Thursday, August 22, 2013

Thomas Oliver - Beneath The Weissenborn


Ben Harper once said of the great Little Walter - 'He is one of lifes most rare musical instances; where you can hear the instrument saying to its player in every note; Thank you – thank you for all you've done for me. I can never repay you'. Perhaps no truer statement could ever been spoken about Ben and the Weissenborn. He redefined an instrument and what it could be, and made it singularly his own.

And so it is with the greatest of weight that any aspiring musician, player (or maker!) of the Weissenborn must meet with this in their musical journey through life.

What started as a single instrumental and then became a collection for an EP, transitioned into a full and conscious record that tells a story. Beneath the Weissenborn cuts its own path musically with an honesty and quality that has made Thomas' unique voice so beloved and identified with the world over.



Thomas is one of those most special and beautiful people you meet in life who gives rather than takes, and continually inspires through his own humility, artistic integrity and positivity for life. It has been the greatest honor as a maker to collaborate with him on various projects, and to see him record a solid selection of guitars that I made (Styles 1, 2, 3 and 4 respectively) and restored (Weissenborn Teardrop, Ca.1930).  


One of my favorite things about the album its how it takes you places within your own head and heart. The new video 'Born' so beautifully articulates the magic, innocence and complete enamor of how I felt about the Weissenborn when I first heard it, and why it continues to inspire my life on a daily basis. Thank you for all you have done for me, Thomas!

'Beneath The Weissenborn' is out today!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Weissenborn ukulele repair - Pt. 4


Part 4 - Setup and completion.


Making the fine reproduction nut. The material is period correct phenolic.

The wonky twelfth fret was removed, straightened and re-inlaid. All the frets were then minimally dressed in the original profile to remove burs, buzzes and ensure smooth playability.

Custom made Ivoroid soundhole 'inset'.

 The original Waverly Patent Pending tuning peg. A near impossible to find tuner, and one of the set was missing! I would like to extend my greatest thanks to Frank Ford at Gryphon for his generosity and help in finding the perfect vintage replacement. 

Original patent.

 Completed ukulele.





Weissenborn ukulele repair - Pt. 3


Part 3 - Repair continued.

Most of the repairs in Pt. 2 are standard and straight out of repair 101. The back brace however, was more of an issue;

 Here you can see the old repair job in attempt to stabilize the brace, hide glue was simply applied in a no doubt well meaning but ultimately useless repair.

Brace removed.

 Brace crack re-glued.


Before the brace is re-glued in place, the old glue squeeze out had to be removed from where the brace would actually sit to insure a good joint. The old squeeze out surrounding the brace was left in place since there is no way to cleanly remove that without either abrasion or chemical treatment. Those always leave a slight trace either by texture, look or smell, and I try to keep their use limited to removing modern synthetic glues. I wanted to preserve the original interior look, and its story.


Its difficult to appreciate from the above pictures but the strong curve in that back brace takes a lot of pressure to force the back into its pronounced arch. The ukulele was in mostly original condition and I did not want to remove its back for this procedure with all the associated risks to tone. However, no matter how hard I tried I could not get that brace to tuck into its original position without popping out of its small incision in the linings.

On our weekly catch up Steve Evans of Beltona fame suggested small blocks be glued to the linings to provide the support for the brace to be glued. Once the glue was dry, they could then be removed and the back could remain in place. And so - it is these small spruce blocks (one on either side) that took this from a typical repair to a truly great one. Many thanks Steve!


Completed brace re-installation with blocks removed.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Weissenborn ukulele - Pt. 2


Part 2 - The repair begins

Before we can glue anything back inside the ukulele, the instrument must first be made structurally solid. And so we start with all the loose seams around the perimeter of the instrument.



The lamp provides the gentle heat which warms the instrument ready for the hide glue.



Now everything is solid, we can move onto the loose braces.


 This one was loose and only held in place by the brace ends which are tucked into the linings. Since hide glue is cohesive and sticks to itself, I simply re-glued it in place. The ease of repair-ability is one of the major reasons I use hide glue exclusively in my new instruments as well as restoration work.



Same with the loose bridge.


The second top brace was completely missing, so I had to make a new one in the old style. The spruce I use in restoration came from an old piano, so it it naturally aged and a good color match to the original spruce. It is then further distressed for a perfect match.




Weissenborn ukulele repair - Pt. 1


My clients send me the coolest instruments to work on, and no matter how small - its always an honor to work on them, and the approach and philosophy remains the same. This instrument is a Weissenborn Style 1 Soprano from the mid 1930s. It was found at a yardsale in California for fifty cents, and was a gift to its current owner who is learning the ukulele! 


While perhaps not the prettiest instrument Weissenborn ever made as far as color goes, it more than makes up for it in cool - being one of the few instruments made so late in Weissenborn's career and featuring spectacularly refined bridge work.


The brand features what I believe to be a straightened out 'eagles beak' and a nick to the shield left of the 'H' - Ca.1935.


Although the instrument came to my shop in unplayable condition - the restoration process was straight forward with the same approach I use for guitars. The only real difference being the difficulty of working inside an instrument so small! Repair list as below;
  • Re-glue loose seams on back to side, top to side joints respectively
  • Re-glue loose sides at heel
  • Re-glue top crack. No cleat required 
  • Re-glue loose braces; top and back
  • Re-glue loose bridge (existing, in place)
  • Make reproduction of missing top brace, distress and glue in place
  • Manufacture reproduction ivoroid soundhole 'inset', distressed
  • Replace vintage Waverly Pat. Pend. peg with matching original
  • Remove white paint from finish
  • Fine reproduction nut
  • Fret dress and setup






This was the only previous repair on the instrument. Years old, the hide glue had completely crystallized.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Knutsen Marquetry


Its was a great honor to be asked to specially reproduce some classic marquetry for our friends at Guitar Repair in Italy. Andy and Alessio are two of the finest repair people in Europe, and more recently they have also been making some spectacular reproduction roundneck guitars under their name 'BAGNASCO & CASATI'. Check them out!


 The guitar is a vintage Knusten Harp guitar from the early 20th century, currently under restoration at the Guitar Repair shop.


 Here you can see the original marquetry, with the original colors now mostly faded. From Italy Andy supplied the measurements and preferences for the reproduction at 6 whites, black, red, black, red, black with the white veneer either side. The outer herringbone was not required.



The process is similar to how I produce the rope marquetry for my Weissenborn reproductions. By making it myself, I have control over the quality of the woods and species used, and am able to accommodate the subtle differences in specifications between instruments of various eras. Or as in this case - make an impossible to find strip that the commercial makers would not even consider.




 The marquetry laminations must be heat proof to allow it to bend, and traditionally this was either fish glue or later urea formaldehyde. 



The smallest batch was much more than they needed for this repair, but now we have a small supply should someone ever need it! Good luck with the repair gentlemen!


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thomas Oliver - 'Jurassic Park Theme'


Check out Thomas Oliver's lap slide arrangement of the classic John Williams score 'Jurassic Park'. Taken from Thomas Oliver's forthcoming record 'Beneath the Weissenborn', coming soon.

"I was 7 years old when Jurassic Park was released. I went to see it at the movies about 5 times. Even at the age of 7, I was absolutely enamoured by the music. The main reason I kept going back to see it was so that I could hear the music again. It would be another 3 years before I would even touch a guitar, but the Jurassic Park score touched me deeply as soon as I heard it. It was the soundtrack to a very special time in the lives of many kids such as myself; for the first time, dinosaurs were alive, and our fascinations were entertained! But more than that, it was an incredibly beautiful piece of music. The melody stuck in my head for 20 years before I finally owned it myself. And when I bought it recently, it was like being reunited with a long lost friend, and I played it over and over and over again, as loud as I could, thrusting my arms into the air in the middle of my lounge room. Every time I listen to it, still I just can't believe how good it is. It remains my favourite film score ever. So I decided to arrange it for my favourite instrument ever, the Weissenborn. Thank you, John Williams, for such an incredible piece of music." - Thomas Oliver