So after church today I wiped off the dried glaze of the Meguiars 21 sealer/glaze and the end result was passable, but not perfect. Buffed up the fretboard and then re-installed the tuner machines. So after 4 months and a week here it is:
I strung it up and played a bit. The obvious tune to play was “Helicopters”, my first composition and my only instrumental. Sounds good. The bindings are perfect and the finish overall is much better than when I started.
Then I disassembled and stored the spray booth for next time. Adding the two projects end to end I’ve been involved with luthier stuff for two weeks shy of the past year. Sure have learned a lot and I am better for it.
January 13, 2018
After a morning Boy Scout meeting and frittering away a couple of hour on a graphic design for my BBQ apron embroidery, I finally got to the polishing phase intermittently while watching the Pens hockey game. The entire guitar needed rubbing out and polishing. I started on the back then the neck, the front and finally the sides. Encouraged by the appearance of the neck I decided to do the back and front of the tuner head, which came as a dull finish originally.
Things progressed slowly but surely. It is heartening to see the mirror finish emerge from under the glaze. I a m getting my upper body exercise and hope my rotator cuffs can take the abuse. Man could I use a buffing wheel. By bedtime I had it as good as it was gong to get until I check with Eric. The back and neck are especially spiffy.
So then I cleaned up the fretboard with a little 1000 grit paper and scraping the top edges of the neck bindings to remove masking tape goo, overspray and traces of the stain I used to touch up the back of the neck. Then I pit on a coat of boiled linseed oil to seal it, wiping off the excess after a few minutes for it to soak in.
January 10, 2018
Began rubbing out the finish on the lower side and neck. Here is my lineup of sandpaper and polishing compounds: i had very good success using the 1/2″
foam that my banjo parts order came packed with for sanding blocks with two-sided tape to hold the paper. Just enough flex to keep from digging into the finish of=n the leading edge of the paper. I cut several sized blocks for use in different spaces. The Meguiars products do the trick of getting close to a mirror finish but I am still a step below Eric Sullivan’s results. I should be seeing him here in about two weeks to show him the banjo and that will be one of my questions.
By the end of today I had the sanding out to 2000 completed without going through any of the finish, particularly the binding joint and the colorized places on the neck. Perfect. I started with the 600 grit. As it turns out the final 1:1 coat on the neck is my best effort yet on an initially smooth sprayed surface. I needed to do much less sanding than I did on the side.
January 9, 2018
It’s been awhile off on other things, like car repairs, Thanksgiving in Pflugerville TX, deer hunting, Christmas in Avon IN, shoveling snow and the like but squeezed in here and there were a number of trials and tribulations related to the final spray finishing.
Just when I thought that I had the drop fills on the back and sides mastered the finish crinkled up around three of them when I sprayed on the 1:1 dilution, what I was expecting to be THE final coat before polishing. Did some research and found info on too high solvent content dissolving the thin edges of the underlying coat, which likely was the situation on the back. The drop filled areas were also perceptively lower, like saucers, in the rest of the surface. So I went back at it with 320/400/600 grit and two more full strength coats to the back and top. No more crinkling.
The next challenge was that while sanding down the bottom shoulder trying to level out a very small depression where the new edge binding met the original I sanded all the way through the lacquer to the wood. Crappo. By this point I know what that means – refinishing the entire bottom side. I resigned myself to doing that and at that moment decided to do a better job on the neck.
When the neck bindings came off early on they took some of the finish with them, which revealed that the Martin lacquer was colored and this revealed the lighter colored mahogany wood underneath. After fooling around with this to blend it into the rest of the neck color I developed a technique similar to Eric Sullivan’s water-based staining. I blended some very thick settled pigment from my old cans of oil-based cherry and dark walnut stains into a color that matched the rest of the neck and let the mix dry in a small old butter tub. I trimmed a model painting brush to a fine point and found that if I just wet it with mineral spirits I could get a thick dried stain pigment paste onto it that was opaque enough to cover the lighter spots on the neck. Then when you put a coat of lacquer on it the coloration binds right into the layer and the repair vanishes. This was a real victory moment for me.
Armed with this newfound confidence I prepared to respray these effected areas. I did a fairly contorted masking-off job to leave only the back of the neck and the bottom side from the rear strap peg around to the neck exposed. I settled on a 25% (3:1) dilution for the lacquer – enough to level it out well but not enough to crinkle anything – and then did some thinking about just how I could spray it in a booth that was really not big enough for a guitar (made it for the banjo and it needed to fit on a 4′ wide table). The solution was to add a view window and a set of arms/gloves on the opposite side so I could spray from both sides. This was especially important for the neck – to get it from both sides equally, since I wasn’t rotating the guitar to paint the top and bottom or both sides. I had managed to spray from just the one side earlier but it was less than ideal, which had bugged me.
The results were excellent, which is usually the case when you put in the sweat equity with preparation. Here are pictures of the modified spray booth and the end product before the final coat. By the way that low spot in the binding joint is gone also with the re-coating.
September 15, 2017
First round of scraping and sanding down drop fills, then repeating the fill to bring it up flush. It normally takes two fills to get enough thickness to get the low spots flush. I also decided to do two very small dings on the top.
September 14 – Drop Fills Again
If you have read the Banjo Project blog you already know about drop fills. You use some kind of eye dropper to place drop of lacquer in a small low spot, nick or imperfection, and then scrape/sand it down when dry. I use a syringe, which is very precise.
The top back shoulder of the body sustained a major nick somewhere along the line that chipped the finish off down to the spruce. The primer and 5 coats later there was still a small depression in this area, so I drop filled it this morning. When that dries I have a couple locations along the new bottom back
binding to do the same thing with, only these are low spots where the purfling didn’t quite match the height of the edge binding. When these locations are filled in, then it will be final finish time.
September 9, 2017
Finally got onto the sanding and prep for spraying. Standard practice is to apply one coat of primer then lay down 4 – 5 coats, and use 320 grit to scuff between coats. Thinning helps the flatness of he surface but is not super-critical until the final topcoat, which is applied in a 1:1 dilution. I found that with the Behlen lacquer I am using thinning 20% for the build-up coats is preferable.
So I had to come up with some way to hold the guitar in the booth for spraying while still allowing it to be rotated so that I can do the entire body and neck at the same time. Here is what I came up with:
What is cool about this is the painting order – front side, rotate to opposite side, rotate to top then rotate to the back. I can get the neck from this last position. In other words you can spray the entire body and neck in one operation. Also the effect of rotating to each position lessens the change of runs or sags considerably. I’ve had none so far (knock on wood!). I modified the rack from the above picture by cutting down the extensions on both vertical supports to get clearer access to the tail end and neck for spraying at their support points.
I learned from my earlier banjo project (that blog is also here at this site) that the best setup for my HVLP sprayer (Harbor Freight) is full open with a flat pattern at 25psi. I am careful to have 25psi while actually spraying, not when deadheaded in the line when not spraying. The gauge reads 30psi deadheaded. This setup and 20% thinning gives a reasonably smooth surface for these buildup coats. I also have learned that with this pressure the lacquer flow is slow and I need to do 6 passes to get the thickness that will level out smooth. I can do 6 passes without runs or sags, too.
So with 5 coats on its wait around time, a minimum of 48 hours to allow the finish to cure and harden before the final topcoat. Lacquer may set up to the touch very fast (5 minutes or so) but it takes a long time to fully cure and harden. In this case it needs to be cured well enough for the wet sanding using 400-grit and mineral spirits before the topcoat.
September &, 2017 – Paint Booth Blower Upgrade
To this point the spray booth has been exhausted by a radial blade window exhaust fan. It is basically a 9″ square fan box taped onto the outside of the booth and connected to the exhaust vent with a cardboard cone. It was time to upgrade the the fan to a centrifugal blade type for a better exhaust rate and better performance against higher back pressure. I found a 0.45 amp, 115V Dayton blower that delivered 68 CFM against 0.2″ water pressure that was perfect. After refitting the former square opening from the booth to a 3″ hole I found a PVC pipe adapter to transition the 2″ outlet to the 4″ flex duct the setup looks like this now:
The plastic sheeted sides of the booth are definitely bowed inward now with this increased exhaust volume.
September 6. 2017 – Near Catastrophe Avoided
Today was masking off and primer day. Things were going along simply enough. I decided to mask of the edge bindings of the neck along with the bridge and pickup jack in the tailpiece. After I put the first strip of masking tape on the bottom side of the neck I decided to move it slightly. Working to peel of the tape to move it, oh no, it pulled off the whole binding. It was apparently not well attached. Fortunately I noticed it right away before I cracked it at the bottom end. I was able to put it back down and then peel the tape from the other end and at a right angle to its length. That was close. So it was repeat the gluing, stretch tape clamping and squeeze out trimming. In the end only a bit of the finish was lost from the neck and with a little staining and the primer I had it repaired. So now refinishing the neck was a necessity not an option.
September 1, 2017
A trip to visit Nate in Colorado Springs and hike in Rocky Mountain NP, some other more pressing home projects and here we are another month down the road. Time for sanding, more scraping, more sanding and then spraying.
As I launched into scraping the repaired edging I made a decision to refinish the entire guitar. There were two serious chips in the finish down to the wood in the upper shoulder of the top and various scrapes, dings and scratches distributed on all surfaces. A corollary decision then was to scrape all of the edging to match the new repair.
One problem in instrument finish repair is that part of the beauty and value of an old instrument comes from the yellowing of the lacquer with age. Some master luthiers have ways to darken new lacquer prior to spraying it, but not this novice. This is not too much of a problem with the wood since I am not stripping it down completely and the rosewood is so dark anyway, but it is on the pearly white edging. My decision was to scrape ALL the old edging down to match the new white ones. Besides not having the skill to color the lacquer there were two other reasons: 1) the existing lacquer on the old bindings was seriously chipped, one reason being that the finish from an earlier factory repair was too thick and poorly done (as already discussed), and 2) in this previous repair the top edgings were already very white compared to the back and neck. So it was a 50/50 situation. Let me say that it takes a long time to scrape down the old yellowed lacquer on all the edgings all the while being careful not to break through to the wood on the adjacent edge, also while chamfering the old finish down into the line of the edging.
August 2, 2017
Scraping is in a word tedious but the end result is satisfying. Impatience is not good because you can’t put it back on after you’ve taken it off. The scraping also involves the adjacent lacquer finish because what you are after is a perfect match in the lines before sanding and refinishing.
July 29, 2017
Not a lot happened on this project in June or July with Boy Scout Camp, making ash canoe thwarts for my friend Mark and granddaughter Sarah’s birthday and all, but here I am back at it
So the first step is to decide where to cut the loose purfling/binding back to and where to put the joints. as it turns out the plastic material is not acetone soluble, so the joints will have a hairline in them. I decided to cut them back to the shoulders and stagger the joints to help hide them. The other extreme option would be to remove them all the way back to the neck in front and tailpiece i back to have no joints. However, since the reason the edges came loose in the first place is because they shrank and pulled away I decided that a joint at each end would allow them to shrink without pulling away in the future. Also when I got to checking closely I saw the previous factory repairs had done just that.
I decided to use Bind-All adhesive from StewMac.com, the stuff made specifically for this job. I also took their recommendation on using their orange stretch tape for clamping the bindings while they set. Cutting thre but joint carefully did the trick. I had a bit more squeeze out than I wanted, but no serious damage that couldn’t be cleaned off. Better stuck good than sorry. Getting all three pieces in place with the glue one at a time was a bit nerve racking because squeeze out in the grooves would be a problem. I glued and clamped each one down in sequence and then scraped out the remaining groove for each one when the glue had set. So here we are glued and clamped then dry and ready to scrape them down to match the existing bindings.
June 8, 2017 – A Starting Point
The picture shows the guitar at present. I’ve manged to cut out the damaged binding/purfling and clean the grooves of old adhesive.
Bindings and Purfling
The edge binding and purfling I am using are both made of styrene plastic I believe, soluble in acetone. The binding is a simple white, but much thicker and sturdier to hold everything together and protect the edges of the wood pieces on the outside. Purfling goes inside the binding to add style and color. I think historically purfling was made from wood. There are two types of standard Martin plastic purfling – a black/white/black/white and a thinner white/black/white. The standard D-35 design uses both. So the repair will actually be a three-piece affair.
A Poor Paint Job
You can see that I have been working on the old finish. This became a bit of positive encouragement from a discouraging discovery – the guitars final finish is not adhered to the undercoat. I remembered once into this that several years ago this same separated edging problem occurred and I returned the guitar to Martin for repair under warranty. You see, when I bought the guitar in 1972 it came with a lifetime original owner warranty for workmanship. So what I am diving into I could be having done for me for nothing, except that #1) I’ve already messed with it, #2) I love the challenge, and #3) whoever refinished the guitar the first time didn’t get the finish to adhere to the underlying coat and it is peeling off as I sand it. So maybe I’m not such a novice after all – I can do better than that. I have not found the full extent of the peeling yet but that will come. I don’t think it will add any extra finishing area to the project .
June 7, 2017 – A Luthier Urge Rising
The satisfaction I had from building the banjo, and the knowledge I gained, encouraged me to tackle the repair of the bottom back edge binding and purfling of my 1972 model Martin D-35 6-string. The plastic binding can shrink with time and pull away from the body of the guitar, which it has on the bottom edge and did once before. Unfortunately, I launched into trying to simply clamp and re-glue this section early on in the banjo project with poor results. I sanded through the finish in one spot and basically ruined the binding and purfling in the area. After that I did more online research and got the straight story on how to do it at www.frets.com.
I was able to run down the binding and purfling at C.F. Matrin’s 1833 Shop and received that a couple weeks ago. After some study I decided to use a binding tape for clamping and binding adhesive (Bind-All) from www.Stewmac.com for installing the new sections. Fortunately the spray booth I built for the banjo work is big enough for the guitar. I am going to upgrade the booth’s exhaust fan to a real centrifugal fan before I start this refinishing.
For various reasons we decided to leave Monday morning instead of after the Sunday POP meeting, and then drive through. Left at 0720 and arrived at 1800 at the Pigeon Forge Krogers. There was some roadwork in southern Kentucky that held us up a bit longer than we expected. Also Larry almost merged into someone coming off the on ramp from I-74 to I-275. Otherwise no problems. Left under overcast skies and 60°, arrived under blue skies and 83°. Already this is shaping up to be a different visit and throwing us off on how to dress for our hikes and what kind of lunch to pack. No need for something hot to drink and eat. Wildflowers we are hoping will be the main attraction during the hikes and this is how we plan to pick our trails.
Spent the evening enjoying the warmness, surfing on the iPad, watching the Reds beat the Phillies (thanks Jon – the Reds are blacked out in Knoxville believe it or not) and getting mentally adjusted watching a couple episodes from Red Green – the Infantile Years. The 1991 episodes have his poetry readings and singing at the campfire with Harold – nearly too funny to laugh with. Having no further ambition we went to bed at 2300.
Day 2 – Tuesday (4/16)
Slept with a bedroom window open last night and awoke to the birds singing in the trees. As usual set the alarm for 0700 and got up at 0730 – hey it’s a vacation. Made the coffee, checked the weather, had morning prayer and had breakfast. It is going to be sunny and around 80° today. We picked the Chestnut Gap trail out of the Townsend Y today because it is supposed to be a prime wildflower trail, especially in the first ½ mile (which is a nice uphill climb). We have done this trail before – last time it was so cold and windy we could hardy get the water the hot tea to boil up on one of the saddles. today we broke a seat, and we really had to concentrate on not wearing too many clothes. As it was Larry hiked in his t-shirt and zip-offs and Mary Ann in a polo shirt and long pants. We still took the stove – couldn’t bear to part with it, and didn’t need it. We made 3 miles up to the crest and a bit down the other side to Bryant’s Gap before eating lunch. There were indeed copious wildflowers on the first uphill and this took extra time for pictures (I’ll have an album at the photo site soon). At 65 the hardest part about wildflowers is getting down to their level for the photo and then back up again. Hiking poles are very useful for this. Met two other couples on the hike – one from Washington State who had a business in Alaska but was raised in Knoxville and the other from Wisconsin. More folks here as winter turns to spring. On the return trip to the cabin stopped for some sunscreen and then just sat on the bank of the Little River for awhile to recharge batteries – you know, Psalm 23.
Dinner was grilled venison steaks, Caesar salad and microwaved potatoes (what did we used to do when it took 45 minutes to “bake” a potato?). This evening will be more of the same as yesterday. Have to go through the wildflower photos from today and maybe post them to the website.
Day 3 – Wednesday (4/17)
We left the house under cloudy, rain-looking skies that were clearing in the west at about 0915. It rained lightly early this morning. Today we drove the Foothills Parkway around the west side of the park and stopped at Look Rock, hiked at Abrams Creek Campground and saw the Fontana Dam. Look Rock is an old Cherokee landmark that now has an EPA weather station and an observation deck on it. The observation deck has a web cam you can access online if you want – Mary Ann has been checking the weather from it getting ready for the trip. It was a nice short uphill walk, sunny and with a nice breeze. Took some pictures then attempted to drive the “short-cut” to Abrams Creek Campground. First we went north instead of south, then drove way past the turn-off road because there was no sign for the Campground and because the roadsign (“Abrams Creek Road”) was not at the corner and not visible when traveling south through Happy Valley J. This took up about 30 – 45 extra minutes. Once at the Campground the hike was very nice. Temperatures are still in the low 80’s. Most of the walk was along Abrams Creek, but the extreme western end downstream of the falls that we have hiked to many times from Cades Cove.
We also learned the answer to the old question, “If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is around, does it make a noise?” Yes and it scares the bejeezus out of you. It was across the creek but none the less there were images of rampaging bears running through our minds.
After lunch by the creek and the return hike we continued south around the park to Fontana Dam via US 129. This route was something new to us – a motorcycle Mecca because of its twists and turns – 318 curves in 11 miles; it is one continuous S-curve with ups and downs as well. They call it the “Tail of the Dragon” or just “The Dragon”; some of the sharpest curves have names of their own. Since this 11 mile stretch is also the southwest boundary of the park there is no development at all and thus no danger of anyone pulling out from a drive or side road, and hence no reason to, you got it, slow down. It is an international destination for cyclists and sports car drivers, We saw several companies staked out at curves taking pictures of those flying by for later resale. The Jetta held its own as Mary Ann held on to her door handle. We made the 11-mile return trip in 30 minutes. The S-curves are banked, guard rails are absent; they warn you about the hairpin turns (10 mph posted) but after a while the S-curves weren’t even labeled.
Fontana Dam was the real destination for Larry, though. This is where the Appalachian Trail enters the park from the south. It crosses the Little Tennessee River on the dam. The dam was impressive – 450’ tall, 2300’ long, with 2 giant tunnel overflow spillways. Vertigo-City looking down into the spillways and over the top railing on the back of the dam to the river 450’ below. Larry traced out the trail across the dam and partway up the park road on the north side. So now we’ve been to both ends of it for the park. We finally got home at 1915 and never were rained on. Ate in tonight, watched baseball and worked on this Blog.
Day 4 – Thursday (4/18)
Today was a beautiful day – sunny, warm, breezy. We went to Porter’s Creek in
Greenbrier – another wildflower extravaganza. Forget that the trail was a constant uphill. Seems that the locals are getting a jump on next weeks Pilgrimage – there was a busload at the Fern Branch Falls. Larry started spouting off flower names and was gently corrected by a nice gal. Larry thought we were on a different trail in his mind the whole time until we reached Campsite 31, the end of the trail, for lunch. He was expecting a longer stretch. This trail has the long, creepy foot log over Porter’s Creek. Met a retired Air Force couple who decided to put roots down in Gatlinburg. We had some things in common. On the return trip Mary Ann nearly stepped on a 4’ black snake while looking at the cascading creek – Larry got a picture after it finished rearing its head.
We made a trip to the grocery and then to Lowe’s. The Lowe’s trip was necessitated by Larry breaking off the shower plunger – it was sticking because of water scale and we couldn’t turn on the shower. Fortunately, Lowe’s had an exact replacement that Larry installed in about 30 minutes. There is an upstairs shower, but that was just not convenient, and once the plunger was busted it was too late to just report it and admit he broke it. The trip to Lowe’s required driving all the way across Pigeon Forge at the height of its “Rod Run” hotrod swap meet; expected to attract 75,000 people into town. The cavalcade of cars parked up one side and down the other of the main drag was really impressive – every muscle car and restored classic imaginable – but we’ll be steering clear of this for the rest of the weekend. It will change our choices on where to eat out tomorrow.
Day 5 – Friday (4/19)
Rain day. We’ve known this is coming for the past week, so we are right on plan to do the scrapbook today. The rain began at maybe 0830 and we started the scrapbook at 030 or so. The rain front has also brought with it more seasonably cooler temperatures, but they still feel good to us. We just finished the scrapbook and it is quarter to 4. And the rain has stopped and the sky is clearing in the west – good timing.
Tonight is eat-out-for-our-anniversary night. We plan to go to Gatlinburg to avoid the Rod Run crowd in Pigeon Forge. Going to Gatlinburg to avoid the crowd is in itself completely wacko, but these be strange times.
Today Larry fixed the gas log fireplace. Mary Ann had been smelling gas very slightly. He knew from prior experience here that the pilot light was probably blown out, which it was. He decided to turn the whole thing off for the summer. In the process he discovered that whoever had messed with it previously had not reinstalled the glass or lower vent properly, mainly because one of the posts holding the lower vent was missing and the other was loose. The missing post as he suspected wasn’t missing just laying loose in a gap at the bottom of the fireplace. So with it and the other properly tightened the gas fireplace is all the way it should be. He also changed a burnt out light bulb in one of the dining area spotlights. They should pay us to rent this place, really.
Part of our rain day was to celebrate our anniversary dinner out. Since the Rod Run car show was in Pigeon Forge we opted to go to Gatlinburg and the Calhoun’s rib place there. We go in through the Park the back way since Calhoun’s is on the Park end of town. It was good, but only one kind of BBQ sauce. Caught up on the capture of the second Boston Marathon bomber. Then back into the Park, over Fighting Creek Gap, past the Laurel Falls parking, past Elkmont down to Metcalf Bottoms, across the Little River on the wooden bridge, up over the Greenbrier Ridge and out of the park on Lyon Springs Road and back home.
Until bedtime watched baseball, planned for tomorrow’s hike and snacked. At some point we watched Abbott and Costello videos, including “Who’s on First?”.
Day 6 – Saturday (4/20)
The rain brought the cold front with it. So we’ve gone from mid-80’s to mid-40’s. There was an overnight frost in some places but we don’t think right here. But the sky is clear and sunny. This morning’s hike was back to winter mode as we dressed down in long johns and layers, gloves and wool hats. Larry had no gloves, but his wool ski cap and extra wool sweater took care of him. Lunch was back to hot soup using the stove. Since we mistakenly bought a Jake’s Creek patch last time without hiking it we figured we should hike it this year. This is in the old Elkmont logging town area and follows one of the old railroad grades for the first 2 miles but after the creek crossing there it reverts to a typical uphill Smokies trail. There were plentiful wildflowers – we shot Fraser sedge and Bishop’s hat. This Fraser guy got around – Fraser fir, Fraser magnolia, Fraser sedge. Trillium were everywhere. What a joy. They have moved the trailhead 0.4 miles back down the hill since last time we headed this way, so Campsite 27, our destination, was at 3 miles now, but we made it for lunch. Larry marked the paces and kept our spirits up as we trudged steadily upward. In hindsight we could have made the ridge and Jake’s Gap after lunch then returned but we wanted to get to Mass on time at 1600. The day warmed up perfectly as we walked, so we were carrying clothes in the pack on the return trip. We returned to the cabin after the hike. Larry took a long nap and Mary Ann hit the iPad. After Mass we had dinner in. Larry grilled the raspberry chicken. Then we caught up on the Red’s game that went 13 innings but was already done by then. With MLB.TV we can watch the video of the whole game. The rest of the evening was frittered away doing laundry, watching Red Green and then making our reservations in Cincinnati for the Reds-Cubs game on Monday (AAA ½ price day) and our motel room (using our points).
You’ll see a self portrait picture of us from the hike today at lunch using a nearby twin trunked tree. Well after the picture the camera fell. It worked fine until after the picture of Mary Ann doing the laundry and then it jammed up. Now it won’t focus. So tomorrow’s pictures will be by flip phone. If we had gotten our smart phones before we left on the trip things would be better. Larry is hoping that the camera is still under warranty. We’ll see.
Day 7 – Sunday (4/21)
Tried to get an earlier start today to beat the crowds to Cades Cove, so the alarm was set for 0630. We rolled out at 0645. Another outstandingly beautiful day. Our destination today is the Gregory Ridge Trail that starts from the Parson’s Branch Road near the Mill in Cades Cove. There was no problem getting to the trailhead. We were hiking by 0930 and already we could tell that the day was warmer than Saturday. What a magnificent hike. We made Campsite 12 at Mile 2 by 1030, which was way too early for lunch, so we just pushed on uphill and finally hit the top of the ridge at 3.2 miles by noon. You had a choice – a chilly breeze in the sun, or no breeze and gnats in the sun. We took the latter. Not too bad, really. It was another soup day. The hike included a primitive foot log over Forge Creek –actually two sections of a large pine that had been cut coincidentally over the creek. They were like 4’ in diameter but rounded on top. We took a picture. Mary Ann, ever nimble, just walked them. Larry crawled one but walked the other.
Used the water filter to great advantage by filling up on water for the last mile of the upward hike at a side stream instead of carrying it all the way from the car.
Part of the hike was through some uncut forest – really, really large tulip poplar, white pine and oak. The loggers never made it in this far.
From the trailhead after the hike we drove the Parson Branch Road. The sign read “Travel At Your Own Risk”. This road is closed in winter but it opened just before we got here (April 11). The F250 would have been a better choice than the Jetta, but since I am writing this you can guess that we made it. It was gravel with a minimum of chuck holes. We drug bottom only once slightly, but there were a few tense moments waiting for a protruding rock to scrape the engine pan that never happened. The high point of the 8-mile, one-way forest road was 17, yes 17, creek crossings. And we are not talking on bridges, there were 3 of those as well. These were paved (thankfully) spill ways – low water crossings as it were. At first they were novel, then it dawned on Larry that we were following the stream downhill and the crossings were getting deeper because the stream was growing bigger. By the last one the water was as deep as the Jetta’s ground clearance and it was moving fast. This is in light of Mary Ann just having read about the unfortunate fella in Kokomo earlier in the week who drowned when his car was swept off the road trying to cross a flooded road. We were glad to find that the last three crossings were on bridges because Parson Branch Creek by then was roaring.
So then out of the woods at the end of the Parson Branch Road and into…….the middle of the Dragon’s Tail. Woohoo. Our third run of the Dragon. We were greeted by two racing cycles making the hairpin turn where the forest road enters, one behind the other laying into that curve with their inside knees nearly scraping the road surface. Larry did his best to fit in, and we of course had our picture taken by Killboy’s – they shoot every vehicle and then will sell you the photo from their website. You just have to remember the day you passed by. Here we are on the 17th – all 6 photos: Pretty cool! Click on them to enlarge.
Meanwhile back at the cabin it’s pack up for tomorrow. We stay in Cincy overnight for the ballgame. We haven’t played any of the board games we brought. You can blame it on Larry’s subscription to the MLB.com televised games and to Mary Ann’s iPad.
Day 8 – Monday (4/22)
We didn’t have to get up and leave super early because the only commitment we had was getting to the Red’s game at 1910 (7:10), and we couldn’t really check in to the motel until after 1500 (3:00). We were still on the road at about 0845. At lunch time we were somewhere near the Renfro Valley exit looking for a picnic spot. We got off to go to the James Whitley historic site, but without our AAA tour guide handy we got off at New London and started following the signs. It turned out to be further than just off the road, so we ended up going on the local roads down to the next exit which was for Renfro Valley and eating at a picnic table outside the Renfro Valley Barn Dance music hall there. It was a gorgeous day. After that we sped on to the Comfort Inn on I-275 near the airport and got settled in. With time on his hands Larry decided to look quickly for an iPad app for keeping score and sure enough found one and downloaded it to Mary Ann’s iPad.
We left in plenty of time for dinner at Skyline and the game, but spent a good 30 minutes driving around basically the same block trying to find the parking garage that we use when we go with Nate. That was rather fruitless so we ended up in the Chiquita Building garage for $5 (5th and Main) only one block up and over from Skyline. We had researched if they had the chili without spaghetti before we left the motel and learned that Skyline has ”Chili Bowls” – 3, 4 or 5-Ways without spaghetti – learn somethin’ new every day. Could have eaten two apiece (well maybe Larry could have). We got to the game for part of batting practice and our seats were down at field level just beyond 3rd base (Section 111). And what a game it was. The Reds won in 13 innings scoring 3 runs after the Cubs had scored 2 in the top of the inning. Of the 18,000 in attendance we were part of the about 3,000 who stayed with the Cub fans to the bitter end. We got back to the car at 2430 (30 minutes after midnight). We were both wearing our long johns and had hats and plenty of layers, but the temp stayed just around 60° the whole time. Note for future reference – don’t sit at field level where your line of sight is across an aisleway because you won’t be able to see half the game for the people constantly going back and forth from their seats. One wonders why they buy tickets. The scoring app worked great except Larry didn’t have time to learn how to substitute players later in the game. So with that long of a game there were a bunch of pitchers and subs. He will work on that soon and should be able to edit the score card to have a correct and complete record. No foul balls, except for a screamer in section 110 next to us. Some middle-aged guy reached up and caught it with his glove like he was in the game. Got some souvenirs after the game – they were still open.
Day 9 – Monday (4/23)
Back to work day – have to be in SBend for Larry’s dentist appointment at 1330 (changed the time enroute). Good weather, no traffic, no problem. Home by 1230 and it was overcast and rainy. We are already planning for next time – maybe in the fall. Probably should have bought the place.
I transferred the pickup from my old Gibson to the Sullivan a couple days ago. And after hours and days of practice and replaying this tune I wrote back in February as I started the project I got it to a good enough point to make it public.
I’ve listened to enough bluegrass to know the template and pattern of these songs by heart – simple and direct, not theoretical, while re-teaching the bible stories. The “rock” metaphor occurs frequently in the Old and New Testaments as well as the psalms. So I had lots of material.
Hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I do playing it.
After playing it for about a week and thinking some more (no real rush here) I decided to go ahead and put in a new 5th-string nut, primarily to fill in the existing hole. It took me some time to locate a 1/8″ diameter plastic rod. I was able to drill out the wrongly set nut without damaging the fretboard (whew!). The only rod I could find instead of buying an already-made nut for $3 plus $7 shipping was white PTFE. I found it at Grainger Supply in South Bend for $1.60. I needed 3/4″ of the 12″ piece. I did cut a string groove in it so it actually helps hold the string horizontally and vertically. It fit snuggly into the existing hole so I didn’t glue it. Overall the 5th string now tunes up and stays in perfect pitch when hooked around the HO spikes at 7 or 9. That made me very happy.
May 20, 2017 – 5th-String Tuner and Pegs
To put in the dot at the 5th fret, which i wasn’t planning at first, I had to pull out the 5th string tuner. Since it did come out without too much effort I decided to drill in the dot. And I found that just pushing it back in wasn’t good enough because hammering in the HO spikes (explained below) just knocked it back out. So on-line i picked up this little press fit with a clamp trick.
Gorilla glue was my choice, being careful to wipe off any squeeze out – it wipes easily until it starts to set up. It ain’t comin’ out now!
I mentioned tuning the 5th string to the key of the song. Here is the trick – HO model railroad track spikes, yep. They have a square cross-section 1/32″ on each side, so a 1/32″ drill makes a slightly undersized hole for tapping them in. Again the hole only has to be about 5/16″ deep. I found that there were several ways to locate them so I went with what had worked for me before – right behind the fret and 1mm to either side of the string so as not to hit the vibrating string when not being used. One goes at the 7th fret and one at the 9th.
So one has to know that 95% of bluegrass banjo songs are in the key of C with the 5th string an octave G, the 5th note in the scale. To play one in D you just hook the 5th string at the 7th fret (octave A, 5th note in the scale) and for E at the 9th (octave B, 5th note in the scale). If someone is wild enough to play in F you can tune the string up one fret to an octave C from the 9th fret without breaking it.
This left the question of the 5th string nut to answer. Eric put the nut hole about 1/4″behind the 5th fret, with the string grounded on the fret. The other way to do it is to put the nut right behind the fret but elevate the string even with the other 4 strings and not use the fret at all. My problem was that when I put in the nut I tapped it in too deep. After weighing the pros and cons I decided to put an HO spike behind the 5th fret as my nut, which I did.
May 19, 2017 – Side Fret Dots
So the office is moved across the hall and my confidence is high so I decided that the time was right for drilling in the fret dots. I used my digital micrometer to center the dots in the frets, marking them with a 0.7mm drafting pencil, and eyeballed their vertical position. I set the drill depth at 1/4″. The only problem I had was with the vertical positions. In hindsight I could have mic’d the vertical positions as well – they are not precisely in line down the side of the neck, but only to the trained eye (mine). I marked frets 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 (the octave), 15, 17, 19 and 22, copying from my existing Gibson. There are different fret marking conventions but for bluegrass banjo this is the standard. By comparison my Martin guitars are marked at fret 9, not 10 and 21, not 22. For a banjo the G chord is played open. The 5th string is a drone, the idea taken from the dulcimer, and adjusted for the key that the song is written in. The dots are really only relative and used to keep track of where you are. The periodic 3-fret spacing is because there are no B#/Cb or E#/Fb in the chromatic scale. This means that there is only one fret between E-F and B-C, not the usual two frets for each key change
The octave 12th fret is marked with a double dot. The pictures show the sequence – drill, apply glue with toothpick (Gorilla glue) and wipe excess off, insert rod, snip it off. After that I scraped the rod to within 1/1000th using a single edged razor blade with cellophane tape guarding all but the 1/16″ of the dot – cellophane tape is 1/1000th inch thick. Then as you can see I used a small foam sanding block with P1000 followed by P2000 sandpaper and polished it out just like the lacquer. It was so good I didn’t have to put lacquer on the ends of the dots.
I had been planning to use foam sanding blocks behind the wet/dry sandpaper all along but only finally did it at this point. A StewMac video convinced me. I used the closed-cell foam that was part of the packing that the resonator came with 10 years ago plus some two-sided tape. It turns out that if you use your fingers alone or wrap the sandpaper around a block it always sands deeper at the edges. So I cut out and made a few different sizes of foam blocks for each grit. The one in the picture is 1″ by 2″, the smallest.
May 10 – New Packages on the Porch
Got my StewMAC package today with the fret side dot rods. Also I bought a fret dressing file and some finer sandpaper grades up to 2000-grit. And another quart of lacquer from Behlen came, for use on the guitar repair – another blog probably.
So I am working up to doing the work, but am distracted by moving my office across the hall as Matt Richard takes the final pieces of furniture. I will be repairing the drywall and painting the old office.
May 3 – And……Done – Well, almost
The treble D-string fill didn’t work the first time and the second time I realized that the binder plastic was not sticking to the nut material (it’s a different plastic altogether), so I just stuck the loose piece back into the slot and it worked well enough. It will be super glue in a bit.
So I’ve started playing again, and that’s when I noticed that I hadn’t put the fret dots in the top binding of the neck. This is how you keep track of where you are playing – there is a dot (black on a white binding) at frets 3, 5, 7, 10, 12 double dot, 15, 17 ,19 and 22 double dot, these correspond to the intervals between the notes on the scale. So back to Google to see how this is done, and to StewMAC.com for the 1/16″ diameter plastic rod that is used. Measure the center of the appropriate fret with a micrometer, mark with a center punch on the top neck binding and carefully drill a 1/4″deep 1/16″ hole, put in a bit of glue, jam in the rod, clip it off, sand it down and drop fill it over. Normally this is done before the lacquering but I forgot, so I’ll be filling it over as part of the sanding and polishing.
The 4th fret appears to be a bit high compared to the 3rd and 5th so it may need some filing down. Then I learned on-line that one of the neck finishing steps is leveling the frets with a filing block. That I can do, but I’ll need a fret dressing file.
And in the bright light I had trained on the instrument during this exploration I noticed a couple more flaws in the resonator that will need attention. I think the drop fills are not sticking in the grooves along the binding because of my not cleaning off the Meguires polishing compounds. So I will be using some mineral spirits and scuffing down in the small grooves before I drop fill again. I am finding this fascinating as much as it is challenging.
May 2 – The Home Stretch
Yesterday I sanded, polished and buffed out the wood rim area that is visible below the tone ring, the area that I had resprayed a couple days ago. It is shiny but not perfect since some of the stain I used to color the area got sanded down and there was some residual graininess, but with the J-hooks and arm rest in the way not much shows anyway. As I am learning in my latter years perfection is relative. And so with that I was able to re-assemble the pot, this time for real as I tightened down the head and attached the modified tailpiece and arm rest. And since the neck was done I attached the neck to the rim. Here it is at that point:
Meanwhile back on the resonator I was finding a second group of more minor flaws along the lower binding on the sides. It has taken me another three cycles of “drop-fill with the syringe-allow to dry overnight-sand and polish” to get it where I want it. And fortunately the finish is thick enough that I haven’t sanded through, knock on wood! So this is the remaining piece of the puzzle.
As you may have noticed in the picture there are strings on the neck – oh, yeah. Last night I cut in the string grooves. They are spaced 7.5 mm apart with 4 mm on each edge, as measured from my existing Gibson. The string spacing at the bridge is 11 mm on the J.D. Crowe bridge from Sullivan’s. And with these measurements the 5th string is 7.5 mm from the bass D (4th) string, just as it should be. So careful measurement, and re-measurement paid off. I used an assortment of my fine saws to cut the slots to as close to the string diameters as I could – a 42 tpi (0.017″) and 48 tpi (0.014″) hobby saw and my Bear saw (0.023″). So things were rolling right along until I got carried away with the treble (1st) D-string and cut it too deep so that it was resting on the first fret. Dang, but I had anticipated just such a problem and my research indicated that I could soften a piece of binding into a paste by soaking it in acetone to use as a filler, which is what I did and am currently waiting on to harden. It will take a few hours. Here I am putting in the filler: I put my halogen lamp on it to speed up the process, protecting the surrounding areas with thick towels.
But in the meantime I tuned up the other strings and actually played a few licks. That was an exciting moment. It actually works.
When the last drop fill sets up on the resonator here in a bit I should have it sanded, polished and buffed soon thereafter, with only this string slot to touch up before it’s finished and ready to play.
Now back to the resonator. The drop filling of the binding groove has been tedious. I needed three fills with overnight to dry between each to be sure. During the process I did improve my drop-fill technique – I upgraded from a toothpick to a syringe, which proved to be way more precise and with less risk of a stray drip in the wrong place. But just as I reached the end some lacquer leaked under a piece of masking I was using just to mark the general location on the rim (the last area needing the fill was actually hard to find except in certain light) and the tape pulled of a small spot of finish. So back at it. But the resonator is now only a touch-up away from done. The wood rim sits by curing, waiting for its final polishing. So it is coming together.
Next challenge – cutting the string slots in the nut and setting the string height (aka “the string action”).
April 27 – Finishing the Neck – One down, Two to go
With the headpiece cured for 3 days I was back on it and this time the results were as near to perfect as I can get. I learned that as the scratches are taken out reducing the hand pressure is key to getting the last minor swirls out with each successively finer abrasive. It’s all in the wrist so to speak.
With the polishing done I had to ream out the tuner holes to remove the lacquer build-up so that the tuners would fit again. I had the presence of mind to start from the back of the headpiece. I used the same Tinker Toy rod and 80-grit sandpaper successfully, but with some minor chipping that will be covered up by the tuner. In this process I put some scratches in the front, so once the tuners were fitted I removed them, re-polished the front and very carefully re-installed them. Then I drove the 5th string tuner into its hole down the neck.
And here it is, ready to put on the strings after I cut in the string slots. The finished headpiece says it all.
April 24 – Q-Tips and Toothpicks
Re-sanded and polished out the neck using Eric Sullivan’s technique with very good rersults. Closer to Eric’s finish but not all the way there. So I moved on to the front of the headpiece and things were looking good until I broke through the finish in one small spot. So I scuffed it up and put on 5 more coats today. It has leveled out nicely so I assume that on Wednesday or Thursday I’ll be able to finish polishing out the entire neck.
I took the flange and the brackets off of the wood rim and lit into it with the new polishing protocol. The only area that shows outside the instrument is the 1/2″ band between the flange and the head, and it had some residual pitting. I went through the finish in one small spot with this as well, taking some of the walnut stain with it, but the fix is different – a Q-Tip and a toothpick. I went ahead and finished polishing out the rest of the rim with excellent results.
I did a drop fill with the lacquer for the first coat on the sanded through area, sanded it down after an hour and then applied some stain with the Q-Tip. When that had dried I put a second drop fill of lacquer over the stain. Tomorrow I’ll sand and polish it out and that should complete the wood rim.
And then on to the resonator, which was polished out pretty well already, but had a basic graininess in the background that just wouldn’t make the quality control review. So I started by taking off the grainy-look with 1000-grit wet/dry paper and mineral spirits. In the process I discovered that some of the imperfections along the seam of the top binding on the side were actually a gap between the binding and its groove from when I first glued in the binding. I was able to sand out all the other glitches. So then it was back to the toothpick to drop fill the gap. It looks like I will need only two coats. But the great news was that the back of the resonator polished up better than it was when I started on it today and I will not need to re-spray it.
April 21 – Taking a Step Back
I talked to Eric Sullivan about the tail piece and his final finishing techniques.
For the Presto tailpiece he said he just leaves it unfastened to the tension ring and the strings themselves hold it in place. It comes with a small screw that is used to rest against the tone ring to adjust the tailpiece angle, but he said he takes that off and it is unnecessary. As a player, however, it is enough aggravation changing the strings (they have looped ends that need to be hooked over the prongs of the tailpiece) without having it falling off or moving around, so I came up with a bracket to fasten the tailpiece to the J-hooks just like the armrest using the small screw. Yea, its carbon steel and not chrome plated and sprayed satin black, but it is mostly hidden under the tailpiece and below the tension ring, so its effect is similar to the resonator brackets that I painted the same color. Here’s a picture of it. At least it is engineeringly very functional if not real pretty.
My step back is on the final finishing. I learned three things from Eric – use a flexible sanding block behind the very fine sandpaper and polishing compounds to level the underlying finish, use 1000-grit paper to level initially, and follow this with Meguiars 21 and Meguiars 2. He doesn’t do the 1:1 dilution final coat, just builds up a good thick layer of lacquer as smooth as he can get it to start from. He lays down 3-4 coats, scuffing with 320-grit between each, then sands it down and repeats another 3-4 coats for his base.
So since I am on the neck currently and had sanded through in a couple small spots, I stepped back and put on another 3 coats. That was 3 days ago. I will see how the 1000-grit followed with Meguiars 21 and 2 works, and if it does I’ve decided to start back on the resonator, which I can see will not be as good as Eric’s the way it sits right now, with the 1000-grit. If I sand through then it will be step back again and add more layers.
To get my mind off of this endless painting, I took some time while the neck finish was hardening to install a dedicated 4″ exhaust duct for the paint booth. That was challenging but as of last night it is in and functional. So there is no longer a need to disconnect then reconnect the booth when Mary Ann uses the dryer. After building the Lodge last summer I am very good at removing and re-installing vinyl siding to cut in vents and their covers.
April 16 – 17: Easter Weekend
So in the midst of the Easter celebration I managed to finish the following:
final painting of resonator interior- CHECK
decide how to finish the adjusted resonator brackets and finish them – CHECK
glue in the resonator lugs – CHECK – Gorilla Superglue
polish out the resonator exterior – CHECK
install the control rods – CHECK
assemble the wood rim and flange with rersonator brackets – CHECK
assemble the rest of the pot – tone ring, head, head ring and tailpiece – CHECK
So what’s left to do now?
touch-up the neck & finish polishing it – in process
improve polishing of resonator and neck
install the arm rest
attach the neck to rods – rods in; neck in process
install the string machines (tuners)
install the tailpiece – got a problem here, it doesn’t fit so need a different one
cut the string grooves into the fretboard nut
install the strings and bridge; adjust the neck angle, bridge position and string action
tune’er up and play
The next big challenge will be to finish the repainting of the neck and then bring the polishing and buffing up another notch. After that it is all downhill once I get a different tailpiece that fits. These will require another call to the expert.
April 13 – Here We Go with Assembly
Putting Together the Pot Assembly
In the background of these assembly steps I was working on touching up the interior of the resonator. I had to remove the lugs after checking their fit with the flange and rim. They were perfect. The notches got stained ebony and the upper rim after sanding got a color coat of walnut stain prior to a lacquer overcoat. I also sanded out the inside bottom to make it look more finished prior to the final overcoat. Then I polished it out a bit to even it up.
Here is a series of pictures illustrating the assembling of the pot
I was wondering where some deeper scratches were coming from as I worked down to the lesser grit polishes. And I guessed it was the foam applicator pads, so I switched to using one of our remaining 100% cotton diapers – and bingo the polishing jumped up to a new level. Yowza! So I ordered some new cotton diapers on Amazon for future use.
But then a setback just as I was winding up on the neck – I polished right through a small spot in the finish along the fretboard binding. Crap! I had two choices – the old “drop-fill” trick or respray the entire back of the neck. A pretty easy first choice, and the drop-fill worked. A bit of sanding and blending to do but less work than a full respray. It took three coats to fill it in thick enough.
April 11 – Coming Up for Air
Jump ahead to Tuesday and here is a shot of the stained, primed and lacquered resonator interior taken in the afternoon when fully dried overnight. It looks good but a little more glossy than I was expecting.
But the resonator is now done except for polishing and buffing. I was very happy that there was no bleeding of the stain and resonator interior lacquer on to the upper rim where I had masked it off.
A tense moment occurred when I started peeling off the masking tape from the resonator and realized it was really stuck to the finish. I could just see it lifting off my near perfect finish like with the headpiece. I took my time and the finish was unaffected. I used some mineral spirits to clean off the adhesive residue from the tape. So looks like I bonded the multiple coats of lacquer together and the primer is performing as advertised.
In between painting the interior of the resonator I laid into polishing the wood rim. Of the three wood parts this has the worst final coat because it was always the first test of my spraying ability. It’s not bad, just not as good as the front of the headpiece, which by the way is even better than the outside of the resonator. So the polishing is three steps with increasingly less abrasive liquid polishes. The first is a Luthiers Mercantile special blend, the second is a Meguiars Plastic Cleaner and the third is a Meguiars Plastic Polish (I guess I could have bought these last two at Auto Zone had I known – these are a very common brand of car care products). It was going well enough, but the finish was pretty “sandy” to start with. I had the thought – what if I start with 800-grit sandpaper, maybe that will speed things up. Well, not only did it speed it up but the final surface reflects my project light bulb like glass. Whoa, this is working, and on the worst of the three pieces. Now I am getting excited to see the end product.
While watching the paint dry till tomorrow I have an opening to install the lugs and brackets on the inside of the resonator and on the wood rim for attaching them together. Nothing to do till tomorrow but watch the paint dry. After that comes polishing the resonator.
Starting the Assembly
The most tense assembly task I think is drilling the holes from the inside of the resonator for its brackets to half its thickness. So why not start with that. I’ve done this once about 10 years ago for my Gibson but don’t remember how I kept from drilling all the way through. The screws are small so maybe I just need a shallow starter hole. I normally use a piece of tape on the drill bit to mark the depth, but a mistake here would be catastrophic. The available drill depth guides go down to 1/4″. The drill will be 5/32″ so this guide should work. The resonator side is about 1/2″ thick and the anchor screw is 1/4″ long, not a lot of room for error.
Another problem that Eric Sullivan made me aware of is that the resonator brackets that attach to the rim are too long for the wood rim and resonator combination. They are 1-1/4″ long for a 1″ space. Eric cuts off the ends. Larry G chisels out a shallow 1/16″ slot in each of the four locations so that the flange sits down on the edge of the resonator rim.
So I have a plan. I have the depth guides. Now to get to work.
April 10 – Maybe Getting the Hang of It Finally
Last night I stained the inside of the resonator ebony. It is black but the grain shows through. I’m not sure but i think the wood is regular maple, instead of the curly maple on the outside. Used the spray can to put down the primer and when that dried I added some more stain around the edges to blend in the color .
I let the neck sit overnight after its last thin coat that didn’t lay down as smooth as I expected. I think that was because I only let the previous coat dry an hour or so, then sanded and resprayed. Each successive layer softens the ones under it, which must in turn affect how it dries. That theory was just proved out when I resprayed the front of the headpiece and it is laying down like glass, just like the resonator. Cool.
April 9 – 3rd, ah 4th, ah 5th Time’s the Charm – Yes!
I am going crackers over the final finishing, but that’s nothing new. Even with prayer I can’t bring myself to stop spraying before the finish runs. So it’s wait an hour, sand out the sag, re-spray, wait an hour, sand out the sag and repeat. Finally this afternoon I found the forbearance to stop the spray in time and got a near perfect resonator, ready for final polishing and buffing – whew!
Thought I had the neck done last night until I took off the masking in the rod nut and pulled some finish off. Well that took another three thin coats to blend in. The final coat is good but not as glassy as the resonator, so I’ll let it dry over night and try another in the morning.
There is a two day wait between the final coat and polishing/buffing. The rim will be ready on Tuesday April 11, the resonator on Wednesday and the neck on Thursday. I’m getting there.
While waiting I’ll be finishing the inside of the resonator ebony black tonight. Mask it off, stain, let it dry overnight to be sure and spray a primer and one topcoat. Simple enough.
April 6 – Drop Fill Magic and Color Fills
The drop filling on the resonator and back of the headpiece took two treatments but worked as advertised. The nick in the veneer on the front of the headstock was a bit more challenging. I tried making my own wood filler with some walnut sanding dust stained ebony black and mixed with some lacquer, but it didn’t work as I expected. However, two drop fills along the seam with the fretboard nut did the trick.
This spot sanding produced some lighter spots that I thought I should touch-up. It seems that the lacquer dissolves the stain up from the wood and then sanding it thinner makes it lighter. So I finally found my Q-tips and got the lines and thickness of the stain the way I wanted it. Need to allow the stain to dry before overcoating. It is not really soaking into the underlying lacquer but with the next coat, which softens the underlying layers, it will be incorporated into the finish.
Time for the 5th & 6th & 7th(?) Coats
Received the second quart of Behlen lacquer, their thinner and my 3-step buffing/polishing liquids yesterday, so things are in place to push to the finish. Almost a banjo! I have some concerns on the thickness of the lacquer at the start since I am using the remainder of the 1st quart that will need some thinning. But if I thin it and spray some scrap, I will not have that much left for real use. Hmmm. Best choice is to thin what’s left and add in some new,then spray the scrap to check.
Well, I actually put the last 6 oz of the first quart into the cup, then got cold feet and added 2 tsp of thinner and then topped it with the fresh stuff. Didn’t do a scrap piece but went right at the wood rim and it laid down beautifully. I got all excited and forgot to filter the lacquer into the cup, but apparently there were no globs in it and the gun worked without a hitch. I then figured that I had been wet sanding between each coat, more than scuffing, and so a 6th full coat was in order before the 1:1 final. With the 6th coat on the resonator I can almost use it to shave by, before buffing and polishing. Pinch me, is this really happening? It’s all in the preparation.
The wood rim is ready for its final 1:1 coat. The neck, especially the front of the headpiece needs a thicker finish. I sanded it down pretty far at the nut while filling the chip there. So I’ll wait overnight and put another full coat on it.
Inside of the Resonator
The resonator Eric Sullivan made for my Gibson banjo is finished with a flat black interior., except for the top lip. You don’t see this area unless you look through the cutouts in the flange, so any dark, flat color will work. My resonator lip matches the dark walnut side.
Time to check back with the expert for how he does this. As friendly as ever, we talked for 15-20 minutes. In the end what I learned was that he uses a couple coats of lacquer over a dark mahogany water-based stain. So it’s not a flat black sprayed enamel like I thought. So I plan to use my ebony black stain with the lacquer primer and a topcoat.
Hurry Up and Wait
Now it’s time to watch the paint dry for awhile. While I was waiting here is an improvement I made – a stand to hold the spray gun while filling. Just a hunk of 2×4 with a couple angled holes to match the bottom of the gun. Definitely helpful already.
I put a 6th coat on the neck after sanding down with 400-grit and on drying it is much improved. I am going to sand down the drop fill at the chip at the nut and the rest of the neck and then shot on the final 1:1 coat tomorrow.
I shot the final 1:1 coat on the rim this afternoon and it is ready buff and polish, but gotta wait 48 hours. Shot the final 1:1 coat on the resonator after sanding it out and rats – got several sags. I got carried away. The lacquer dries slower when thinned and I assumed it dried faster – ooopsie. How bad the sags are will be obvious in the morning as drying continues. They have been shrinking slowly all evening so maybe not too bad. I’ll have to back up, sand them out when good and dry and then shot another 1:1 coat, thinner this time, on it. But where there is no sag the finish is really incredibly glossy. And I thought it was glossy before. Man. So I am impatiently hopeful waiting to correct the sags.
April 5 – Time for Flaw Control
With scuffing and painting the same surfaces multiple times you find all the imperfections and the skill is in dealing with them. And the imperfections are not all of my doing.
In particular the ebony veneer on the headpiece has a small chip in its edge right along the nut (the top of the fretboard where the string grooves are). After 4 coats there is still a depression, so I plan to “drop fill” it with lacquer – put a drop on it from the end of a toothpick, let it dry, sand and repeat until level. This chip came from Eric Sullivan – small but obvious to me now. A second flaw, well not really a flaw, is the obvious differences in grain lines on either edge of the back of the headpiece from the glue-up of the original wood. I did my best to match the stain color and hand paint in a different grain, and while doing this I sanded a shallow depression above the top tuning machine on each side. The glue lines are much less noticeable now that the finish is thickening up but these depressions are more obvious. I am planning the same “drop-fill” with these. The third flaw is a small area on the back of the headpiece where I sanded some of the stain out – I am going to try to put some stain in between the remaining coats of lacquer And lastly in my messing with trying to hide the joints of the resonator purfling I created two very small depressions that are visible in the mirror-like gloss, and so again a drop-fill will likely work.
This will give me something to do while waiting for my re-supply of lacquer and thinner.
April 4 -Back At It with 3rd & 4th Coats
April 3 was do income taxes day. That ended very well and so my ego was rebuilt enough to challenge the lacquer once again.
Today I started by Googling “proper air pressure for an HVLP spray gun” and ended up at the Eastwood Company site and a YouTube video. Perfect. Turns out the recommendations are to run the pressure at 25-30 psi (hence the “low pressure” in the name) and have the pattern in a full fan shape with the paint valve all the way open. Shoot, I didn’t even know I could adjust the paint feed until I looked more closely at my gun to see how the trigger adjusted. So these corrections took maybe 2 minutes max.
Trusting little to luck I dropped back to my scrap wood and laid another coat on it, primarily to check out the effect of the 10% thinning but also the new spray gun settings. Perfect. So then back to the wood rim. Laid a nice wet coat on it after scuffing and aside from putting my fat finger right on the exposed ring when still wet it was a big improvement. A thicker coat that didn’t sag and really leveled out to a high gloss. Then the neck, and again a great result. Then the resonator with the same non-sag, very high gloss endpoint. What a relief. I am considering that this is the 3rd coat on the resonator allowing for sanding out the orange peel, so two more to go. I can see that with the 3-step polishing ang buffing I am going to get to that mirror finish I want. Now I just need to wait for another quart of lacquer to arrive from Amazon to complete the 5 coats plus top thin finish coat. My research indicates that CF Martin Guitars aims for a 6 mil finish. Any thicker and it tends to chip at the edges too easily and is more likely to crack. So 6 coats but not too thick in total.
April 2 – Learning Curve
Well it was bound to happen. I am not a very experienced lacquer sprayer. Heck this is my first time! So what happened was that after I got down to the last 1/3 of the quart of lacquer I had just put the third coat on the neck and rim and decided to catch the resonator up to the third also. I was spraying at 40 psi as before but I could tell the fresh surface wasn’t leveling out like it should. I finished the coat and after 30 minutes it was clear that I had a case of “orange peel” – when dry the surface is still rough like an orange. The primary cause from consulting my problems website was not enough solvent, so that the solvent evaporates too quickly to allow the leveling before the lacquer reacts and begins to set up. Secondly, too much air pressure, and I realized I never really researched how to set up an HVLP gun. So this cost me a bunch of 400-grit sanding time to get the orange peel into manageable shape for the next coat and some gyrations for thinning what finish was left in the can. The troubleshooter recommended thinning the lacquer not more than 25%; I decided on 10-15%. The quart can had 1-1/4″ left in it and full was about 4-1/4″; this ratio times 32 ounces in a quart gave me the remaining finish amount (about 10 ounces) and 10% is of course 1 oz and every good cook knows that there are 16 Tbs in an 8 oz cup, 4 cups in a quart and 3 tsp per Tbs. So a tsp is 1/6 oz. For the record a 2 tsp polyethylene cough syrup dosing cup is insoluble in acetone (the primary lacquer thinner component) and works perfectly for adding 6 tsp of thinner. By this time I was pretty torqued up with anxiety and so decided to let it sit for awhile.
March 31 – First Two Coats
As I said above I decided to start with a piece of scrap wood to work out the details of the spraying. The primer is in a spray (“rattle”) can. This went without incident and so I went on to the finish spraying. I settled on 45psi and a rounded vertical pattern with the undiluted lacquer. I got a bit carried away with the second test coat and had a sag but this leveled out nicely went dried.
So collecting my thoughts and taking a deep breath I launched into the wood rim, the least visible of the three finished parts. The primer was easy so I went ahead and put two coats on each of the three parts with scuffing using 320-grit paper in between. Now for the first coat of finish. The wood rim developed two small runs on the outside that were easily sanded out between coats. The neck turned out to be easiest because all it took was a 180° rotation to get at all the facets. I got carried away with the resonator, mostly because it was hard to see how much liquid had been supplied and how it will level. Two sags developed toward the outer rim but there were no runs down the sides. Exercising great restraint I allowed the lacquer to dry longer and as I hoped these leveled out with only minor unevenness. I will be able to sand these out between coats after allowing extra drying time.
So here they are after two coats, drying for the next coat. The full effect is of course hard to see in the pictures. Lacquer is a new experience. The drying times are nearly instantaneous compared to enamel and urethane. They are dry to the touch in 5-10 minutes and only an hour is needed before sanding between coats. This eliminates nearly all of the dirt and dust in the surface, especially with the filtered spray booth air.
So I am excited. It is apparent that with some precision care the mirror finish is definitely within my reach. Looking ahead the lacquering will go something like this:
remove imperfections out of 2nd coat and scuff with 400-grit
apply 3rd coat, wait 1 hour
remove imperfections (hopefully none by now) and scuff with 400-grit
repeat for 4th and 5th coats
wait 2 days, then scuff with 400-grit
apply 1:1 dilution final coat; wait 3 more days
proceed to buffing and polishing
I have found that wetting the wet/dry sandpaper with mineral spirits works really well and without water-on-wood risks, so I plan to do the scuffing wet throughout this process. I have 600 and 800-grit paper and am wondering why I can’t use them instead of 400-grit. Behlen only calls for 360-grit.
March 30- Let the Spraying Begin
The lead-in to the beginning of the lacquer spraying has been very tense because it may become obvious very early on that I will not be able to attain the mirror finish on the rim, neck and resonator, and if so then the project will be a bust. I’ve done everything I can think of to prepare – the mini paint booth with filtered inlet air, an HVLP spray gun, filtered and dried compressed air, the best lacquer matched with its special vinyl primer and a bunch of web research and reading on how it’s done. Got some very good information from www.frets.com and www.lmii.com (Luthiers Mercantile International Inc.).
The best info on finishing came from the Behlen Lacquer can. Five coats with scuffing in between each with 360 to 400-grit paper. The last coat will be a 1:1 lacquer dilution after sanding out with 400-grit paper wetted with mineral spirits, followed by buffing and polishing. I learned that sandpaper comes in grits down to 12,000 for final polishing. Wow, and I thought 600-grit was fine. But I decided to go with a 3-step liquid buffing and polishing finish instead of using the really fine grit sandpaper. Eric Sullivan told me to use the back of a piece of closed cell foam floor pad, like from my Craftsman mats around the worktable. Instead I found buffing and polishing foam pads at Harbor Freight used for auto finishes. These will be a backup to the liquid system, or maybe what I use to apply them.
Masking Off – Ugh!
Next was the tedium of masking off the pieces. However, good masking is crucial to the end product. I’ve been using Frog tape since if you believe their advertising the finish is less likely to bleed under it. You’ve probably noticed the green Frog tape on the portion of the wood rim that is to remain unpainted. The inside of the resonator below where the flange will sit will get a flat back sealing coat since it is not visible when assembled, and because that is the way Eric Sullivan does it. But the top edge and rim above the flange will be lacquered. So my choice was to do the lacquer first and the flat black last. I masked along the inside edge of the flange lip and used a round of kraft paper to protect the rest of the inside.
The fretboard and top of its binding also do not get lacquered. I double checked the top of the binding on my guitars to make sure of the latter. This masking was a bit trickier because the frets are in the way of a good edge seal and because the ends of the frets also do not get lacquered. So I carefully used a putty knife toi seal the tape against each side of each fret. Then I put a length of the Frog tape on the exposed sticky side of this to make a sort of flap. Then I covered the remaining gap over the fretboard. If you are wondering, the fretboard gets a hand wiped finish of boiled linseed oil eventually to keep it from drying out and cracking.
March 20 – Cutting in the Neck Slot
Before I can paint the resonator I need to cut in the slot to accept the neck. This is precise work for which I’ll use my fine toothed Bear saw. I have a pattern for the heel of the neck that passes through the resonator as a guide and my other banjo for a reference. Once it is rough cut I’ll shape it with a sanding block and then dress it out. After the painting the edge of the opening gets lined with felt – I am undecided whether it will be red, green or black. The inside of the resonator will get sprayed flat black to produce a shadow box effect behind the flange when all is assembled. I’ll mask off the back of the neck slot to kept the clear lacquer out of the inside as much as I can.
So after a second to collect my wits I made the measurements for its depth very carefully by assembling the neck with the wood rim and flange – 30mm – and drew it on to the resonator and the centered the heel pattern on the binding lap joint, which will be cut out, and used a square to draw the vertical sides. As it turns out the heel is slightly trapezoidal, wider at the top than at the bottom, but this will be part of the dressing out to get the fit precise. After rechecking the measurements and guide lines, and a short prayer, I put the Bear saw to the top binding and pulled back and was into it. As shown by the pictures it went well and actually fits together. I decided to go with the green felt because the inside of the case is green. It turned out very well.
So now onto the spray painting. First step disassemble, clean and re-assemble the new HVLP spray gun. This was simple enough.
Next step is to practice using the spray booth with the spray can of Belden lacquer primer I bought – they highly recommended using it as did the best review I read – on some scrap wood. This seems straight forward enough. Next sand the bindings clean with 600 grit sandpaper on both pieces. Now wipe each down with a tack rag, fire up the glovebox and apply the primer.
Next, mess around with the air pressure settings and dilution of the lacquer on some scrap wood to get the gun to lay down a nice glass-like coating.
March 19 – Getting Ready to Spray Lacquer
I picked up a combination pressure regulator and water/dirt/oil filter at Harbor Freight. I needed to do some re-plumbing of my compressed airline in the shop to install it. Turned out that I had all the fittings and 1/2″ pipe that I needed. This took most of a morning but PVC solvent welded piping is something I have done a bunch of so it went without a hitch. Here it is:
Next, since this is lacquer the solvent is much more potent than for a urethane or enamel, so the paint booth needs to be exhausted outside. Scrounging around I decided to put a tee connection in the dryer exhaust duct that runs directly over the worktable in the shop and a check valve in the duct ahead of it to keep the fumes from blowing back into the house. Also the dryer will not be available while I am painting since the duct will be blocked to it. So here are the tee and check valve (a winter/summer dryer diverter box installed backwards) in the line. This part of the work was a pain for about another half a day.
The third piece took an entire Saturday – the mini spray booth. Actually it is a glove box. The finished size is a bit smaller than my initial thought at 36″x48″x 34″ tall with a furnace filter on the intake, a lesser quality furnace filter in front of the exhaust fan to protect it from overspray and a flex duct connection to the dryer exhaust tee. The cardboard transition cone from the 9-1/2″ fan to the 4″ flex duct called into action all my sheet metal drafting experience and a bit of geometry. I turned on the fan and it actually works, although radial fans
cannot handle much back pressure, do the airflow is lower than I would like. But it is pulling air through the glovebox and exhausting it to the outside. Here it is. I still need to put the arms with attached gloves in and install the window glass so I can see clearly through the heavy visqueen.
I bought Belden nitro-cellulose lacquer with its recommended primer through Amazon prime. After reading the ratings this was the best stuff around,as long as you know how to set up the spray gun and have your air dried and filtered.
I bought a gravity feed air-assisted (HVLP) spray gun at Harbor Freight. I also found a website that discussed spray finish quality problems and how to correct them that is very helpful. Another piece of good news was that I was able to return my purchases connected with the no longer needed hide gluing and use the money for the paint spraying equipment. Here is the final glovebox arrangement with the arms, HVLP spray gun and lazy susan ready to paint, shot from the opposite side where the pieces will be put in and then sealed closed. Since it’s only temporary I decided to skip doors and just tape and un-tape the inlet filter to put the pieces in and take them out. The Gorilla tape makes a great hinge along the top.
March 14 – Need a Paint Spray Booth
It occurred to me now that what I have remaining on the project is wood finishing. So to keep the dirt and dust out of the finish I’ll need a mini paint spray booth. I have built a temporary spray booth before when I refinished 10-Speed bikes for the girls, so I have a mental picture of what I am after here, but this will need to be cleaner. I saw what Elon Martin used, the Amish tablemaker who did our round oak kitchen table) – basically a large closet with fiberglass filters in the double door opening and an exhaust fan in the opposite wall. Mine will be 4’x4’x3′ high with plywood ends, 6 mil visqueen (heavy polyethylene sheeting) on the sides and top, plus a glass window (old picture frame glass) for seeing the work. Inlet air will be filtered through a very high efficiency furnace filter that I salvaged from the new furnace because it didn’t work well for it, and the booth will be exhausted with one of our box fans after passing through a standard furnace filer to protect it from overspray. I have a lazy susan turntable for placing the parts on for rotating (the resonator is after all round). I am planning to make this a glovebox arrangement using the arms from a leftover Tyvek asbestos protective coverall (I am retired now) and a pair of kitchen gloves so that I can keep the space isolated from the rest of the shop.. And of course copious amounts of duct tape.
In the back of my mind – where to get the lacquer, how much to thin it and what pressure setting on the ‘ol spray gun to use? Here we go!
March 13 – A Course Correction
After re-sanding and re-staining the center circle of the resonator, and still not being satisfied I worked up the humility to call the expert Eric Sullivan. I have his cell phone number and caught him at his workbench. After he turned off some equipment so he could hear me we had a long conversation on how to handle woodgrain and finishing problems. His quote for the day, delivered with that Southern drawl that I love to imitate, “Don’t trust what you see under any clear finish”. He then talked to me about adding color between coats to even out staining and even painting in grain lines by hand. I asked him what finish he uses and he replied nitro-cellulose lacquer. I was planning to use gloss urethane, which has more color than lacquer. Hmmm. But I was inspired by the conversation and went back at it – re-sanded a third time and worked out the aforementioned tear-outs, then blended the staining back in. I also cut out the misaligned piece of binding and patched in the another piece. This time both were near perfect and much improved. Ready for finishing. Well, I want to try another trick on hiding the binding seams and then need to clean smidgens of stain off of the bindings.
I then mentioned that I was getting ready to glue the tone ring to the wood rim. He said, “Oh my, don’t do that! It really messes up the tone. You want a tight slip fit (which is what he machined into the wood rim for me), and don’t put any finish under the ring ’cause it’ll be too tight.” So whoa, that saved a BIG mistake, saved me some work and answered my question about finishing the wood rim. Now if I can return my hide glue pot and accessories for credit that will be a big plus.
March 10 – Setbacks
I have a problem sometimes with getting too meticulous and not considering bad outcomes to some attempts to make things “perfect”. Two things happened with the resonator:
as you can see above the staining job was near perfect; however I noticed some “tear-outs” in the grain of the center circle; I set out to sand these out then realized that this end grain was what it was going to be no matter what I do; now I am faced with different depths of stain that will necessitate sanding out the entire circle and re-staining to blend it in. I need to come up with a way to fill these tear-outs so that they take the stain to match the surrounding grain, too.
there was a 1/16″ gap in the inside circle’s binding that I attempted to fill with a small piece of binding; this went well except that the black rib in the middle of small insert piece is at an angle to the rest of the binding; the jog in the alignment is too noticeable. So now after I’ve already welded this 1/16″ piece in with acetone, I will need to cut it out and do it again (the way you glue on bindings is by injecting a tad of acetone with a syringe between the binding and the wood and then pressing it against the wood until the acetone dries).
March 9 – The Desired Effect
The resonator was another major challenge to “color inside the lines” with the contrasting stains. This is why I went to kindergarten and maybe 1st grade, to get good at staying inside the lines. Again I used the small brushes.
The neck is made of the same curly maple as the resonator, but is a glued-up solid piece and not a veneer. By its nature the neck has end grain exposed at the heel and tuner headpiece. In the first staining this end grain took the stain much darker than the rest and I didn’t like the overall look. So I took to it with sandpaper and steel wool to work back down to the bare wood and re-stain it. This worked better than I expected, and with a thinner coat of the dark walnut stain applied with a rag and not a brush I got the blending I was looking for, as you can see. The “curly maple” gives it the cross stripes visible in the picture. The wood grain actually runs in the long dimension. The maple’s “curliness” is very visible in the picture of the resonator above, in the lighter center circle.
The glue pot arrived yesterday so I am preparing for gluing the tone ring to the wood rim. The question is whether I should glue the ring on and then varnish the rim with the ring masked off or varnish the rim and then do the gluing. The two considerations are 1) whether it’s OK to leave the wood rim under the perforated tone ring unfinished where there is no hide glue, or 2) better to finish the rim but leave the masking on only where the hide glue will be. My present Gibson does not have the same kind of tone ring – it is set on top of the wood rim and not glued on, so I can’t copy from that. Hmm, sounds like a call to Eric Sullivan.
And I realize that after answering the tone ring question I am left primarily with the wood finishing tasks and the challenge of getting that mirror finish from the urethane on the neck and resonator. I have had some prior experience doing this with my Mom’s Hope Chest and a dresser top. I am anticipating needing to build a small paint spray booth. We will see.
March 7 – Picking a Color and Staining
So what’s next? I am waiting on my hide glue and my hide glue pot (more on this later on) so the next thing is to start some of the finishing. Staining is first. I am looking for a dark but natural finish to show off the curly maple in the neck and resonator. Also the resonator back is a bullseye with 3 rings. I decided to stain the rings in alternating and contrasting light and dark, with the edge of the resonator that is mostly what folks see as the 4th dark ring. So for the dark I decided on Minwax dark walnut and for the light a Vaspar honey maple, a bit of yellowish red. The neck will be the dark walnut.
The guts of a banjo are the wood rim and the flange, to which the neck, head and resonator all attach. The wood rim is topped with the brass tone ring, the part that makes the banjo so heavy but what gives it that sharp ringing sound. A 3/4″ edge of the wood rim shows to the outside like a highlight on the banjo body and I decided it would be the walnut color. The whole rim gets finished except for the top edge where the tone ring gets glued on with the hide glue.
So for the staining I had to mask off the fretboard bindings and the top edges of the wood rim. I put the stain on with a small horsehair brush carefully on the rim and neck. This of course after some final sanding with 220 grit paper and wiping with a tack rag. This was a pretty mundane task, and to my great delight any stain that wicked up onto the neck bindings came off easily with a little mineral spirits.
February 28 – On to the Fretboard
To fabricate a cradle to hold the neck when pressing in the fret wire (or frets) out comes the plunge router. I used my pin gauge to transfer the cross-sections of the neck at both ends to a length of 2×4 and then traced the outline of the neck onto the top of the board. I used a 1/2″ square channel bit to cut in the rough outline. Knowing that I would be lining the cavity with a couple thicknesses of leather padding I didn’t have to be too careful hitting the outline. After some trial and error I got a cavity with the neck resting against the bottom at both ends. Then an hour or so of rasping out the rounded contour of the neck ensued. Being the frugal sort (mostly) I had saved my old red suede guitar strap I made back in the 70’s. I glued this double thickness, conveniently sewn together, into the cradle after first fitting the neck to the cradle with the leather in place. You’ll see in the picture that the butt end of the neck hangs out of the cradle because it has a flat bottom. I added a 2×6 to the bottom of the cradle to extend it for this. I had to round down the cradle at both ends to accommodate the curve of the neck. So the picture shows the neck in its cradle ready to go.
You can just see the red suede sticking up along the edge of the neck.
Now to install the frets. First off you have noticed that the neck has its plastic binding installed along the edges of the fretboard. So the ends of each fret have to be notched so as to fit inside the bindings and not cut through. So the operation was cut the fret wire roughly to length, use a nipper to cut a notch in each end then hand file the notch flat with the underside of the wire so it would press in flat. Unfortunately for the 20th fret I got distracted and forgot to notch the ends, so the tee shows through the binding, but it is neat enough that it looks like it was planned that way. My existing Gibson banjo has all these tees showing because it has no edge bindings, so no worries.
a saw groove to hold the fret wire for filing
The mention of super glue begs the question “How do you clean-up the glue that squeezes out onto the fretboard?” Another Sullivan trick – coat the fretboard with Johnson’s paste wax. Worked like butter – it just flaked right off. So here is the fretted neck.
Now to dress the ends of the frets. I took some time to inspect the angle of the frets on my existing Gibson banjo and measured the angle at 45°, which made sense. Now another Eric Sullivan trick – make a filing block to hold the file at the proper angle and hold it against the side of the neck. Presto, all the fret ends get dressed exactly the same. I made two blocks from an old piece of bathroom vanity countertop backsplash (never throw anything away) – one 7″ long for the long runs and one 3″ long for the short part on the 5th string side of the neck. I also made the longer block to hold my thicker faster cutting diamond file on one side and my thinner finer file on the other – I got impatient using the latter on the really long ends sticking out and wanted to speed things up. I cut the file grooves on the table saw and cut the blocks to length on my miter box chop saw. Here are the blocks.
Here is the dressed neck. Had a bit of trouble nicking the edge bindings but sanded these out carefully.
February 22, 2017
The first thing I did was to ream out the tuner holes to the proper diameter for the tuners purchased in 2007. Eric Sullivan pointed this out to me. It was a simple fix – a strip of 80 grit sandpaper wrapped around an old Tinker Toy dowel. It took all of 15 minutes
The first major task will be making and installing the frets. The steps will be roughly:
Cut to length
notch the ends into a “T” shape
clean out the excess binding glue from the fret grooves
install the frets with an arbor press and superglue
clean off excess glue
dress the fret ends with a filing block
I will need to find an arbor press and make a filing jig.
I have been collecting the necessary equipment and getting ready to fabricate the cradle needed to install the frets into the neck. I bought a 1-ton arbor press at Harbor Freight last week. I found a YouTube video on installing guitar frets with the arbor press and saw that I would need to fabricate a flat end the width of the neck for the press. With that in mind I borrowed an electric hand grinder with cutoff blades from buddy Pete Shaw. I salvaged a piece of T-rail from the garage door opener I recently replaced. Here is a picture of the hand grinder clamped down to the table saw while cutting the slot in the arbor ram to accept the T-rail. The sparks were pretty. Note ear protection and safety glasses. The 1″ deep slot took about 90 minutes all told to cut including dressing it with a hand file, primarily because with the width of the cut off blade I had to make two passes. I centered it by flipping the ram over for the second pass, adjusting the height of the ram relative to the blade
to get the proper width. Then I drilled and tapped a 5/16″
bolt hole through the ram at the slot to fasten the T-rail piece. The finished product came out very good, although the T-rail is 1/16″ off center on the ram end-to-end. The arbor press before and after modification is shown in the pictures. The next step is to rout out a cradle for the neck to protect it during the fret pressing.
February 5, 2017
Here are all the parts ready to start. Now if I can just get’em together.
January 27, 2017
In the summer of 2007 I found First Quality Music, home of the Sullivan banjo, when looking for a new resonator for my existing Gibson banjo. I was referred to them by Gibson, who had their banjo factory in Louisville, which has since closed. The First Quality catalog had a complete line of banjo parts. I had cracked my existing resonator backing the car into it (while in its case) sometime in the late 1980’s – early 90’s. Eric Sullivan made me a new one, and it was so inexpensive I started looking at additional options. I noticed that they made custom banjo necks. The prices were so reasonable I hatched the idea of using the pot assembly from my existing Gibson and adding a custom Sullivan neck and resonator. I ordered a neck with an inlaid fingerboard and “Grauvogel” inlaid in the headstock along with a “bullseye” resonator. I had the neck and resonator for several months before I started working on them, the detail of the finishing being rather intimidating. I got the neck sanded into shape and its edge bindings attached and sanded. I got the edge bindings and bullseye purfling installed on the resonator and sanded out. Then from the winter of ’07 until the winter of ’17 the neck and resonator sat in their boxes in the basement.
With our annual anniversary trip coming up I made contact with Eric Sullivan and explained my situation and my planned project. He invited me to stop in on our way to Gatlinburg and he would help me get all the remaining pieces together. My visit with him turned out to be much more detailed as he shared many tips on how to put things together – how to cut the fret wire, install the fret wire, dress the ends of the frets, sand and stain the wood, clean the stain from the bindings and assemble the pot. He took my order for the wood rim and machined it to fit the resonator I had and the rim I was buying. He also drilled and installed the lag bolts into the neck for attaching it to the wood rim. We picked everything up on our return on February 4.
For my birthday this year I arranged to buy all the remaining parts for my new banjo from Sullivan Banjo in Louisville. This project has been a long time coming but the time is now, with my retirement pretty much in full swing . The main spark that rekindled the fire to do this project was listening to old banjo tracks I recorded with the People of Praise Music Ministry between 1981-1986. These recently became available digitally on CD, together with all Mary Ann’s and my songs from that era, through Dave Szumski, our drummer, who got them transferred from the original cassettes. In the process of compiling these songs I found out that going from a boom box cassette player directly into the computer using my USB-to-phono direct recording cable gave just as good a quality conversion as what Dave had given me. So I remastered all of our People of Praise music, transferred my other songs from cassettes and added my new songs to compile a 2-CD collection for the family, “Songs from the Heart”.
What an incredible day! Dad had arranged to stop at First Quality Music in Louisville to continue his build-a-banjo project that began in September 2007. This is the home of Sullivan Banjos, some of the best in the world. He could mention names of professionals using them but you likely haven’t heard of them. But we had a very cordial visit with Eric Sullivan, son of the founder and heir to the trade in his workshop surrounded by banjos in various stages of completion. He taught Larry everything from how to cut and install the fret wires to how to clean the bindings after staining to tricks to get a mirror finish on the wood. In the process he took down the order for everything that Larry needed to finish the project and will have it waiting for us on our return trip. Larry’s birthday present. To set the mood we listened to banjo music most of the remainder of the trip.
Arrived at the cabin in the dark at about 6:45pm after a stop at Kroger and getting lost – Chili Bear is its moniker. Small and cute and hopefully not easily snowbound if we get any. Mom fixed dinner. One thing we forgot is the snow shovel. So the directions said to turn right on Alf Ownby Road. No mention that there is also an Ownby Road to the right 2/10 mile before it, no kidding, that was an entirely different road. It took about 10 minutes and a couple of tries to figure this out.
Day 2 – Saturday, January 28, 2017 – Subtitled Our 46th Anniversary
We did not go into the park today because of two reasons:
we got up really late for doing a hike – Dad got up at 9:10
it was car rental and car maintenance day
We don’t need any excuse for the late rising. You may be jealous, and rightly so. Tough toenails! The Jetta was acting up on the way down under heavy acceleration, like going over Jelico Mountain from Kentucky to Tennessee. After consulting with Nate it seemed that the problem might be the fuel filter, which Dad last changed, well he’s done it once in 10 years. Seeing that we had decided to rent a second car for the week so as to drop a car at one end of the trail and hike end-to-end as much as we can this trip, we decided to do all this stuff today. So after breakfast we headed to Enterprise to get the car after reserving it online. And the car they gave us was a……………..2016 Jetta. What a hoot. So now we have two Jettas. Then it was off for lunch to a KFC and as we figured we passed all three auto parts stores on the way, about a ¼ mile from the restaurant. So Dad got the fuel filter at Auto Zone and we headed back to the cabin. Upon taking the old filter out he discovered the new one was the wrong one (he didn’t remember what the old one looked like so couldn’t tell the countergal that it was the wrong one). But first he went to Advance Auto to get a set of star (torx) sockets to take the old filter out. So by now it was too late to go back for the right part before church. We changed plans to leave early for church, exchange the part, go to church and then out to Calhoun’s for anniversary dinner. As it ended up after dinner we stopped back at Auto Zone a third time, because they didn’t have it in stock when Dad took the wrong one back before church, and ordered the right filter to be delivered on Tuesday afternoon. So there you have our day. A big plus was that it was sunny and 50° – oh yeah. And another other plus is that we are still lost in love for each other.
Day 3 – Sunday, January 29, 2017
First day of Year 47 of wedded bliss. Hope y’all make it this far, and pass us up. Now there’s a goal. Today it was a brisk moderate hike in a snow shower using our two car end-to-end system. It worked very well. We went from the Schoolhouse Gap trailhead on the Bote Mtn. and West Prong trails through Campsite 18 (the one Anna painted for us) back to the other car at Tremont, and then drove home. Discovered that somehow the Sawyer Squeeze water filter got left home but the collapsible bottles made it. Not good when we were counting on filtering the creek water for lunch. So we went to our backup plan of just boiling the water for hot tea anyway. The threat of Giardiasis is such a pain. But the hike in the lightly falling snow was neat. Even neater was that nothing was sticking on the roads and we made it back up to the cabin no problem. Also neat was that our Jetta ran just fine with the partially cleaned fuel filter while we wait for a new one on Tuesday. The only remaining problem is finding Dad’s driving gloves – we narrowed it down to the car rental office. Being old is such a pain.
There are always some unique quirks in these cabins we rent. In the online description of this cabin, it states that there are two recliners, one at either end of the sectional sofa. It is not immediately obvious how to make them recline, so much so that we were almost convinced that they were not recliners. However, this morning Mom noticed that the back cushion was definitely attached to a piece of wood separate from the back of the chair. So Larry sat in it again and finally found the lever hidden down between the cushion and the arm. Mystery solved!
After the hike Dad went into Walmart to get another Sawyer Squeeze filter. While he was gone Mom figured out all the TV channels available on the cable here. We were going to grill burgers tonight, but not in the snow, so we went with pork tenderloin brought cooked from home. Then before and after dinner we were able to watch the NHL All-Star game thanks to Mom’s list of channels.
Day 4 – Monday, January 30, 2017
Looks like it’s going to be a partial snow day. It’s 31 degrees but the sun is rising. Our driveway is clean but the tract down the hill is slightly slick. Patience is the best action right now. So on to the scrap book. Well, wait a minute. It’s 10am and Mom just came in from checking out the roadway, saying it looks to be melted. Sure enough the sun is out and the early morning glaze is gone. So off we go to Turkeypen Ridge (gotta love the name) for another Jetta-to-Jetta hike. The temperature got up to 45° with light clouds – a perfect day for a hike. We did 4.7 miles on the Turkeypen Ridge trail from the Finley-Cane trailhead back down to the Schoolhouse Gap trailhead. We ate lunch in a little grotto on the trail and used the new water filter. It took 3-1/2 hours to hike the route including lunch (we do about 2 mph) but only 3 minutes to drive between the trailheads. Feeling kinda small. Back at the ranch it was naptime, then grilling burgers for dinner with the sun setting. First sunset we’ve seen in a couple of
weeks living in South Bend. We have been rearranging furniture to fit our style here. There are no (or were no) end tables or coffee table by the couch. We brought in the side tables from the front and back porches to solve that. Lighting is an issue, and we carry 100W bulbs for that, but their looow wattage lights have either candelabra bases or are too high in the ceiling to get to. We moved a lamp down from the second floor and got one of our bulbs in it on the provisional end table so we can read. Or is it just that our eyes are growing dim with age? We know the answer. The family blog is up and running, and you may be reading this there (www.blog.grauvogelfamily.com). Pretty cool. Thanks Will.
Day 5 – Tuesday, January 31, 2017
End of the month. We went on our longest hike so far – 6.4 miles. Woohoo! And Mom’s back handled it. We have sore legs. We hiked from the Schoolhouse Gap trailhead back down to the Townsend Wye on the Schoolhouse Gap and Chestnut Ridge trails. The temp hit 60 degrees under sunny
skies. Perfect. For most of the hike the Appalachian Trail ridge was visible afar off on our right in splendid Smoky Mountain haze. There were more folks on the trail than expected for a Tuesday. After the hike we drove back home through the park and stopped to look over the Sinks, reassuring ourselves that the water level in the Little River was back to normal after seeing it very dry in October. A beautiful drive. We decided to go out to dinner and use up the last of our Calhoun’s gift certificate since we had to go into town to Auto Zone to pick up the fuel filter anyway. A great dinner, then to Kroger for a resupply. Now its Pens vs. Predators on the computer (Pens win 4-2). Mom took a shower and then the water went out as she started a load of laundry. Called the service guy. We will see what gives momentarily.
No water update: Gene the service guy was here. The well is 800′ deep with a submersible pump that is throwing the overload switches. Long story short – we are moving in the morning to Acorn Ridge, and Gene brought us some water to get us through this evening and breakfast. We like Acorn Ridge, where we were last October. So time to get packing here.
Day 6 – Wednesday, February 1, 2017
We were up and at ’em early today. Operating the toilet by filling the tank with bottled water fit right into our resourceful nature and seemed normal enough for the campers we are at heart. You know the rule – if it’s yellow let it mellow but if it’s brown flush it down. We got all packed up last night and after breakfast and prayer we arrived at the Timbercreek office just after they opened at 8:30. Got the key to Acorn Ridge and were unloaded by around 9:30. Then we headed for today’s hike over on the North Carolina side. Our Jetta-to-Jetta hike today was from Newfound Gap Road on the Thomas Divide trail just down from Newfound Gap to the Kanati Fork trail and back to the road. We figure it’s a divide because it’s the end of the hollow at the high end. This is one pair of trails that you do not want to hike from the low end to the
high – it drops 2000’ in the last 3 miles. Gotta have your boots laced tight for that if you don’t want to lose a toenail. There was maybe 6” of snow at Newfound Gap, all plowed to the side, but the temp was 47° and sunny when we started at 11am. At lunch at the trail junction it was 54° – it just couldn’t have been any better. When we got back down to Jetta #1 at 3pm it was
56°. We drove to and from our hike through the forest fire area today. Dad wasunderwhelmed at the damage. Expecting to see nothing but blackened stumps and rocks it looked rather like someone had brought in a big vacuum and sucked away all the leaves. Of course it is winter but the trees look for the most part untouched – a few have blackened bases. The grass is green along the roadside. The burnt acreage is confined to a corridor going down from the Chimney Tops along Newfound Gap Road. It ended on the northwest side of Gatlinburg, but didn’t get into the heart of town. Some trails are still closed, but not where we wanted to hike this trip.
So back at the cabin we grilled buttermilk marinated chicken and had a fire in the fireplace. You know, each cabin has its own pluses and minuses, none is perfect for us. Dad says, “Give me a hammer and we can change that”. We liked Chili Bear for its larger kitchen and storage but the lighting is too dim with no coffee table or end tables and a useless gas log fireplace . Acorn Ridge has great lighting, a real fireplace, a better grill but a micro-kitchen with no shelves for foodstuffs.
As this day draws to a close we are having a frank but cordial discussion on where to hike tomorrow and whether Dad should put the new fuel filter into our Jetta tonight or in the morning.
Day 7 – Thursday, February 2, 2017
Woke up to dreary skies, 47 degrees and a light rain. Rats, Dad shoulda worked on the car last evening when it was warm and dry. But the mist stopped before breakfast and Joe Mechanic got the new fuel filter in before Ma got her hair finished.
Dad is a great guy but if he is one thing he is intense about hiking – pushing for the toughest available trail every day. We balance this with Mom picking and presenting the possibilities for discussion and selection. Dad’s choice was to cast out another ghost from the past – the infamous Lead (as in bullets) Cove night hike. For those new to Grauvogel family lore, in January 2001 we agreed to do the Finley-Cane trail, a gently sloping trail that shares the trailhead with the Lead Cove trail. When we got to its junction with the Bote Mountain trail, Dad not liking to backtrack pushed to make the loop, going up Bote Mountain (2.5 miles) to Lead Cove and back to the car (another 1.8 miles downhill) Finley-Cane was a mere 2.8 miles downhill back to the car. There were two problems with the idea: 1) it was raining and 2) it was an hour before sunset. But sweet Mom agreed and off we went. The Bote Mountain trail is actually an abandoned roadbed built in the mid-1800’s as a business venture but never finished – the slope of the trail uphill is very challenging even when it is not raining and getting dark. By the time we got to the Bote Mountain-Lead Cove
trail junction in 2001 the sun had set. By the time we came to the creek crossing ½ mile from the end of the Lead Cove trail we were in the dark and without a flashlight. It was an exciting time (in hindsight). We knew we were at the end of the trail from the headlights of the cars on Laurel Creek Road. We put this ghost away the first time in 2006, when we hiked it in reverse order in daylight but 20 degrees (there is always something wrong). Well today was to be different. First we started at 10:30 am, second we again started out on the toughest part going uphill on the Lead Cove trail to the high end of Bote Mountain trail and then down the entire rest of the way back to the car, and third it had stopped raining. We also had dropped a Jetta at the end of the Bote Mountain trail, which cut 1.3 miles off of the original 2001 route. The 1.8 mile uphill on the Lead Cove trail was challenging 10 years later. The creek crossing was much easier in the daylight. We stopped every 1/10 mile to rest. Dad has his pace down and so can count paces and know the distance travelled. We find this eliminates the “when will is uphill every end” anxiety and makes for a better experience when the trail is tough. The downhill on Bote Mountain was challenging itself, steep with lots of loose rocks in stretches. Well we lived through it again, all 5.8 miles of it. Mom’s back gave her some trouble, however. The weather today after the wet start this morning was overcast but mild, in the high 40’s and low 50’s with no more rain. At lunch up on Bote Mountain ridge it was 51.
After that hike everything else today has been kinda ho-hum. We built a nice warm fire and had Cincinnati chili for dinner. Mom also got the clothes laundered. Tomorrow’s hike will be much less rigorous and we need to have the rental car back by noon. It’s our last day.
Day 8 – Friday, February 3, 2017
We got an early start because we needed to turn the rental Jetta in by noon. So we were up, showered, fed and prayered by 8:30 and on the road to Enterprise. That took an instant once we got there, so we took 10 minutes to try and find Dad’s gloves at the nearby Auto Zone. No luck. So then we drove back to the Finley-Cane trailhead in the park and hiked this very gentle out and back route. This trail ends at its intersection with the Bote Mountain trail, where we were yesterday. We met three pairs of folks on the trail. We prayed with a father-son pair for healing of their knees and a foot. People are usually happy to be prayed with, and these guys were. At trail’s end we found a comfy spot above the trail in the rhododendron for lunch. It was overcast and in the mid-40’s, so it was comfortable for us all heated up by the hike. We got back to the car at 2:30 or so and drove back to the cabin for a rest and snacks. Then it was on to fixing dinner and packing. We need to be out of here by 6:00 am to make our meeting with the Sullivan banjo guys and pick up Dad’s parts around 11:00 in Louisville. So this at least makes Dad a little less sad about leaving the mountains. Used the last of the firewood to build a last fire, plus some dry stuff from a tree down across the road to keep it going. The firewood was free at the rental agency office, but turned out to be unseasoned and hard to keep burning. The fires the last two nights have been a nice touch, though. Spent the evening packing and watching the Pens beat Columbus in overtime. A good
ending to the week. Mom spent some time looking into new places for next time. We have been noticing that Timbercreek Realty has fewer and fewer places for rent, and she is shopping around on a website with rentals listed by their owners. She found some nice looking ones. Also, about mid-evening, we made a surprise discovery – we have a mouse in the house. Mom found the snack bag sitting in front of the microwave on the kitchen counter chewed through, some almonds missing and a Larabar partly consumed.
Day 9 – Saturday, February 4, 2017
Travel day. Dad had an appointment with Jeff Sullivan at the banjo factory in Louisville set for the morning so we were up at 5 am and in the car at 5:55 after breakfast. The one problem was that the camera was still sitting on the coffee table and we were down the mountain. So we had a 15 minute double back. What we had was a failure to effectively communicate.
Getting through Pigeon Forge at 6 am on a Saturday was not a problem. The day dawned crisp, dry and clear. It was a perfect day for a 12-hour drive (with stops). The highest point for the day was confirming that Nate’s diagnosis of the rough acceleration and missing under heavy load was indeed a problem with the fuel filter. There was not one hitch in the giddy-up. What a blessing to have this talent in the family. Whatever part Dad had in giving Nate his first tool or aiming him toward auto maintenance, he’ll accept full credit. Bless you, my boy!
Dad finally made connections with the Sullivans once we were on the road and it wasn’t too early. We met up with Jeff Sullivan, older brother of Eric, at precisely 11 am in Louisville and picked up the banjo parts, including a very nice new case. Then we noticed we were only 5 minutes from a Wal-Mart, so swung by there for sunglasses to replace the beat up ones Dad left in the rental car (oops), and then another 3 minutes to the Cracker Barrel for lunch – you just knew it had to be. Then back into the TDI for a trip up the Indiana meridian on I-65. We checked in with Anna as we blew through Indy and were home for dinner at Applebee’s. We had to go to the one in Elkhart to avoid the Mishawaka crowds on a Saturday night.
We left most of the unpacking for Sunday. After all, there was a hockey game to watch. We didn’t do any scrapbooking while away mostly because the weather was so nice, so that is near the top of our list as we re-enter normal everyday life. Time to start planning the next trip. Hope you’ve enjoyed these ramblings.