Richard Lucas – A day in the life of the guitar maker
Guitar making is a glamorous art, right? At the very least it is interesting, not a dull moment!
Here’s a breakdown of my Saturday.
Eyes open. Silence in the house. When you have a 10-month-old you’re never sure how much tranquility you’re gonna get.
Eyes open. Must’ve gone back to sleep. Can’t lie in any longer though, day’s a wastin’. Head to the shower to wake up.
Make brekky (porridge) from scratch, cook slowly on the stove while picking up various family-related artefacts and re-deploying them to their correct locations. Eat brekky and see what’s going on in the digital world.
Take the attack Labradoodle for a walk around the gorgeous gum-lined local walking track. Carry squishy bag for 98% of the walk, much to the delight of said pooch.
Out to the workshop. Beautiful day today so the big garage door is up.
Continue a full refret on a customer’s S.Yairi steel-string made in my birth year, 1979. All the frets came out without too much objection, having the right tools is invaluable when you’re trying not to disturb a vintage bound fretboard – as is having the patience not to rush.
From a roll of high-quality medium-size fretwire, cut each of the 20 frets to size and undercut the edges to accommodate the binding.
Stop to make a quick macchiato, then jump in the car.
Off to Union Rd, Surrey Hills to buy Wifey’s favourite bread. Obviously it’s everybody else’s fave, too. Managed a close, somewhat flatter substitute.
Headed to Mitcham on a whim to buy some super-cheap secondhand golf clubs. I figure given I live near a golf course I should take it up and give myself something to swear about. Alas the clubs weren’t what they promised, a bit ordinary and no putter (but 2 four-irons).
Early lunch today, some yummy chicken, mashed potato, stock and rainbow chard dish that Wifey cooked the night before. Topped off with a mandarin, Fuji apple, one more macchiato and a couple of squares of 85% dark chocolate.
Short chat with Wifey who does all the great work on this website… notice that all my blogs now have their own individual pages? What a champ!
Continue the refret work on the S.Yairi.
Gently hammer new frets in using a plastic/brass hammer whilst supporting the neck from underneath. Repair wear in four of the fret slots using very thin superglue. Leave guitar to sit with frets installed for a day or two to settle in before continuing on to fret dressing, end-shaping, crowning and finally polishing.
Quick break for some baba ganoush on rice cakes, and maybe another piece of choccy…
Back in the workshop, finish off a nut swapover on a beautiful Bubinga/Ebony Warwick 6-string fretless bass. The nut comes out easy enough (in 3 pieces), but they always leave a hard glue residue that is tricky to remove… it takes some courage and experience to take an X-Acto knife and a chunky ¼” file to one of these babies.
Everything works out great, though, and she’s strung up and ready to go.
Next job: reassembly of a Jackson ‘David Ellefson Signature Kelly Bird V Bass’. Phew, what a mouthful. This baby is about to head off to Europe for 34 dates starting in a couple of weeks.
Came in with the 12th fret buzzing hard on the high E string. I could’ve levelled just that one fret but experience told me to take the strings off and check the rest of the board just in case. Took all strings off at the nut and set the truss rod adjustment as close to flat as possible.
Good thing I checked! The maple neck seems to have done the twist last summer; many frets are up on one side and down on the other… so little point just doing one. Customer decided to wait on getting this major surgery until after the tour, so popped it all back together, giving it a nice clean and tightening the jack as a bit of a ‘pay it forward’.
Time for the next step on my latest custom build, Chrysós.
To this point I had done the top cap bookmatching (Figured Vic Ash), gluing of two-piece main body wood (African Mahogany), internal routing, internal strap pin reinforcement and gluing the top to the body.
Now is the point where most of the preparatory grunt-work is done and the raw materials really get their opportunity to shine. I had previously rough-sanded (P80) the body top and bottom on the wide belt sander to get them truly flat.
Working with a dual setting course/fine rotary orbital sander, starting at P120 grit I brought the Vic Ash and Mahogany up to a near-satin finish at P320. Every guitar maker, regardless of how they learnt the trade does things a little differently based on their experiences and preferences. I sand the guitar finely while it’s still in a sizeable chunk as it makes it easier for me to achieve a truly flat surface – essential if you want to have a nice flat finish at the end.
Bolognese for dinner tonight (‘ragú’ to the purist). I’m cooking.
I’m a bit of an experimental chef, and tonight’s no exception. White wine, cumin, and fennel all sneak their way into the meal. Given I don’t handle gluten well, my ‘pasta’ is really rice masquerading as tri-coloured vegie spiral pasta.
The only constant in this meal is the high-fat real beef mince. The fat keeps the mince from becoming dry as the leaner stuff is apt to do. Pork mince is good for this too.
Once I’ve got my SpagBog simmering away on low heat, it’s back to the workshop.
Last job for the night is to drill the holes for the two bridge studs that will position the beautiful gold Schaller 455 bridge. This may be the last guitar I make with this bridge though as Schaller don’t show it on their website anymore. Perhaps it has made way for their astounding new Signum model (yum!).
This little job is a little trickier than it seems, due to the fact that the stud inserts are ‘stepped’ and thus require a hole within a hole to accommodate this. Add to this that I will be earthing the bridge using an earth wire delivered precisely from the electronics recess to the bottom of the right-hand stud hole… therefore I need a hole within a hole within a hole.
Hmmm head hurts now, time to stop.
To round out the day, some nice family time with Wifey, my small person and the ‘doodle’. My boy is at the stage where he wants to just grab everything and/or eat it. This includes Wifey’s prescription glasses which thankfully to this point haven’t made it past his oesophagus.
Sit down to write this little account. Seems I have a lot less trouble writing now than back in English class. Granted the subject is somewhat more thrilling.
Remainder of night? Just some family responsibilities and the chance to spend some time chilling with my awesome wife. There might have been some red, but it was too good and was finished off last night.
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So there you have it! Was it just as you expected?
Stay tuned for future instalments and more (or less) recipes.