Years ago, after building several steel string dreadnoughts I seriously considered building a Classical or Flamingo model then seriously dismissed the idea. Building either would be a completely different process requiring more tools, jigs and equipment. Something I have no room for in the shop or in my brain.
The idea never really left though and a couple of years ago I added ‘nylon parlor’ to my build list and began studying up on the subject. I focused on several top builders and tried to discern what features supposedly make their instruments superior and why. I also covered other brands like Martin’s take on nylon and of course Willie’s “Trigger”.
At some point I convinced myself to do it. What I ended up with is a hybrid of my steel string and this nylon with fan bracing and transverse bar based on Ramirez classical design from 1966. This to me seemed to be the most popular design for tops and top bracing which,along with keeping the overall weight down is gonna solve my riddle.
Riddle being, how to get the right classical sound with western guitar building techniques. I picked Walnut for the back and sides, Engleman spruce top, a little warm and a little bright respectively. The neck is mahogany with rosewood fretboard and bridge. It has maple binding with rosewood and maple purfling. The classical elements you see are the headstock, tuners, bridge and marquetry rosette. The headstock has issues, it’s short and my routing of the slots and tuner install sucked first time around. Inside the box, is the top bracing which is the most critical element. But the tuners work fine it’s really the aesthetics, things aren’t quite symmetrical.
With the 1966 Ramirez blueprint in hand I began. First I have to scale down as the plan calls for a lower bout of 14.5 inches and my Parlor model is 13.75 inches. I start with side bending and joining the back. I use an old Fox style bending machine with light bulb heat and a temperature switch with a low and high limit. The back pieces are joined with a backstrip and then sanded to thickness, usually .090” to .100”. When the sides are done they go into the mold and the ends get fitted so that the sides are tight in the mold and the ends meet down the center line of the tail and heel blocks. Once the blocks are glued in place you have a rim which stays in the mold until the top and back are assembled.
The kerfed lining is next after the blocks are in and then the inevitable enjoyment of dish sanding. The radius dish determined the radius of the back of the guitar and the back of the rim is sanded in this dish while remaining in the mold. The top side of the rim is sanded on a flat board for a flat top and a dish for a slight radius on some models. While I do enjoy, (sarcasm), dish sanding I’ll spend some time joining the top, installing the rosette and cutting the aperture which must be done before bracing. The top and back bracing has to be done yet and then fitting the top and back to the rim prior to assembly.
The top and back are bookmatched and joined. The back will have a decorative backstrip running from heel to tail. The bracing on the back for this model is standard four across and one down the middle. The top bracing will mimic the Ramirez design.
Fitting the top and back so that the brace ends are incorporated into the joint has always been one of the most tedious parts of the process. Second only to the neck joint. I always start with the back since it is a little easier and then I’m warmed up for the top. I lay the back over the rim and get the heel and tail centered, then some pencil marks at one upper bout brace. The point is to get the brace fitted into the rim by making a pocket for it to lie in. When the first one is done move across to the other side of the bout, always checking that the back is falling into center line at each end. Hopefully when it’s done the back/top will fall into all notches and line up at the ends.
Installing a classical bridge will be another first and achieving the correct neck angle will be just interesting, remember western method-classical bridge. The distance from the top of the guitar to the top of the bridge is considerably less than say, a typical Martin style bridge. This will require a smaller neck angle approaching zero degrees. Classical guitars actually have a greater that 90 degree angle or a negatve angle compared to steel string guitars.
Once the neck is glued I will string it up and give it a try, make adjustments to the saddle height, file the nut slots and dust off any frets that may be poking up. I had to take quite a bit off the saddle because the neck angle was very low but that is what I wanted and it worked out well.
Wasn’t sure how I was gonna clamp the bridge because my usual method on steel strings was not gonna work. Once I had the bridge located and had made a clamping caul to clear the fan bracing I began looking for a clamp to do a dry run through. There it was! I had this clamp that came with a bundle of Luthier items from an estate sale. I tried to use this clamp numerous times for many things and had not yet found it’s purpose. This was it. Perfect, it was exactly the right clamp.
In the end I have a really sweet sounding instrument that plays easily, feels great and has a bumble bee fuzzy bass end. I gave it a matte finish and the Engleman top shows moderate figure in the grain. One last note, the logo has been changed to RW, trying to keep it real.
Top: Engleman Spruce
Trim: Maple, Rosewood
Weight: 3 lb. 0 oz.