Friday, October 5, 2012

Archtop #2 looking rather blonde

Here is the guitar hanging next to the already completed archtop.  Quite a difference in tone between unfinished and finished colors.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Archtop #2 well on the way...

Here are some update photos of the second archtop guitar build.  It's nice to get some mileage out of all of the specialized jigs needed to build these.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Laminating Bindings

I borrowed a Stewart Mac binding laminater from a local luthier to see how well it works for making multilayer plastic bindings.  The tool was originally mounted in a jig like that described on the Stew Mac web site but after using it for a little while I built a new jig with a couple of modifications to make the tool work a little better. 

There are two things that the Stew Mac set up that needed to be changed.  First the out feed side of the jig had a PVC pipe to feed the binding into.  This prevented easy access to the binding to pull it through laminator so I replaced this with a set of dowels that guide the binding but leave more room for grabbing the bindings than the PVC pipe did.  Secondly I added two pins to the infeed side of the jig to keep the layers of binding separated so that it is easier to apply the acetone to glue the binding together.  Here is a photo of the setup with the exhaust hood to vent the acetone out of the room.

 And here is a close up of the jig to show the details.
The laminator works very well and the basic process is to tack the pieces together with acetone.  Spread the pieces apart with the pins and use a pencil to mark where your next application of acetone will end.  Apply acetone to both sides and wait a second to let the plastic soften.  Hold a paper towel over the two pieces where they enter the laminator to keep the edges even and your fingers clean of dissolved plastic and acetone.  Put a clothes pin over the newly laminated section, mark off the next area and repeat the process.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Archtop #2 Started

I just started up archtop number 2.  Here are a few photos of the first few days work.  Since I am pretty much doing it the same way as the last one I'll only post photo updates.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Archtop Guitar Build - Finished!!!

It has taken a while but I have now turned this...
into this...
I'm very pleased with how it turned out in terms of tone, ease of play and looks.  I also took it in to get a professional opinion and our local luthier (Bill Hatfield) really liked it after he put it through the paces both acoustically and electrically.  This past weekend I played it in church for the first time and it got good reviews so now to build another one.

Here are some close-ups of a few of the details of the guitar.  First off is the finger rest and it's mounting block.  If you look closely you can see that I've cut a bevel into the side facing the strings.  This is because the neck sits low to the body (explained in an earlier post) and I needed a little more clearance between the high E string and the finger rest when finger picking. The pickup is a Kent Armstrong sidemount slimline humbucker.  I really like the sound of this pickup and the shielded wiring make it very quiet.  The single pot is for volume and I thought about a tone pot but there really is no room for it on the finger rest.  The end jack is a Fishman stereo jack that I've wired mono with the leads going through the upper roundrel of the "f-hole."

The tail piece mounts via a sarconi strap to the double ringed end jack.  The bone insert protects the edge of the top and works well.  The strings that I am currently using are nickle jazz 11's.
I hope that you've enjoyed following along with this build and be sure to check out the other cool and eclectic collection of things that I've built that are on this blog!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Archtop Guitar Build - Buffing

I had to do some touch up fills of lacquer on sink lines and small defects in the surfaces.  Once all of this had a chance to cure I once again sanded everything flat with 600 wet -> 1000 wet -> 1500 wet.  I then used my new secret weapon, the arbor buffer...

I bought this Shop Fox arbor buffer from Luthier's Mercantile (LM) and got the motor from Stew Mac (closeout priced).  The stand allows the motor to tension the arbor via a hinge mount and the buffer wheels are loaded with medium fine on the left and fine on the right.

The tech services guy from LM has done a lot of finishing so I picked his brain for about 20 minutes to find out about the do's and don'ts of buffing.  He said that you have to go down to 1500 grit before the medium fine which I thought was a little odd because the medium fine is 800-1000 grit.  I experimented by buffing with this compound after 6oo grit and he was right.  You get a very shiny surface with lots of fine swirl scratches in the background.  When I followed his directions it turned out perfect and took a fraction of the time it usually takes me when I buff with rubbing compound, polishing compound and swirl remover.

The way I prepped the wheels was by combing them with a wheel rake and then trimmed all of the loose ends.  These wheels kick up large amounts of lint when they are being combed and loaded.  If you look carefuuly at the photo, it looks like I've been shearing sheep because the floor is loaded with tufts of lint.  After the wheels were trimmed I buffed a piece of hardwood for about two minutes to get the wheels hot and then loaded them with compound.  After the compound was on the wheels I then buffed the hard wood to fine tune the wheels before tackling the guitar.

When you buff you must be sure to use only the front lower half of the wheel and be careful to not allow the top sharp edge of the guitar hit the upper portion of this sector.  If it does, It can catch the guitar and throw it out of your hands according the the LM tech services guy.  I noticed that when I was buffing around the "f-holes" that the guitar wanted to move a little so I can only imagine the rude surprise you would be in for if you caught the wrong surface with the buffer wheel...

Here is what the guitar looked like after buffing.  I took photos with both natural light and artificial light to give a good perspective.  The guitar now shines like a mirror...

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sea of Galilee Boat (Jesus Boat)

********* NEW*********

If you are interested in purchasing one of these models please see my web page at SE Miller Guitars or Email me at:  

The cost for a completed model with everything that you see here plus a wooden storage crate is $500.  I offer free shipping to congregations and evangelism missions.

I have listed a model for sale on EBay, please see the post at

I also have kits available for those who wish to purchase one and build your own.  The cost for these is $80 plus shipping and these too are available at the web site.


These photos were originally posted on the now defunct Dry Dock Models forum back in 2006.  I've received many e-mails and requests for the details of the building of this model so I am putting them there on this blog where I know that they will be up for all to see.

The model is based upon plans found in this book.
The book details the amazing discovery of a first century Sea of Galilee fishing boat.  These boats were common on the Sea of Galilee and because they were so mundane, there were only a few images of them in art and pottery that had survived to this date.  The discovery of this vessel gave us new insights into how these vessels were constructed and sailed.  Later in this post I'll give a very interesting example of just how this plays out.

The model was constructed using a strongback as the mold for the hull.  The mahogany planks are glued to one another using thin CA glue.   The CA glue is not visible under a clear coating so any CA glue lines that you see in theses photos will vanish under clear shellac.

Interestingly, the hulls of these first century boats were made in a similar fashion.  Instead of building a series of frames and planking them (like we would today), first century boats were built by joining the planks together and later reinforcing them with internal partial frames, just like in this model.  The only difference is that they did not have CA glue...

When the hull was completely planked, it was cut off from it's attachement to the stongback and this is what it looked like.

You can see that the hull is tear drop shaped with the bow being the more pointed end.  Next internal partial ribs were added to the boat, just like in the original.  These ribs do not extend from sheer to sheer but rather only cover a portion of the hull's profile.  A plastic spaced was used to ensure uniform spacing of the ribs.

A support for the decks and rowing seats was now installed using a wooden spacer to make sure that it was correctly spaced down from the sheer.   And MDF "mold" of the cap rail was used to shape both cap rails to exactly the correct profile and the fore and aft decks were then planked.

 These boats were steered using quarter rudders.  These "steering oars" were lashed to supports on the aft quarters of the boat.  Here are the finished quarter rudders.

The sails were then sewn up.  I used spray starch to stiffen the fabric and a pattern of seams was printed on a piece of paper.  This paper was sewn to the sail so that the seams were properly spaced and striaght.  The sewing machine perforated the paper on the seams so it was easily removed.  Next, wire was sewn into the edges of the sail so that it could be shaped to look like it was holding wind.

Lastly, I made both linen and wire rope for the model.  The wire rope is shown in its unpainted version (red) and painted version (line on the left).  This wire rope is stiff enough to keep the base of the sail off of the mast so it looks like the boat is sailing down wind.

Finally the "small stuff" was made to complete the model.  This included a stone anchor, fishing baskets, ballast bags and a net (made from a party favor bag from a wedding that my wife and I had just attended).

Here is the finished model on its stand, it was good enough to take a Gold at the Midwest Model Ships Competition.

Earlier I had mentioned how the archeological discovery of this boat had validated certain questions that we had about this vessel.  Prior to the discovery of this boat, all we knew about them came from art work on few pottery shards and a few brief mentions of them in ancient writings.

In the new testament there is a story about Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee in one of the boats during a great storm.  This storm was so bad that it frightened the disciples, many of whom were veteran fishermen of this body of water.  The story says that Jesus was asleep in the boat with his head on a pillow.  Prior to the discovery of this boat this story seemed to not ring true for two reasons.  The first of which is "how could anyone sleep through a storm in an open boat?"  We are surprised to find that these boats were not open but had two decks which now makes it possible for someone to be shielded from the storm by being under one of them.

The second question still remains, "why a fishing boat full of scales, nets and baskets would have pillows in it?"  After all this was a working vessel, not a royal yacht.  It turns out that the ballast bags that were used for setting the trim of the boat are still commonly referred to as "pillows" to this day.  So now we can see that Jesus was asleep, shielded from the storm by the aft deck with his head resting on ballast bags!  Once again archeological evidence gives new witness to the fact that these ancient writings are valid.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Archtop Guitar - Finger Rest / Finishing part 2

The finger rest was easy enough to make but very hard to fit to the guitar.  The plans call for the guitar neck to have a set back angle and have the strings sit a predetermined height above the top plate at the position of the bridge (between the two central points of the "f-holes."  I made sure of this when I made the neck but one thing that I did not take into account was the thickness of the neck where the finger rest attaches.  This has to be thick enough to accept the mounting screws but also has to be high enough so that you can get a screwdriver in to seat the screws.  Lastly the finger rest has to hold a pick up at just the right distance from the strings.  I made a small wedge for the pickup to mount on and checked all of the distances.  All of my geometry was spot on but I was a little too tight to the top plate to get a screwdriver in.  This is why I took a few weeks away from the project to think this one over since no solution came to mind right away.

To further make the matter more difficult, the finger rest sits parallel to the strings but must sit low enough so that it doesn't interfere with playing, yet sit high enough so that you can use it as a "rest" for picking.  Lastly the finger rest does not sit on the same plane and the strings but is canted down from the strings across the body of the guitar. 

I made the finger rest out of ebony, with a mother of pearl inlay that goes well with the fret markers and tail piece inlays. I mounted a couple of tuners to the head stock and the tail piece and bridge so that I could string up low and high E strings to get the geometry for the finger rest.  I then made an ebony block that would attach to the bottom of the finger rest and mount the assembly to the side of the neck.  Two holes were drilled into the mounting block and corresponding holes were bored into the neck.  To get around the low placement I used allen head screws.  These allowed me to use a small allen head wrench that fit perfectly into the space provided and made for a very nice fit.  Problem solved!

Next I did something that you are not supposed to do.  I strung up the guitar with all of the strings and played it for a day.  The action was surprisingly good considering I did no set up work and the  guitar sounded great acoustically but I quickly found that the neck was too chunky and "square" from frets 4 to the nut.  This is something that I did not appreciate when I was forming the neck but when I re-checked with a pattern guide, there was a subtle difference in neck geomertry between the Laravee neck and the archtop.  They say you should not play the guitar because you will get oils into the finish that may prevent the lacquer from properly bonding but I was planning on applying more layers of shellac so I knew this would not be an issue.  I am very glad I did this because I would not have been happy with the neck otherwise and I learned that for a beginner like me, there is a difference between feeling the neck without strings and playing it.

This is the finger rest.  The hole is for the volume pot and the slight depression in the back is to allow the screw head clearance when inserted.

Next I cleaned the guitar and sprayed several coats of shellac, especially on the neck because it had need sanded bare in the areas that were re-worked.  Any small imperfections were repaired and 10 coats of lacquer were applied over three days with my new spray gun.  For the previous four stringed instruments I used spay cans of lacquer but for this guitar I decided to get a spray gun and try it out.  By my quick calculations, the gun should pay for itself over the course of just a couple of guitars (that is if you already have an air compressor). 

My spray set up consists of a spray booth that exhausts to the outside and a "door jamb" style spray gun.  This gun is powered by a 5 horse compressor in the next room that feeds its pressure line "up hill" to a water trap.  The "up hill" run allows condensated water to drain back to the compressor and the water trap is extra insurance.  A coiled pressure line runs to a quick connector that attaches to the gun and the gun hangs on a screw when not in use.  I found that around 20 psi worked well for the cut shellac and 25 psi was good for the uncut lacquer.  More pressure resulted in more over-spray and a pebbled finish.  The liquid feed was opened up to make an oval spray pattern.  The gun was easy to clean and did not require cleaning between coats but only at the end of production.   Here is the set up.

Now to let is sit for a couple of weeks while the lacquer cures...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Misc. Guitar Projects

It's amazing how much you can get done when you don't feel like finishing another project.  I am to the point of shaping the block that will hold the finger rest onto the archtop guitar but I don't feel like doing this so I've completed two small projects that I've had on the back burner for many months...

The first is a really simple one.  When you are working on a guitar while you are sitting, it is hard to see the LCD displays on small hand held metronomes and tuners.  These easy to make plexiglass holders work great for propping the device up so you can see the display.  Small sections of plexiglass were cut out and held in a vice while a heat gun was used to apply heat to the areas that need to be bent.  The heat gun does a great job of getting the plexiglass just hot enough to bend but not so hot that it forms air bubbles in the plastic.  These are quick and easy to make and are great presents for anyone who uses these common devices.

The other project was one that is aimed at making it easier to power up my studio set-up and at the same time save my monitor speakers from the power-up pops that occur if they are not the last thing turned on in the power up cycle. 

This is a small box made of poplar that has the rack that I built for my mixer glued to its top.  The bottom of the box comes off to access the inside.  Two 120v 15A LED indicator light switches are mounted on the front and wired up to an outlets in the back.  The mixer, guitar pedals and anything else are plugged into one power strip that is connected to the outlet wired to the switch on the left.  The monitor speakers are plugged into a power strip that is plugged into the outlet connected to the switch on the right.  The connection tab that normally joins the two outlets for wiring has been removed so they can function independently of each other.  These switches are wired in such a way that the LED's come on when they are in the "on" position. 

With this set up I can flip the switch on the left and wait a few seconds while all of the equipment powers up and then switch on the speakers.  When I am done, I just reverse the process and switch off the speakers before powering down everything else.  This way I can power everything up and down from one convenient location.  A little cork on the bottom of the box keeps everything from sliding around on the "Strat-o-table."

Now I can get back to the archtop...