many times at various events around the country, and I hope you get a chance to see and hear it if I'm in your neighborhood. On Thursday evening of IBMA, we went to the Awards event at the Ryman Auditorium. The Ryman - where bluegrass music took form - is a very special place to hear bluegrass music and see some of the founding artists perform there.


We have just completed another Luthierie Camp, and it was a wonderful week filled with good work on the part of the Campers. As I think you know, builders come to our shop for a week where we go through a very carefully organized program that begins with a discussion on musical acoustics and woods, goes through all the stages of mandolin construction, and terminates with the Campers holding a completely assembled tap-tuned, white-wood mandolin by Friday afternoon. While there still is some work for them to do at home - the details of which we explain and demonstrate before they leave - the hard stuff is done, and it is very exciting for Ken, Kali, Rosemary and me to watch them as they hold their assembled instruments with pride. (We found some time to sneak in some good jams, too!) I hope you get the chance to experience Luthierie Camp with us some time.

Oct. 2011 Camp 

Historically, the day after Thanksgiving has been THE sales day for brick and mortar retailers, while on-line retailers feature a "Cyber Monday" event to promote special offers on that day. So, keeping in step with other retailers, Kali, our marketing director, will be offering some very special one-day-only deals in our on-line store on Monday, November 28th. (If for some reason you have trouble or can't access the on-line store or if you are out of the USA, you may call in your order. We'll gladly help you on the phone.)


Lastly, I hope this Thanksgiving is a good one for you and your family.


From all of us here to all of you, Happy Thanksgiving!


Thanks for building with us...




What's "old growth"?


The discussion of wood age comes up often, and for me, anything relating to wood is always worthy of discussion. There are many terms used to describe woods, and words like "old growth," "seasoned," and "air dried" often lead to some confusion.


Most of the commercial wood we purchase today has been recently felled, sawn, and cured. Although we can make some educated guesses about the background of woods we purchase, when we examine our wood in slab form, it is somewhat difficult to tell exactly where the tree is from, how old it was when felled, and what the environmental conditions were where the tree was growing. Regardless, it is basically new wood in the sense that is has been recently processed.


Some folks refer to "old growth" as lumber that has been harvested years ago and has been in some use or storage for a long time. In fact, if you Google "old growth lumber" you see a wide range of responses, each having its own description of "old growth" wood. Many of these refer to wood that has simply been part of various structures and out in the environment for several years. However, "old growth" doesn't relate to the age of the wood's preparation or that it has been part of a barn for decades; old growth lumber can be newly processed wood. Old growth refers to a tree that has grown to an old age and most likely has a very large girth (the circumference of the trunk). The main advantage of old growth lumber is that wood taken from the outer portions of a tree with a very large girth typically has straighter grain because the annual rings are a larger diameter and their curvature has a shallower arc. Specifically, wood taken from the outer portions of old growth spruce are ideal for soundboards because the grain lies in a more shallow arc.

Old Growth Cross Section 

Luthiers will often call or email and say that they have found some "old growth" wood from a barn or old building and wonder whether it is suitable for luthierie. This wood is actually "old wood" and may not necessarily be old growth. That is, it is very possible that the structure may have been made long ago from young trees. As to the wood being suitable for luthierie, as long as it has not succumbed to insect infestation, is free of checks and cracks, has no signs of mold or rot, and has not experienced deeply-penetrating stains, it should be fine for luthierie. Infestation, stains, rot, and cracks should be rather visible, but hairline checks are difficult to see (checks typically run along the grain of the wood between the annual rings). If you tap on a board that has a hairline check it will produce a "thud" rather than a "ping." Wood that comes from old buildings, has air cured for decades, and has done all the twisting and bending it is going to do can be excellent as a soundboard or backboard.


Regarding wood from old buildings, folks have sent me what they thought to be redwood and said that it was from stairs or bleachers. Some of this wood has turned out to be Douglas Fir, which is what is commonly used for stair treads. Douglas Fir and redwood are similar in appearance except that Douglas Fir is heavier (unless it has been baked in direct sun for a long time), and Douglas Fir has darker springwood (the dark lines that make up the annual rings - the lighter lines being summerwood). Douglas fir is a tan-yellow, and redwood is a light orange-red. Also, if you saw, plane, or scratch Douglas Fir, it produces a lemon-like odor.


Luthiers must rely on wood suppliers, but there are many uncertainties in purchasing woods, and I have experienced situations in which suppliers provide the incorrect material. The closer we get to the sawyer, the greater the opportunity to really "know" the log. When I was living in New Jersey, I worked closely with two sawyers who would call me when they had some good curly maple, and I had the opportunity to see the log before it was cut, participate to a small degree on how the log would be cut, learn where the tree was from, and so on. Not that it would always make a difference - sometimes we ended up with less than desirable material - but I felt better about being closer to both the source and to Mother Nature.


Wood is fascinating, and if you are interested in learning more, there are many wonderful books that go into the subject in great detail. 


Product Highlights

Fret Pullerˇ The Amazing Fret Puller - We are excited to add this new fret puller to our list of tools. This tool is made of hardened steel and features a spring-loaded jaw and rubber handles. The razor-sharp teeth of our fret puller enable the tool to grip under the fret's crown; squeezing the jaws further lifts the fret while at the same time the face of the jaws push down on the surface of the fretboard to prevent the wood from lifting and splitting. It's easy and fast. Our fret pullers are beautifully machined in Japan to the finest standards. This fret puller is part #875 and is $36.75 plus P&H. A great tool to add to your workbench.

Fret Slot Cleaning Toolˇ Fret Slot Cleaning Tool -
 It is always a good idea to clean out fret slots before installing the fretwire. And, for re-fretting - especially for fretboards that have been previously re-fretted and scraped - it is often necessary to cut the fret slots deeper. Our fret slot cleaning tool features a .023˝ wide blade with teeth on the end that can reach into the fret slots to cut them deeper. A great partner for our new Fret Puller (above). This tool is essential for anyone doing fretting, and it is part #872 and is $21.95 plus P&H.


Inlay Router Bitˇ Precision Inlay Router Bit - Here is a new carbide bit with a 1/16" diameter head and 1/8" shank to fit in your DremelŽ or similar hand tool. This bit is sized to help you work in the tight areas as well as remove wood in the center portions of the inlay cavity. The cutter head has teeth on the end and on the side so that it can cut in both a plunge and a sideway direction. Sharp and durable, this cutter is part #853 and is only $8.95 plus P&H.

Luthier's Tip: Reproducing Inlays


Repair is as much a part of our art form as is construction. One typical repair that pops up is replacing inlays that have fallen out of their cavities. Often inlay pieces fall out because the adhesive and filler used to hold the inlay has lost its bond to the pearl or abalone piece. On the construction side, there are those times that an inlay gets broken, or we discover when the work is done that a piece of pearl or abalone doesn't properly match its neighboring pieces. In either case, the need to precisely replicate an inlay piece does present itself in the world of luthierie.


Years ago, in the days of analog technology, I used to use cellophane tape over the inlay cavity and a fine ink pen to carefully trace the cavity onto the tape. Then, I'd stick the tape to a piece of pearl or abalone, cut through the piece and end up with an inlay that fit fairly well. One of the problems with that process was the accuracy of drawing the lines, and that was further complicated by not being able to see through the tape as well as having an ink pen whose lines were darker (but too thick). While this process worked, it did so with only reasonably good results.


The age of digital technology brings us many advantages. With digital tools, we can accurately capture and draw shapes, and reproduce them with great ease. Here, in the photo below, is an inlay missing from the last fret of an early Gibson tenor banjo. I laid the banjo neck on a scanner and scanned the fretboard. (A ruler was included so that I could check the sizing accuracy of the scanned image.) Then the image of the neck was "PLACE'd" into an Adobe Illustrator file and a fine-line outline was made of the inlay shape. The line image was printed on a piece of regular paper and then the paper was glued to a piece of mother-of-pearl. An accurate cutting of this pearl piece was facilitated by the very fine lines of the drawing. When finished, the pearl piece was the exact shape of the cavity, and installing it needed no filler except for a few small areas where the original filler had fallen out.

Reproducing Inlay 

If you don't have a scanner, you can capture images with a digital camera, but you must be certain that the camera's axis is perfectly straight on to the object being photographed. Also, some smaller cameras - like those in cell phones - will "barrel" (distort) images in the extremities of the image, so only use the centermost portion of the image.

Product of the Month: Free Peghead Template 


Peghead TemplatesFor the month of November, 2011, Kali is offering a special three-for-the-price-of-two peghead template offer. Here's the deal: we have a big selection of peghead templates to choose from including the H5 mandola, the F5, A5, and F4 mandolin, and several GibsonŽ and VegaŽ banjo peghead templates. Our peghead and body templates are accurately cut by laser and are made from 3/32" transparent green acrylic plastic. Each template was created from original instruments of their corresponding shape (here are a few of our peghead templates laying over their original counterparts). Until November 30, 2011
,when your order any three peghead templates, you can use promotional code 3peghead2 to save $12.95 on your order (basically purchasing three for the price of two)! A not-to-miss opportunity.

$12.95 off!  
Free Peghead Template

November's Product of the Month: When you order any three peghead templates, enter the promo code at checkout and receive $12.95 off your order (basically purchasing three peghead templates for the price of two)! Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Use the coupon code 3peghead2 when ordering online. Limit one per person.
Offer Valid: November 8, 2011 through November 30, 2011