Armageddon Guitars

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You’d maybe expect guitars of the apocalypse to be a bit more Thrash and Death-Metal?

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No, these are the kinds of guitar you can expect to find after the event. No more Gibson, no more Gretsch, or Fender. We’d most probably have to adapt to survive without other neat items like juicers and cereal fortified with vitamins. 

In many ways this is a project of ignorance. My original idea involved my/our inability to truly do anything for ourselves. I imagined all sorts of world disaster (and if you think I’m some sort of psycopath or just a bit sick, just look at the raft of programmes detailing all types of end-of-world scenarios, stray asteroid, tsunami, Trump, war and of course climate change!). I wondered what it would be like to be left and not to even know how to fashion a crappy little stool and table to be able to eat my irradiated bake beans from (not to mention a knife, fork, plate…pepper grinder!!So I set about making the thing I would miss most – a guitar. I would get the materials from all that I had around me (I could buy no materials or tools) and from skips, building sites etc. It is also easy today to learn most things from the internet, if you put in the hours — I did not want to do this. I tried to build using only the knowledge I had of woodwork that I already had – nil. It would therefore require me to be creative and resourceful, in order to see what I could come up with.  
Anyways, In preparing for all eventualities and not even a city and guilds in woodwork, I set about my contingency plan to build a basic instrument.

I sourced the wood from an old Victorian shop on Smithdown Road that was being refurbished. The old doorframe was in a skip in front of the property was all in one piece and (after gaining permission to scavenge the skip) dragged it up Lark Lane on a busy Saturday evening with amused encouragement from the revellers.

The necks of the guitars were all made from this lovely piece of mahogany by first planing it and then dividing it with a circular saw and then a jigsaw. Further planing and surform and electric sanding shaped and smoothed the necks to the desired shape. I kept my eye on the wood to make sure each piece had at least one totally flat surface – I used a long builders spirit level for this. I had two old boxes of boules which looked perfect for the hollow body needed to make it sound as an acoustic – without amplification.I cut the f holes with a fret saw and holes (in line with each other) for the neck to slot – the same diameter as the neck. I shaped the headstock with a jigsaw and a detail sander to create a downward dip (for better string tension) and drilled holes for the machineheads.

You might think that to make some sort of guitar you need all kinds of guitar arcane lutherie skills and a ton of tools. I worked on the premise that you need 3 things a neck, a string to attach tight, and raised to that neck and a hollow body (a box or drum that vibrates in sympathy to the vibration of the string on the neck. The things that are difficult are perhaps the way things like frets are approached. A guitar neck can be as long as short as you like (although obvious limitatioms like available string length and at the minimum size at leat enough distance to pluck, press and make sound, a string, otherwise in theory, there’s nothing stopping you). Perhaps one of the more difficult processes associated with instrument making is the maths needed to now divide your string into chromatic (half a step in pitch in musical terms) divisions – the frets – in order to be able to play it. If you look at a guitar you can see that all the divisions are of a different size. These need to be exact and particular in order to make the correct notes – if just one is out, it will sound awful or perhaps interesting, dependent on your thinking. Obviously there is an app that will receive input of neck length and work each fret measurement for you these days. There are ways however of gauging where your frets should be. if you place your finger just lightly on a string in certain positions and pull it away as you pluck the string with the other finger you will hear a ‘harmonic’ a resonant ‘pure’ note (bass guitarist sometimes tune their instrument using harmonics for greater accuracy of pitch discernment). These harmonics occur at the the 4th musical position (in western music theory) and also at the 5th and at the octave (the 5th 7th and 12th fret, respectively). I needed to know this in order to attach the fretboard on the second guitar I made, The 12th fret at the octave above your open string note is exactly half the length of the scale length. So I just needed to make sure the scale length was twice that own the guitar. This was easily achieved by making sure the neck with the sting before I placed the bridge under the string was longer than the scale length I could then decrease the string/scale length by sliding the bridge toward the headstock. The things that I make are obviously very far from even the cheapest made guitar but to me the sound and the experimentation were the interesting elements.

Next, I recycled the little grater thing in a bike puncture repair kit; drilling small holes to take the strings – this fitted as a cap over the bridge end of the neck – I didn’t want the strings to be attached through the holes. in the wood alone.

Finally it was a simple job to attach the machineheads, put the neck in place by opening the box and stringing it. I considered putting frets in the neck but found it not easy to play but I liked the clean look and hadn’t fretted before. t sounded great ( I tuned the bottom string to the D below middle C and the following strings to the fifth and finally (to an octave above the root D – this way you could get a bluesy sound by playing the minor third position (3rd fret position) on any string – anyone could sound awesome on it… well, it’s great fun, if a little difficult to play. Tuning it in unusual ways is, I think, half of the fun. It works ok as a slide guitar but doesn’t seem top be very resonant, I had an old brass military shell casing from a skip, and some world war before that . I hack-sawed (in order to be able to put your finger through it) to use as a slide. It works OK like this but is not very resonant

I made the ‘bin-lid guitar’ by constructing a body framework from 3 pieces of ‘4×2’ timber glued and clamped with wood glue (just good old white pva) I thence a Strat type neck pocket with a neck template and a router, I routed a pickup recess and a cavity at the back to house the simple electronics an electric guitar uses. I then attached a bridge and cut the wood to the circular shape needed to hold the bin lid. It was hilarious. I made it for myself – It was so messy round the back, it was no longer funny. When I explained as much to someone who asked if they could buy it, he didn’t care because the was smiling so much just playing the Guitar. It’s really awkward to play :/ and I sold it anyway. I wish I hadn’t , even though it is just junk 🙂

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