- DEC 10 Ways to Avoid Truss Rod Disasters
- NOV Inlay Material & Tools
- OCT Color To Dye For
- SEPT CITES & International Shipping Restrictions
- AUG What's wrong with my tuners?
- JULY Climate Control
- JUNE One Stop Shopping
- MAY Dealing with Mineral Deposits
- APR Dovetail vs. Bolt-on Neck Joints
- MAR The LMI Catalog ... and Beyond!
- FEB NAMM Show 2016
- JAN Wood Scarcity - part 3
- DEC Wood Scarcity - part 2
- NOV Wood Scarcity - part 1
- OCT The Northwood's Seminars
- SEPT Back to Lutherie School
- AUG Building on a Budget
- JULY ASIA Symposium
- JUNE Rosettes
- MAY Featured Tonewood: Macassar Ebony
- APR Quality Adhesives
- MAR LMI Videos
- FEB News from the NAMM Show
- JAN Healdsburg Guitar Festival
- DEC Heroes' Voices
- NOV Tor-Tis™ Pickguards
- OCT Acoustic Guitar Pickup Choices
- SEPT Repair Stuff
- AUG Do Pros Order Kits?
- JULY 3 Cheers for the Red, White and Uke!
- JUNE LMI, Luthier Communities and the Upcoming GAL Convention
- MAY Our Expanded Shop, ‘Professional Tools’ and LMI Shop Services
- APR Neck Wood Alternatives
- MAR LMI's Wood Drying & Preparation
As we enter the “Rosewood CITES” era people can choose to either work with the new restrictions or look at some alternative woods. Either way you go, LMI is well prepared to help. Before we look at some of the alternatives, here are a few reminders:
- LMI is happy to email you some informational material at no charge upon request to bring you up to speed.
- We can easily send Rosewood to our customers in the U.S. and Canada and should be ready to supply our European customers before long.
- We can provide the documents you need if you are exporting instruments that contain Rosewood upon request for a modest fee. Save your invoices!
LMI does not export finished instruments, but of course, many of our customers do. As of this writing (March 2017) customers exporting instruments with Rosewood on them are just beginning to learn the ropes with regards to CITES paperwork, inspections and turnaround times. We are learning what we can from their experiences so we can share them with you later on.
Many builders have markets that are willing to accept alternatives to Rosewood. This is evident primarily in the electric guitar market where Rosewood has been a traditional fingerboard choice. We’ll cover back and side options in another blog.
Pau Ferro – This is a well-known fingerboard wood that has been used widely by Fender, Sadowsky, Spector and other respected brands. At times we have stocked thousands of boards at a time. For years it was plentiful and inexpensive, but the political situation in Bolivia (the only source for really good stuff) ended the supply for a period of about 4 years. There is now an open supply chain, but turnaround times are lengthy and the price of the wood now well exceeds Rosewood. PROS: Similar grain striping as Rosewood, quartersawn, a little harder than Rosewood (but less than Ebony), stable. CONS: Some people are allergic to it, overall not as dark as Rosewood, no longer cheap, supply chain much improved, but shaky.
Granadillo – People love that the basic coloration and density are similar to Rosewood, but the wood is famous for inconsistency with wide ranging colors and grain patterns. On the lower end, we see a lot of spotty and patchy colors, which may or may not be apparent after the board is oiled and fretted (or maybe even dyed). With an increase in demand, perhaps we will be able to filter the supply so that there are more boards consistently landing in the higher end of the grade spectrum, but this is yet to be determined. The supply chain seems fairly strong, but until recently we have only stocked a small amount. If we see more people embracing this wood as an alternative to Rosewood, of course, we will get more.
Katalox – The brown coloration differs from Rosewood but Katalox offers something that Rosewood purchasers routinely request: darkness. It is also very consistent in appearance though correspondingly it lacks specialness or any exciting grain patterns. It’s a bit harder and heavier than Rosewood. Coming from Central America it is similar to Granadillo with regard to the supply. We are increasing our inventory, but still waiting to see how the wind blows until we bolster on-hand amounts to rival a staple like Rosewood.
Machiche – None of the alternatives listed above is closer to Rosewood in appearance and density than Machiche, though it looks more like Honduran Rosewood than Indian. It’s relatively new to the guitarmaking world and has been slow to catch on, but that could easily change with the new CITES ruling. We will know more about the supply future before the summer of 2017.
West African Ebony – Not much needs to be said about this well-known species. It differs greatly from Rosewood on a number of fronts, but is well known to the market place and there are no CITES restrictions on it (yet!), so many people might think it is a good alternative. And, of course, we have tons of it in stock.
We talk a lot about figure on our website. Figure is genetic, is only found in a small percentage of trees, and is highly prized by furniture makers and luthiers alike. In most cases it adds much to the beauty of the wood, though it can have a negative impact on workability. Flamed wood, where the actual grainline varies in direction many times per inch, can make planning and bending more difficult. It usually has little impact on the tone of the wood, though some say that Bearclaw in Spruce adds to the stiffness a bit and so therefore improves resonance.
Words like curly, quilted, bearclaw, and fiddleback all refer to different kinds of figure, and there are others. Here is a simple glossary of the most common types of figure:
By now, it is likely you have heard the news which is rocking the instrument making world: All Rosewoods are now listed on CITES (Appendix II) including Indian Rosewood. This has wide ranging implications. If you need us to send you detailed information, please request that we do so by contacting us.
The main impact we are experiencing here at LMI is that it is no longer feasible for us to send small, individual volumes of Rosewood products to most international destinations due to the lengthy and expensive permit process. Exceptions can be made for bulk deliveries -please inquire.
Right now, we have established operations (at no small expense or effort) to sell a limited selection of the most popular Indian Rosewood products in Canada and hope to soon in the European Union.
CITES compliance is not optional for anyone. It’s complicated and somewhat time consuming, but you can count on LMI to be the most thorough, prepared and qualified Rosewood supplier in the business. We are also the most helpful and we are eager to help see you through the process.
Here are some general guidelines for compliance that deserve your attention.
- Purchase only from companies who keep on file the CITES import permit paperwork for all relevant species. They should be able to accurately link any particular piece of wood to the corresponding import permits etc.
- If you are exporting your instruments from one country to another, you will need to get a copy of the original CITES import paperwork for your CITES re-export application (currently finished Mahogany and Spanish Cedar parts do not require a CITES re-export if they are finished products, but this could change in the future). If the wood you have purchased is “pre-CITES” (was originally imported by your supplier before being listed on CITES) then you can submit an affidavit, including an affidavit from your supplier in addition to your invoice for that particular wood purchase.
- All of your wood should be carefully inventoried. Photos are often helpful. Make sure you can trace any particular wood piece to a particular invoice.
- If you are exporting an instrument with Rosewood parts, no matter how small (i.e. bridge pins!) then you will need to apply for a CITES re-export permit for each shipment. This will cost (at least) $100 and may take up to 3 months to process. Once again, this must occur for each shipment. The application form from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department is available here. If you live outside the United States, you will need to contact the relevant agency in your country for permit information.
- LMI can provide an affidavit statement for pre-CITES wood at no charge by email. There is a $20 charge to receive a copy of the CITES permit for post-CITES wood. You must be able to provide the invoice number for your purchase along with the serial number for the particular piece of post-CITES wood in order to get a permit. LMI keeps invoice information on file for no longer than 2 years. Please file your invoices carefully.
Nothing, absolutely nothing, will ruin your day like a truss rod disaster. Don’t go there! To make sure your truss rod functions well for you and your customers, be sure to follow these common sense suggestions.
- Test each rod. Weld failures are extremely uncommon, but you don’t want to be that one in million person who experiences one. We test all our rods but we still think it’s a good idea that you do so as well. Put the rod in a vice and over-extend it to be sure you are good to go.
- Do not alter the rod. This includes not filing away any weld blobs to make the rod flush. It’s better to whittle away a little wood in the neck to accommodate the weld, as filing it could compromise the integrity of the weld.
- Our new truss rod nuts give you three modes of adjustment. This gives you ‘back-up’ if someone should strip the nut. It’s best to stick with the standard hex wrench (“Allen”). The second choice, if need be, is to use the outside ¼” wrench/nut driver. As a last ditch effort, use a screwdriver. Make sure the screwdriver fits nicely –use a #2.
- Most of our rods use a 9/64” hex wrench for adjustment. Whether you use our wrench (TRW) or another, in every case, make sure the wrench is snug in the nut when adjusting and that the wrench is inserted a minimum of ¼” into the nut. Use a piece of tape on the wrench to confirm you are fully seated in the nut if need be. Unfortunately, tolerances on most hex wrenches are not tight, and a poorly suited wrench can strip the nut in a hurry. Many luthiers include a wrench in the case of the guitar they are selling, to help prevent the player from using a bad one.
- Be sure you seat the truss rod snugly in the channel. Use shims if necessary. It should be solid at each end with zero play.
- Make sure the rod still moves! Do whatever you can to avoid getting any glue on the rod when you glue down the fingerboard. Often a strip of tape between the truss rod channel and the fingerboard is enough to prevent glue from getting in the channel.
- Do not over-stiffen the neck. It’s okay to use some carbon fiber neck reinforcement, but if you go crazy with steel rods or an extra thick neck then the truss rod will not be able to adjust the neck no matter what.
- Make the neck right! Do not expect your truss rod to make corrections if your neck is not straight. The truss rod should be used only to make slight adjustments to the playing action.
- Many builders add some silicon caulking to eliminate rattle if the rod is slack. Do not experiment with other materials!
- Avoid cheap truss rods. Many truss rods on the market these days are manufactured poorly, out of poor materials in overseas factories. USA made truss rods, like the LMI rods, cost more but you get what you pay for! A cheap truss rod can definitely ruin your day in a hurry!
Inlay is a craft that allows the insertion of original artwork into an instrument to increase its uniqueness, value and appeal. It’s purely ornamental, but certain inlays on a guitar, most notable the rosette and the headstock logo, are considered essential. In recent years, we have seen inlay art pop up on a variety of locations, such as the end graft, the heel cap – even the neck. And, of course, many of the most memorable inlay works are found on the fingerboard.
LMI recognizes the importance of inlay work by selling a wide variety of materials and tools. Mother of pearl and abalone shell are the most common inlay materials. We sell pre-cut dots, strips and fingerboard designs in addition to raw slab material and Abalam shell sheets in a variety of colors and types. We also have reconstituted stone pieces that add some brilliant and unique colors and patterns to the mix. For wood inlay, our headplate veneers (we have them in dozens of species) offer the proper thickness and flatness for cutting inlays.
In the inlay tool department find a quality jewelers saw with a range of replacement blades, plus six gravers, some specialty markers and some really fine books and DVD’s on the topic for inspiration and instruction.
Of course all these fine offerings pale in comparison to our new LMI Rotary Plunge Router Assembly. We spent two years looking at every available router base design on the market, and consulting with leading inlay artists like Larry Robinson and Jimmi Wingert, in order to make available an absolute ‘Cadillac’ inlay tool. Please visit the page, below, to find out why we are so proud of this professional quality tool.
A fine accompaniment to this tool is our wide array of small diameter carbide router bits. We now carry a variety of very small diameter Robb Jack bits – an industry favorite!
By LMI's Sales Manager Chris Herrod
Luthiers use dyes to warm up or accent the color of a plain hued wood, to make a bold statement, recreate a classic sunburst and in a variety of repair situations. LMI carries a wide variety of dyes to choose from. Although many dyes can be mixed in a strong enough concentration to become essentially opaque, they differ from paints (commonly used on solid body electrics) in that they allow at least some of the wood grain and color to come through.
We are often asked “Do you have a color mixing chart?”. Long ago, we did, but with the inconsistences in printing processes, and in the presentation on computer monitors, we found they created more trouble than they were worth, so be prepared to get to the color you are after by going through a trial and error process with scrap wood. Many people find this process to be enjoyable.
Here is the key to compatibility success with dyes. If you are using a water based finish, you can add a water based dye to it –but use a solvent based (alcohol or MEK) dye if you are dying the wood directly and then adding a water based finish on top. This will keep the colors from running. Similarly, if you are using a solvent based finish (like lacquer) add solvent based dye to tint it, or use a water based dye directly on the wood beneath it.
- Aniline Dye –this the most traditional, and also the most economical choice. These are the colors seen on many vintage guitars.
- Dye Concentrates –a more modern dye, bolder than aniline and more colorfast over time.
- Universal Tints (paint pigments) –these are mainly used for dying pore fillers, especially the Chemcraft fillers, but they can be used in other coloring applications.
- Fingerboard Dye –just the right color for rendering streaky Ebony boards jet black.
- Trans-Tint –one formula is compatible with both water and solvent based mixtures. Available in some really cool pre-mixed colors.
Looking for info on doing a sunburst finish?
See Robbie O’Brien’s video.
by LMI's Sales Manager Chris Herrod
International – the word appears in the name of our company! We value our international customers and appreciate the opportunity to work with and befriend luthiers from around the world. But more and more we are limited as to what products we are allowed to ship to them. Why is that?
CITES is an international organization that regulates the import and export of plant and animal species and materials in order to protect endangered species. Their rulings are legally binding in all of the 182 countries who participate. It is CITES, for example, that strictly prohibits the import and export of elephant ivory.
Ivory, tortoise shell and Brazilian Rosewood are all classified at “Appendix I” –the strictest level of protection. We do not carry any CITES I materials, and strongly advise against the use of any in instrument making, including Brazilian Rosewood. Just because it can be purchased domestically (CITES only has jurisdiction of products crossing borders) the likelihood of it being poached and illegally imported, and therefore an infraction against the Lacey Act, is staggeringly high. And this is true of most alleged “pre-CITES” Brazilian on the market. Probably all sellers of Brazilian Rosewood, including those advertising publicly in the US at this time, do not have requisite Lacey act and CITES documentation to prove legality. Buyer beware!
It is the CITES II materials that most concern us here at LMI. CITES II woods can be imported and exported, but not without significant paperwork, expense and a special permit. Because of this, we are not able to ship Mahogany neck blanks outside of the U.S. Fortunately, CITES II restrictions do not apply to finished products, which makes it possible for us to send a pre-carved Mahogany neck (or a finished guitar made from Mahogany, for that matter). On most of the CITES species LMI carries, veneers are also a restricted commodity and we are unable to ship them without a special export permit and additional red tape.
The restriction against shipping shell over the border is different. It can be done, but there is a steep fee ($91 plus carrier fees at the time of this writing) demanded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, to file a Form 3-177 and cover the inspection. Most commonly used shell products, including the ones that we carry, are not at all endangered –but there are some shell materials that are CITES restricted, hence the inspection.
Sadly, some of the most commonly used woods in instrument making are on the CITES II list: Honduran Mahogany, Spanish Cedar and almost every species of Rosewood found throughout the world. At this time (08/2016) Indian Rosewood and African Blackwood (along with some Rosewoods not used in instrument making) are not on the list, but there is a strong likelihood that they will end up there in the near future as there is a movement to include all Dalbergias (Rosewoods). This is because it is difficult for border agents to accurately distinguish between the different species of Rosewood, and misrepresenting species is one of the most common forms of smuggling. As of this writing there are no plans in the proposal to annotate the listing meaning even finished products made from the newly listed Dalbergia species could be restricted. – Stay tuned.
by LMI's Sales Manager Chris Herrod
What's wrong with my tuners? ... The question may seem unusual to experienced builders, but for beginners (or for some players having trouble with their instrument) it comes up fairly often. Are my tuners defective?
First off, we need to put to rest the idea that tuners can ‘slip’. We hear it all the time, but if you think about it, it’s just not possible. The teeth on the gear of any tuning machine, including the economy models, are so large that it would take a minor miracle for the teeth in the gear wheel to disengage and ‘slip’ from the cogs in the corresponding cylindrical worm gear. When we hear “my tuners are slipping” the first thing we advise is to change strings! More often than not the strings were not wound around the post correctly and are slipping around there. Or they were not seated beneath the bridge pins correctly. With nylon strings some break-in time is completely normal, of course. So give it some time (a few days even, playing the guitar now and then) before changing strings to correct the problem.
When tuners become stiff, on the other hand, a number of things can be going on. On older tuners, it is often necessary to lubricate the machines now and then. For this we recommend our Tri-Flow oils. In some cases, it can be necessary to remove the tuners and do a deep cleaning. Naphtha does a good job of loosening a removing dried up oil and gunk. Try squirting it into the gears or, if necessary, giving them a bath in it –but never apply it while tuners are on the guitar as the solvent may damage the finish or wood.
A deeper problem, on new guitars, is when the peghead holes are drilled improperly. The holes need to be dead square to the back of the peghead otherwise they can bind up. The issue can creep up especially on modern guitar designs where there are tapers on the two faces of the peghead, and or the side. It’s been reported that high-performance tuners, which have a tighter tooth set, are more prone to being affected by an improperly drilled hole. They need to spin freely in order function as they should, and in those cases of course, they offer the player a very smooth tuning action.
by LMI's Sales Manager Chris Herrod
We are pretty spoiled here in Northern California when it comes to weather and humidity, but we understand the summer weather can make woodworking difficult for many folks. So, we do everything we can to make it easier for you.
All our wood is slowly dried to the optimal moisture content by our experienced staff. Many customers have echoed that our wood preparation is second to none, and we are very proud of our reputation. All woods ship ready to use, but during the summer months (more so than other times of the year) it is best to let the wood acclimate to your shop for at least a week before building. Of course, this assumes some common sense humidity control in your working environment.
Our informative article Wood Drying & Storage contains essential information on this topic and we encourage you to look at it. If budget is a concern, you need only to condition a closet or cabinet where you store your wood and not your entire shop. Nonetheless, you will need to be careful to avoid doing any delicate building procedures during humid times. These include bracing and gluing your acoustic top woods and any sort of finish work. If your schedule allows, you can focus on other tasks when the weather isn’t ideal such as fretwork and neck carving.
It’s important to remember that whenever wood ships from one climate to another, there exists the possibility that the wood will ‘move’ due to the change in conditions. Be sure and look over the items in your order as soon as you receive them. It’s rare that things will not be perfect, but in those cases, take note of what you’ve found (photos are useful) and call or email us right away. So long as you are prompt and have not done any work to the wood, we guarantee that we can make things right. Our easy return policy can be found here.
We have been preparing fine lutherie woods, and shipping them to every corner of the earth, for decades now. We value the trust you put in us and we hope to be the first place you turn to for fine tonewoods.
by LMI's Sales Manager Chris Herrod
We understand that people like to shop around, but our goal for many years has been to be a 'one stop shop'. A great many of our customers appreciate that LMI offers this convenience and take advantage of it. Guaranteed, these customers are spending more time at the workbench and less time at the computer – and they are paying less in shipping charges.
To offer this kind of convenience means that we have to be committed to branching out and embracing new trends. We also need to pay close attention to our customers. For this reason, we attend and support all the major lutherie trade shows: ASIA (Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans), GAL (Guild of American Luthiers), NAMM, and our local lutherie club, NCAL. When we can, we also visit our customer's workshops and factories to get ideas. Still most good suggestions come by email.
Luthiers far and wide let us know about the brands that work for them. Sure, they may be available elsewhere, but if a company (in our business, it's usually a small company) has developed a worthwhile product that is unique, identifiable and has a well-known track record, we know our customers will relish the chance to include it in their order. Brands like Satellite City adhesives, Klemmsia clamps, Transtint dyes, Chemcraft fillers, Tri-flow lubricants, DMT Diamond sharpening stones, Ibex planes, Grobet files, Nomad polishes, plus finishes from KTM9, Seagrave, Cardinal and many, many more are all available from LMI. Our customers need not be wary of generic offerings and can add these respected brands to their shopping cart along with whatever else they find in our store – taking advantage of our quick shipping and easy return policy.
We are proud to make available just about everything you'd need to help you make the finest guitar possible.
When trees grow in certain soil conditions, mineral deposits will sometimes form in the wood. The minerals come in with the tree’s water up through the roots and collect into isolated areas. They are usually seen as minute, very hard, crystalline lines that form along the grain line. Unfortunately, they are very light in color and can be a demanding blemish, especially on darker woods! But there is no need to discard good wood with mineral deposits, you just have to know how to deal with it.
Mineral deposits can be found in many different woods. We see it in Ebony, Rosewood, Ovangkol – even our domestic Redwood. When it appears in a hardwood like Indian Rosewood the best way to remove it is to simply take some time to physically pick it out. Your tools are a sewing needle and a good pair of magnifying glasses. Sometimes a scalpel or Exact-o knife is used. It won’t take long to work over a set of back and sides, and if you are careful, you will remove only a tiny amount of wood fiber. Of course, this is not an option for some types of deposits, and is not feasible in a fast paced production environment.
Many report that mineral deposits will ‘disappear’ under a sealer coat of shellac, like the dewaxed flake shellac we sell for French Polish. This is always worth trying so long as the shellac doesn’t interfere with your finishing scheme, but results are not 100% guaranteed. And of course, on instruments where a dark paste wood filler is used, the mineral will be concealed beneath it, provided that all the mineral resides in a recessed area (which it normally does).
Indian Ebony is a rarer case. The mineral there is not seen as white lines, but more as cloudy patches. The wood is non-porous and there are no distinct grain lines from which to pick the mineral out! This wood is primarily used for fingerboards, and it’s a blessing to know that this sort of mineral deposit disappears when any standard fingerboard oil is applied. We found our FFOA oil to be the most effective.
There is a great debate in guitar making (and playing) circles about which is the best way to attach the neck of an acoustic guitar; using a dovetail joint or a mortise and tenon bolt-on joint. Clearly more guitars come out of the factories with a bolt-on neck. But when it comes to high-end and handmade instruments, adherents of both methods are well represented. Here at LMI, we sell pre-carved necks with both types of joints and both sell about the same. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the two methods?
The dovetail joint is borrowed from furniture making where it used to create a visually attractive connection that incorporates the pressure of wedge geometry to reduce play and creep, creating a tremendously firm and rigid joint. The mortise and tenon are glued together to better seat the halves. A guitar neck’s dovetail joint differs greatly from those used in furniture in that the joint incorporates empty space within it so that the luthier can dial in the perfect neck angle as the neck is seated (there is no “air” in a furniture dovetail joint, normally). Still adherents claim that the dovetails tightness results in greater tone as a more rigid neck will absorb fewer vibrations from the string. The fact that they were used on coveted, vintage Martin and Gibson guitars is reason enough to employ a dovetail joint for many. On the negative side, seating a dovetail joint can be far more difficult and time consuming than a bolt-on, and when it comes time to do a neck reset on the guitar (to correct the action), loosening a dovetail joint involves the relatively difficult maneuver of injecting steam into the joint using a narrow, hollow pin inserted into a hole drilled (inconspicuously) into the appropriate fret slot above the joint.
The “pros” of using a bolt-on neck are implied by the negatives of the dovetail! It’s much easier to set-up and rout the mortise and tenon, to seat the neck and to repair the joint, if need be. In a factory or busy shop, time is money and because of this the bolt-on neck’s popularity has grown steadily over the years.
Some argue, that the sound of these guitars is not as robust as in a dovetail instrument, but there are many who strongly disagree with this opinion. In reality, there is just as much solid wood contact in a bolt-on joint as in a dovetail joint. In the end it can be difficult to point out exactly what is creating an improvement or decline in tone quality with so many factors at play in any one instrument and with the supposed differences between them being so subtle.
One thing is for sure though. The sometimes daunting job of routing either a dovetail joint or a bolt-on mortise and tenon joint, with all its particular geometry, is made much, much easier when using LMI’s clever Neck Joint Jig, designed by Robbie O’Brien. Click the link below to learn why this tool is so popular with today’s luthiers.
by LMI's Sales Manager Chris Herrod
For those of you who have been ordering from LMI for a while, it might come as a surprise to learn that we have not printed a catalog since 2011! Although a handful of companies still rely on a printed publication to present their goods, we have happily embraced the modern alternative; the internet! Most of our customers have found that the breadth of the LMI website casts a long shadow on a newsprint periodical, which inevitably goes out of date as soon as it exits the printing press.
In the catalog days, we had to weigh carefully whether we wanted to bring in a new wood against whether we could reliably keep it in stock for the duration of the catalog’s life. But now, if we have an opportunity to jump on a small stash of killer Koa back and sides or other rare wood, we can do so with no hesitation. Once the sets have sold out, the listing is simply removed from the web. With the catalog, out of stock items created a world of disappointment and inconvenience for our customers (and for us) but our website always displays up to date stock status.
On our website we have moved far from the catalog norm of one or two dim images to demonstrate the features of a particular wood or tool. Now we can present the whole variety of appearances within a particular species of wood. Along with tools and other parts come spec sheets, how-to videos and comparison charts.
Things have changed in the world of print media. The cost of preparing, printing and mailing a catalog has increased astronomically in recent years. We are happy to save some money so we can keep prices down and innovation moving forward. On the other hand, we now have an employee photographing beautiful woods for the website almost full-time, but that is a service with obvious and immediate benefits for our customers.
Of course, even the mighty internet has its limits, and so we have developed something new as a convenience for our customers working in busy repair and manufacturing environments. The “Shop Essentials Quick Reference Guide” is a bare-bones listing of items that are re-ordered often. Easy to update and free of charge, the items included are presented with a basic description and the price. It is intended to work well for those who have already become familiar with our products through the website, but appreciate having a simple reminder and the ability to easily consolidate purchases of basic items. The type of goods you will find in “the Guide” include: glues, abrasives, finish products, router bits, files, inlay, nuts and saddles, polishes and much more. It does not include any wood items (because these are best presented on the web) nor does it have production jigs and tools like the LMI Bending Machine.
Please feel free to ask for one the next time you order from us, or send us an email. If you like, we can email you a copy (as a PDF) so you can quickly print one for yourself.
Every January sees the return of the NAMM show –the industry wide trade show held in Anaheim, Ca. where buyers, makers and sellers of every possible musical product gather to bolster their business. LMI no longer exhibits at the show, but LMI Sales Manager Chris Herrod was there for all four days to visit customers and suppliers. Also on board for part of the show were Natalie Swango and Kallen Gillespie, who focused on meeting vendors.
Before the onset of the show Herrod was able to visit luthier Gabriel Currey’s Echopark Guitars in Los Angeles. This small but growing company is producing a variety of vintage inspired custom electrics
that have moved into the hands of prominent rockers and LA studio veterans alike. LMI is proud to be a part of their success, supplying a wide variety of essential shop supplies and woods. Everything from truss rods to plastic binding to our own LMI FGX glue .
Later that day, Herrod was invited to speak to SIMSCAL –the Orange country luthiers club and educational organization. The main topic was wood scarcity (See 3-part article, below) and the challenges facing the guitarmaking world caused by the mounting difficulty of sourcing exotic woods - especially with a transparent chain-of-custody paper trail. Also discussed were how to best use LMI and other companies to deliver the woods you need. This involves learning about the woods to such a degree that you can accurately convey to your suppliers what you need.
At the NAMM show we engaged in a caravan of meetings with representatives from most of today’s notable instrument factories to discuss needs for the coming year. It’s a fantastic industry where most of our customers and suppliers have become our friends over the years.
Part one of this short series on wood scarcity looked at the reality of the situation and its causes. Part two went over some specific wood species commonly used in guitar making. And so it is time to imagine what the future of lutherie will look like with many prized woods growing more and more impossible to acquire.
The emergence of hand-made guitars as a genuine force in the marketplace is a relatively new phenomena, with roots in the 60’s and 70’s and reaching a zenith in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Since then, with the Luthier option now firmly positioned vis-a-vis the factory guitar, we have seen the kinds of ups and downs in the market for handmade instruments that one would find in other craft industries. But gone are the days when there were just a small handful of barely known crafts-people working away in obscurity, whose works were appreciated by just a small cadre of artists and collectors.
Alongside the appreciation of fine, custom instruments came an appreciation for rare and often dramatically distinctive materials. Certainly, among the luthiers many skills, is the know-how to procure exotic woods. Working with rare materials demonstrates commitment and daring. Bending a figured side piece worth several hundred dollars can be like walking a tightrope! Fine woods compliment and substantiate the luthier’s building experience and the value of the detailed work that has been put into the guitar.
But rare woods are certainly not essential to the craft. They are auxiliary. A fine example of this can be found in the violin world. Sure, it is important to include some fine figured maple for the back and ribs, but nowhere in the culture of violin appreciation does one find the brash fetishization of flamed figure that you find in the guitar trade. You are not likely to ever hear a violin purchaser saying “This violin has an AAAAA grade flamed back!” Another example can be found in the vintage Steel String world. Those great, old Martins that unleashed a tidal wave of inspiration among luthiers, were often made from the coarsest of top materials (in terms of cosmetics, not tone) and the plainest of Rosewood back and sides. Their value exists far away from the materials used to make them. Their acclaim lies in their tonal power and the brilliance and originality of C.F. Martin’s designs.
Nonetheless, a luthier’s handmade instrument must stand out as something that embodies exceptional value. For the sake of example, let’s imagine a luthier several decades in the future who can no longer lean on wood choices to lend value to his or her creations. How does she or he design an instrument that is superb and innovative, that is a true work of art, an heirloom whose value can potentially increase with age -in the absence of rare, exotic woods?
Unique ornamentation on guitars has certainly been as much a part of the modern luthier’s palette as fine woods have been. But more is not necessarily better. Sometimes just a small inlay, rosette feature or bit of unique joinery (i.e. an arm bevel) can demonstrate a craftsperson’s command of their tools, but such features must be artistically compelling. If it is even a little bit garish then the whole instrument suffers. Balance is key. An ornately decorated guitar that also features dramatically figured tonewoods can seem gaudy, an ‘overkill’ effort to impress.
Not all ornamentation requires fine workmanship, and not all great workmanship is ornate. Though it is easy to accept that it isn’t 100% essential for great instruments to have interesting cosmetic embellishments, most of the instruments found on the ‘top shelf’ need to exhibit both beautiful details and perfect execution.
Some say that appreciation of sound is subjective. Others believe that great sound is quantifiable. It’s a big topic (no room for it here) but I believe the future of lutherie will involve a greater understanding of sound and hearing, a greater facility for communicating about tone and a greater ability to measure and quantify the attributes of sound that are important to us. Regardless of the shape of these discussions and developments, great sound will continue to be important and may in fact be more important than it is now; especially if the value of future guitars grows less dependent on a ‘fancy’ appearance. Marketing great tone is a challenge that will require luthiers to develop a vocabulary and a ‘poetry’ of tone that is, almost completely lacking at this time.
Of course a particular wood’s acoustic and mechanical quality has bearing on the sound of the guitar, but I think it is overstated. We know already that cosmetically inferior soundboards can be tonally excellent and it is a largely agreed upon ‘fact’ that the back and side woods have only a minor role in sound production in comparison to the soundboard. Other design factors (bracing, body cavity volume, scale length, bridge position etc.) have a much, much greater impact on an instrument’s sound than whether the back and sides are made of this or that kind of Rosewood –especially when a skilled luthier is able to ‘tweak’ the design (for example the bracing, the top thickness) to counter or compliment the tonal features of the wood. Sadly, we have seen many beginning luthiers include exceptionally valuable tonewoods on their first instruments in the hopes that the woods quality will lend value to the instrument -presumably, where their undeveloped skills cannot.
Finally, this discussion would not be complete without mention of alternative materials. Carbon fiber, Nomex-honeycomb soundboards, torrified woods, tone stones and myriad composite materials have all captured the attention of luthiers. Their use and acceptance by some very accomplished builders opens the door to greater acceptance industry-wide, though for the time being, none has laid out a pathway that the majority of builders feels compelled to travel on.
But time will tell.
|"Brazilian now has top-tier CITES
treaty protection, ranking it with
elephant ivory and tortoise shell."
Last month’s blog outlined the reality of increasing wood scarcity in the lutherie trade. You can link to that article below. This month focuses on specific wood species. Next month we look at what the future of high-end guitars might look like with many of our most beloved wood types no longer being feasible choices.
Although not all lutherie woods are strictly ‘endangered’, absolutely all of them have been impacted in one way or another by over-consumption, forest loss (where forests are removed for cattle ranches, agriculture, etc.) and poaching. Let’s take a brief look at some of the traditional species used in guitar making.
Brazilian Rosewood. Brazilian has long been recognized as being among the most beautiful woods on the planet. For centuries the forests of South America have been plundered for Brazilian Rosewood for a multitude of uses. The grand old homes and castles of Europe have staircases, paneling, floors and beams made from Brazilian Rosewood. Of course, instrument makers have “exploited” its fantastic tonal properties for just as long.
Having reached the brink of extinction, Brazilian now has top-tier CITES treaty protection, ranking it with elephant ivory and tortoise shell. In most cases it is not allowed to be harvested or exported from Brazil. CITES restrictions do no prohibit the trade of Brazilian within the borders of the United States, but nearly all of the existing Brazilian available lacks documentation to prove that it was not poached or imported illegally. It needs this documentation (no matter when it originally arrived here) to be deemed legal according to the Lacey Act. Most luthiers are wise to abandon use of it altogether and avoid vendors claiming their wood is “pre-CITES” or has “paperwork”. There is an extremely strong chance that these claims have not been scrutinized, are flimsy at best and at worse, are downright dishonest.
Other Rosewoods (and their substitutes). Only two species of Rosewood are being routinely harvested under strict control: Indian Rosewood and African Blackwood. Blackwood trees that are wide enough, and defect-free enough for guitar parts are extremely rare (hence the high price), but the species is fundamentally healthy at this time and there are firm restrictions on harvesting.
The Indian Rosewood trade is strictly controlled by the Indian government. Forest harvest is rare, but the quality of planation wood (where years ago it was often planted as a wind break) is basically good and it should remain available for the foreseeable future. As time goes by, expect steep price increases and dwindling availability of dark colored and tight grained material.
All other Rosewoods (Cocobolo, Madagascar, Panama, Amazon, SE Asian, etc.) have been devastated by poaching and over-harvest. Most are restricted under CITES appendix II. These woods (Cocobolo especially) continue to appear on the market, but we have found that most of it does not carry a strong paper-trail demonstrating legality - and government regulators and the market itself is overrun with corruption. We may see a very small trickle arrive from time to time that passes Lacey Act muster, but the era of consistent supply of these woods is now fundamentally over. The same is true of the other fine hardwoods that come from the same tropical forests where Rosewoods grow: Ziricote, Macassar Ebony, Malaysian Blackwood etc.
Ebony. Until recently (around 2011), trees cut down in the West African forests (where most Ebony grows) were left on the forest floor to rot if the wood was not significantly black in color. Now the market accepts striped and colored Ebony in order to make use of this wood’s other fine qualities (hardness, machinability). This acceptance has opened the future of the Ebony trade, for a while at least, though quality will remain a challenge and prices will climb steadily, as we have already seen happen. Madagascar Ebony has experienced the same fate as Madagascar Rosewood (see above) and is no longer being purchased by LMI.
Mahogany. Genuine Mahogany from Central (and sometimes South) America has benefited from CITES II protections and the species will probably remain in use for the foreseeable future. Still, the large, old-growth trees have vanished and, once again, we face a dramatic decrease in quality and increase in price. There are promising Mahogany substitutes available (Sapele, Khaya, Filipino) which are gradually gaining acceptance in the guitar market. Spanish Cedar was once thought to be a good candidate to replace Mahogany, but now it too falls under CITES Appendix II.
North American Woods. The once mighty forests of North America are not immune to the problems that have fallen on the Amazon, West Africa and the South Pacific tropical forests. Most of the species luthiers use (Spruce, Maple, Redwood, Koa, Walnut) are not strictly endangered, but the large, old-growth trees have been used up for the most part, and poaching and high prices lay claim to what little remains in the forest. Luthiers will need to accept soundboard wood with wider annular rings, and sky-high prices for figured Maple and Walnut. LMI no longer regularly carries the thick (3”x4”), quartersawn Maple or Mahogany neck blanks due to the scarcity and expense of good material (which is often not available at all). The situation is most clearly reflected in the Koa trade where large trees bearing figured material are nearly all gone, though young trees are growing readily – just in time to supply the luthiers of the mid-22nd century!
Recently, at Bryan Galloup’s Northwood’s seminar, the topic that the attending luthiers most wanted me to address was that of wood scarcity. Prices are climbing, good and interesting woods are becoming harder to find. What’s going on?
I was happy to oblige but the mood grew steadily gloomy as I delved into it. I suppose people would like to point fingers at some foreign super power, the ubiquitous veneer manufacturers or the large guitar factories. Many consider them guilty of cornering the market and making it hard on “the little guy”. True, these forces are at play as they have always been, but their influence has diminished slightly, if anything. The essential problem, wherever the blame my lie, is that there are very few trees left in the forest, and our consumption of these woods will in no way help the situation, even if harvesting is done in the most conscientious way possible. Gloomy.
Waiting for someone to stumble across a large stand of wide, old-growth Cocobolo trees? A hidden Hawaiian oasis of Koa? A lost Alaskan island crowded with ancient Spruce trees? I am sorry to say that this just isn’t going to happen. Even where the species is healthy (Koa, for example) the scarcity of trees large (old) enough, and figured enough, to satisfy the instrument market is down to very, very few. New Koa trees are growing, and much faster than many other tropical species grow, but can you wait 80 years?
Buying wood that has been illegally harvested and/or exported has been simply commonplace throughout the instrument making world. Luthiers have pulled the wool over their own eyes, trusting wishful thinking (this wonderful guy wouldn’t be selling me anything sketchy!) and succumbing to the sizable market forces that “demand” the use of rare, often illegal and often endangered, exotic species in their instruments. Certainly, doing the research and practicing the scrutiny of one’s suppliers that the law unequivocally requires (the dreaded Lacey Act) is hard work, performed in murky waters. Based on LMI’s experience, this scrutiny often leads to a familiar conclusion: this beautiful wood being offered by this noble old company is not perfectly legal. Are the laws unfair? Well, the stories of unfair enforcement are widely known, but the gist of the law has a pretty simple ethical basis. Briefly, the law states that no woods, domestic or foreign, old or new, shall be purchased if they were not harvested, sold and/or exported in accordance with the laws of all applicable countries.
How this current state of affairs is affecting particular species used in lutherie will be the topic of our next monthly blog, in December. In January, we will look to see what the future of lutherie may look like.
The Northwoods Seminars is an educational event presented by Bryan Galloup at the Galloup School of Guitar Building and Repair in Big Rapids, Michigan. Although the event has occurred during the last three summers (8/13, 8/14 and 8/15) it is not held regularly. Gaps between Northwoods events have in the past run many years, and at the time of this writing, there has been no announcement whether Bryan will hold another in 2016.
From what I heard, all those in attendance would be glad if it did return! Bryan works hard to cull together some of the finest lutherie educators in the world. The 2015 roster included Tim Sheerhorn, David Collins, Link VanCleave, Charles Fox, Michi Matsuda, Evan Gluck, Doug and Jaime Aulson, Jason Lollar, TJ Thompson, David Wren, Tom Crandall, Tom Ribbecke, Mike Kemnitzer, Tom Murphy, Julius Borges, Erick Coleman and yours truly, Chris Herrod. Certainly, it was an honor to be included in such fine company.
The Seminars are held for four days in the well-equipped Galloup school classrooms and each lasts 3-4 hours, so there was plenty of time to for hands-on demonstrations. Attendees were welcome to pass between concurrent talks and the discussions invoked by the presentations were lively and informative. The attendees themselves (I am guessing there were about 70) contained a who’s-who of professional and emerging builders. Galloup’s students and staff provided friendly and expert event support. To top it off, all attendees dined together (and were entertained by fantastic guitarists nightly) so there was an open opportunity to carry on discussions outside the classroom.
I was pleased to begin my talk with a discussion about LMI, wood sourcing and scarcity and the related legal issues, but spent the majority of my time talking about how luthiers, musicians and guitar dealers can better understand and communicate about tone. The talk included sections on marketing, hearing, psychoacoustics and the lexicography of tone.
With kids headed back to school this month, you might find yourself wondering about whether a lutherie school is a good way to improve your skills and support your business aspirations. There are a broad range of educational facilities, teaching skills at every level, so there is plenty to consider. Luckily, LMI lists all the schools (that we are aware of) on our website, so getting started with your research won't be difficult. Please note, this list does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement from LMI. It is up to you to find the perfect school for your purposes.
Among the more typical schools
(Listed on our website):
Build a guitar in one compact session:
Robbie O'Brien, in addition to his online courses, takes in students for individual courses where students build a single instrument during carefully orchestrated, marathon building sessions. Get your feet wet fast! Charles Fox (The American School of Lutherie) and others teach in a similar format. The emphasis, and the location of the course, vary for these types of courses.
Live-in, comprehensive courses:
The Galloup School, The Summit School, Timeless Instruments, Vermont Instruments, the Roberto-Venn School and Red Wing Technical College are all long-established schools (there are others) where students attend daily courses over a period of months, learning building of acoustic and electric instruments and repair in preparation for a career in lutherie.
- Weekend programs:
Institutions such as Palomar College, Red Rocks Community College, Colorado School of Lutherie and SIMSCAL offer courses to students pursuing other studies or otherwise employed during normal work hours.
Additional forms of luthierie education
(Not on our website):
Some guitar makers offer apprenticeships, both paid and unpaid, following the tradition of violin makers and other craftsman, especially in Europe. Unlike the Europeans though, there are no governing bodies that regulate apprenticeships or define the levels of progress. Each program is individual and must be evaluated based on what you are seeking to learn.
- Colleges and High Schools:
We see a growing number of general woodworking programs venturing into lutherie to meet the demand of students. Normally, this is a very rudimentary program but if it is available in your community, it might be a good way to receive some guidance.
- Conventions and Symposia:
Both the Guild of American Luthier's convention and the Association and Stringed Instrument Artisans (ASIA) symposium offer a broad range of classes and lectures - plus the opportunity to network with both established and upcoming builders. You won't find A to Z building instruction at these events. The classes are usually on well-defined, special topics.
You should understand that any course you take, long or short, is going to be just the first step in mastering the craft and developing a business. Expect that you will have to further your education after learning the basics by gaining experience on your own and/or enrolling in a 'master class' with an established luthier (such as those offered by Ervin Somogyi, Tom Ribbecke, Kent Everett, Charles Fox and many others).
Research each school carefully and, if possible, talk to an instructor and former students of the program. Keep in mind that although many programs offer a 'diploma', there is no certification for lutherie in the United States and no real agreement on what constitutes a complete lutherie education. To find employment you will probably have to demonstrate your skills, first hand.
Finally, finding success in lutherie requires the humility required to keep learning and growing, top-tier workmanship, a facility with dealing positively with people and listening to musicians’ concerns. And, of course, nuts and bolts business smarts are a must.
See our list of SCHOOLS.
Uh, oh, money's tight! What to do when that itch to build a guitar won't leave you alone? Come to LMI, where there are always a ton of great options to save you some dough.
1) Use the Custom Guitar Wizard! With the Custom Guitar Wizard you have the freedom to include any tonewood you want, from great budget oriented choices (lower grade tonewoods) to the highest of the high end. And the savings you get by using the Custom Guitar Wizard are substantial. They sometimes even eclipse the wholesale/discount prices we charge the big manufacturers.
2) Check out the 2nd grade offerings. With a little imagination, ingenuity and know-how, you can weave lower grade parts into a professional quality instrument. Confused about what constitutes second grade on a particular part? Give us a call or email and we will let you know exactly what to expect - and what your options are for special selection of your woods (always a no - charge option at LMI!).
3) Explore the alternatives. We are proud of the huge variety of alternative woods we make available for discerning customers. Here is a sampling:
- Primavera back & sides (WPRIM) - Our best value for back and sides, the grain structure of Primavera is similar to Mahogany, roey and with some subtle ribbon figure seen here and there. It is substantially lighter in weight than Mahogany, but it has a surprisingly deep and responsive tap tone. The light color makes it a good candidate for some creative dye work. Wine-red, burnt orange, tobacco brown, antique amber; Primavera provides that perfect canvas for these attractive colors.
- Sipo back & sides (WFSA) -This wood is a very close cousin to the familiar and popular Sapele, but with a clear cosmetic advantage -figure! Each set features broad ribbon patterns and shimmering beeswing patterns that are sure to turn heads. Sipo (like Sapele) exhibits a deep, cinnamon brown color and it is denser and more resonant than Mahogany, which it is sometimes confused with. Tonally it splits the difference between Mahogany and Rosewood.
- Khaya back & sides (BSKH1SS/BSKH2SS) - As genuine Mahogany grows more and more scarce and expensive, Khaya (also called African Mahogany, though not a true mahogany) has become it's best alternative. Khaya is a bit lighter in weight and slightly more porous than Mahogany, but it exhibits the same subdued elegance and chatoyance of the "real thing". The tone is punchy, direct and clear with the characteristic mid-range voice that many players are drawn to.
- Engelmann tops - We are happy to offer these fine AA/A grade soundboards. Well-quartered and stiff, these tops differ from the higher grades due to the acceptance of a one or more subtle, cosmetic imperfections (slightly wider grain, a bit of color etc).
As Sales Manager at LMI I have had the pleasure of attending the biennial meeting of the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (ASIA) 9 times. This summer (June 2015) I returned to East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. for the latest ASIA Symposium along with LMI’s Natalie Swango and Joel Guillen. We sold wood and tools (along with a number of other vendors, including 8 other wood vendors!), attended lutherie workshops and lectures, and enjoyed the camaraderie of others in our business. It’s a great time!
The ASIA Symposium (along with other similar gatherings such as the Guild of American Luthiers convention and the Northwood’s seminar) allows luthiers to learn new building and repair techniques, and in addition, to support each other’s businesses in a variety of intangible ways. Marketing, customer relations, supply sourcing, as well as the day to day personal and financial struggles of running a small business are all discussed formally and informally. Greater professionalism and success is the welcome side-effect of this dialog.
This year I joined a panel (with Baker Rorick and Julius Borges) to discuss the status of guitar festivals in modern lutherie. We’ve all seen festivals come and go, but this model of presenting instruments to the buying public continues to thrive, despite the challenges in producing festivals. With the common goal of presenting luthier-made instruments as a desirable option to musicians, guitarmakers continue to find value in leaving the solitude of the shop to reap the benefits that an open and engaged community of builders has to offer.
With this in mind I have decided to step up my (and LMI’s) support of lutherie by joining ASIA’s board of directors. With my everyday contact with luthiers of all types, I will endeavor to bolster the community (and its positive effects on individual businesses and the industry as a whole) by helping to build membership and increase participation in ASIA’s magazine (Guitarmaker) and the next Symposium (in 2017). Don’t be surprised if I tap your shoulder the next time we talk! I am certain you will find that greater participation offers many rewards. And I welcome your thoughts and ideas on how ASIA can better serve you. Feel free to send an email to my attention (send email).
See ASIA website.
There are a wide range of approaches to designing a guitar rosette. Some designs, such as the classical mosaic or the herringbone 3-ring, are anchored in tradition and luthiers who build in this style choose materials and designs that work within that framework. Others choose to give their instruments a bit of modern flair by stretching the boundaries just a bit by including colored veneers or other materials. And there are others who see the rosette as a purely empty canvas where anything goes! Regardless of your approach, the craftsmanship required to make a good rosette is high as any errors or inconsistencies, in either design or execution, are in plain view. Discriminating buyers will often look at the rosette (and the bindings) to evaluate a luthier’s standards for fit and finish.
There are several main classes,
or types, of rosettes:
- MOSAIC: The standard choice for classical guitars, a mosaic rosette is composed of ‘tiles’ that are made by stacking and gluing tiny colored veneer sticks into a log from which the individual tiles are cut. Though it is perfectly legitimate to select a pre-made rosette from the dozens that LMI offers, many luthiers seek to create a ‘signature’ rosette that they make from colored “rosette sticks”. Additional materials for these rosettes are found among our veneers and purflings.
• Rosette Sticks
• Pre-made Rosettes (25% off this month)
• Russian Rosettes (25% off this month)
- SHELL & PURFLING: An abalone ring, framed by black and white borders and separate black/white/black (or similar) rings is often found on traditional steel string guitars. Working with shell has its challenges, but we help by offering several types of shell pieces cut specifically for rosette rings.
• Curved Shell Strips
• Ablam Curved Strips
• Zip Flex Strips
- SOLID WOOD: When modern luthiers began experimenting with alternative tonewoods and woods of exceptional beauty for backs and sides, it made sense to extend the aesthetic to the rosette, the headplate and other appointments. LMI produces some pre-cut solid wood rosettes for you to work with (they can be inlaid, framed with purfling or used as-is) in variety of species. Check back on these, as the offerings change from time to time. Some people use material from the wide variety of headplate veneers we sell to make their own solid wood rosettes.
• Solid Wood Rosettes
• Headplate Veneers
- SEGMENTED: A hallmark of the Somogyi school of lutherie, a segmented rosette may or may not combine mosaics, shell, solid wood pieces and a variety of colors. Individual inlays circumambulate the soundhole but are only occasionally connected. The effect is very artistic. Of course, the creation of the inlay cavities is extremely challenging, but the careful execution of this technique conveys the dedication of a skilled woodworker.
Many of LMI’s selection of standard inlay tools should be at hand for rosette making, but consider adding our Richard Schneider inspired Rosette Circle Cutter (for ultra-clean edges) or the Drill Press Rosette Cutter if you want to replicate a design on a number of soundboards –a real time saver. The Jasper Circle Guide is also well worth looking at!
Luthiers Tips du Jour
with Robert O'Brien
The heat is on, and most wise luthiers have transitioned away from Brazilian Rosewood permanently due to increased legal concerns. A seller’s promise that “this wood is from pre-CITES stock” no longer holds weight, and rightfully so. Sadly, poaching, illegal importation and misrepresentation continues and few selling it have more than a promise to demonstrate legality.
Front and center among the substitutes for Brazilian is Macassar Ebony. For many years there has been concern about legal logging and exportation of this species, but LMI is proud to claim that our Macassar is 100% legally procured (usually from salvaged sources) with a crystal clear paper trail.
No one needs to make a case for the beauty of this wood. From distinguished jet-black, to regal pin striped, to marbled, inky lines with contrasting sapwood centers, Macassar offers a look for everyone. Like Brazilian, its hardness splits the difference between common Indian Rosewood and the African Ebonies. Instruments of great tonal power and subtlety are the result. Furthermore, Macassar Ebony fingerboards are the only quartersawn Ebony we carry.
This fine wood is carefully drawn from the verdant rain forests of the Indonesian island of Sulawesi (formally Celebes) in the southern region of the island that neighbors the city of Makassar. The environment mirrors that of fabled Borneo, nearby. Home to a wide variety of endemic species (various Macaques, the Palm Civet, Babirusas, Anoa) deforestation is a grave concern and so environmentallyconscious harvest, even of salvaged woods, is severely limited.
Whether CITES grants protection to Macassar Ebony or not, our supplier says that their business can only survive a few more years (after 2015) within the ethical constraints that they abide by. The time to buy is now, and we make finding that perfect set easy for you by picturing each set individually in our "Select-A-Set" format.
SPRING IS HERE — and the scent of glue is in the air!
LMI is your source for a wide range of quality adhesives essential to instrument making and repair. We also carry a number of ingenious gluing accessories. This month’s blog will give you an overview of the options before you – there are many. Please be sure to refer to the actual product page for more information about each glue.
Wood Glue (white or yellow glue): We introduced our innovative FGX glue in 2014 and it was quickly embraced as the best option available to luthiers for all wood to wood joints. It is similar to the familiar yellow Titebond but has better heat resistance (does not get gummy when machine sanding), has excellent adhesion to problem/oily woods, is slightly harder and it contains a black-light additive that will allow you to catch any invisible glue residue before finishing (when the residue would become painfully evident).
Hide Glue and Fish Glue: Hide glue has been used for centuries by instrument makers and these joints have stood the test of time. Low creep, high tack and hard when dry, it is often cited as an ingredient in making great sounding guitars because its hardness provides a better medium for vibration. However it is difficult to prepare and work with. Fish Glue is similar but offers and extended work time and no time consuming preparation, but is expensive.
Cement: We offer two glues for adhering plastic bindings to wood. Our old standard FGW Weld-on glue, and the ‘Cadillac’ FCA glue which has lower fumes, greater tack and quicker set time.
Cyanoacrylate, CA or ‘super glues’: We sell a wide range of different CA glues - low fume, low viscosity, high viscosity, black color for inlay plus accelerators and solvents. CA glues can be tricky to work with and are nasty to inhale, but they work well gluing wood or plastic bindings together and are often reached for a wide variety of repair applications. Just a dot is used to hold a nut in place and some use it for holding frets in place and for filling fret ends. Cyanoacrylate glues hold well-mated surfaces tenaciously and nothing cures more quickly.
Epoxy: Aside from their use as a pore filler (we carry several brands specifically for this purpose), epoxy works in repair situations where gaps must be filled, are sometimes used with inlays and some people like to glue their fingerboards on with it if they are concerned that the water in standard wood glues might introduce problems into critical joints (like the fingerboard on to the neck).
Accessories: Check out our disposable pipettes for dispensing cyanoacrylate glues and our FGS syringe for wood glue. We carry small plastic cups (used with epoxy mixtures or for freezing unused Hide glue), an inexpensive tin glue brush and a fancy brass hide glue warming. Finally, once you discover and use the Glue-bot glue dispensers you’ll wonder how you ever went without them!
Robbie O'Brien is one of the hardest working people in lutherie, Besides being a tireless student of the craft himself, he has in a relatively short time risen to become one of the preeminent teachers of guitar making in the world. Robbie's plain -spoken, easy going manner and superb videography brings light and clarity to some of the most difficult procedures in guitarmaking. He appeals to scores of people, both professional and amateur, in his popular DVD series, in online courses, in hands-on courses and in the scores of videos he has produced for the internet. Somehow in the midst of teaching and producing videos, Robbie continues to make spectacular guitars of all types (classical mainly) under the O'Brien Guitars brand.
Fortunately for us here at LMI, Robbie has been a great fan of our company, so when a need for video content arose we were quick to reach out to him. We now enjoy an ongoing partnership, the result of which has embellished our website with expert video instructions for our tools, clever and helpful tips (Tips DuJour) and full instrument building instruction. Professional, erudite, industrious and one of the nicest and most patient guys in the industry, we couldn't be more pleased to be allied with Robbie.
Now, in addition to the video gallery on our website and the tutorials appearing throughout the site to accompany various tools, we have made most of the O'Brien produced videos (and many of the old "classic" Healdsburg Guitar Festival videos as well) available through the popular YouTube website. Be sure to sign into YouTube and subscribe to all three of the LMI video channels so you can receive prompt notification when new videos are posted. Here are the links:
- LMI Tips du Jour and Mailbag videos
- LMI Instructional Videos
Video instructions for our more complex tools and jigs
- Healdsburg Guitar Festival Videos
Great informational videos from the Healdsburg Guitar Festival
LMI’s customers include everyone from the weekend warrior on a quest for the perfect guitar, to seasoned custom builders to prominent high-end shops and the largest factories. It’s the latter two who draw us to the NAMM show in Anaheim every year to participate in the industry’s largest get together (though inevitably we run into some of our professional luthier friends roaming the aisles!).
This year we were able to visit the famed Fender factory in Corona where we found a number of LMI products at work. On the show floor, we found a growing acceptance of alternative back and side woods, Mahogany “substitutes”, tempered tonewoods and wood composite materials–all filling the growing gap made by disappearing tropical species. Ukuleles continue to make inroads into the stringed instrument market.
In addition to selling, we are able to meet with a number of wood and parts suppliers and are excited about new developments from Gotoh, Schaller and others. Stay tuned! And inevitably, we place orders with our wood vendors. Expect to see some jaw-dropping figured woods on our Select-a-Set page as the year advances!
Of course all this buying means we need to make room, and to this end we will be expanding the list of items on our "Sale Item" page... check it out!
It’s been about a month now since we announced that LMI is no longer going to produce the Healdsburg Guitar Festival. We were touched by the understanding of all those who loved the festival and emailed to thanks us for the great run the festival had. The text of that announcement appears below here. I just wanted to use this month’s blog to answer some common questions we received.
Q: What is the real reason you are closing the festival?
A: The announcement is the honest truth. Despite the success of the festival we are eager to embark on a number of exciting improvements and products, and now we have the time to complete them.
Q: Are you actively looking for someone to produce a new festival in the wake of the Healdsburg festival?
A: No, we are not looking to sell the brand or bring in another team to do the festival. However, we have already spent a number of hours consulting with several parties who are considering doing a festival, and will continue to lend guidance when asked. We are cautiously optimistic that something will evolve.
Q: What are your feelings about the Memphis Guitar Festival?
A: Bob Singer, who is producing the Memphis show, reached out to us months ago for advice and seems well on his way to presenting an outstanding event! I encourage everyone to give him their support. Unfortunately, LMI will not be in attendance as we will be participating, as we always do, in the A.S.I.A. Symposium (Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans) which will be held the week after Memphis. We were very happy to hear about the success earlier this year of the Woodstock Invitational Luthiers Showcase (Woodstock, NY) and the Holy Grail Guitar Festival (Berlin, Germany).
Text of the Announcement:
As many of you know, in the Spring of 2014 Luthiers Mercantile International (LMI) issued the following statement regarding the future of the Healdsburg Guitar Festival:
“…. having taken a closer look at our investment, especially in the amount of hours which could have been focused on expanding LMI’s core business, it became obvious that our ‘labor of love’ had many intangible costs, especially to our overworked staff. For this reason we have made the tough decision to postpone the next festival to 2016…. It has not been an easy decision to make and we understand the ramifications. Besides being a great reunion of friends and colleagues, the festival has been successful in its mission of strengthening the marketplace for handmade instruments…”
We are proud of the festival and our many other contributions to the craft of lutherie, but with our year off it has become clear to us that to best continue this support, our focus should remain on our core business. For this reason we have decided to no longer produce a festival.
The positive role that festivals play is obvious to us. In fact many, perhaps smaller, festivals may serve luthiers better than one or two large ones. We hope to encourage the ongoing festivals (and any that should arise in the future that serve the craft of lutherie) with counsel, advertising dollars and referrals.
Like most businesses, we are sometimes approached to help out with a contribution for this or that organization. Our preference is to help those groups that are music related. Right at the time when we're wondering about a new use for our charitable dollars, we received an email from our friend Frank Ford; ace repair guru from Gryphon Stringed Instruments in Palo Alto, CA. He wanted to tell us about Heroes’ Voices, a group that Gryphon has been helping out, thinking that LMI would be another good partner for them. Recognizing the huge role that music therapy is playing in the rehabilitation of American Veterans, Heroes Voices is helping get good playing guitars into the hands of Vets participating in VA music therapy programs. Contributed instruments have been flowing through Gryphon’s famed repair department, so Frank and his team can ready them for use.We met with Heroes Voices’ Richard Harrell and learned more about the program. Helping America’s Vets get into music and guitar has a wide range of benefits (see their website below for details) – and who is more deserving. We immediately started to include flyers in orders so that our customers could become more familiar with the program. You can take a look at the flyer here. In the future we hope to develop our facility as a drop off and transfer depot for donated guitars.Many of us have old guitars that just aren’t getting the attention they deserve. Please consider contacting Heroes’ Voices about getting your instrument into the hands of a Veteran in need. It doesn’t matter if it is an old Martin, a custom made instrument that’s not ready to market or a low cost import. They will do a great job of getting it to the right person. It’s tax deductable, it’s a great cause…and it’s the season. Thanks!
The beautifully patterned shell of the sea-dwelling Atlantic Hawksbill turtle has been used by craftspeople for centuries. It was used to make inlay, jewelry, combs, eyeglasses and much more. It was used on musical instruments as well. In addition to inlay pieces, you can occasionally find small mandolin pickguards made from it and its widespread use as a guitar pick material is buoyed by the popular impression that for tone and playability, it has no peers.
Fortunately for the poor, nearly extinct Hawksbill (whose shell was often removed torturously from the living animal) high expense and later, legal protection, drove the material from common usage. Now, real tortoiseshell receives the highest level of protection from CITES and its use is strictly illegal throughout the world. Even a small tortoiseshell pick can land you in jail.
Aside from a few custom pieces it has never been used for guitar pickguards. Celluloid imitations of tortoiseshell patterns have adorned instruments made by all the major manufacturers, but unlike the limited offerings found today, the patterns and colors of these early celluloid pickguards varied widely and exhibited unusual depth and detail.
Enter luthier John Greven who during the early 90’s developed the Tor-Tis line of pickguards to reintroduce the tortoiseshell patterns found on beloved instruments from the early 20th century. With depth, individuality (no two guards were the same) and a variety of patterns and colors to choose from, the Tor-tis pickguards became the only serious choice for builders of high-end guitars.
Recently, LMI began producing Tor-tis style pickguards in-house. In order to best present this material’s uniqueness, we now allow our customers to select a pickguard from a gallery of photos and purchase the exact piece they desire. Selling them this way allows our Tor-tis artisans to stray from the consistent aesthetic formulas that had to be adhered to when the pickguards were first sold from the old print catalog. Now they are free to incorporate more of the different patterns and colors found on vintage-era instruments.
Choosing the correct pickup for your acoustic guitar is challenging. Luckily, the technology has moved forward to such a degree that there are many good choices for the guitarist or luthier, where in the not-so-distant past, good choices were often hard to come by!
In this article, we’ll go over the basic classes of pickups. In each case keep in mind that the individual products have installation requirements, pre-amp and control options and other variables that may sway your decision one way or the other. But the pickup type is the basic tonal component in any acoustic amplification set-up, so we are focusing on that.
These under-the-saddle elements revolutionized acoustic amplification. They sit discreetly beneath the saddle, are relatively immune to feedback (compared to microphones especially) and are inexpensive. They offer great clarity and even string-to string representation in the audio signal. Some complain about the tight attack that is emphasized (the result of the saddle being used for the sound source). Others says it helps deliver a defined, non-mushy sound. They draw the signal from pressure rather than vibration so they are not suitable for nylon string guitars.
• Fishman Matrix • L.R. Baggs Element
These pickups add more ‘naturalness’ to the sound, relative to the piezo element, with a slightly smoother attack. Working from vibration, rather than pressure, the sound is said to have a more ‘lifelike’ quality. Still an improvement over microphones in terms of feedback suppression, it takes the backseat to the piezo in this regard.
• Highlander • L.R. Baggs Ribbon
Placing a microphone inside the instrument lends the un-paralleled naturalness of the microphone signal, but suffers from the un-natural placement of the mic (inside the box!). For this reason it’s nice to electronically blend the mic signal with an under-the-saddle signal. Very versatile tonally, but more susceptible to feedback under louder stage environments. The trade-off to this versatility is the inclusion of more controls attached to the instrument.
• Fishman Ellipse Matrix Blend • L.R. Baggs Dual-Source
Soundboard transducers move the element away from the saddle, directly onto the vibrating wood surface which creates a woodier, more open sounding signal. A bit more susceptible to feedback than a piezo, these pickups are less invasive to the instrument (no holes need to be drilled, for example). This type of pickup has become quite popular is recent years.
• L.R. Baggs Ibeam • Dazzo
The obvious advantage of this kind of pickup is that it can be taken on and off the instrument (they clip into the soundhole), leaving the guitar in 100% original condition. It has the tonal advantage of moving the element away from the saddle, but the disadvantage of placing it near to the neck where bassy overtones are present. The tonal result is a tiny bit reminiscent of a jazz archtop. Still it’s fair to say that the Fishman pickup magnets are well suited to delivering a natural acoustic tone, and so are very popular. These can only be used on steel string guitars.
• Fishman Rare Earth • Fishman Neo-D
As you peruse the LMI website, it will become obvious to you that our emphasis is on acoustic instrument making. Other companies put their emphasis on electric guitar components, on specific woods or on repair gizmos.
Now, we can’t claim to have absolutely everything for every situation, but being a “one stop shop” is an aspect of LMI that we take very seriously. The benefits of this approach for the customer (lower shipping costs, time saved) are significant. To that end we have always been committed to developing innovative, professional tools and products specific to the repair shop.
The latest product we have introduced is our line of Martin repair bridges. These are meticulously designed and crafted to meet the expectations of the most demanding vintage guitar repair job. With just in time shipping, reasonable pricing and quality you can count on (with a variety of useful bridge profiles available) this line of repair bridges has been welcomed as a godsend by repair shops around the world.
In the tool department we are excited to present our Fret Tang Filer. With ordinary tang nippers you are forced to finish up the wire with a file. Our tool accurately and quickly files away the tang to perfection – and works on stainless and EVO wire where nippers typically fail.
What to do when a customer needs a taller saddle or nut? Instead of making a brand new one, often it is quicker and better to use one our fantastic bone shims. Superglue it the bottom and sand or file to match the profile of the existing piece –and Voila!
Of course repair people have long benefitted from LMI’s huge inventory of headplate veneers, soundboard material, bindings and purflings. When you need to match a piece for replacement in a repair situation, LMI’s website should be the first place to look.
Replacing pickguards is a common job in a repair shop. Our fantastic Tortis pickguards are pictured individually, so you can select the very one you want!
Additionally, we carry a wide variety of thermal repair blankets (with temperature control), a
telescoping light w/mirror , a digital depth gauge and string height gauge, acoustic pickups, electric pickup and a wide assortment of specialty files, knives, adhesives and finish products, most of which are available no place else!
For a few good reasons, the word ‘kit’ has a bad reputation! Normally, buying a kit (especially a guitar kit) means you are saving a few bucks by using ‘student grade’ materials and because some of the work has been done for you – a great advantage to a beginner hoping to get his or her feet wet in lutherie. But with most of the kits on the market, there is plenty to be concerned about when it comes to the materials. The cheapest kits come from overseas factories, where the components are pulled off the assembly line and often have problems. There are better kits out there – but chances are that you will have few choices of which components are included. And forget about asking the seller to “pick out a nice, dark fingerboard” (or any other specification). You get what you get. End of story.
LMI used to sell “boxed kits”, but it was obvious that our kit customers were tempted (and frustrated) by the smorgasbord of goodies on our website, and the special handling that our non-kit customers enjoyed. So we addressed this need and created the Custom Guitar Wizard. With the Custom Guitar Wizard you have the freedom to include any tonewood you want, from great budget oriented choices (lower grade tonewoods) to the highest of the high end. Use the ‘Special Instructions’ box on the checkout page to specify what you’d like your wood to look like. For example “Please select a Rosewood fingerboard with dark brown streaking”. If we can’t find exactly what you are looking for, we will get in touch with you to discuss the options – maybe send you some photos. You can also include ‘Select-a-Set’ woods in your kit now!
So in essence, with the Custom Guitar Wizard you are able select from the same menu of tonewoods that the pros select from. With LMI it’s first come, first served! We do not hold aside special pieces for special customers, which means your first (or your twentieth) guitar can be as spectacular as you would like it to be! And the savings you get by using the Custom Guitar Wizard are substantial. They sometimes even eclipse the wholesale/discount prices we charge the big manufacturers.
Do professional luthiers order ‘serviced parts’ (i.e. slotted fingerboards, carved necks, bent side etc.)? Most prefer to do all the work themselves, but we’ve found that a growing number see the advantages in time and money of having LMI do some of the bucket work for them. This allows them time to focus on the finer points of building – and get the instrument completed sooner. Another sweet thing about the Custom Guitar Wizard is that you can include or remove ANY of our shop services or pre-carved parts that you wish.
Hopefully this article not only clarifies how the LMI Custom Guitar Wizard can help you conveniently gather all the professional (or “student grade”) parts for your guitar in one fell swoop (and save some serious cash) … but, also helped remove the stigma attached to the word ‘kit’!
It’s July ... and nothing in the instrument world says “fun in the sun” like the humble ukulele! Fun to play and fun to build, the popularity of the ukulele has ballooned over the last ten years, so much so that you would had to have been living in a cave to not notice it.
A wide assortment of ukulele manufacturers have joined guitarmakers on the floor of the NAMM show to supply the mass market, and also (to a lesser degree) at shows like the Healdsburg Guitar Festival. Seasoned guitar makers like Rick Turner, Steve Grimes, Rob Lee and Kenny Hill are joining in and helping to fill the need for high-end handmade instruments. Uke clubs, festivals and classes abound and the instrument has graduated from novelty status with the aid of performers like Jake Shimabukuro, Israel Kamakawiwo'ole and Eddy Vedder. It’s no longer just a souvenir you’d take home from your vacation to Hawaii!
LMI has been happy to play along, working with major manufacturers (among them: Kamaka, Kala, Ko’olau, G-string, Sonny D) as well as enjoying long relationships with builders like Bob Gleason, Peter Hurney, Jake Maclay, Bill Hardin, Dave Sigman, Tony Graziano, Gordon Mayer and many others.
Our inventory of interesting uke products continues to expand. In addition to precarved uke bridges and necks you will find a variety of small sized fretwire, tuning machines, kerfing, nut and saddle blanks, strings and plans. Of course many items (binding, purfling, bracewood, tools) carryover directly from our regular guitar offerings.
Things get really interesting when we come to tonewoods! Just look under our "Small Instrument Wood" category where ukulele woods share space with woods appropriate for flat top mandolins, tiples, churangos and other diminutive axes. Our inventory is constantly changing, but at the time of this writing (7/14) we have Bocote, African Blackwood, Bubinga, Mahogany, Machiche, Ovangcol, Walnut and Malaysian Blackwood (and many others) cut for ukulele backs and sides. And Indian Rosewood is due in soon!
We support the growing trend to build ukes similarly to guitars and other stringed instruments (with a resonant softwood soundboard and hardwood back and sides–as opposed to all-hardwood). For this reason we supply uke soundboards such as Adirondack and Engelmann Spruce, along with Redwood and Yellow Cedar.
Finally, we will continue to offer ukulele sets cut from Koa, the traditional Hawaiian wood, but the availability of quality raw materials has diminished substantially, so expect that there will often be times when we are out of stock–and that prices will continue to rise.
Not so long ago, the world of guitarmaking was a solitary affair. Like many trades, instrument makers (perhaps most famously, violin makers) used to reveal their closely guarded trade secrets slowly and painstakingly within the confines of a traditionally regulated master and apprentice relationship. Those drawn to guitarmaking who could not find (or were not accepted by) an accomplished luthier to apprentice with, were forced to learn by trial and error.
It was not until the late 60’s that the techniques required to make an instrument began to seep into the guitar-loving public. Perhaps it started when Irving Sloan’s guitar building books came to the market. Around this time, we also saw small high-end shops like Gurian’s, Larrivee’s and Gallagher’s ‘taking on’ the Goliaths of Martin and Gibson, with some of their employees eventually stepping out on their own to establish their own innovative brands. Unlike the classical guitar and violin culture, the steel string world (buoyed by its alliance with folk music and it’s ethic of sharing) was unique in that it welcomed a free exchange of ideas. The information age was dawning, and for the first time, competition took a back seat to artistry, innovation and community.
Shortly thereafter, Lewis Luthier Supplies (which would later morph into The Luthier’s Mercantile and LMI), Stewart-MacDonald and a few others, would make hard-to-source materials and tools easily available to instrument makers worldwide. Charles Fox would start North America’s first guitar building school and Cumpiano and Natelson would begin work on ‘Guitarmaking: Tradition and Technology’ –a popular work which would eclipse Sloan’s small volumes with a treasure trove of detailed lutherie techniques. The picture is completed with the advent (in 1972) of the Guild of American Luthiers (GAL) which gave format to this exchange of ideas with its American Lutherie periodical, national conventions and the publication of guitar blueprints.
The GAL continues on to this day with its 21st convention approaching in July of 2014. It’s a long weekend where the topic of instrument making never tires. Classes, workshops and concerts are held (in Tacoma, WA) and attendees get a chance to see and select from a wide range of tonewoods and special tools from LMI and many other vendors. We welcome this rare opportunity to meet and talk with our customers face to face. We learn a lot about what they want and need and it’s a delight to see their excitement in finding materials that they will transform into marvelous instruments. Visit www.luth.org if you are interested in coming to the convention or becoming a member of the Guild.
The GAL’s convention format is echoed in other events such as the Association of Stringed Instrument Artisans (ASIA) Symposium (where LMI regularly exhibits), Bryan Galloup’s Northwood’s Seminars and to some degree, the Healdsburg Guitar Festival. A growing number of regional guitar makers clubs and groups throughout the world have sprung up as well. Many of these groups are listed on the LMI website on our 'Luthier 101' beginner’s page. Add to this the many online lutherie forums (also listed on our site) where professionals and beginners alike offer each other support and advice.
The secrets which help create truly remarkable guitars may still be passed along in private, behind closed doors between the masters who have worked tirelessly to reveal them and those few individuals they deem worthy to receive them. And surely, there is no substitute for the experiences one painstakingly gains from the construction of many, many guitars. But for those who are eager to jump in and get started, there has never been a greater wellspring of resources available. And for the dedicated professionals whose fine instruments are an inspiration to craftsman and musicians alike, the picture of the isolated woodworker, toiling away in guarded solitude, is happily, a thing of the past.
It’s been ten years now since we moved from our old spot in Healdsburg, California to where we are now in Windsor, CA. That move was motivated by a need to quicken our shipping operation and the result was industry wide renown for quick delivery backed up by our ASAP shipping guarantee. We were also able to modernize our woodshop and greatly expand our wood drying and processing operations after the move.
It wasn’t much later that we bought our first CNC router and began to bring our tool manufacturing and design in-house. Well, as many of you know, tool acquisition is a bit of an addiction and now we are up to 4 CNC’s –and the need to expand has visited us again!
Luckily a space opened up right nearby and it’s perfect for our expanding tool production. We’ve moved the CNCs over there along with the parts assembly work and our design stations. The main focus is on our successful line of tools we call the “LMI Professional” line. These include cool jigs like our bending and binding machines, guitar molds, temperature controller, go-bar deck, joining jig, fret tang filer and many, many more –with new ideas in constant development. It’s pretty fun!
And now with all that equipment out of our main facility, we have space to bring in a lot more lumber! We have huge slabs of flamed Mahogany, Peruvian Walnut, Panamanian Rosewood and many other species stored there and waiting their turn at the band saw to be turned in to exquisite guitar parts! Some will be offered as limited, special runs (something we shied away from when we had to commit products to a paper catalog) –so remember to keep an eye on this page. We’ll post new products here as soon as they become available!
Our ‘shop services’ have benefited from this expansion as well. Side bending, top and back joining, resaw work, rosette inlay and much more. Did you know that we can now slot any scale length you need? Our fret slots are made using an ultra-precise CNC controlled radial saw blade which follows the fingerboard’s radius and we can include any number of frets. These and other specs are easy to select and include using our custom fret slotting service on the fingerboard slotting page. It’s a real time and money saver to have the LMI shop do so some of the mundane work for you!
See Shop Services.
NECK WOOD ALTERNATIVES
When Honduran Mahogany was categorized under CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Appendix II a few years ago, a clear signal was sent about the future of neck woods. The CITES designation didn’t eliminate the flow of this staple tonewood (whose remarkable stability has made it a great choice for necks) but it made it no longer feasible for us to ship overseas, it made it more expensive and it foreshadowed what we are experiencing now, which is tremendous difficulty getting large, quartersawn stock. It’s not a situation that is going to improve, so we’ve taken a number of steps to make sure there are good options available for our customers.
- New woods. Honduran Mahogany is great, but with high prices and dwindling quality, the time has never been better to look at the alternatives, and there are some great ones! We’ve seen a wide variety of Khaya come through our doors over the years and frankly, some of it is rather poor. But now we have our sources specially select stock which has a color, weight and porosity that is similar to Honduran Mahogany. The two woods are nearly identical! Sapele is harder and heavier than Khaya, but it has a warmer color and cool ribbon figure. Peruvian Walnut offers dark brown color and good workability and we often offer Rosewood necks (Indian Rosewood harvested in Indonesia) for exotic projects. We continue to offer Maple (European, Bigleaf and Rock) in a variety of sizes. Finally, I urge everyone to read about Achihua on our site – a wood with remarkable strength and low weight. Once considered a first string replacement for Honduran Mahogany, Spanish Cedar is now in short supply, but we will carry it when good stuff is available.
- Tempered Woods. Tempering (also called torrefaction, roasting or cooking) timber is a process that exposes wood to high temperatures in an oxygen free environment (so the wood does not scorch). The result is that the woods are more stable, more resonant and take on an attractive deep amber color. So, it’s a perfect choice for Maple, which acoustic and Gibson-style electric builders have avoided in part because of the color. A number of high-end builders have embraced tempered woods. We are starting with Maple (figured and plane) and will expand from there, with an eye out for woods that could benefit from the darkening the tempering imparts.
- New cuts and laminations. The benefits of laminated necks have long been well-known. More time is needed to make the neck, but greater strength and stability are the result. In addition, the necks look great (whether you add in decorative strips to the lamination or not). Now that the supply of good 3 x 4 inch Maple and Mahogany neck blanks are becoming more and more impossible to get, we are embracing laminated necks as the “new normal”. On our website you can now find flatsawn blanks, (made from wood which far exceeds the figure and quality we’ve been seeing in the large blanks) dimensioned specifically for making laminated necks. Note also that we have a wide selection of exotic, colored wood strips for adding to your neck laminations, all pre-cut and planed to a variety of useful sizes.
LMI’S WOOD DRYING & PREPARATION
At the beginning of each year representatives from LMI visit the leading music products trade show, the NAMM show, held in Anaheim, CA. It’s an overwhelming feast for the senses, with just about everything music related (drums, software, speakers, microphones, trumpets, cables, straps, guitars and much more) all represented in one loud, crowded, sprawling complex. We meet with wood suppliers, makers of parts and tools and with our customers from around the world to avail them of our products, especially our broad line of tonewoods.
There is plenty of new business to be made but often we meet with old customers (now old friends, in most cases) who have ordered with us regularly for years. This year, one compliment we heard again and again from them was how pleased they are with our wood preparation, especially compared to their experiences with other suppliers. Manufacturers know how costly it can be to spend time dealing with unstable and mis-dimensioned wood, and how time consuming and troublesome it is to dry and prepare it themselves. They expressed to us how grateful they were that they were able to move the tonewoods they got from LMI from the box or pallet directly into production without worry or hassle.
Of course, all our woods are treated the same, whether they are destined for a factory, small high-end shop, professional luthier or weekend warrior. Our wood processing staff are experienced and committed to making sure that every piece we ship is ready to work. Of course, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t employ some simple precautions to make sure your wood acclimates to the conditions in your shop.
If you are looking for more information
on this topic see our article on
Wood Drying & Storage.
Also see the Custom Guitar Wizard
to customize your own guitar kit.