Buckeye Burl & the Jaguar Project

Remember when I mentioned that I had found a bunch of really exotic wood on eBay? Well I bought a bunch – really cool book matched pairs for faces. Curly Beech, Spalted Maple, Cocobolo to name a few. But the one piece I hemmed and hawed about for days was a three inch thick piece of buckeye burl that was pretty expensive, but incredibly beautiful! it was pretty much the coolest piece of wood I’d ever seen, but it was still hard to justify the expense.

Buckeye Burl

Buckeye Burl

I also mentioned that I was gaining a new found appreciation for vintage and more popular instruments right? Well I got this book about Fender guitars, Fender: The Golden Age 1946-1970 which takes you through the history and all the models and it was very inspiring. I’ve always really liked the Jaguar guitar (and some of my favorite guitar players used one – Nels Cline, John Frusciante, heck even Kurt Cobain!) so I started toying with the idea of a pair of book matched jaguars. A bass and a guitar, with opposite bodies and wood/paint treatments. I did a lot of concept sketches like the one pictured here but I kept coming back to that buckeye burl.

Jaguar Inspired Concept

Jaguar Inspired Concept

Then I had an idea: what if I cut that three inch piece into thinner boards so I could make more instruments out of it? So I called around to see if the mills in the bay area could do it and I came across Baker Hardwoods in Gilroy and talked to Jim Baker who said “We can do it but if that burl had rocks in it and it brakes a blade it’ll cost you thirty five bucks extra.” It seemed worth the risk, so I ordered the wood, and when it arrived I took it down to Jim to see what he could do. Turns out he was able to get four boards out of that hunk, so it was well worth it. This way I’ll be able to make the bass for the Jaguar pair, and still have three more instruments I can make out of that one piece of wood. We were even able to shave off a real thin piece from one of the boards so I can make a pickgaurd for the Jaguar guitar too! I’ll keep you posted. There are a couple short projects ahead of these in line but I’ll get to them as soon as I can – I can’t wait to work with this burl!

What to do…what to do?

So… I’ve got the new shop. I’ve got most of the tools I need. I’ve found some cool places to get wood locally, and found all the guitar shops, hardware stores and other wood shops. What do I wanna make? That’s what I was thinking as the shop went up and and I got it all ready. Really it’d been going through my head for months (I’ll tell you about the first nor cal project I committed to, but not right now. I’ll get back to that one later.)

lots of projects

I have all the instruments I made a couple years ago while still in Highland Park (which I never really told you all about either did I? Don’t worry – I have all the pictures and I’ll get back to those stories too…eventually) and I really didn’t have much in the way of plans except a vague idea to make an electric upright and rebuild my bass amp cabinet out of some beautiful wood. Those projects will get done too, but I had another idea. What if I went on eBay and bought every cheap broken guitar I could find? I’ve been wanting to delve into other types of finishes, and maybe even try my hand and re-finishing. I’ve been wanting to get my feet wet with acoustic instruments too. Maybe this would be the best way to get started in the new shop?

Also around the same time the Red Hot Chili Peppers came out with their new album I’m With You which features Josh Klinghoffer on guitar, replacing John Frusciante, who is one of my favorite guitar players of all time. So needless to say I was skeptical, but it turns out he’s pretty great too. Anyway, they were on the cover of every magazine – Rolling Stone, Guitar World, Drum!, Bass Player, everything! For the Guitar World article Josh brought down a few of his vintage 60′s guitars for the photoshoot. I had never really paid attention to these types of guitars before. I was very familiar with but fairly unimpressed by most major brand guitars and basses (fender, gibson, jackson, etc) and focused on more of the high end custom instruments all these years (Carl Thompson, Fodera, Warwick, Alembic etc) preferring natural oil finishes and unpainted wood. I couldn’t understand why anyone would paint wood – “if you want red, buy red wood” (paduak) I would say. But now, because of the photos in this article, I was interested and looking at all these off brand guitars – and I was amazed! There were SO many really cool unique instruments being made in the 60′s and 70′s by a multitude of companies here in the states and all over the world. Teisco, Kay, Stratotone, Airline, Guyatone, Mosrite…the list goes on and on, and the world was opening up to me in big new ways. I was starting to be inspired. I was seeing the beauty and the possibilities suggested by all these instruments.

I decided to start looking and before you know it packages started showing up at my door. Big boxes with broken and beat up guitar from all over the country. And the search splintered off into all kinds of other ideas too. I started learning about different electronic mods I could do to electric instruments (I already had an itch for this that started when I went to Apex in Sun Valley in search of special capacitors for Zony…another story for another day…) I started thinking about vintage instruments in a different way; learning about the colors and finishes, the various combinations and possibilities suggested by paint and pickguards and hardware. I bought a couple great books full of all kinds of inspiration. I started thinking about making other things too; amps (…in tin cans, in vintage ammo cases, in old hollowed out floor heaters…) pedal boards, effects pedals with custom paint jobs…

And of course the guitars and basses. I had new ideas for custom built instruments that I will make from scratch. I had ideas about how to modify or restore the old instruments I found on eBay. I found bodies that I could use as a starting point and build or compile the parts around and make something new. I found people selling exotic wood that I could never find anywhere locally. I could go on and on, but I think I’ll stop here and just say – there are a LOT of projects on deck for Craftsmanship Instruments in the coming months and I will be writing posts as I go along. Thanks for reading and if you have an idea for a project I’m available for commissions. We can work together to bring your idea to life! Take care. I’ll be posting again soon.

Craftsmanship Instruments get a new home

A couple of years ago I moved up to Santa Cruz, leaving my great wood shop in Highland Park Los Angeles behind. I moved up for a job – good pay, a nice place with a yard, three blocks from the beach – it’s a pretty nice set-up…with one exception; no place to make things! So one day I was at home depot and noticed the Tough Sheds they have on display in the corner of the parking lot and I had an idea – maybe my landlord would let me build one of these in the corner of the backyard at the end of the driveway? So I mentioned it to him and he not only said yes, he said he’d handle it. And handle it he did! He came down with some help and set-up the shed, ran electricity to it, had it painted, and said “here you go. Go make some guitars!”

Craftsmanship Instruments new shop

the shop: under construction

Pretty great huh? I gotta say, I’ve got a great landlord, that’s for sure! I fully intent to do exactly what he said, but first I needed to get the space ready to do some work. I made some modifications to the door, to make it a bit more weather proof. I built another shop table with 4×4 legs and a door for a top like I had in HLP. I got some shelves and bins to store the parts and tools for the projects to come. I put up a peg board to hang tools so they will be handy when working at the table. I even built a little shelf for the ipod speakers. Now I’m ready to work and Craftsmanship Instruments is back in business! I’ve got tons of ideas for projects and I’ll be keeping you posted here on their progress, so stay tuned!

The work space

The work space

Haoli

Haoli

Haoli

I got interested in lap steel guitar right around the time I was planning the baritone and six string bass, mainly because of a musician from Norway named Even Johansen, who goes by Magnet. He plays a great lap steel and uses a loop pedal to build the song in a unique way which you can see here.

I also came across this book about building lap steel guitars:

I got the book and saw that it is really easy to make lap steel guitars compared to regular guitars – you don’t have to do as much precision work or calculations because the neck is so thick and the strings never touch the fretboard. I then decided since I was making two guitars I might as well make three, so I bought some more wood – this time Ash – and began planning another instrument.

In order to determine the sizes of the instruments I was building I decided to work backwards from the cases that they would eventually be kept in, but with this one I made a little miscalculation when I was buying the wood and it was too narrow. This made it so the guitar was going to have to be made from two pieces and thus would have a seem…so I decided to buy another piece of wood and start over. But what was I going to do with this wood? Well I guess I might as well make one out of it anyway just to see how it would come out. (turns out it came out real nice and no one has mentioned the body being two pieces)

So next time I’ll tell you about the 4th guitar I ended up making in this set, and then we can get to the posts telling how I did it, step by step. Till then take care and have a good week!

Hyzen

Hyzen – Baritone Guitar

Hyzen

So as I described in the previous post I had gotten curious about Baritone guitars and was inspired by this beautiful Veilette nylon string guitar that had no visible pickups, an acoustic guitar type wooden bridge and was just really amazing. I decided to make one like that which would require me to buy new wood, so I went on a hunt for some good hard wood. I decided on Paduak which I had used before on Butterfly and really liked. It’s really heavy so I decided to make it a two tone guitar with a different wood on the back.

I made a acoustic style bridge for it and and decided not to have any controls for volume or tone on the instrument and just allow that to be adjusted with pedals or on the amp. I ordered the neck from Warmoth and even had the fretboard face dots omitted to keep the look clean.

It turned out really amazing and I just love it. It’s going to take some getting used to having it tuned differently (a baritone guitar can be tuned many ways, but I’ve settled on an A tuning) and I’ve got lots of practicing to do on guitar as it is, but it’ll be fun and it sounds really good.

You can see a video of Woody Aplanalp playing it in his studio in Los Angeles here.

Saros

So after I made Butterfly I took some of the left over wood from it and also the ash I had left from Tusitala, made some measurements and cuts, and glued up a body block. I had no idea what the instrument would turn out to be but I knew someday I would make another one. I carried that piece of wood around for ten years. It was always in the back of the closet or under the bed waiting for it’s day.

the body block made from Tusitala & Butterfly left over wood

the body block made from Tusitala & Butterfly left over wood

Finally when I moved into the place I live now and my landlord and I converted a basement room into a woodshop that piece of wood’s time had come. It was time to make another instrument and finally I had a space of my own to work in. The question then was what to make?

I had started to become interested in baritone guitar when a friend of mine bought a Danelectro baritone at McCabe’s in Santa Monica.

Then I found this beautiful Veilette nylon string guitar that had no visible pickups, an acoustic guitar type wooden bridge and was just really amazing. The way they were able to get away with not having visible pickups is that they use a piezo pickup under the bridge, so I got the idea to make a guitar that was very clean and had no nobs or pickups or anything. If I could have designed it to not have a bridge I would have…maybe next time.

The only problem was that the wood I had glued up was much more along the lines of a Carl Thompson rainbow bass, which would work against any ideas of the clean look I was going for. So I figured I better get some more wood and start from scratch, which I did, but since I was making one and I already had this big body block I might as well come up with another plan for it as well and make them at the same time.

I had also been curious about making the jump to six string bass ( I really like the way the wide neck felt in my hand) so that became the new plan for the old hunk of wood I had carried around for years, and I was making two guitars (which I’ll tell you more about the baritone in the next post) which later turned out to be four…but that is a story for another day.

Entering the World of Fretless

After a few years of playing Tusitala I started getting interested in fretless bass. I started listening to guys like Jaco Pastorius and Michael Manring and really dug the sound. Then I got the idea to make another bass – this time a frettless five string. On the first bass I didn’t make the neck, I bought it from Carvin, so I didn’t have to worry about the fretwork or the truss rod or anything like that. This time I decided to make the neck. Partly because it would be easier – having no frets would cut out the fret work – but partly because I wanted the wood to match and I could only find maple necks that worked for a through body design, and I wanted to make this bass from dark woods.

I decided on Padauk, which is a very red wood, and Walnut which is a dark brown almost grey color. I contacted my old woodshop teacher Mr. Hogan and asked if I could work in the shop with him at my old high school over the summer, and he agreed. He was working on all kinds of awesome projects, so it was good having him around to help and answer questions. I always think of that summer when I listen to K-Earth 101 or hear any oldies because that is what was always on in the shop.

I named this bass “Butterfly” and between this one and Tusitala I had all the basses I would need for years to come.

Butterfly

Butterfly

The Beginning

When I started playing bass I was 17.  I realized I wanted to learn bass one day when I was listening to Cream’s “Crossroads” on the radio when my dad mentioned Eric Clapton’s solo and it dawned on me that I wasn’t listening to him at all – I was listening to Jack Bruce. That christmas my parents got me a bass and a little practice amp and I started taking lessons from one of their friends.

After about six or seven months of playing I started to get a feel for the instrument and realized what I liked and didn’t like about the Yamaha I had. It was a good bass, but when I went to guitar stores and saw the instruments hanging on the walls I was drawn to what turned out to be really expensive instruments. I really liked Warwick basses, which had unique body shapes and beautiful wood, but they were thousands of dollars.

My friend Jeremy, who played guitar and also had woodshop class with me, suggested that we make instruments for ourselves in class. Between what we knew about guitars and basses and what our woodshop teacher Mr. Hogan knew about wood we’d probably be able to figure out what needed to be done. I was really excited and I started looking at how to find the parts and going with Jeremy to hardwood stores and browsing around.

I ended up choosing all my parts from Carvin and Stewart MacDonald, and picking purple heart and ash for the wood of my bass. I wanted to venture into the world of 5-string bass, which was gaining in popularity at the time (now hardly anyone seems to play a 4 string bass any more)

Tusitala – the storyteller

Tusitala – the storyteller

Because we only had a small amount of time each day to work on our projects in class, and other projects to work on as well, it ended up taking pretty much the entire school year to finish the bass, but it was worth the wait. Now I had a bass that I liked even better than the Warwick basses in the stores. It became my main bass for many years (until I got it in my head to give fretless bass a shot…but that story is for another day and another post)

Names and words have always been important to me so I decided I would name my instruments, and this bass was the first one I named. I chose the name “Tusitala” which is Samoan for “Teller of Tales.”

I just refinished Tusitala for the second time (the first two times I didn’t do a good job, but this time I really learned how to do a good finish…but again, another story for another day) and it looks better than it ever has. It plays great and sounds fantastic. In my early twenties I recorded several albums with several bands with this bass…I’m looking forward to recording again with it soon.

Using the Scrap

I hate wasting the wood. I try to use all of it i I can. There is no such thing as scrap in my shop. I’m going to try and make something out of all of it.

I feel a respect for the tree that is giving me it’s body to make stuff. I try and treat it like the indians treated their kill when they hunted – they used it all; the hide became their clothes, the bones their tools.

I even use the saw dust sometimes – mix it with the glue and fill in the cracks and knots in the wood. whatever I can think of to keep from wasting any of that beautiful wood.

Repair Cradle Sketches

Repair Cradle Sketches

So with some of the scrap from the guitars I’ve been making I’ve got a few little projects going which I will post more about as they progress. I’m making a couple of cradles for the guitars that I will use when I am making adjustments or doing repairs. I’m also making a few more wooden slides, this time with a steel bar inside to add some heft.

Lastly I am making a few custom capos for the lap steels make from the scrap wood from each. I was inspired by a capo used by Kelly Joe Phelps in his instruction DVD.

Lap Steel Capo Sketch

Lap Steel Capo Sketch

Introducing the Craftsmanship Instruments Blog

Hello, my name is Anthony Garcia and I make guitars and basses. The painting above inspired the name of the company. It’s irony made me laugh as soon as I saw it and speaks so much about my friend Randall. He graciously allows us to display it, and it serves as a reminder to not take ourselves too seriously.

In this blog I intended to chronicle the making of 4 instruments as I made them, but I’ve had so much going on that I didn’t have the time or the energy to sit down and write about it at the end of the day. Luckily though, I did manage to document the making with my camera along the way.

So now what I am going to do here is talk about the things I am making now, chronicle the making of the next instruments in the shop (I’m starting to think about plans for an electric upright, and hopefully I’ll get a commission sometime soon!) and go back and talk about the process of making the instruments I just finished.

I made a six string fretless bass (named Saros), a baritone guitar (named Hyzen), and a pair of lap steels (named Haoli & Zony)

Saros – 6 string bass

Saros – 6 string bass

Hyzen – Baritone Guitar

Hyzen – Baritone Guitar

Haoli – Lap Steel

Haoli – Lap Steel

Zony – Lap Steel

Zony – Lap Steel