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Monthly Update 
 April 2012
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Luthier's Tip
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Luthierie Camp
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2012 Luthierie Camps...

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

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

Dear Luthiers, 



During the winter, I received several comments from builders about how the cold weather was keeping them from their shops and luthierie projects. I've had a chance to talk to many of you about ensuing projects, your planned purchases for tools and parts that are needed, and your goals for the upcoming months. And, we've had some great discussions on bracing designs, tap tuning process, and structural designs, I want to thank you for your thought-provoking ideas and input. Here in California things are warming up, and I hope the spring is bringing good weather your way and fueling your desire to get back to your workbench.


We're moving with a full head of steam and are readying for our April Luthierie Camp in a week. Our July Luthierie Camp is now fully booked, and we are now accepting applications for our October Camp. So, if you are interested in taking part in this wonderful experience, it might be a good idea to email Kali to get on the wait list.


I'm going to keep my introductory message short so I can leave room to share some personal stories of my relationship with a bluegrass legend who has left us.



Thanks for building with us...



A Legend Passes

Earl Scruggs 

March 28, 2012 marks a very sad date in the world of music, and maybe even in the world. It was the day we lost a music pioneer and innovator, a true gentleman, and good friend. It was the day that Earl Eugene Scruggs passed away.


As it relates to music, I don't think we'd be where we are today, enjoying the popularity of bluegrass, if it wasn't for Earl. And, I don't think the excitement of building instruments - a hobby and interest particular to bluegrass participants more so than any other form of music - would exist at its current level of intensity if it wasn't for Earl. At least, it wouldn't for me. To this I attribute two key points: 1) I'm not sure that Monroe's music would have reached the masses if it wasn't for the contribution of Earl's banjo playing; and, 2) the mechanical nature of the banjo and its ease of assembly and disassembly led to allowing almost anyone to become a luthier.


My relationship with Earl began when I first heard the album Flatt and Scruggs: Songs of the Famous Carter Family (1961). The record became my banjo teacher, and I wore deep grooves in its surface by repeatedly picking up the arm so I could move it back to replay a lick, only to watch the arm slide off my picks and hear the needle attack the record with an ugly screetching sound.


In mid-1974, Earl was playing at the Community Theater in Morristown, New Jersey, and I spent a few hours interviewing him for a Pickin' Magazine article. That followed with another article a few years later after interviewing him at his home in Madison, Tennessee. When I started Frets Magazine in 1979, I wrote another article (cover story, July 1980 issue), and I also invited Earl to be on the Frets Advisory Board. A second Frets cover story followed in July 1981, featuring Earl and Rodney Dillard. During that interview, I asked Earl if he would write a monthly Q&A column for Frets. He was uncertain if he'd have the knack or the time to devote to answering questions, but I assured both he and his wife Louise that we'd find a way to make it very easy. His column began in the August 1981 issue of Frets and became the most popular monthly column in Frets history.


With his agreement to be a columnist, I became a somewhat regular traveller to his home in Madison, about 20 miles north of Nashville, sitting with him to review our readers' questions and taking photos of various hand and finger positions he wanted to highlight. Working on his Q&A column provided the incredible opportunity to develop our relationship, which led to many more projects. During the following years, Louise invited me to write the liner notes for Earl's album American Made World Played, which I accepted with great honor. And, I was equally honored when Earl agreed to write a section on how to amplify the banjo for my book, How to Set Up The Best Sounding Banjo.


Somewhere along the way, Earl was readying to record Chariots of Fire and was frustrated that the winding on the low D string (which he had a de-tuner on just for that instrumental) prevented it from sliding easily over the nut and coming back to pitch. Almost as an extension of his de-tuner idea, he asked if I could make him a special brass nut with a tiny roller on the 4th string, and it solved the problem.

Scruggs Roller                

The Earl Scruggs model Gibson banjo was an exciting adventure, and Earl had a lot of input into the structure, set-up, woods, and colors. My consulting duties with Gibson at the time had me working on new product development, and after the successful release of the Gibson F5L mandolin (which I think many of you know I spearheaded), I sparked the idea for a reissue of Gibson's early banjos beginning with an Earl Scruggs model. Bruce Bolen, Gibson's VP of artist relations, assigned me to be Earl's liaison. The interaction with Earl and the chance to work with him on a project of that magnitude, listen to his objectives about the ideal banjo, and garner his input and guidance was a very rewarding experience. (In this photo, Earl and I take a minute to pose with the first prototype of the Earl Scruggs Model banjo, taken by Bruce Bolen at the Gibson Nashville plant in 1986.)

 Earl & Roger              

Over the years our relationship blossomed, and I looked forward to every visit. I was enriched and in awe of how sharp both Earl and Louise were, how well they understood the music business, how totally humble they were, how much they respected and supported other musicians, how warm they were to be with, and just how humbly and graciously Earl wore the robes of a king.


While his playing may have slowed down a bit with age, his mind and musical acuity didn't falter at all. I had the great pleasure of being at his home in January to celebrate his 88th birthday. (Earl didn't usually like to think about his birthdays.) After the cake cutting, everyone gathered in his living room for a wonderful jam. Going around the circle, to my left, were John McEuen, Gary Scruggs, Rob Ickes, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush, Ronnie McCoury, Rob McCoury, and a guitarist and a few fiddle players I didn't know. Earl was to my immediate right. I didn't bring a banjo with me on the plane because I was confident there would be a banjo at Earl's for me to play. After we played our first instrumental - and there was a LOT of volume in that room - Earl leaned over to me and pointedly said, "Second string." Barely being able to hear him in the commotion, I leaned to him and said, "What?" He looked at me again and in a now more decisive tone said, "Second string!" Sheepishly, I retuned my second string, and for the rest of the evening I ensured that my banjo was in tune. His fingers may have slowed down a trifle, but his ears were more precise than any tuner in that room.


Earl's passing is a great loss. He was a musical genius. He created a style and technique that is haunting, innovative, intricate, and dauntless. The staccato voice of his banjo was so intriguing and the tone so special that everyone - musician and non-musician alike - cocked an ear to listen to the joyous sound of his 5-string banjo. The quality of his sound was beyond just that of his banjo; his unique attack and timing made almost any banjo he played sound like his. Of one thing I am certain, bluegrass music would not be what it is today without him, and the flame he ignited will continue to burn forever.


His pioneering adventures with the banjo made Earl the gold standard for countless musicians worldwide and a familiar name to many who don't even know all he did. And there isn't a single banjo player out there who hasn't said, "I want a banjo that sounds like Earl's."


The news of Earl's passing hit me very hard. I was at a dinner meeting when I got the news and had to fight with everything I could muster to hold back my feelings until dinner was over. On the way home, I stopped to gas up my truck and went inside the station to grab a chocolate bar to help settle my nerves. I reached into my pocket to pull out some change, and that's when it really hit me - in the pile of coins were my finger picks, the way I have always carried them for 50 years, not for Earl, but because of Earl. 


The pain of his loss continues as I write this, as I am sure it will for years. For the many who had the opportunity to jam with him, talk to him, have their picture taken with him, and more, those memories will undoubtely be among the most precious and valuable treasures.

Product Highlights

Sanding Block Sanding Blocks for Radiused Fretboard - To help you prepare your own radiused fretboards, we are excited to announce our new two-in-one concave sanding blocks for preparing radiused fretboards to either a 10˝ (254mm) or a 12˝ (305mm) radius. These radiused sanding blocks are made of hardwood and are precision machined to their correct curvatures; 10˝ radius on one side and 12˝ radius on the other. Includes four pieces of adhesive-backed 3M Gold sandpaper (two pieces of 80-grit and two pieces of 120-grit). The block and sandpaper set is part #1200 and is $23.95 plus P&H.  


Diamond Sanding Sheets Diamond Sanding/Cutting Sheets To extend the shaping and cutting surface when preparing radiused fretboards with our #1200 Radiused Sanding Block, we offer these unique diamond sanding and cutting sheets. The sheets have a metal backing and are surfaced with real diamond particles for a cutting surface that is sharp, non-clogging, and durable. Available in 100-grit and 400-grit. When attached to our #1200 Radiused Sanding Block, shaping flat ebony fretboards to your desired radius with our 100-grit diamond sheets becomes an easy task. In addition to doing final clean up, the fine surface of the 400-grit cutting sheet mounted to our #1200 sanding block becomes an ideal concave fret-leveling file. The 100-grit diamond sheet is part #1210 and is $25.50 plus P&H. The 400-grit sheet is part #1211 and is $25.95 plus P&H.


Fret Setting Tool Fret Setting Tool Here's a simple tool to help set frets in both flat and radiused fretboards. The tool is machined from aluminum that is softer than the fretwire so that the tool takes the dents - not the fretwire. The two flat sides of the tool are used for setting frets in flat fretboards, and the 12˝ radiused side of the tool is matched to our 12˝ radiused fretboards. The 12˝ radius is CNC machined, so its curvature and shape are highly accurate. Our Fret Setting Tool is part #830 and is $12.95 plus P&H. 

Luthier's Tip: Getting things tight


There are several conventional ways of holding parts together during gluing - from masking tape, to binding tape, to simple clamps, to complicated fixtures. I also keep a supply of rubber bands and a few 6' lengths of 1/8˝ diameter shock cord handy at my workbench for those times I need more holding power - especially in complex corners or at unusual angles.


Lengths of shock cord (cloth covered elastic rope) are handy for getting stubborn binding to pull in place around the instrument's body. (I usually use the cloth binding tape previously mentioned, but if I discover a loose spot or a place where the binding need an extra nudge, I'll go over it with a wrap or two of the shock cord.)


As shown in the accompanying photo, rubber bands are especially helpful for securing the binding in tight places during the gluing process. Their use becomes especially handy in the curvy corners of an F5 fretboard where the binding needs to be pulled into the lower corner and where the intersection of the two binding pieces needs to be joined.

Binding Fretboard 

Rubber bands come in several sizes, and I keep them hanging on a pegboard hook ready to be grabbed at a second's notice. Be careful to exercise care that you don't pull the fretboard to the side (with the possibility that it might break) when you stretch and pull the rubber bands onto the fretboard. Securing the fretboard in a vise with protected jaws is helpful.

Product of the Month: A-style Neck Special 


Neck SpecialHere's an incredible one-time offer: We have a small overrun from a special order of A-style, highly-figured curly maple mandolin necks that have truss rods installed, square pegheads, and dovetail joints cut and mated to Honduras mahogany block sets. This combination of parts and services sells for $197.00. However, while the supply lasts, if you purchase one of these necks and its matching block set we will include a set of our #304-N nickel-plated mandolin machines absolutely free. That's a $65.50 gift! Since these necks are from a special order, they are not listed in our on-line store, so you'll have to call in your order (805.365.7111) to take advantage of this special $65.50 free #304-N nickel machines offer. The supply is limited, so call soon.


Free #304-N Nickel Machines

April's Product of the Month: One free set of #304-N nickel machines with purchase of special A-style neck and block set with dovetail. Not valid with any other offers or promotions. Please call Roger (805.365.7111) to order special necks. Not available online. 
Offer Valid: April 16, 2012 through May 16, 2012