Thursday, March 2, 2017

Shaw Piano (IW# 91)

This one is made from Shaw Piano number 13837, which was made in 1900 right before the factory moved from Erie, Pennsylvania to Baltimore, Maryland.  This piano was in Wilkes-Barre, and the story that I heard about it is that Wilkes-Barre used to flood relatively regularly.  So teams of young men would go door to door during the flood to carry the pianos up to the second story until the flood waters receded.  Having moved this piano only a few feet I can tell you that I sure would not want any part of moving it upstairs!  It's a beast.

This piano had the widest conglomeration of woods that I have yet encountered.  Mostly poplar, it also had walnut and red oak elements, which so far has been unusual, in my experience.  The poplar was a dream to work with, and it was clearly from an old, slow-growing tree.  It was super dense, and heavy.  If it did not have the requisite green color I would have questioned the species it was so heavy.

The person who will own this guitar is a guitar player and plays six string, so this is my first foray into making a six string instrument.  Interesting.  The neck is a little beefier than I would like, one thing I learned here is that a small amount of extra material makes a HUGE difference in how the instrument plays.

It's a parlor size guitar, taken from drawings of a 1900 parlor guitar.  I really like the tight waist and big lower bout, and it has a pretty good sound.  The hole in the front is a leftover from the piano, it reminds the player of the history of the material, and invites stories about the piano, the family it belonged to, and now the instrument itself.

The piano in situ.  It's BIG!

Lovely carving.

Interestingly, the pins do not go through the harp, but pass over it.
Here's how it sounds:

Monday, February 6, 2017

Wrest-Plank Tenor (IW#90)

Continuing in the deconstructing of pianos, this one was more an exploration than an attempt to really make an everyday player.  Four string, because that is what I have gotten used to.  I used drawings for a 1900 parlor guitar, so the body is wider and deeper than I am used to.

The strings in a piano go to tuning pins, of course, and those pins are held in a set of laminated maple boards with a bunch of holes drilled in them.  This is called the "wrest-plank," and it is usually behind the harp of the piano.  I had a wrest-plank from a piano that I did not know what to do with, and I remembered that a friend of mine that was in a workshop I did at Arrowmont School of Art and Craft this summer has used the wrest-plank of a different piano as the sides of an experimental instrument.  This got me to wondering what a guitar would sound like if I used the wrest-plank for the sides.

So this is all out of a piano made by the Shaw Company in Erie, Penna in 1905, according to the serial number.  Except for the top, which is made out of the sound board of the piano, the entirety of the rest of the instrument is made out of the wrest-plank.  That includes the fingerboard, the binding, the back and sides, the neck. 

I think the multiplicity of holes is really lovely, and the sound is really loud for the player, since ALL of the sound is shooting right up into your face.  I also really love the "blonde-on-blonde" look of this one.  It will mellow out of course to a honey yellow, but right now it is super light. 

It has a super bright sound, which might be more about the youth of the instrument than the construction, but for now it is really crisp and clear and pretty fun to play, actually.

I used a short-ish guitar scale length, which really underscored to me how used I am to a true tenor-length neck, as all of the frets feel so far apart to me.  So not a player just yet, but I might make another one out of my next wrest-plank and it might end up being a player yet...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Seafaring Ukes (IW #'s 87, 88, 89)

I have really fallen behind on posting about instruments I have made.  This trio was a real joy for a lot of reasons, not least the lumber involved.  A couple of good friends worked for a boatyard in Maine for a while, and while they were there they worked on a vessel called the "Spirit of Bermuda."  This 112 foot Bermuda Sloop was built of Bermudan Cedar (actually a juniper relative, I believe), so when they did the renovation they had to source Bermudan Cedar, and they had some off-cuts left over.  This wood is mostly extinct, I think, due to an insect blight introduced during or shortly after WWII, so it is a very rare wood.

The back of the baritone.  The grain is breathtaking
Off-cuts from a boatyard are pretty sizable to a guy making instruments, however, so my friends saved me a bunch of it and loaded me up with it a couple of years ago as I was passing through on my way back from Haystack Mountain School of Crafts.  What a gift.

Ukes have been a part of my life since early childhood when my mom played songs for us on an old Silvertone she had had with her in Guatemala when she was in the Peace Corps.  More recently, I formed a uke-based group here in Syracuse with a couple of good friends that has been going strong for several years now.  Because of that, I thought I would make a pair of sister ukes and a baritone.  I like bari ukes better than sopranos because my fat fingers struggle on the soprano fingerboards.

While working the wood, the shop smelled like a hamster cage.  It was QUITE lovely and that stuff is hard hard hard.  It did NOT like bending, and I shattered the first pair of sides.  I was able to prevail, though, and it is stunning lumber.  The tops are from a mast that my friends took off the 1913 schooner Adventress.  It was not the original mast, I think this one dates to the 1980's.  But it is the straightest grain Sitka spruce I have ever seen, and it sounds fantastic.  On the Baritone uke I purposely used the part of the mast that the sail track ran up, and the hardware holes really accent the top of the instrument.

On one of the soprano ukes I did not put a sound hole at all, I just let the hardware holes be the sound hole, and it sounds pretty great, actually.   On all three instruments I ran a strip of hard maple up the center of the neck for stiffness, and the fingerboards are pear wood. 

They really are quite an attractive family of instruments, I think, and their sound is super warm.  Here is what the baritone sounds like: