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Stress and Tension

I was invited to accompany a very talented musician - playing harmony on my guitar. That's what I like to do - to fill in the spaces in the melody. To add some depth, some height, some overtones, some undertones, to join the flow of the music with my own flow. 

It's a delicate balance - it's a trip. To be there in the moment - fully present, listening. Sometimes to follow, sometimes to lead - while remaining there, side by side - separate, connected. To feel when it's time to step back and let the other shine, or when it's time to break out in a solo. To give solid backing in the rhythm - to give support and lift. To find thehigh notes that make the melody soar - the bass line that keeps its feet close to the Earth. 

If you play music with people, you’ll know what I'm talking aboutand the feeling it gives when it works right. This is what Mozart famously called ' getting into the groove ' - or maybe it was someone else who said that. But that's what it's all about. 

In any good musical performance there's always a certain amount of tension. There has to be for it to work. Unless you want to make elevator music, or music to put people to sleep. 

A certain level of tension is good for the music and necessary - especially in a live performance. You want to feel that the players are alive - that the people making the music are human beings, like yourself, also capable of making mistakes. Thereneeds to be an element of risk.  This is something that allows the listener to connect with the music, to be humanised and uplifted by it.

But too much tension and being present at such a performance becomes an uncomfortable experience. Are they trying too hard? Is the tune stuck? How will they get out of this groove - this rut? How is this ordeal going to end - and when? 

Too much tension - or the wrong sort - creates stress. This is what we don't want or need. God knows, there's enough stress in our own daily lives without having to listen to stressful music. 

The principles of tension vs stress are fundamental to making guitars. In order to build a good guitar, the maker needs to be able to predict how the wood will behave and react to changing conditions. To understand where are the lines of tension within the wood - what is their direction, where are the points of weakness and of strength. How the wood will expand and contract depending on how much water is in the air at any moment. How the structure as a whole will respond over the long passage of time, to the constant pull of the strings as well as how it will respond to their vibrations. 

The job of the guitar maker - the fundamental work involving the most skill, experience and intuition - is in judging how much tension to build into the structure of the guitar. There needs to be a certain amount or it just wouldn’t work. If the soundboard was not braced and thicknessed with enough tension to counterbalance and spread the tension of the strings, it would collapse due to the stress. If the body of the guitar didn’t have a certain level of rigidity, it would fall apart in no time. But too much tension would cause stress - and this we do not want. And sometimes it's a very fine line. 

Too much stress and the guitar wouldn’t respond to the player's touch. It would sound blocked. It wouldn't open up to reveal it's full potential. It would be like those guards outside Buckingham palace - stiff and immovable. Or like a neurotic person - doing its best to appear normal on the outside while inwardly tearing itself apart with too much stress. 

So, in short - in music, in making guitars and also in life - a certain amount of tension is good and necessary, but it's also important to eliminate stress.

When the musicians really know and trust each other - when they know and feel the music, deep down - how it flows, when it's about to change - the scales and patterns and underlying rhythms that make it what it is -then they can relax, forget themselves - let the music go where it will and take everyone to a higher place. 

Likewise, when the guitar maker really understands the materials and how to work with them to bring out their full musical potential, that's when s/he can relax into the work of making great guitars without having to think so very hard or worry about the outcome. 

That's basically, essentially what it's all about. The art of creation. At least a big part of it - yet it must always involve the knowledge that all is not yet known. There is always mystery and there will always be more to learn. Inevitably and necessarily, mistakes will need to be made. No matter how high you get, risks will need to be taken in order to get higher still - and there are always higher levels to be reached. 

Ecological Jazz Guitar – Part 5 – The Neck

The adjustable truss rod is placed in the groove in the neck.  This is used to adjust the bow of the neck when the tension from the strings  pull it forward.
A piece of sycamore veneer is placed over the truss rod. This will stop the truss rod getting covered in glue when the fingerboard is glued on as that might limit its movement and clog up its moving parts.
This is to be a three part neck. The first part is the cherry wood of the neck. On top of that is an angled piece of maple to give the fingerboard  and strings greater clearance of the arched soundboard. The fingerboard will be glued on top of the maple. Pictured above is the maple being glued onto the neck.
Maple glued in place. Later on I’ll put a cover over the end of the truss rod. This will be attached with screws to make it accessible.
Now for the fingerboard itself. This is made from local Sesam wood, which is a type of Rosewood that grows here in Galilee. In this picture I’ve marked out the fret positions using a ruler and am sawing the slots with a Japanese saw.
Here the neck has been cut to the right and is now being planed to the right thickness. This cherry wood is very hard. It’s a lot of work with this little block plane.
Carving the neck profile with a spokeshave. This is the only part of guitar making where I get to sit down.
The final shaping of the neck is done with a cabinet scraper. It makes very fine shavings.
The finished neck.
cherry wood, maple, rosewood

Ecological Jazz Guitar – Part 4. Bindings

Glueing Sycamore veneers for the purflings (the black and white stripes around the edges) and local Sesam wood for the bindings.
008 - Copy
Cutting the grooves for purfling and binding.
009 - Copy
After the purflings have been glued in, the bindings are bent to shape, ready to be fitted in the groove.
013 - Copy
When it’s all glued in place, the whole body is then scraped and sanded smooth. Here it is with a coat of Danish Oil, prior to the shellac.
016 - Copy

Ecological Jazz Guitar, Part 3 – Assembly

After a damp and humid April, along with lengthy deliberations about the revolutionary, innovative, electric scratch-plate design that this guitar will feature – came a very dry spell of weather. Perfect for assembling guitars.

 Once the soundboard had been braced and the back and sides had been thicknessed to around two and a half millimetres, the last thing to make were the linings. The bits that hold it all together. For this I used an old plank of hardwood, picked up in Jerusalem. Probably birch wood. Here is my fascinating photo journal of how I turned an old, discarded plank of wood into an integral part of a guitar:

1.(above) The plank.

planing off the varnish
2.Planing the varnish off the plank.

cutting with elecrical saw
3.Cutting the plank into strips with an elecrical saw.
contouring the strip
4.Contouring the strips.

finsished precut lining strip
A contoured strip.
sawing slots in the lining
5.Sawing slots in the strips.
guitar linings
handmade guitar linings
Finished linings.
child labour
6.Getting unpaid child labour to collect the wood-dust in a plastic bottle by letting her believe it to be fairy dust. I’m not sure if that’s ecological or ethical.

Now that I had all of the parts of the guitar ready to assemble, and a nice clean workshop, it was time to assemble the guitar. Here’s how I did that:

Now that I had all of the parts of the guitar ready to assemble, and a nice clean workshop, it was time to assemble the guitar. Here’s how I did that:
Assembling the guitar
1.Glue the neck to the soundboard. That’s the Spanish way. If  I did it theAmerican way I’d make the body and the neck completely separately and then slot them together when they’re both finished. One advantage of the American way is that it’s easier to take the neck off if the joint breaks. The advantage of the Spanish way is that the joint is very unlikely to break as the whole guitar is essentially one piece.
reinforcing the sides
2.Reinforcing the sides with Western Red Cedar offcuts from a previous guitar.
I’m sorry I didn’t put any pictures of me bending the sides. I suppose I should have done as it is the greatest mystery of guitar making – the thing  people always ask about. The main reason I wanted to learn how to make guitars, in fact, was just to know how they bend the sides. I’ll put a bit about it on my Frequently Asked Questions page when I next get round to making another exciting photo-diary.
linings all attached
3.Linings all glued on.
making the soundport
4.Sound-port cut out.
quality control
Quality control inspector takes a sniff around.
guitar ready for the back
Guitar gets stamp of approval.
carving the back bars
5. Carving the back-bars from a piece of Sycamore, coppiced in Sherwood forest, England 2003.
back bars
This will give the back its arched contour.
back bars
This pieces was then cut into three on the electrical saw.
glueing the back bars
6. Glueing on the back bars. The centre strip is local Cypress wood from Galilee.
back ready to be attached
Back ready to be glued on.
glueing on the guitar's back
7. Glueing on the back.
assembled guitar
Assembled guitar.
guitar back
g weigert guitars

Zen and the art of guitar making (or how to find the right bracing arrangement for your guitar)

Variations of bracing layouts
As I recall, my first guitar making teacher taught me three important lessons:
The first, upon telling him of my wish/desire/unaccountable urge to buildguitars was to advise me, ‘It’s not easy. Don’t expect to make any money from it. At least for the first ten years, if ever.’  which so far has proved to be fairly true.
The second excellent piece of wisdom, somewhat took me by surprise when he said it, but in fact has a ring of truth. He said, ‘You know what building a guitar is like?’ I thought about it, considering all sorts of poetic analogies involving trees, women, love… ‘Building a guitar,’ he said, ‘is like going into battle.’
He didn’t go into it in any more detail, being a man of few words, but I see what he meant. First you need to make sure your tools (your weapons) are sharp – as sharp as they can be. If they’re not, you’ve lost from the start. Then, with a clear and focussed mind, you need to face your adversary (a piece of wood), evaluate its strengths and weaknesses, before engaging in battle. There may be blood. There may be tears, howls of rage. There may be defeat. You may have dreams of victory and glory, but in the final analysis you’ll be lucky to come away with an armistice – an agreement of peace.
OK, maybe that’s taking it all a bit far, but it’s the third pearl of wisdom that I wanted to talk about anyway. And it was ‘when you’ve build about a hundred guitars, you might start to understand how to do it.’
At the time we were talking about bracing the soundboard and that’s what I want to talk about now.
(The bracing, by the way, is thin bits of wood glued to the inside of the soundboard. This is what gives the soundboard its tension and determines the way the guitar will respond, feel, play and sound)
At the top of this page you’ll see a drawing I made of five different bracingpatterns of a group of five individuals I am helping to build their first guitars. Since none of them have built guitars before, or studied guitar construction, there’s no reason why they should know anything about how to brace a guitar’s soundboard. I myself played guitar for about twenty years without ever being aware of this mysterious matrix pattern just below the surface of the guitar.
So I helped them design the layout that I think would best suit their guitar. Of course they all ask the questions ‘why would you do it like this and not like that?’ and ‘how will this effect the sound?’
Now, I thought I might sit down and write a lengthy analysis of why I decided some guitars would be better with 5 fan struts, some with 7. Why I might put closing bars at the bottom of some and not others. Why I would choose to or not to reinforce the bridge area, or put a diagonal bar. I hope they will all be good guitars that will reflect the personality of the maker and perform according to how they would like their guitar to perform.
Here’s an explanation of how I design the bracing for a guitar (this is not to say that you should do it this way) :
First I look at the shape of the guitar. How wide, how long, the curves.
Then I consider how I would like it to sound. How deep, how high, how quick, how round, how sharp, how smooth.
The I feel the soundboard (the thicknessing is also part of this meditation as is every other aspect of construction. Everything effects the sound, remember) how light, how springy. How does it flex? How does it sound when I tap it?
Then I clear my mind of all other considerations…
The guitar is a soul waiting to be born.
The design has been written in the stars. It is the genetic code. The fingerprint. The face, the voice.
And then gradually the pattern appears.
I imagine how the sound will travel across the plain of dry wood, how the thin bars will help it, direct it, give it focus, clarity, balance, strength, power, projection.
I draw them as I see them appear. Change one here and there until it looks like it’s meant to be. And then put them all in place.
That’s how I do it. Kind of intuition.
Of course experience helps.
That’s why I agree with my teacher when he said the thing about the hundred guitars. Until then, every guitar’s an experiment. Even after that it still is, for most makers.
Here though, as best I can, I will try to explain why I recommended the patterns drawn here:

These are the qualities I would like these guitars to have (these are my predictions):
1. Tal. (simple, symetrical 7 fan-struts, closing bars at the ends. No bridge reinforcement.) Aim: A well balanced response with good focus and clarity, yet having an openness and freedom, lightness and playability to make it a fun and versatile instrument.
2. Oren, incidentally Tal’s brother. (7 fan struts, diagonal harmonic bar, bridge reinforcement, closing bars). Similar in many ways to Tal’s, yet with more focus, separation of bass and treble as well as individual notes. Perhaps a more demanding instrument in terms of playability – ie. it may prefer to be played one way that another, yet may offer rich rewards to the right player.
3. Ranan. (7 fan struts, short diagonal harmonic bar, Loch Ness monster bridge bar, open closing bars.) This should be an unusual guitar with deep bass response, while maintaining a quickness about the mids and trebles. An understated guitar when played gently, yet able to produce a powerful punch.
4. Alex. (5 symetrical fan struts all the way to the edges. No bridge reinforcement or closing bars) In many ways an old fashioned, traditional Spanish guitar, with an earthy quality, broad in range, versatile, strong, yet with unexpected subtlety.
5.  Nimrod (lots of diagonal lattice bracing – fairly light, a single harmonic bar above the soundhole (slightly different from in the picture)) A rather unusual sounding guitar with plenty of harmonics and overtones, very lively response with a quickness and lightness of touch.
Now don’t ask me to explain why I think all that might me the case. I might be completely wrong.
For some more scientific analysis of acoustic and bracing design you can look at these links:

Ecological Jazz Guitar – Part 1

What with 2013 being the official year of Ecological Jazz (in my house anyway), I’ve decided to keep a blog of this latest project I’m working on. I’ll be building a flat top Jazz guitar from local and recycled materials for a musician who likes to play guitar, but not at the expense of our Mother Earth’s most precious dwindling, overexploited resources.
Stage 1: Design

First I draw the shape on a board – using a pencil and rubber (eraser) until I am satisfied with the outline.
G Weigert guitar design
I hold the template up to a mirror to check how it will look.
G Weigert Guitars. Original Design
When I am satisfied with the outline, I cut it out. Then, using it as a template a take it to the drawing board and fill in the other features. Soundhole, scratchplate, etc.