Making the Warm & Rich Bass Guitar

This is another intriguing project. Its body is a slab, J-style design made out of Basswood with white binding on the front and back and a two-tone, black walnut sunburst. It will also feature Specimen’s customary non-adjustable steel reinforcement in the neck to yield the finest absolute tone. The neck is made from quarter-sawn rock maple with an ebony fretboard and its dimensions are those of a Rickenbacker. Splendor in simplicity. Dignity in purpose.

You can see the finished instrument here.


Gibson Les Paul Guitar Repair

Very often headstocks get broken. Very often I must fix them. I have probably repaired over a thousand and not a single one has come loose, ever.

One little trick, instrumental in closing the glue joint, is the wind up rubber technique. As a youngster I became intimate with wound up rubber strips from building model airplanes with rubber motors. I used a crank driven hand drill with a hook in the chuck to stretch and wind the motor carefully stepping forward as I monitored the tension. This would often result in magnificent flights of extreme duration. One day I was having trouble closing a particularly shattered headstock fracture when it occurred to me that I had a good-sized box of old bicycle inner tubes that could serve as a stretch clamp. Utilizing the skills obtained in my youth, I was able to close the joint perfectly and obtain a gratifying amount of glue squeeze out.


300B Single-Ended Monoblock Tube Amplifiers

This project has been in the works for quite a while. It uses the circuit I have been dreaming about for more than a decade. Loosely speaking, the circuit is based on the 1934 Western Electric Model 91, but the front end has been modified to take a line-level input direct from an iPod if you wish. This blending of cutting edge miniature technology coupled with such antique circuitry makes me roll around on the floor with joy.

Many audiophiles maintain that this is the most linear audio circuit ever. Each monoblock puts out around 10 watts and weighs close to 60 pounds. I decided to go “all the way” with details like the engine-turned sub panels that the tube sockets mount on to. This lends a nice visual contrast and provides excellent convection ventilation for the circuit.

These amps are formidable structures and their additional expense and size (compared to my Single-ended Stereo Amp) puts them in a league of their own. However, I have never heard anything so sweet. These amps also pair beautifully with our Little Horn Speakers.

You can see images of the finished 300B Tube Amp here


Making the Ubercaster Guitar

This new guitar’s title is the Ubercaster. It is called so because I think it has everything one can possibly put on a guitar (or at the very least it has a lot).


This commission sends me in a different direction from my usual design ethos. The guitar has 24 frets with a deepened cutaway for access to the very last fret, twin-carbon fiber neck reinforcements and a chambered basswood body with a highly flamed book-matched maple cap for the lightest possible weight. It will also have two Lindy Fralin high-output humbuckers with coil taps, a Wilkinson vibrato unit with hexaphonic saddles with midi interface outputs and piezo acoustic output as well. Oh, and there is also a kill switch.

You can see the finished instrument here.


Building the Key Wester Custom Electric Uke

This custom ukulele is being built for an electric ukulele player living in Key West, Florida. It is embellished like John D’Angelico’s New Yorker guitars made in the 1940s, complete with cursive pearl logo, stepped “Key Wester” engraved marker, and pearl position markers on the neck. The body will be black like a Les Paul Custom and feature a special new custom bridge and our superb magnetic ukulele pickup.

Here is a slideshow of images taken during the building of this little beauty. You can see the finished instrument here.


Building the Little Horn Speakers

This octagonally fluted horn shape began as a drawing. The simple juxtaposition of two curves imbued with a rigid octagonal format automatically established this elegant shape. Nature utilizes simple geometry to create elaborate functional structures and so does the little horn. Perhaps this is why these shapes seem to have grown this way.

Once the basic three dimensional silhouette is established I can derive the flats by draping and embossing moistened paper over the skeletal structure. Once I have my set of templates, flats are cut out, steam bent like the sides of a guitar body and assembled using dryer lint, baking soda and cyanoacrylate glue. This prototype is surfaced to its final form and a mold is taken from it. Horns can then be layed up in whatever material desired. We have used both fiberglass and urethane with excellent results and continue to experiment. You can see pictures of the finished Little Horn Speakers here.


Early Fender Tele Setup

I just thought that the world could use another look at a fine meat and potatoes, pre-CBS Telecaster. This one has been “ridden hard and put away wet”, but is still so beautiful and functional. The body has been refinished several times without stripping. This gives it an almost archeological feel. I will count the annular rings in the pickup cavity and let you know what I find. I know, someone changed the tuners. Things happen. It is still beautiful. Note the strangely worn fretboard at the body end by the date stamp.


Gibson Les Paul Recording Setup

I remember when you couldn’t give these things away. Today, this guitar represents a comparative rarity from the Norlin-owned era of Gibson that proves there actually were some engineers employed there that were awake, sort of.

Lots of controls manipulate an exotic (for the time) low impedance pickup system. In contrast to the Electar amp, this piece has all the bells and whistles, whether you want them or not, all in a fashionable mahogany peanut butter finish.


Epiphone Electar Amplifier Repair

This amp looks like it has been in a time capsule. I would guess it is from the early to mid-1940s. Anybody out there have a clue? The tubes are unfamiliar and the socket pin count is squirrel-y, with extra cap connectors on some of the tubes. Each tube also has a three piece “man in the iron mask” shield that clasps around it.

The construction is so bullet-proof that it is no wonder it survived. It has a field coil speaker that predates the common use of permanent magnets. This field coil also doubles as a power supply choke. Ingenious! Beautiful simplicity, and it sounds terrific to boot. Gutsy, yet open.


The New Luddite Custom Guitar

[I] guess I remain a little hard headed still wanting to do things by hand after all this time. People have been suggesting I use computerized routers and pantographic duplicators etc. for years. Since I don’t have large production quotas that warrant it, every Specimen is carved and fitted by hand and the advantages of this are perfectly fitting neck joints and string alignment. Circumstance as opportunity. The Luddite is a modern electric guitar with the appointments and build quality of an older world. Sensible hand craftsmanship made one-at-a-time.

You can see images of the finished instrument here.


Antique French Classical Guitar Setup

A student of ours inherited this exceptional guitar from his grandfather in France. Inside the body it is labeled Guitare “Gelas” 192?.

Essentially, it is a guitar within a guitar. There are two intersecting tops that create an angle that force a negative pitch. It uses loop-end strings that attach to a tailpiece at the end of the body and descend down one plane where they meet a double saddle that arrests the strings. They then ascend along another plane and over the sound holes, that’s right, TWO sound holes” two guitars in one! The strings are actually pulling upwards on the sound table like a harp.

This guitar is truly an amazing piece and I am convinced that it played a part in Mario Maccaferri’s creation of his Selmer guitar designs. The sound hole rosette is super multi-ply colored stripes just like a Maccaferri.

The guitar is due back in the shop in several weeks when we will begin restoration work. I can hardly wait to hear it strung up.


Building an Electric Lute

The electric lute is for Michiel Niessen a prominent lute player from the Netherlands. His instrument will have ten strings, three of which share a longer scale and are fret-able drones. The neck is exceptionally wide compared to a guitar and embodies three carbon fiber reinforcements for stiffness.

This prototype is taking the shape of an oversized Maxwell guitar which I realized is actually shaped like a lute with horns!

While building this instrument I had fantasies that I would be able to get around this instrument as a player, you know, make a quick adaptation and get \”early”. As it turned out, this was not the case. This E-lute is a completely different instrument in its intended tuning. I think this makes the project all the more significant as it truly is an anomaly in the modern world. I cannot wait to hear what Michiel does with it. I think there are great things in store.

You can see images of the finished instrument here.

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