Like A Fender

Like A Fender

Recently in need of an instrument project, I settled on building an electric Fender style with a flat top. Part of this decision rested on the fact that I had for some time been storing some body material for just this type guitar. The wood is Western Juniper which may or may not work out but the nice thing with this type guitar is that the neck is removable, the hardware could be pulled and the body trashed if it’s that bad. Other reasons for this build were: learning a new type build, it will give me some freedom to try some new ideas.

Using hardware I had on hand I began by laying out the Bridge and Stop locations for a TOM, (Tun-o-matic), set up based on the neck to body location along the scale length, in this case 16th fret. Which is normal but I had to make sure things would fit because my body blanks are short.

Once everything is laid out it’s time to begin on the necks. The necks will be Cherry, (another part of the experiment). These are very similar to necks I make for my Archtops so I’m gonna follow that pattern, leaving off the heel piece, binding and tenon.

With the necks done except for headplate and logo I moved back to body construction. After making a template, I rout the neck pocket, next the pickup cavity is routed with my existing humbucker template. Cavity routing always makes me a little anxious which is fine ‘cause it makes me take my time and be sure every thing is correct and secure. I get the neck pockets and pickup cavities done and prepare to set the necks.

At this point I have discarded one of the two bodies and will continue with just one guitar for now. I really didn’t like the shape of it and will use the extra neck another day. I also finished drilling/ routing for the bridge, tail stop and control cavities. I made a template for control cavity with cutouts for both cavity and it’s cover fitted for two cts pots.

As I was about to declare the body ready for spraying, I realized that I had not made access for the ¼” jack, oops! Now, the body is ready to spray and l have only to trim the headplate veneer, final sand and tape the fingerboard so the neck will be ready to spray as well.

The jack location is taken care of, the neck is finished, all is sanded and being sprayed initial sanding coats. I am also making the truss rod access cover which I will spray along with the control cavity cover.

With the first few coats sanded and any surprise finish issues taken care of, I’ll spray a few final coats of Lacquer, then let it cure before buffing.

After buffing the body and neck it’s time for hardware and electronics on the body, fretwork and tuner installation. Once the neck was installed I started stringing and adjusting. I’ll work the action down a little at the nut and the bridge and that will be it. I played a while plugged in and it sounds very good.

After final adjustments and a few days of me playing, I took this to my good friend and expert strings player Neal C. He gave it a smile and a thumbs up.

My First Mandolin From Scratch

Mandolin Two First From Scratch

Upon completion of the A-Style Mandolin kit I embarked on a scratch build of my own making, or unmaking. Using some Walnut on hand, I planed and sawed until I had two backplates and two sets of sides. I had an F- style mold but didn’t want to use it specifically, so I traced it and made changes as I wished. Next I cut my block set which became design as you go. Once in the ball park it was time to start bending my side pieces and that’s where the story gets ugly.

I made the main bout piece first, the large curve easy of course, however the curl into the upper point I created raised more than a few bad words and growls. After about 8 hours of swearing and breaking wood, breaking wood and swearing, I finally have something to manage but, “it ain’t pretty” .

During the bending process I was fitting the sides to my mold and blocks, during the next two hours I managed to get all blocks and rim parts glued into the mold.  In light of the horrendous bending and difficult time I had with the Walnut, I have decided to just make one unit at this point.

After finally getting a rim together, it’s time for the kerfed lining. I make my own most of the time and had some blanks for small instruments. Using my home-made kerfing jig I have two 36” pieces. At the end of the day, I have the rim finished except for more sanding. At this point I’m a little stumped as to what’s next so I’m gonna build the neck which I need prior to finishing the top or back. There are also plenty of other things to do before the top and back, so I need to be sure not to get my ass out front.

Since this is a first for me and something of an experiment, I decided to use the Walnut,(same board), for the neck. I know grain orientation for guitar necks but decided to read up on some Mandolin information. I was surprised at two things, some prefer the grain run parallel and some just don’t care. Also, some agree on grain perpendicular to fingerboard plane, which always been my preference. I also build stacked heels for my guitars. With all this in mind I glued two 2×2 pieces with the grain vertical and opposing. I now have a 2×4 to make my neck with the grain perpendicular to the fingerboard plane, keeping aware of my glue joint during layout. If I decide to try more mandos, I would not use a glued piece.

I spent about 24 hours on the carving the top, then another two hours cutting apertures and re-carving the top scroll. I knew my scroll design was gonna be in the way but having never carved a scroll, I had to start somewhere.  Plus the benefit of practice carving. Finally I had the two plates where I wanted them for assembly.

I decided to cut the neck pocket in the heel block first, then gluing the top on and finishing out the cut. I made the cuts for the neck and pocket on the ol’ tilt-a-table band saw jig as seen on you tube. Once the neck is fitted in I began to layout and re-carve the scroll. It turned out fine. My apertures are graduating arcs with a moon and star respectively on base and treble sides.

Next,I work on the neck and fingerboard. This took a while as I had some issues with fretwire, which caused me to pull all the frets and re-fret with different wire.  While waiting on replacement wire I finished up the neck and installed binding on the top.

Another item I was totally unsure about was the corner protectors. A small bone insert at the tip of the peaks. I used some thick saddle blanks, rough shaped them, glued them in place and finished the contours during final assembly and sanding. I believe they worked.

New frets are in and fretwork done and the neck is glued and “locked”. Next is the backplate, cutting the binding slot, installing the binding and sanding, sanding, sanding..

I’m currently waiting on lacquer to cure so I can finish up and hear how this one sounds.

Well, my little Mandolin project is buffed, and strung. I made a pretty major miscalculation on my headplate and machine placement. It works okay, but the outward ends of the tuner plates are tipped away from center causing the D (mostly), and A sets to rest against the other strings. With everything set-up to spec it sounds and plays really good for freshly built.

In summary, I learned a great deal more about Mandolins. I also learned a few new tricks and certainly some things I would do different next time. Mmm? Next?











My First Mandolin

Having written about building my first guitar I thought it appropriate to write about building my first Mandolin.  Just as with the guitar, I began with a kit. This one purchased online and having the Spruce top and Maple back pre-carved, the top glued onto the rim/blocks, and the neck finished,(not attached) and all parts and hardware.

First step was to examine the package contents to be sure all parts were present and in good condition.  Check.  Next I read the instructions and went through the process mentally to get a picture of what was involved.  Now it was time to sand the parts and prep them for assembly.

Using 100 grit Mirka Gold and a firm sanding pad I start with the top then the back, both inside and out.  Once all the carving grooves are removed it’s time to start measuring the thickness.  I did quite a bit of online research and also referred to Roger Siminoff , “how to construct a bluegrass mandolin”, to find the proper thickness top and back.  When I’m within .020″ of final thickness I move on to 150 grit paper, then 220.  We’re not finished sanding yet so keep that dust mask on.  The bottom of the rim and blocks assembly, and the inside of the back flange must be sanded on a flat surface so the two mate well when glued together.  If you notice inside the top how there are gaps between the lining and the rim, this was pre-assembled and would certainly not be acceptable otherwise.  There was a lot of glue run-out as well in here which again, not acceptable.  I was taught by Dan Brown , (at Martin Guitars, see ‘My First Guitar’), that aesthetically the inside of an instrument is just as important as the outside.

When the inside of the top is finally sanded the tone bars have to be fitted and glued into place.

Before the back is glued to the top, in the case of this type mandolin kit, the neck must be glued to the neck block/rim and top.  More sanding is required first and I also inlayed my logo on the headplate.  Getting the neck fit with this design was fairly easy, at least compared to all the guitar necks I’ve done.  Once the neck and back are glued on, well you guessed. More sanding.

I was surprised how quickly this mandolin was assembled and ready for stain and lacquer.   Five days.  In reality a lot of the work was already done which would’ve taken another week at least.

Before applying stain and lacquer I installed all hardware, strings and bridge, tuned it up and played it a few days to make sure it didn’t explode!  Still in one piece, stripped down and sanded, my first Mandolin entered the spray booth.

I am very pleased with the outcome of this project and plan to use this experience on the next one which will be different, as in Ham Jones style.


The Minority Guitar

Umberto, the latest member of the Ham Jones Guitar Family is finally ready to go on the wall for your purchasing pleasure.  It’s been a while, ugh!, almost five months since I posted a story. There are several reasons for the delay, but mostly I just couldn’t do it without venting on the political situation and I needed to let those thoughts gel.   This new fella, Umberto is representative of those thoughts, and his struggle to make it through a difficult time.

The name is actually a form of the English ‘Humbert’ .. Bearer… . In this case Hispanic use.  I chose the name because of the reddish-brown hue, (Umber), of the Mahogany binding against the Rosewood.

I started this guitar in the fall of 2016 when there was hope for all immigrants in this country to prosper.  By the time he was nearly completed, there was fear that there would be no immigrants.  During the process of building I came across a flaw in the Rosewood on the back.  This was a minor item and one that is not uncommon working with natural material.  I mended the area as per usual and moved along.   Moving along is making progress, throwing in the towel and sending this guitar, which represents so much hard work, back to the woodpile would be making regress.  As with any project the finished product will reflect the amount of effort put into it.  Like the finish on a fine piece of wood.

My first attempt at fixing the flaw had failed, a fact I could not know until final buffing.  The result of my initial repair was that it showed in the finish due to bending the light, ie. the surface was smooth and glossy but at the proper angle looked scratched. So, Umberto, ready to play and be played, to live as it were and be free, yet this one minor difference was posing a problem.

Guitars, like humans are ‘no two exactly alike’, not even from the best or worst factories and certainly not from a scratch builder such as myself.  That’s a good thing.  It’s like the story of the Ugly Duckling, different does not mean less than.   This guitar, Umberto is no exception. I carefully sanded the area back to bare wood and repaired the spot once more.  If at first…. you know.   What has emerged is a representation of hard work and co-operation.  If I had simply said, “This one’s different, send him back”, there would be no Umberto the Guitar.  Finally, I’m sure you’ve heard Duane and Dicky playing dual guitars, or Mark O’Conner, Vassar Clements and others playing twin fiddles, imagine millions of Umbertos playing at once, all similar yet all different.

Happy Cinco de mayo!

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Seven String

I recently read an article in Vintage Guitar magazine about a seven string Dreadnought project between C. F. Martin and Roger McGuinn.  It seems this idea came about because McGuinn’s 12 String was damaged in flight.  In an attempt to get that 12 string twangy sound the seventh string was paired to the G or 3rd, was 0.010″ or 0.012″ and tuned an octave higher.   What they came up with interested me to the point that I took one of my older guitars out of inventory and made  the necessary modifications.

The chosen one, is a guitar I built in 2012 that I call Woody.   This guitar has been worked on before actually, so it was an easy choice.  Three things had to happen to make this work.  I needed to drill an extra bridgepin hole just below and behind the one for the 3rd string.  The nut needs a seventh slot and the peghead needs another tuner.

Before I can drill for the new bridgepin it is necessary to check that the bridgeplate is wide enough to support this pin.  In my case it was. If it had not been I could’ve added to it.  After drilling the hole and fitting the bridge pin, (new just like the others), I slotted the nut for a .012 string about .080″ toward the 2nd string and 2 out of 3 done.  Eventually I added another nut slot on the bass side as well.  Placement of the string above or below the original string makes a difference in it’s presence.

The biggest part of this job was adding the tuner.  I plugged the existing tuner mounting holes on the treble side and drilled four new ones.  Having destroyed the finish on this headstock and also because it never had an HJ logo, I put in  the logo and refinished the headstock.

I am quite pleased with the finished product.  I have played it for a couple of weeks.  The difference is very noticeable and can be more or less so depending on how you play and what you play.  The one thing that really stands out to me is that when playing  an A, B, C, D chords etc. by barring the d, g, and b strings  it beats the hell out of a six string.  Follow this link Roger McGuinn Explains the Seven String Guitar to see more.

Ham Jones goes to Philly

Time to write about attending  the ‘Philly’ Guitar Show with my wife, who by the way is my biggest fan and #1 sales and marketing guru.  She has the experience plus the personality for it.  How lucky am I? Right?

I wasn’t sure we would get to this show, but wanted to have Scar (the new electric) finished, plus I hoped to have two more Acoustics as well. I had already started Scar in early August, about a week before the Show in Concord, NC . I worked solely on this guitar until August 29, when I started on two new Dreadnoughts.

I do most of my work upstairs in the bonus room, which is where I stayed for 6 to 7 hours per day, seven days a week for two and a half months. There were  many days when I really pushed it and was flat worn out. Then there were a couple of days about a week before the show when I was not the easiest person to be around, I’m sure. “Very sure, she told me so.”  I put a lot of pressure on myself to get all nine guitars ready including the new ones.  These new ones were a Rosewood with Maple trim and a Sapele with with Rosewood and Maple trim.   Somehow I managed to pull it off without spending too much time in the ‘doghouse’.  The new additions, ‘Rosie’ & ‘Bucky’ turned out very nice.  I thought we had them both sold but, love vs. money.  “Love the guitar but love my money more”.   These two beauties are still available and priced for the holidays.

The actual exhibition was on a Saturday and Sunday in PA. which took us near enough to my brother in law to pay a visit.   My wife’s brother has a co-worker who had been interested in one of my guitars for a few months.  We arrived there on Thursday afternoon and by evening we had sold the Red HJ electric.  Thanks to the buyer and thanks especially to officer Dan and crew.

We arrived at the Exhibition hall Friday afternoon to unload and set up our booth.  Great, we had anther good location, thanks to the folks at Bee 3 Vintage.  We were next to the entrance/exit so we got traffic entering and leaving. It has been interesting and fun attending these first two shows.  Aside from the travel I could do it more often.  Meeting potential buyers, especially the ones who are truly interested and know guitars.  The magic moment for me is seeing and hearing someone else truly enjoy playing one of my guitars.  The gentleman who purchased a guitar at the show was truly that.  He and two friends played several of my guitars and honed in on the acoustic I had named Black & Blue.  He would play, then ask a friend to play so he could hear it from the front.  Initially he left but assured us he would return.  Return he did and the playing continued until he was sold.  Again I say thank you.

In general it was a positive experience.  Still, it is a Vintage Guitar show and most of the traffic is there for just that.  There was another boutique builder next to us, Baleno Instruments.  A one man shop like myself, and I think Chuck sold a guitar as well.  Congrats.  One thing that the wife and I noticed was that of all the people who actually ‘shopped’ at our booth and Baleno’s, a very,very small percentage ‘shopped’ at both.  They either went to his or ours, not both.  Hmmmmm?

Next one is in Greenville, SC and we plan to be there as far as I know.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Building with figured Sapele

Finally, I have started building a Dreadnought with some figured Sapele that I’ve been anxious to use.  After re-sawing my back and side pieces they needed to be sanded to the correct thickness using a drum sander to about .120″, but ultimately I go by feel and type of wood at this point.  Getting the two halves of the back together was straight forward, however bending the sides was another first for me with wood this highly figured.  With the grain running wildly it would not bend uniformly and tried to crack or split.  Using both a bending iron and my bending machine I managed to get them bent successfully.  This was very tedious and time consuming as compared to a Rosewood set I just bent the day before.  Once the sides were bent and with the blocks and linings glued in it was time to concentrate on the back and top.  I make all of my own braces from Spruce stock and do not carve them until they are glued in place.  The back braces get a radius on the back to conform to the curve of the actual back of the body.  The top braces are flat on the back, hence a ‘Flat top’ Guitar.  Before gluing top braces the Rosette and Sound Hole must be routed.  With the braces all in, top and back glued onto the rim, and all binding installed and sanded flat I have the neck joint finished and it is time to get the neck done and mate the two together.

Locating the Bridge

“If you can’t locate the bridge you will never get across the river”.

Actually, the key is knowing where the bridge must be placed, hence you will know it’s location.  All guitars have what is called ‘scale length’.  This ‘length’ is the distance from the front of the nut to the top of the saddle,(saddle is mounted in the bridge hence the ‘bridge’ location sets the saddle location. The mid point of this scale, 12th fret, must be the exact distance from the saddle as it is from the nut.  Once the neck is permanently in place and the nut is installed, a simple tool, (saddlematic at Stewmac), to measure the distance from the nut to the 12th fret, then flipped 180 degrees to locate the bridge utilizing indicator pins for correct compensation for string deflection.  This is a very critical dimension and requires double-double checking before drilling bridge pin holes.  I will always lay this out and make light pencil marks at two corners of the bridge, then I repeat and check my marks.  If it looks a little different I’ll mark the other two corners then recheck ’til I am satisfied.  Now carefully clamp the bridge in place and drill 3/16″ through the top and the bridge at the ‘A’ and ‘B’ string holes.  When ready to glue place the bridge onto the location using short 3/16″ dowel pushed down flush with top of bridge, then clamp with bridge caul and bridge plate caul.  That’s it.  Once you remove the clamp, re-check the location of the saddle.  Remember that it is always an option to remove the bridge and start over if it moved.  Keep smiling and move on.


Fretting the Fretting Post

Well… it’s not that bad, however it does require patience.  Unless, your the “The Factory”, then you have a machine just cram all 22 frets, at once, into those 22 slots your other machine just sawed in about 6 seconds.  When I start a fret job it requires a certain frame of mind. Once altered, it’s easy to devote as much time as necessary to each slot and fret as necessary.  I have already slotted my fretboard but, I don’t expect each slot is just right. The depth needs to be checked and modified to fit the fret. If the slot is shallow at any spot then your fret will never lie down and will buzz.

I do mine old school with a brass hammer and a little Titebond as instructed by Dr. Dan B.  Once all the frets are hammered in, let it dry overnight before proceeding.   Next day I can file down the excess on the ends and begin the fret dressing process.  This one will teach patience.  Small file, fine grit paper, reading glasses, burs, and time.  There are way too many instructional pieces on this already so I’ll not add one.

Happy frettin’ , check my guitar site for a new axe.

Exhibiting at The Carolina Guitar Show

For the sake of any who may have actually read my previous two posts, I did say that this one would be about “Fretting” however, I’d like to talk about the recent Vintage guitar show I attended.

The Carolina Guitar Show was held August 27 & 28 in Cabarrus Arena near Charlotte, NC.   Attending an event like this as an Exhibitor was a first for me.  I did not expect to make any sells, this was about exposure.  I made a ton of contacts and also had a lot of interest from the public and very positive feedback.  The real interest there was for Vintage Guitars and there were hundreds, maybe thousands of guitars and most people coming in were looking for specific vintage models and not a new  guitar.  There were a few “exhibitors” who were there to purchase only for investment or resale in other markets.  Overall it was a positive experience for me as a builder and a guitar enthusiast.