For a moment, let us forget the exotic and the far-away, setting aside our telescopes, navigational charts and GPS. Globally-sourced will not be the goal, as I focus on constructing this guitar, made of materials found nearby in my state of Oregon.
Ingredients list? Juniper, Port Orford Cedar, Dougls Fir, apple, holly, beatle killed pine, mountain mahogany, tamarack, manzanita, elk horn (nut, saddle, rosette), and a few other secret additives. Sam, the person who commissioned this guitar, provided the materials. Where appropriate, I will use his own narrative to illuminate the photos.
The neck is constructed from an old Douglas Fir floor joist which came out of a demolished building in Portland, Oregon. In the center, I positioned a tapered walnut strip. Two billets of Doug Fir were oriented in such a way, as to expose vertical grain only as the neck is carved.
I am not a fan of absolutely parallel lines, unless they are there for a specific reason. A slightly tapered neck center strip looks and feels better to me, since the neck itself is also tapered away from the body, toward the headstock.
When I cut the foot, I unknowingly exposed a nail hole, slicing right through the middle of it. That nail used to fasten a subfloor board to this joist. My initial impulse was to file away some wood, to make the hole disappear. I resisted, and decided to leave this nail hole there, as a reminded of this board’s origin. Perhaps even a little ferrous oxide from the nail, along with the molecular fragments of the old house!
The rosette incorporates seven larger sections of walnut inlaid with elk horn diamonds. Sections of juniper and apple burl fill the remainder of the ring.
Once the rosette was completed, small matching diamond-shaped recesses were carved out to receive seven pieces of elk horn. Here is what Sam had to say about it: “I found this elk horn in 1976 while playing mountain man in the forest above my cabin on Dooley Mountain. It was from a large spike and the tip worked nicely to make the rosette pieces. The skull end was large enough for the nut and saddle. The Oregon Game Commission gave me the OK to have Peter use it on this guitar.”
All bracing, as well as headstock veneer were done in a rather unusual material: pine. Here’s what Sam had to say about it: “It is Ponderosa Pine that was standing dead from a beetle infestation on Dooley Mountain in Eastern Oregon where I lived in a log and rough lumber cabin I built in the 1970’s. I sawed several hundred board feet of this blue pine into 3/8 inch thick pieces of various widths, leaving the edges natural, to be used as paneling on the interior walls of the cabin. I had several pieces left over that I kept all these years and this knotted piece spoke to me and it wanted to tell its story as part of this guitar.”
I tested several pine brace-sized pieces for strength and durability. They were softer than spruces, and a bit less resilient. I decided they were sufficiently strong. Plus, the wood was very lightweight, sensitive and had an incredible shimmer when planed.
The headstock was made of walnut, and I decided to utilize the “V” joint in connecting the Douglas Fir/Walnut neck to the headstock. The more usual scarf joint just didn’t seem right for making a transition between different woods.
Here is the Ponderosa Pine headstock veneer. Although it is soft, there is plenty of support for the pegs within the denser walnut core.
More Ponderosa Pine bracing on the back. The juniper used for back panels (as well as sides) is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, or associated with juniper. The panels were large, quarter-sawn, and without any knots. Judging by the growth rings, the tree was in the hundreds, possibly in the thousands of years old!
Sam says: “The pegs were hand made by a master maker of violin fittings Eric Meyer of Portland, Oregon. Select pieces of Oregon mountain mahogany were chosen for the pegs. Eric Meyer makes world class violin fittings sought by many famous luthiers and player worldwide. I thank him for taking on this project.”
More about the Oregon mountain mahogany, which was used for both pegs, and the fingerboard. Sam says: “I obtained the mountain mahogany through Stephen Bacon of Bellwood violins. He cut the wood himself, and seasoned it in a pond for a couple of years before cutting and stacking it for years of air drying. Finding a tree with a large enough piece for a fingerboard is next to impossible, then seasoning it without it cracking severely is another difficult feat. I was lucky that Stephen was gracious enough to share these rare, large, well seasoned pieces with me at any cost, let alone the fair one he quoted [which I gladly paid]! Many thanks to Stephen for this wood.
More comments from Sam:
Gold Nugget which will be added to peg ends:
“I mined the gold nugget used for the gold inlay on the pegs from the creek running through my mountain valley property. It was the biggest piece I ever found. I used a hand shovel, sluice box, and gold pan in the operation. The property had been heavily mined in the 1940’s with equipment and before that in the 1800’s by the Chinese, so not much was left to be found.”
This project looks to be a great success and one of a kind. What music the singing trees multi species choir of Oregon will soon make!