Weekly Roundup - Double Edition by Tom Sands

Two weeks have gone by, and it’s been busy. A painted guitar has been returned safely to the shop, and the Baritone Model L has been completed!

Will McNicol’s Model S in Redwood and Black Limba, with contemporary herringbone copper detail.

Will McNicol’s Model S in Redwood and Black Limba, with contemporary herringbone copper detail.

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We received two guitars back from the finishers this week, and it was a huge joy to have them back in the shop. The redwood on the Model M absolutely blew us away under finish, as did the Black Limba on the Model S. We were also thrilled with the etched copper on the Model S, which holds a gorgeous glowing aesthetic presence. The Model M’s patinated green copper rosette is looking equally knockout; and, as a picture can speak a thousand words, we promise to share with you some images of that soon. However, some teaser photos of the Model S above are a glimpse into our own first impressions, seeing the wood come alive visually for the first time. Meanwhile…

Removing mineral deposit in the pores of the Ovangkol Model L.

Removing mineral deposit in the pores of the Ovangkol Model L.

The woodwork is now completed on the Baritone Ovangkol / Moon Spruce Model L…

Sanded Baritone Model L with sound hole protection. This stops dust and general residue reaching the inside of the guitar during work.

Sanded Baritone Model L with sound hole protection. This stops dust and general residue reaching the inside of the guitar during work.

It won’t be long before this batch are all finished and delivered to some clients who should expect some absolutely beautiful work. Then, onto the new projects - which we are so excited to share with you.

One of the most thrilling moments of the past two weeks was stringing up the Model S. We did a short video to encapsulate that last couple of day’s work. It’s that last 1% of the build that really contributes to making a good guitar a great one. You can watch the video here.

Have a wonderful weekend!

TS

Build Diary - Spalted Maple / Redwood Model M - Part 2 by Tom Sands

Documenting the build process for the client, our online community and ourselves is a big part of what we do at Tom Sands Guitars. We aim to educate with honesty while doing justice to the art of lutherie as a thing of beauty. We aim to produce beautiful, informative images that are aesthetically valuable.

The Model M we are documenting in this build diary really made it easy to abide by this philosophy. I said it before in the last build diary, but this wood is absolutely knockout! As a result, this part of the diary will tell it’s story primarily through the lens.

I transitioned to laminated solid linings when looking for ways to stiffen the rim assembly. A stiff rim assembly ensures there is as little energy being wasted as possible; all the string energy can stay in the top if it’s supported by strong sides which aren’t moving too.

Naturally, we jumped at the opportunity to photograph the satisfying notches in the laminated sides.

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…And the shavings from chiselling the back braces down to perfection to slot into the aforementioned linings…

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And, of course, the finished Spalted Maple back complete with label.

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When I got to the stage of glueing the top and back on, my client voiced a concern. He said that although he wanted the OM sound that we’d spoken about and was happy with his choice of model, he was concerned it might be slightly too large for his body and playing style. The solution we came to, so as not to sacrifice any of the OM sound was a ‘micro-bevel’ - smaller than your average Laskin-style bevel, in place just to soften the side allowing for a more comfortable playing experience. It’s essentially an exaggerated binding, providing a subtle solution to my client’s concern. After attracting questions about the bevel on social media, I wrote a more in-depth blog post about the micro-bevel on this guitar which you can read here.

Finished soundbox before bevel was installed.

Finished soundbox before bevel was installed.

The bevel required a lot of thought as it was something I’d never done before. however, I’m thrilled with what it looks like now. It really frames the guitar without distracting the eye as sometimes a bevel can. We fondly christened it ‘Beverly’.

The birth of Beverly.

The birth of Beverly.

Checking all is on tight…

Checking all is on tight…

And some of the rest…

On goes the top.

On goes the top.

Binding…

Binding…

Don’t forget about the cutaway.

Don’t forget about the cutaway.

Can’t wait to share the next stage of the build. Let me know what you think!

TS <3

Build Diary - Spalted Maple / Redwood Model M by Tom Sands

This week, we thought we’d start to share a very special project with you. Here is the first instalment of a build diary to document the first ever Model M to come out of the Tom Sands workshop.

Green patinated copper rosette on redwood top, next to spalted maple back.

Green patinated copper rosette on redwood top, next to spalted maple back.

...I didn’t see the point in confusing my clients by designing two models capable of performing in a comparable way.

Of all the guitars in the batch I started in June, this one surprised me the most. The glorious redwood was always going to be extraordinary, but the combination of all elements within this guitar have really worked together beyond my expectations.

Some context into my Models. After I returned to England fresh from my apprenticeship with Ervin, there were several months which I spent designing three guitars that encompassed the best of the six models I had been building in the Somogyi shop; his 00, OM, Mod-D, Small Jumbo, my own OM design and what came to be known as my ‘MMD’ - a Modified, Modified Dreadnought (built using moulds and templates from the discontinued Somogyi Studio guitar). What I came up with were three Models, each uniquely different; the Model S, M, and L - Small, Medium and Large. Simple.

The Model M pays homage to the Somogyi OM, and is a development of the original Sands OM and the MMD. This client wanted an OM sounding guitar, which is how I came to recommend my Model M. I found that my MMD and my original OM designed during my apprenticeship, were largely indistinguishable in terms of what I could achieve with them tonally, given their respective footprints - and so, the subsequent Model M is a hybrid of the two. Of course, the OM and the MMD have a different aesthetic, but I didn’t see the point in confusing my clients by designing two models capable of performing in a comparable way. I found that I am able to control the sound of the instrument more profoundly with adjustments to body depth, bridge placement, string height and bridge mass than the shape of the soundboard. Many might argue that the opposite is true but I can only draw on my experiences and knowledge of what works for me.

Model S

Model S

Model L

Model L

The brief for this guitar was to make something with ‘earth tones’. This sparked my enthusiasm for the kinds of materials ready to be explored; I always want to use materials honestly, and celebrate their properties with attention to surface finish and complimentary tonal juxtaposition. I passed the client some photos of a gorgeous forest green patinated copper which, when oxidised, revealed rich browns and orange tones. I was given the ‘green light’ and twinned the copper with the aforementioned redwood soundboard. This redwood is some of the most beautiful wood I have ever worked with; beautifully silky, soft and light whilst boasting a gorgeous, deep colour. The spalted maple the client chose from some photographs of options I sent over was also stunning. I traded it with Ervin towards the end of my apprenticeship, and had been looking forward to using it for some time. I just needed the right opportunity, and it had come along.

...the combination of all elements within this guitar have really worked together beyond my expectations...
Patinated copper rosette on redwood.

Patinated copper rosette on redwood.

Freshly laminated maple sides.

Freshly laminated maple sides.

The maple side are laminated with sapele and dyed poplar. It was of course the first time bending sides to the Model M shape, and I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out.

Preparing the rim assembly.

Preparing the rim assembly.

Preparing the linings.

Preparing the linings.

Carving the end block.

Carving the end block.

Glueing the back braces on the go-bar deck.

Glueing the back braces on the go-bar deck.

I can’t wait to share more of the progress that this build has made!

TS <3

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

...measure twice, cut once (or in this case, measure at least 5 times)...
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This week it’s been all about a neck and fingerboard for the Model L baritone, and not just any old neck and fingerboard, this one has been a little tricky. First off, its multiscale, that is to say that the scale length changes from string to string, from 28.25” at the 6th and 27” at the 1st. Why is this important? We’ll save that for another blog post!

We end up with a fanned fret arrangement, all of the slots for the frets have to be accurately cut by hand for perfect intonation, its quite time consuming and you can bet I stuck to the old adage, ‘measure twice, cut once’ (or in this case, measure at least 5 times).

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The neck itself comes from some beautiful reclaimed antique Brazilian Mahogany, some of the most glorious mahogany I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with. The colour is an extraordinarily deep nutty red-brown, super tight, straight grain, dense and very stiff, perfect for a stable and resonant neck.

Once the materials for the neck have been dimensioned and the rough shape established, its time for the all important neck set, a crucial step to ensure perfect playability and tone. I hope to have the neck carved and onto final sanding next week.

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Have a wonderful weekend!

Juno’s musings on the validity of Torres’s experiments with paper mache

Juno’s musings on the validity of Torres’s experiments with paper mache

To Bevel, or not to Bevel? by Tom Sands

I wanted to post something about bevels because I have just completed two guitars that feature them, and these two guitars exhibit just how different each bevel can be. There is no one size fits all bevel, as the needs of the player must be taken into account.

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Everything with an acoustic guitar is a fine balance of variables,  there are always trade-offs

I make three guitar Models: the S, or Small, the M, Medium, and the Large, L. A client commissioned a Baritone Model L, and in this form the scale length is extended to 28.25”; making for quite the handful. The soon to be owner of this beast of a guitar also has quite a unique playing position, often resting his chin on the upper bout and really hugging the guitar. The addition of an arm bevel (inspired by Master Luthier, William ‘Grit’ Laskin) and a ‘rib’ comfort bevel on the back of the instrument (inspired by yet another Master, the great Michael Greenfield) helps to make this guitar feel more manageable, especially when playing for long periods such as in concert as this instrument will be (more to follow on the considerations required for this later!)

There are a couple of things to mention about bevels if you’re considering one for your future guitar. Everything with an acoustic guitar is a fine balance of variables,  there are always trade-offs. A larger, dreadnought style guitar, gives you a big, bold, bass focused tone with plenty of power as a function of the increased size of the soundboard and the large air mass inside the soundbox. As I have already mentioned, a larger instrument can be uncomfortable after long periods and so often the addition of a bevel (or two) is required to soften the edges of the lower bout to help with the dreaded, ‘dreadnought shoulder’. Here’s where the trade-off comes in; adding a bevel starts to encroach on the active area of the soundboard, effectively reducing it in size, less size, less power etc (at least in theory). For this reason I offer a range of bevel options, from my personal ‘micro bevel’ which is essentially just an exaggerated soften of the binding, to a much larger, sweeping arm bevel for oodles of comfort. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference, my job as a luthier is to help you choose what’s right for you and the sound you’re looking for (hearing for…?)

TS

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Micro bevel on a Redwood / Spalted Maple Model M.

Micro bevel on a Redwood / Spalted Maple Model M.

Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

This week was focused around carefully finishing up the bevel work on the Baritone Model L. More on bevels to come in an upcoming blog post.

Here are some photos of the end result…

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If you’ve been living under a rock (excuse phrasing) and missed our interview with Steve Keys of Rocklite, you can now access it via a blog post and a podcast.

Rocklite heaven.

Rocklite heaven.

Planing a Rocklite fingerboard for the Model L.

Planing a Rocklite fingerboard for the Model L.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Rocklite® - Everything You Need To Know About The Product Changing The Lutherie Industry by Tom Sands

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This week on our podcast ‘The Interval’ we had the absolute pleasure of speaking with Steve Keys, the man behind Rocklite. He speaks about his history in the wood industry, the product itself, and how Rocklite came to be.

Steve has been in the wood trade since he left school at 15. At that time he started his apprenticeship, and high-quality woods became the norm. When he moved into the East End of London to manage a number of furniture factories, it became apparent how difficult it was to sustain the quality of these materials, and how rare they were to find. This made him want to change something, and he started experimenting when he found that high quality, quarter sawn and defect-free ebony in particular was becoming almost impossible to source.  Steve highlights that what used to happen in the industry was that of all the trees felled only a small proportion were sold because not all were consistently the prized black colour, striated ebony would be left on the forest floor. This wastefulness increases the importance of what Rocklite do. 

If you’re under the impression that Rocklite doesn’t perform like wood, think again. It is actually made of real wood; specifically, a combination of European Eucalptus and North American Tulipwood and not to be confused with a paper based product bearing a similar name. It’s not a fibreboard; it has a structural integrity that allows you to bend it, plane it and work it like wood, with straight grain. It really is a joy to work with and to the untrained eye, almost indistinguishable from African or Indian ebonies.

I probably know wood better than I know my family!
— Steve Keys

Steve has also released a substitute to Indian Rosewood, which he calls ‘Rocklite Sundari’. This has grain variation, and looks strikingly similar to real Indian Rosewood, so much so that the lutherie community had an incredibly hard time identifying it as a non-rosewood timber when pictures of Sundari were first circulated on Facebook. When asked, Steve says he has no immediate plans to release any other tonewood substitutes further to the Ebony (Rocklite Ebano) and Indian Rosewood (Rocklite Sundari) , as the quality of the existing products means that demand is already starting to outstrip capacity. 

Our workshop is always well stocked with a stash of Rocklite, it is our standard material for bindings, fingerboards and head plates, we’ve even experimented with using it for bridges to great effect. It is a responsible and effective solution to the problem of finding high quality ebony and some of the associated ethical concerns (it is unrumoured that all diospyros species are to be placed on CITES appendix 2).

It was a pleasure chatting with Steve and having our questions and those posed to us through our Instagram page answered!

Model L with Rocklite Fingerboard

Model L with Rocklite Fingerboard

Model S with Rocklite Binding

Model S with Rocklite Binding

Model L with Rocklite Bridge

Model L with Rocklite Bridge

Listen to the full podcast to hear Steve about Rocklite first hand. Don’t forget to hit the 5 star button if you enjoy it, and leave us a comment if there’s someone you’d like to see us interview!







Weekly Roundup by Tom Sands

January is going quick. It’s snowing outside, but the shop is alive and hot with productivity, you’ll be pleased to hear!

This week, the Baritone Model L got all the attention. The back was glued on, the binding channels were routed, and the binding itself completed. The end graft also received an etched copper inlay. It was also time to install the arm bevel.

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Lots of progress, and lots to look forward to next week. We hope you all had a lovely one.