Hi, Fellow Guitarmakers!
Parlor guitars are delicate, sweet instruments. We Portuguese call them Senhorinhas (Little Ladies).
I had already restored an old Senhorinha - and posted some pictures here, in a discussion called "restoring an old instrument"- but I had no Parlor guitar of my own. The oportunity for that came two years ago: a cousin of mine offered me the remaining parts of his father's guitar.
My uncle was born in 1904, and the instrument must have been bought between 1920 and 1930. There must have been some accident, the guitar was broken, but the remaining parts were kept in an attic until the moment they were given to me.
The last time I saw my uncle was in 1955. I was five by them, but I still remember him playing Christmas songs in the piano. So, I had sentimental reasons to rescue what was left of the instrument...
The remaining part of the back allowed for a maximum width of 302 mm at the lower bout and a total soundbox lenght of 458 mm. My challenge was to obtain elegant proportions within those parameters and also a good acoustic response...
Jose Romanillos's book "Antonio de Torres - Guitarmaker - His life & Work" gives notice that Torres did make a number of small guitars, describes them, includes their measurements and drawings of their strutting patterns. I studied carefully those data, made a few sketches, and finally came to design this top. It doesn't replicate any particular Torres guitar (the smaller one - SE 02 - measuring 308 mm at the lower bout) but follows the strutting pattern he used in the half-a-dozen small instruments I had the chance to study.
Please notice there are only five fan struts, and no diagonal bars at the end of the fan. The rectangular reinforcement under the neck area is something I learned directly from Master Jose Romanillos, it prevents those well-known cracks that may occur at the top, near the fretboard edges...
Now, I bought a nice spruce top, bookmatched, and the first thing to do was to glue the two halves. I used the technique shown by Irving Sloane in his book "Classic Guitar Construction":
Notice the wooden bars at each side: at this moment, they just keep the top halves in place. But, when the wooden baten under the top centerline is removed and the top is forced down, the wooden bars wil compress the two top halves against one another, making sure you get a good gluing. Also the blue plastic bag stripe under the top is worth noticing: it prevents the undesired gluing of the top to the wood plate under it...
Having made sure everything is in the right position, it's time to spread glue in the edges to join, put it all back in position, use another wood bar to exert pressure all over the centerline, remove the batten, clamp it all, and... cross your fingers and wait for 24 hours.
Next step was planing the top to thickness; then, it was time to insert a rosette:
Carving the top is always a delicate job. The groove must be very regular, and the inlay must fit it precisely. I used a honing stone to sharpen a watchmaker screwdriver, thus making a small "chisel" out of it. This tool proved excellent to do the job: a 2-mm wide chisel is too difficult to find, and it's an expensive tool. The screwdriver was equally sharp, smaller and light-weghted, much easier to handle...
Next photo shows the moment of checking the fitting of the second circular inlay. The purfling was previously bent to shape. I did that with a soldering iron (the bending iron I use to bend sides is too big for this job) taking great care to prevent it from getting too hot (I didn't want to burn these precious purflings - or my fingers). Notice the unbent piece of purfling at the left side...After inserting, gluing, and scraping, the result was worth the work it took...
Terrific job Luis! Interestingly I recently refurbished a 1924 parlor guitar made by Lyon and Healy in Chicago, it was a basket case and I converted to a nylon string (which is what the customer wanted) and replaced all the broken and incorrect bracing with fan bracing. She loves it and it was quite a project! I find your work also interesting because I am currently starting construction of an 1816 Jose Martinez Salon guitar, I bought the plans from the luthiers guild and have finished the mold and templates. I'm going to build it with a spruce top, cypress back and sides and cedar neck. I have found a supplier who sells tonewood large enough for a small guitar like the Martinez so can avoid two piece tops. The Martinez lower bout is 270mm. Congratulations you did an excellent job on this and I understand why it would have so much value to you! I can't really tell, but did you use friction tuners? The bracing is really nice too!
Thanks for your comment, and good luck in the making of your new instrument!
Now, I got one doubt: Why did you choose not to use the same wood for the back and the sides?
Have a laugh: I had to search for"basket case" in the dictionary, I didn't know the expression. This is going to be a very instructive discussion, Thanks again!
Hi Luis, the plans call for rosewood back and sides, spruce top and spanish cedar neck, another luthier suggested I use maple back and sides but I'm thinking the cypress back and sides might make a brighter sounding instument, although the maple sounds good too! I had a Flamenco guitar with a spruce top and cypress back and sides and it was very loud! Here's an example of the 1816 Martinez that was built by a luthier in Colorado... This is basically what I'm building.
Of course the original (and the plans call for) friction tuners on a closed headstock, as well as a tie block type bridge, Martinez built some nice guitars before Torres...
Blonde or amber shellac on your parlour? Thanks!!!
My uncle's guitar had friction tuners, but I am no great believer, I prefer the mechanical ones. For this instrument, I went for some "cheapo" brand ones.
Shellack: I would say it's amber (in fact it's dark brown). I bought it from Dick, GmbH (Germany) it's the xtra-hard kind. Dick changed recently its name to Dictum (this is NOT a joke)... I will post further details later.
I think you're doing a terrific job! I'm a real parlour guitar addict myself and have built several; starting up a new series of six right now and the previous series can be seen and heard on my site: www.robvanleuven.com.
Restoring a historic instrument is ofcourse an achievement on it's own!
Thanks for posting all those pictures Luis, and I was wondering how you applied the finish? I always use shellac which I french polish onto the surface. It takes a lot of time but I like the results and am curious how you did yours, it looks quite beautiful! I looked at you site Rob and you have some very nice instruments there! I too love parlour guitars and prefer small guitars to play, although I recently built an archtop. The Martinez guitar I am building is quite small and has on three fan braces. Rob, I am very interested in the PG-002 nylon string you built, very nice! Nice to see so much talent building parlour sized instrments!
The finish is good quality shellack, and it is done with a "doll" (a ball of wool, or cotton, wrapped in a linen cloth. And yes, you are right, Rob makes extremely beautiful instruments!